Looking through the posts on the Rose Parade, I thought it might be useful to have one place where information on the floats in consolidated. I've lived near Pasadena for most of my life, and I'm very involved in float decorating, so I have some suggestions for anyone next year who is interested in getting involved in this aspect of the parade.
Basics of floats: 3 major companies decorate floats- Phoenix, Fiesta, and AES. They often are contracted to build floats for organizations such as Trader Joe's, the Girl Scouts, and different Countries.
There are also many self-built floats, usually sponsored by volunteers in a city or community. The professionals (and some of the self builts like Cal Poly) decorate in the float barns that you can visit for a fee in Pasadena (The Rosemont Pavilion, Brookside Pavilion, and Rose Palace). You will be able to watch as volunteers apply the decorating materials to the floats, but you should be warned that you won't be able to get too close to the floats. Some of the self built floats build off-site, and there is often no charge to visit them while they are decorating.
If you want to see the floats up close, I suggest going to the Post- Parade event. The barricades are far closer to the float at that time, and some of the floats will have designers and decorators on hand to answer your questions about materials and design.
Each organization has it's own policies for volunteers, and different ways of recruiting them. Almost all of the self-built floats allow volunteers to arrive the day of to decorate, or sign up in advanced. Most decorating happens between Christmas and New Years, although some groups do start a bit earlier. Most floats will be finished by at least noon the day before the parade, as they have a major judging that day, and then need to move into position on the parade route. The most exciting day to decorate is often 2 days before the parade, but be ready to be put to work!
Things you should know about decorating: You will get dirty, and it can get cold! This is not a good time for designer shoes. Wear sneakers and comfortable clothing that can get glue stained and will keep you warm if it gets cool. If you really want to be working with flowers, you should decorate 2-3 days before the parade, as only "dry materials" (seeds, bark, etc) are applied before then. However, dry materials can be a lot of fun to work with and are quite intricate, and the sites are likely to be less packed with volunteers at earlier times in the week. On most floats, kids need to be at least 13 years old to decorate unless they are with a group (like a scout troop).
The link below includes the websites of all of the various companies and organizations involved in decorating floats, both professional and volunteer. http://www.lcftra.org/links.php
If you have any additional questions about the process of decorating a float or the best way to witness one being decorated, feel free to ask me. Now that the parade is over for the year, I need to figure out something to do with this eclectic knowledge!