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9 Things You Need to Know About New Year’s Eve in New York City

So you want to spend New Year’s Eve in New York City?

It feels like 2016 went by in a flash, and with 2017 just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start planning your New Year’s Eve activities. Maybe you’re considering a trip to New York to ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop in Times Square. I had the good fortune to do just that a few years ago. And there is so much more to it than you can even imagine from watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

I consider New Year’s Eve in New York City one of my top ten travel experiences. I LOVE everything about New York—the people, the food, the buildings, the smells…everything! So it was truly a dream come true to take in this time-honored tradition. But this post isn’t for the faint of heart.

If you are looking for a fairy tale about counting down to zero and singing Auld Lang Syne, you may want to skip to number 9. But if you want to hear the nitty gritty of what to actually expect and how to plan for the evening, here’s what you need to know before you make your way to Manhattan on December 31st.

New Year's Eve in New York City

1. Incredible Crowds

You have never been in a crowd like the one you will be in on New Year’s Eve in New York City. I don’t care if you’ve taken a train in India or waited in line to meet your favorite boy band—you’ve never seen anything like this. If you have even a hint of claustrophobia, this is not the event for you. The crowds are a vortex you get sucked into.

I arrived at Times Square around 7 p.m., and it was almost impossible to move. This is a time when there is strength in numbers. Latch onto your group and form a train to snake your way through the crowd. If there are only two or three of you, find another group headed in the same direction and let them know your plan. If you try to move one at a time, you’ll likely lose each other in the chaos. Hold on tight and forge ahead as a group. You’ll feel like you’re pushing against a tsunami, but baby steps and perseverance will get you there. Be patient and friendly. Getting mad at the guy next to you won’t get you anyplace but kicked out (see point 5 for more on that).

2. It’s Not Like on TV

You know how everyone is cheering and happy and they all have a bunch of blue Nivea swag? It’s not like that at all. Unless you are very near the heart of the action, you won’t see any balloons or get a party hat. There are no streamers or confetti. You won’t even hear the performers singing. You’ll just be standing outside in a huge crowd looking at the sky. And you’ll be doing it for hours.

3. Expect to Wait

If you want to be really near the stage where all the hot stars perform, you need to arrive well before the crack of dawn to claim your space. Keep in mind that once you’re in place, you can’t leave or you risk losing you spot. Because security is high, you’re not allowed to bring in any bags, which means no food or drinks. That may be a blessing in disguise because sneaking out to use the facilities is not an easy task. Pretty much, once you’ve claimed your stake, don’t expect to do much else. You’re there for the next 18 hours or so.

4. Buy an Event Ticket

This should maybe be number one…If you don’t want to sit outside for hours waiting for a glimpse of the ball dropping at midnight, buy a ticket to a nearby event. Even if you don’t want to go to an event, purchase a ticket to something…anything. Why is this so important? Well, if you have tickets to a specific event, the authorities will help you get there…if you can get to the authorities (see point 1). If you get close enough to someone with the power to move a barrier so you can get to your venue, wave your tickets in the air. They are watching for you and will hail you over.

But getting through the crowds faster is just one of three advantages to having an event ticket. The second is that you are pretty much guaranteed to see the ball drop. If you are simply hoping to get someplace within view, so are millions of others. And there is only so much space on the streets of New York. I suspect thousands of the people I passed on the street never made it within five blocks of a place where they could see the ball. They waded through the massive crowds and stood on the street for hours for nothing.

The third advantage is that you only have to wait outside for two hours or so instead of 12 or more. Simply step outside the venue at about 10 p.m. and claim a space on the sidewalk out front. Tuck in tight—don’t leave any space between yourself and the barrier or the rest of your party. Before you know it, someone will swoop in and steal your spot if you do. It happens in the blink of an eye.

You’re probably thinking a ticket to an event on New Year’s is out of your budget. I thought so, too, but I was really wrong. Sure, if you’re hoping for a glass of Cristal as the clock strikes twelve, you’re looking at dishing out the big bucks. But I got a ticket to the shindig at Madame Tussaud’s that was being hosted by a B-list celebrity for only $45. We spent a few hours guzzling free bevvies, touring the museum, and chowing down on snacks before snagging our spot outside. We missed the party inside, but that wasn’t why we were there anyway.

5. Expect a LOT of Security

It’s to be expected that security would be high at any packed event in New York, but you ain’t seen nothing like this. There will be cops, firefighters, and everything else you can think of everywhere you look. And they mean business. Don’t make any cracks about sketchy subjects. They won’t tolerate it, and you’ll be tossed out faster than you can count down to zero.

In our case, we got to know the cop manning the gate pretty well in the two hours we were standing outside. I’m not sure we ever actually spoke to him, but he definitely knew who we—and everyone around us—were. If we’d been in trouble, he’d have jumped into action. I never felt safer.

6. Be Prepared for Anything

You’re going to be standing on a hard cement sidewalk. It may be hot, or cold, or both. You likely won’t be able to sit down. You will be fenced in. People will push, shove, and try to take your space, even though you have been standing there for hours. I know you want to look good, but if you do yourself one favor that night, consider your shoes, coat, and other accessories carefully.

Comfort and style can be a hard balance but one you will definitely want to find. I wore low pumps with a three-inch, block heel rather than spiked stilettos. I also chose an off-the-rack sequined dress and didn’t care if it got torn in the crowd. I could also wear it with leggings instead of pantyhose to help keep in the warmth (though it ended up being the warmest New Year’s in 100 years). I popped a pair of gloves and earmuffs inside my clutch to add as the night wore on. I even managed to fit a wee umbrella inside just in case. If I’d been smart, I’d also have tossed in a pair of fold-up flats, but I managed…barely.

7. When It’s Over, It’s Really Over

Once the ball drops, there is nothing left to see or do. The streets clear out fast. We were staying in the Financial District, and even after fighting the subway crowds, we were back at our hotel well before 1 a.m. We even stopped to pick up some street pizza on the way “home.” So if you’re expecting a big party in the streets, don’t. Once the ball drops, the crowd will break…fast. People just want to get out. Remember, some of them may be very hangry from waiting there all day. Of course, if you did buy a ticket to an event, you can always go back inside.

8. Only Take What You Need

The crowds are so thick that you will have no idea if someone pulls off your Tiffany necklace or Cartier watch. People’s hands will be all over you—not necessarily because they want them to be, but more so because they have no where else to put them as you shove your way to your final destination. Only take the essentials. In my clutch, I had the gear I mentioned previously, as well as lipstick and a compact. I tucked a credit card on my body. That was it. I didn’t take a lick of cash or anything else. Just the bare necessities—I even took off my wedding ring and watch, two things I never leave home without.

9. It’s Magical

Now, forget all that other stuff I just said about cops and crowds and all that jazz. None of it matters once the countdown begins. When you’re standing on that street surrounded by strangers and your loved ones, it’s like the world stops spinning for those ten seconds. It’s surreal and wonderful and heart-warming and so many other adjectives that I can’t put into words.

I spent the night standing on a corner with my best friend of 30 years, and I can’t explain the warmth that washed over me when we hugged in the glow of nearly 3,000 Waterford crystals at the stroke of midnight. I’m the least emotional human on the planet, but even I got teary-eyed. I would do it all again in a heartbeat to reply those few minutes of my life.

If you still have questions about what to expect on New Year’s Eve in New York City, shoot me a line via comment on this post or on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group. I’d love to hear from you.

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