STAMFORD, Conn. Children and adults alike watched in awe Saturday as their favorite cartoon, comic book and fairy tale characters were pumped up into gigantic parade balloons.
"I've never seen anything like this, it's as much fun for the adults as the kids, like entering a Land of the Giants and fairy-tale storybook at the same time, but better because you get to see the fantasy come to life," June Schuler of Fairfield said of the pre-parade event in Stamford.
"It's breath-taking to see lifeless forms like Popeye, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and The Cat in The Hat blown up into such spectacular floats," said Schuler, who for the first time brought her two small children to see Stamford's Balloon Inflation Party held in advance of Sunday's UBS Parade Spectacular.
The annual parade, which will feature stars Laura Linney, John Benjamin Hickey, Gabourey Sidibe and Alan Kalter, as well as the biggest stars of all the massive balloons kicks off at noon.
Popular events Saturday included a crowd-pleasing performance by Flippenout Productions that featured professional acrobats jumping off a trampoline high into the air and doing double and triple flips. They even wore skis and played catch at the same time.
But larger-than-life balloons are not always what they seem until the last of the helium inflates them to full-building-size giants.
Doug Green of Stamford and his 8-year-old daughter, Kadence, were among those who found that out late Saturday afternoon.
"We always wanted to see how they blow up those floats, and this was even more fun than we expected," said Green, who along with Kadence and other spectators were convinced a float being inflated was the mischievous cat Garfield, of cartoon, comic-book and movie fame.
But what looked like Garfield, with his familiar orange-and-black coloring, turned out to be a giant Thanksgiving turkey.
"It sure looked like Garfield, but this whole event has been full of surprises," said Green. Kadence, who watched as a Thanksgiving turkey came to life, said, "I love Garfield and it sure looked like him until the end. Seeing all these super-size floats is really cool."
The father and daughter were among thousands who attended the event along Hoyt, Summer and Franklin streets.
One of the most popular balloons was the cartoon character Clifford the Big Red Dog, who towered above passing families, along with many Sesame Street characters.
Alissa Privizzino of Meriden brought her twin sons 6-year-olds Ricky and Ryan and was "thrilled that we made the drive up here."
"It's been wonderful seeing so many of the floats and costumed characters like clowns, magicians and princesses walking around," said Privizzino. "I can't imagine how the parade can be any better than this."
"Look, mommy, it's a giant potato man," said Ricky, pointing to the Mr. Potato Head balloon still lying on its back. Ryan added, "He's a giant ... and funny-looking."
The UBS Parade Spectacular is presented by Stamford Town Center and The Advocate. It starts at Hoyt Street and Summer Street and concludes on Atlantic Street at Federal Street.
Featuring 21 giant helium balloons, the annual parade is one of the largest of its kind in the country. This marks the sixth consecutive year that UBS has served as the title sponsor for the event, now in its 18th year.