NEW YORK — Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade returned Thursday in full, though with precautions.

Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — once again wended though 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped last year.

The route was once again lined by spectators, who were expelled in 2020. High school and college marching bands from around the country were invited back to the lineup; most of last year’s performers were locally based to cut down on travel. Costumed personnel were brought back to help with the massive balloons last year that were tied to cars. Even celebrities joined the fray. 

One of the most memorable guest appearances came from the “Blue’s Clues” hosts Steve Burns, Donovan Patton and Joshua Dela Cruz, who got the range back together. 

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Blue’s Clues hosts reunited on float. Steve Burns said it ‘feels exactly like yesterday’ he was there

Nearly 20 years after the original “Blue’s Clues” host abruptly left the children’s show to go to college, Burns returned with fellow hosts Patton and Dela Cruz for a reunion that left many fans emotional. 

Burns, Patton and Delal Cruz performed “You Can’t Spell Blue Without You” together on this year’s “Blue’s Clues” float, which has been a part of the festival since 1999, according to parade host Savannah Guthrie.

It feels like yesterday that you requested us to play. It took more than just a shirt and a notebook. Through the seasons, over the years. “There’s a reason why we are still here.” The trio sang in celebration of the generations of fans who supported the series for the last 25-years.

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“It was great to see all the #BluesCluesAndYou family at #MacysParade.” Tweet Nickelodeon is the network that hosts Nickelodeon. “Anyone else suddenly becoming really emotional?”

Twitterverse: It was clear that someone was actually cutting onions. 

“Seeing Steve on the Blue’s Clues float has made my holiday complete,” @Jaclyn Cangro tweeted. User @Mswat94 Additional: “NOT ME BAWLING OVER THE BLUE’S CLUES FLOAT AND PERFORMANCE IN THE #MacysParade

Burns hosted the show from 1996 to 2002, and was closely associated with its success in catering to preschool-aged kids. He was replaced by Donovan Patton as Steve’s younger brother “Joe” from 2004 to 2007. Dela Cruz hosted the revival “Blue’s Clues & You!” Since 2019. 

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Steve Burns, left, Donovan Patton, center, and Joshua Dela Cruz, stand on the Blues Clues float before the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in New York.

Al Roker is called by President Biden: “America is back”

To President Joe Biden, the parade’s full-fledged return was a sign of renewal, and he called NBC broadcaster Al Roker on-air to say so.

“Oh my gosh, look at who’s calling,” the “Today” show host said, while showing the president’s face pop up on his phone.

“After two years, we’re back. America is back. There’s nothing we’re unable to overcome,” Biden said over the phone from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he was watching the broadcast with his family.

Roker responded: “Thank you so much. I hope you’re going to continue to watch the parade. Santa is coming. Santa is coming, Mr. President!”

“I’m waiting for Santa,” Biden replied.

Al Roker attends the 95th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 25, 2021 in New York City.

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell shared a picture of the sweet encounter on Twitter.The photo shows the first couple smiling in front of the television as they lean into a cell phone held by Biden.

Harry Connick Jr. looks unrecognizable as Daddy Warbucks from ‘Annie Live!’

Daddy Warbucks is at the house. 

Connick Jr. made his first live appearance as Daddy Warbucks at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday alongside “Annie Live!” Celina Smith, his co-star. The duo sang “I Don’t Need Anything But You” after climbing out of an old school car. 

Connick Jr.’s signature hair was not visible. Connick Jr. was dressed in a full-length white suit and a cap that covered his head, which caught everyone’s eyes. Evidently, not in a positive way. 

“Harry Connick Jr. is playing Jeff Bezos in the TV version of ‘Annie,'” @JoePontillo tweeted. Use @Donewitheveryt6 added,Is Harry Connick Jr.’s baldcap the most frightening thing?

“Annie Live!” will air Dec. 2 on NBC at 8 p.m. EST.

Security measures: Vaccine mandate and masking

As the pandemic continues, officials in the United States are more comfortable hosting large gatherings than ever with the help of vaccines and frustration.

However, safety precautions were maintained. Parade staffers and volunteers had to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers were allowed to shed them. There was no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy’s and the city encouraged them to cover their faces. A popular pre-parade spectacle — the inflation of the giant balloons — was limited to vaccinated viewers.

Santa Claus waves from atop a float along 6th Ave. during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in New York.

Police presence large after the tragedy at Christmas parade 

The Thanksgiving event also came days after an SUV driver plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring over 60. Authorities said the driver, who has been charged with intentional homicide, was speeding away from police after a domestic dispute.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday there was no credible, specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but the New York Police Department’s security measures would be extensive, as usual.

“I’m very confident in what the NYPD has prepared to keep everyone safe,” he said.

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NYPD officers patrol during the 95th annual Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25, 2021 in New York City.

From streets to rooftops, thousands of police officers were sent to patrol the parade route. The parade route was blocked by sand-filled garbage trucks and other heavy vehicles, as well as concrete barriers that weighed approximately 360,000 pounds (163,000 kg).

Martine Materasso (NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism) stated that bomb-detecting dogs, bomb squad officer, heavy-weapons and radiation teams as well as over 300 cameras and additional sensors were sent to the parade route.

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Within the bars, there were approximately 8,000 spectators, about four dozen balloons with varying sizes, and two dozen floats.

A float depicting "Grogu" moves down Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. The parade is returning in full, after being crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year.

A new “Baby Yoda” float and more stars

New balloon giants joining the lineup include the title character from the Netflix series “Ada Twist, Scientist”; the Pokémon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared before, in different form), and Grogu, aka “Baby Yoda,” from the television show “The Mandalorian.” New floats are coming from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Actors and celebrities include Carrie Underwood (and Jon Batiste), Nelly, Kelly Rowland Miss America Camille Schrier and the band Foreigner. Numerous Broadway musical ensembles performed, as well as the Radio City Rockettes.

Contributing to The Associated Press

Jon Batiste attends the 95th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25, 2021 in New York City.

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