By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Giant helium balloons rose above the treetops along New York's Central Park on Wednesday ahead of the 86th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the largest public event so far in a city still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
The parade that typically draws 3.5 million spectators and 50 million television viewers will follow a new route this year, skipping Times Square entirely - to the chagrin of business owners there.
Instead, the procession will head down Sixth Avenue, also known as the Avenue of the Americas, before culminating at Macy's flagship store on 34th Street.
"As it has during turbulent times in our history, we hope the Macy's Parade serves as a beacon of hope for all who tune in and gather with friends and family to give thanks this season, as they continue to heal from the devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy," Amy Kule, the parade's executive producer, said in a statement.
The parade will feature 16 giant character balloons, many of which are lucrative registered trademarks or brand mascots, including a 60-foot-tall Kermit the Frog, as well as 28 floats, 1,600 cheerleaders and dancers, 11 marching bands, and someone who looks a lot like Santa Claus.
Celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Isaak, Carly Rae Jepsen and the Muppets are due to appear or perform.
Macy's has said it will be providing transport and seats for some 5,000 people affected by Sandy, which last month inundated lower Manhattan with seawater, rearranged the New Jersey shore and Long Island, and tore up neighborhoods in far-flung areas of New York's outer boroughs.
At least 132 people died in the United States and Canada as a result of the storm.
"Coming here is a good distraction," said Chris Tamis, who along with his wife and two teenage kids was in New York to watch balloons being inflated for the parade.
"A lot of people are coming to get away from it," said Tamis, who only recently got power back in his home in Smithtown, New York.
On Wednesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city, in partnership with local community organizations and businesses, was coordinating 26,500 Thanksgiving meals for people hardest hit by the storm.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Paul Simao)