This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
New York City is the most iconic place to be on New Year’s Eve. Over a billion people view the famous Times Square Ball drop on their TV screens every year. Another million descend on Times Square to witness the start of a new year in person.
Our family decided to make this our Christmas present in 2008. My husband and I took our two youngest (teenagers at the time) for a NYC adventure that included Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Is going to Times Square for New Year’s Eve on your bucket list? It’s one of the biggest celebratory events you’ll ever participate in! If this is the year for you, be sure to be prepared with these things you should know…
Where and when does the ball drop?
The actual address is One Times Square, between 7th Avenue and Broadway. The ball is lit up and raised at about 6:00 pm on New Year’s Eve. It begins its descent at exactly 60 seconds before midnight.
Where can you view the ball drop?
You can see the ball and the large screens broadcasting it from many locations on 7th Avenue and on Broadway, beginning at the cross street of 43rd Street and working north from there to about 50th Street, although the “party” goes all the way to Central Park on 59th Street. There are also various restaurants and venues that hold special ticketed events from where the ball drop can be viewed, but they can be very pricey!
Is it just about the ball?
No. There’s so much more. Celebrities perform on stages near One Times Square at regular intervals, and television broadcasters emcee the evening’s festivities. Hats, balloons, and scarves are passed out to the crowds. Other activities may include sing-alongs, toasts, ethnic performances, video presentations, dancing, the throwing of confetti, and the sharing of your “midnight kiss” via social media! You can also add your New Year’s wish digitally, and it will be added to the confetti that is dropped.
Security on New Year’s Eve
As you can imagine, an event that draws a crowd this large requires a lot of security. Because of the measures taken by NYC, New Year’s Eve is probably the safest night of all to be there! Over 6000 policemen, including many undercover, work the streets on New Year’s Eve. They put snipers in place and have teams of bomb-sniffing dogs, too. Streets surrounding the Times Square ball are closed and barricaded to road traffic many hours before the festivities begin. Manhole covers are sealed shut. The Times Square subway station is closed. All who enter the cordoned area must enter on foot and will be inspected. No umbrellas, backpacks, large bags, or alcohol are allowed.
What is the set-up like?
Beginning right in front of the performing stage below the Times Square ball, every intersection becomes a “corral” — a square holding pen, barricaded off. People begin entering these corrals as early as 3:00 pm in the streets closest to the ball. As more and more people come, they are sent to “corrals” further north. If you want to be close to all of the action, you need to arrive early!
Just how cold does it get?
Very! If it’s sunny and clear during the day, beware, because that makes for an even colder night.
It was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit on New Year’s Eve 2008. With the wind-chill factor, it was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It was bone-chilling cold. We thought we were prepared with gloves, hats, scarves, extra socks, layered clothing, and winter coats. I guess one advantage to being in a “corral” of sardine-packed people is that you are somewhat shielded from the wind (unless you are tall or standing near the edges). You do stand because sitting on cement would be even colder, and there isn’t room for everyone to sit, anyway.
The gritty details
There are no portable bathrooms brought in for this event. Once you leave a “corral” you may not re-enter. It’s kind of an uncomfortable position to be in, especially if you have a small bladder. On one hand, they tell you to drink plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated. But then there’s no where to relieve yourself. When I went with my family, we ate dinner just before 4:00 pm, then used the bathroom at the restaurant and walked immediately to a “corral” within a block of the ball drop. I never ate or drank again after that point. The hard truth is that some people do relieve themselves into water bottles or other containers and leave them along the curb. Ee-ewww!
But the entertainment makes up for it, right?
Yes. And no. When you watch the televised version of Times Square’s New Year’s Eve happenings, it does seem like there is constantly something going on — an interview, a toast, a performance, a news report, a close-up of the ball, shots of Times Square revelers, and so on. But in truth, the actual live performances only take place about once an hour. The celebrity comes out of his/her heated trailer, gives a performance and then goes back inside to get out of the cold. But hey, you get to see the live performance! There’s something to be said for that.
As a person just standing in a “corral”, there’s a lot of dead time just waiting for things to happen. Of course, you can talk to people around you, enjoy the camaraderie, stomp your feet and rub your hands to warm up again, and snuggle with your loved ones. Pizza hawkers sell slices of pizza for an exhorbitant price if you get hungry. Or maybe you buy it for the warmth it brings you!
As I mentioned before, there are a lot of challenges to overcome to make it to midnight in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. For my daughter and I, the bitter cold, hours of standing (I have plantar fasciitis), and no access to a bathroom got the better of us. Plus, we weren’t sure the hype was all it was cracked up to be. Hey, I ‘m just being brutally honest here. At about 8:00 pm, we decided to leave.
The first thing we did was ask a policeman if there was any way we could bring items back to my husband and son, who really wanted to stay till midnight. He hesitated until we explained we just wanted to buy blankets and hand warmers for them. He gave us his name (he was a police lieutenant) and said to use his name to get back to the “corral” where my husband and son were.
We found a drugstore where we bought some fleece blankets and pocket hand warmers. And some more socks! We had to pass through multiple police inspections before we were allowed to hand these items to my husband and son. We were not allowed to re-enter the “corral”. But that’s okay because we didn’t want to!
From 9:00 to Midnight
Now my husband and son were much better prepared to make it till midnight. They told us later that the extra blankets and pocket warmers made all the difference. Or maybe it was just psychological. Somehow they managed to stay warm and motivated enough to watch the ball drop and all the other festivities at midnight.
On the other hand, my daughter and I stopped at an amazing bakery where we ate warm chocolate brownies and drank hot chocolate. We were finally warm for the first time in over five hours. We weren’t worried at all about being two females out on the streets of NYC. Our hotel was actually near the JFK airport, but since there were so many policemen everywhere, we felt perfectly safe navigating by subway.
Ironically, when we got back to the hotel, we turned on the TV and watched the Times Square festivities. We even saw my husband once in the crowd! We watched the ball drop, all the cheering, and the 3000 lbs of confetti that fell on the crowd.
I know that part would have been more fun had we still been at Times Square. We missed out. I also didn’t get to kiss my husband at midnight (our annual tradition). My husband and son were glad to be able to check this off their bucket lists, and I’m glad our leaving early and buying them blankets made it better for them!
More facts and tips
- the Times Square ball weighs 11,875 lbs, is 12 feet in diameter, and has 2688 Waterford crystals and 32, 256 LED lights. It requires 50,000 watts of power!
- it takes over a 100 people to drop the confetti from seven different buildings
- in 2015, 48 tons of trash was cleaned up after New Year’s Eve from Times Square; it consisted of confetti, balloons, party hats, pizza boxes, and empty bottles (maybe some weren’t so empty!)
- refer to this official website for more information about Times Square New Year’s Eve activities
- be sure to be prepared for the cold. My daughter suggests that maybe it’s not important to be so close to the ball when it drops. You might want to wait till 9:00 pm to join the crowds farther away. That way you can still be part of the crowds and celebrating, but not have to be cold or stand as long.
- take a selfie! We were so very cold, it didn’t even occur to us to take photos, but it would have been nice to have something to prove we were there, other than the souvenir scarves we were given
Have you been to Times Square for New Year’s Eve? Be sure to comment below and share your experience!