Since 2002, Universal Studios has partnered with Macy’s to bring elements of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to Orlando during the holiday season. In addition to shipping down memorable floats featured in the annual New York parade, Macy’s brings several of the giganic balloons that have made the parade so popular over the decades.
But guests visiting Universal Studios have a chance to do much more than simply watch the parade pass by. Each day, park guests have the opportunity to actually become “balloon handlers,” helping to guide inflated characters through Universal’s streets. On Dec. 15, I (along with Orlando Attractions Magazine editor Matt Roseboom) had a chance to take part in leading Universal’s and Macy’s newest balloon, Big Man Santa, around the parade route to see what the balloon handling experience is all about.
Before I give you my impressions, here’s a summary video featuring interviews with Universal show director Michael Aiello and design director for Macy’s Parade Studio Jerry Ospa as well as a look inside the backlot building where they park the inflated balloons and a bit of balloon handler training… and a glimpse at myself and Matt as balloon handlers:
In short, being a balloon handler is a lot of fun. The “training” process begins as guests are each given a jumpsuit, gloves, and a Santa hat. Jumpsuits come in a variety of colors, depending on the balloon.
As you saw in the video above, we were assigned to Universal’s newest balloon, Big Man Santa, which apparently requires black jumpsuits. While they’re not the best color for dealing with Florida’s sun (yes, it’s hot even in December here), we lucked out with enough cloud cover to keep us cool. The padded gloves were even welcome as holding onto the “bone” (as they call it) attached to the balloon’s string would be horribly uncomfortable without them. And, of course, the Santa hat adds a little festive style to the otherwise bland costume.