Raleigh, N.C. — Thanks to great weather and the presence of "American Idol" Scotty McCreery, the 2011 WRAL-TV Raleigh Christmas Parade drew thousands to downtown Raleigh Saturday morning.
The parade, in its 67th year, featured more than 110 entries, including bands, floats, super-sized balloons, marchers, twirlers, entertainers and a special surprise North Pole visitor.
McCreery, who served as the grand marshal for this year's parade, said he could have never dreamed that he would be the main attraction -- aside from Santa Claus -- at the event he came to every year as a child.
"It's incredible, I came out here many times growing up and to be the Grand Marshal and see all the support I receive is amazing," he said. "You never think any of this can happen. I'm just blessed to be here and I'm having a great time."
WRAL-TV morning news anchors Bill Leslie and Kelcey Carlson hosted the festivities, and Brian Shrader served as a street-side reporter.
"Kids love these events, it's so exciting for them," Carlson said. "They were lining the streets this morning as early as 8:30 getting ready for all the characters they would see."
Beginning just before 10 a.m. on a chilly morning, the parade snaked its way from the intersection of Hillsborough and St. Mary's streets onto Salisbury Street and Morgan Street, finishing near the grandstand on Fayetteville Street.
This was the 38th consecutive year that the event was broadcasted on WRAL-TV. Replays will be broadcast during the month of December on WRAL.2 and MeTV 50.2, plus a special holiday presentation on WRAL-TV at 12 p.m. on Christmas Day.
The parade was presented by the Greater Raleigh Merchants' Association, a non-profit organization which aims to promote an environment of communication, cooperation and support for local businesses.
Read below for highlights from this morning's parade. For parade coverage and photos on Twitter, just search hashtag #WRALParade.
9:30: Kelcey and Bill are already tweeting pictures as crowds gather downtown. The parade begins in 30 minutes.
9:45: Bill says that as many as 75,000 people are expected for today's festivities. The parade begins in less than 15 minutes on WRAL-TV and on WRAL.com.
9:52: Just got word that the parade has started. Coverage begins on WRAL-TV and online at WRAL.com at 10 a.m.
9:58: Our live stream of the parade is up and running.
10:05: The weather for today's parade is perfect. Temperatures in the low to mid 40s right now and should warm up into the mid 50s by the time the parade ends at noon.
10:11: Broughton High School's marching band passes by the grandstand, decked out in purple and white and playing God Bless America.
10:13: Brian Shrader takes a quick ride on the WRAL float, talking about the Coats for the Children campaign, WRAL's annual effort to help collect coats for needy children.
10:20: Brian Shrader talks with Mayor-elect Nancy McFarlane about her Christmas parade memories. She says her favorite one was also her coldest one.
10:31: CC & Company Dance Complex dancers make their way by the grandstand.
10:34: The Piedmont Classic Chevy club rolls by. It's 85 members say the only requirement is to love old Chevy cars.
10:42: For all you Star Wars fans out there, the Carolina Garrison of the 501st StormTrooper League might be for you.
10:43: The Cary YMCA Super Skippers jump past the grandstand. Good thing they are moving around, it's chilly out there!
10:48: Wake Forest-Rolesville's band, 75 members strong, comes by, playing a little traditional Christmas music.
10:53: Grand Marshal Scotty McCreery's float has reached Fayetteville Street. He'll talk with Bill and Kelcey shortly and introduce the Garner High School band.
10:56: Brian Shrader checks in with Scotty McCreery aboard his Grand Marshal float. McCreery says it's incredible to be the Grand Marshal. "Never in my wildest dreams," McCreery said.
11:00: Stampede of Love, a group of miniature horses, trots by the grandstand. The horses visit children in hospitals around the country.
11:08: Here's proof that Brian Shrader wasn't thrown off Scotty McCreery's float. The "American Idol" will catch up with Bill and Kelcey soon to introduce the Garner High School band.
11:10: The first three parts of the parade are available now on WRAL.com. We'll continue to post videos throughout the remainder of the parade.
11:13: The Timer Warner Cable float, featuring Scooby-Doo and Fred Flinstone, makes its way past the grandstand.
11:16: Scotty McCreery joins Bill and Kelcey.
11:17: McCreery said Garner’s win Friday night over Leesville Road might have done a little damage to his voice. He also mentioned that he’s thankful that his classmates treat him “like he never left” even though his life had changed dramatically since winning “American Idol.”
11:25: McCreery talks with Bill and Kelcey about how he got his start singing at his church in Garner. Scotty says the butterflies he gets come before performances and not while he's actually on stage.
11:27: A viewer submitted photo of Scotty McCreery on set with Bill Leslie and Kelcey Carlson.
11:30: Employees of Raleigh's Joel Lane House make their way by the grandstand. The Joel Lane House is the oldest dwelling in Raleigh and contains collections of 18th century artifacts and period furnishings. The museum grounds include a detached kitchen, formal city garden, and period herb garden.
11:34: Bill says it's warming up as the parade enters its final half hour. Temperatures started in the 40s this morning but have climbed into the 50s throughout the parade.
11:39: A quick reminder to send us your photos from the WRAL Raleigh Christmas Parade. We'll include them in slideshows that get posted later today.
11:42: Dancers from the Premier School of Dance in Cary stroll by Kelcey's broadcast position.
11:47: Kelcey and Bill are talking about holiday decorations, which provides a great chance to remind everyone about the 52nd annual Tower Lighting celebration on Dec. 1 at WRAL. It will begin during the 5 p.m. news.
11:49: We've entered the last few minutes of the 2011 WRAL Raleigh Christmas Parade. You know what the means! Santa Claus is just around the corner.
11:53: The band from the Helping Hand Mission, always a crowd favorite at the WRAL Raleigh Christmas Parade, just made its way past the grandstand.
11:54: The Department of Public Utilties float is rather ironic, to say the least.
11:55: The Nutcracker balloon is huge! We've gotten several great photos of it so far.
11:58: Santa is coming up!
11:59: Santa Claus puts a perfect exclamation point on the 67th edition of the Raleigh Christmas Parade. Remember to submit your photos.