New Year’s Eve At The World’s Biggest "Party"

New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Times Square are some of the most famous in the world. They really symbolize festivities for the U.S. and are watched on TV around the world! So of course, it being my first New Year’s Eve in New York City, I wanted to head down to Times Square and experience it first hand. Going into this, I’d heard some fairly negative things about the experience going into it, but wanted to experience it first hand. Here’s the wrap up:

I had to drop off my time sheet at the Temp Agency in Midtown yesterday afternoon and decided to take a peek about what was happening at Times Square. It was 3pm and the NYPD had already closed Times Square to vehicular traffic and they were only letting pedestrian traffic go one way. People had already started gathering in the street to get the prime spots and others were hanging out on the sidewalk, clearly ready to be there for hours with blankets and lawn chairs. At this point, (note that it was 3pm) people were backed up to about 45th St! (Note that ball drops at 43rd St)! I also couldn’t help but notice that the doors to the Palace Theater (one of the Broadway theaters which is on 7th Ave) were being boarded up!

I went home for a few hours and planned to leave around 6pm for Times Square. There was a large program of entertainment going on that started at 6pm with performances every hour, including some relatively big names for the various broadcasts that take place there on New Year’s Eve. Also, celebrities were to appear on the stage every hour to countdown for that hour and celebrate the New Year in that time zone. Everything I’d read encouraged people to arrive as early as possible, and I figured at least there was entertainment!

I felt like I was suiting up for a war zone or something! I wore 2 pairs of socks, and 3 pairs of long underwear, carefully layering them between the pairs of socks. I wore cargo pants and packed the pockets full of protein bars, nuts, and a small bottle of water (you can’t bring in any bags).

I started my attempts to even get into Times Square at 7pm at 42nd St. The NYPD had closed down streets between (I think) 38th St and 59th St (Central Park) and 5th Ave & (I think) 8th Ave. They had specific entry points starting at 45th St. where you had to pass through a security checkpoint. As crowds grew, they closed down these entrances, but nobody seemed to know where we could actually get in. Each cop I asked gave me a different answer about where we could get in. First it was, “just keep walking.” Then it was 50th St, which turned into 55th St (it was actually 54th St), which turned into 59th St, though they were only letting people in who lived in the area. I actually managed to get in at 58th St. But there wasn’t much of a checkpoint. The cops had metal detector wands, but they certainly weren’t using them on anyone who was going it at the same time as I was. They were just pulling people aside who had backpacks and other bags!

Upon reaching 7th Ave, we were directed downtown, though only made it a few blocks to 55th St. (Remember, the ball is dropped on 43rd St). They had each block divided into 2 “pens,” which were cordoned off areas. We ended up at 55th St (Remember the ball is at 43rd St) at around 8pm, and that was it! There was nothing to do but spend the next 4 hours waiting!

Supposedly, there were supposed to be giant video screens starting at 50th St and going up that would broadcast what was going on in Times Square, including the various concerts, but there weren’t. We could not see or hear what was going whatsoever! So much for the live entertainment!

There were a few brief periods of excitement. Three times the cops condensed the crowds and gradually moved us a few pens down. Whenever they’d open up a pen, they’d only let people through one at a time for some unknown reason. That meant that people started pushing to try and get in first (I have no idea what the rush was as we still had hours to go!). It would not be a good circumstance for claustrophobic people! The whole affair really made me feel like we werec cattle! By 9:30 or so we’d ended up at 53rd St (a full 10 blocks from the ball) where we’d spend the rest of the evening.

I did meet some interesting people though. I spent a while chatting with these two women from Michigan who come here often. I lost them, though, in one of our moves when they decided to stay in our current pen instead of inching forward into the next. Once settled in the next pen I met two more women, one of whom had moved here a couple months before I had, and the other, her friend who was visiting. After a while they were hungry and sick of waiting and left to go eat.

On a side note about the restaurants in Times Square, many of them, like the Olive Garden or TGIFridays have specials for New Year’s Eve. For a mere $250 or so you can dine in the midst of everything and then, I believe, be taken outside right at midnight to prime territory in which you can view the ball drop instead of suffering through outside unable to move anywhere and with no food, water, or bathrooms!

Aside from the moving, the most exciting thing that happened before midnight was at the top of every hour. There would be a 30 second countdown to the New Year in whatever country it was at that hour. At 9pm it was Brazil, 10pm-Chile, 10:30pm was somewhere in the Caribbean, and 11pm was Bermuda. Of course, the crowd started counting down at the top of their lungs, making for some excitement and warming up, per say, for our New Year at midnight.

Anticipation in the last 15 minutes leading up to midnight was intense. Given that we couldn’t see anything, we didn’t see Mayor Bloomberg pushing the button to start the ball drop, just a big 60 seconds pop up on the screen below the ball. We could see the ball make it’s decent, though it was about the size of a pea from where I was standing. The crowd counting down was stupendously loud and exciting. When the ball hit the bottom and the 2008 sign lit up, people just started screaming with excitement. We could see the rather lame fireworks and the endless confetti raining down 10 blocks away, while we only got one tiny burst of confetti where we were standing.

And that was it. That’s what we had all just waited hours and hours to see. Was it worth 4 hours of waiting in the cold for 60 seconds of excitement? No. I’m not completely ruling out doing this again, but if I do, I’m getting there by 4 or 5 so I can actually be in Times Square hearing the concerts and seeing everything up close and personal. From where I was, you might as well have watched it on TV.

One thing that was cool though was turning around to leave and seeing the impressive fireworks display from Central Park. That seems like it would be a great place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. They have a race that starts at midnight and supposedly there’s food and hot chocolate and you aren’t stuck in a pen! Maybe next year!

If anyone dares to try heading to Times Square, here are my words of advice:

  • Layer up! It’s cold out there and your lack of ability to move will make it feel even colder!
  • Wear comfy shoes, as you’ll be standing for a long, long time!
  • Get there VERY early! Like, before 6pm! If you can’t physically be in Times Square, you might as well watch it on TV!
  • If you’re showing up after 6pm, it’s best to start at 59th St and work your way down when trying to get in! Otherwise you’ll end up walking way uptown, only to have to walk downtown again once you get in.
  • Eat well before you come and bring some snacks with you. There’s no food or drinks available for sale.
  • If you need to use the restroom, you forfeit your spot, so be mindful of how much you drink before you come.
  • One brilliant man brought binoculars, which is a great idea if you’re as far back as I was!
  • A few other brilliant folks brought folding chairs, though you might get trampled!
  • Make an effort to meet people while you’re there as you’ll be surrounded by folks from around the globe!

It was surprisingly easy to get home! The cops opened up all the side streets. I headed straight for Grand Central Terminal, one of the few places I knew had public restrooms that would be open at that hour, and I wasn’t the only one with that plan! The men’s room had a line! But I was home by 1am!

Anyways here are some pictures:

(from L to R: A zoomed in view of One Times Square, the crowds ahead of us (see the barricades separating the “pens?,” and a bunch of balloons which were released into the sky)

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