This has been a bucket list item of mine ever since I was a kid watching the shenanigans on TV. The excitement of being in Times Square with the million plus people from around the world who annually pour into the Big Apple for this New Year’s celebration looked absolutely thrilling. However, I put it off for many years because I didn't want to deal with waiting long hours in the cold temperatures and was a bit concerned over the complete lack of access to bathrooms. However, after getting stationed back on the East Coast I finally decided to just go for it figuring that best case scenario it would be the exciting celebration I had witnessed every year since childhood and worst case it would just be a memory to look back and shake my head at. If this is one of your dreams to attend as well, here are just a few pointers to help plan the visit!
Step 1- Transportation. Unsurprisingly, flights into New York around New Year’s Eve book up far in advance and are quite expensive. Since I committed only two weeks out, I ended up buying a roundtrip on a Greyhound bus with a friend. While unfortunately the public transit standards in the U.S. are substandard to almost every where else in the world, it did the trick of getting us in and out of the city at a reasonable price and saved a lot of hassle for finding parking or getting flights.
Step 2- Hotels. Prices for hotel rooms anywhere near Times Square double if not triple for NYC, even when booking months out. Definitely book early and still be prepared to walk a substantial distance to get into the heart of the action. Alternatively, it is possible to make it a very long day trip.. I booked my bus to arrive at 0600 on NYE and depart at 0600 the next morning. While this did mitigate the need for a hotel, it was difficult to stay out the entire night as many places closed shortly after midnight as well as it was quite cold out!
Step 3- Tickets. If you want to get the full NYE experience, it would definitely be good to purchase tickets for one of the many parties hosted at the restaurants in the square. For a set price most of the restaurants offer food, drinks, bathrooms, and an area to step out into the Square right before midnight to catch the ball drop. Again, this requires significant planning in advance and is not cheap. Since I was late to the game, I registered for several lottery style drawings for a chance to buy tickets, none of which were successful. However, no tickets are required for most of the pens that divide up the Square, you just have to show up early in the morning to secure a spot. My friend and I showed up a bit late after many of the pens were already filled, but the security guard noticed his high and tight military haircut and asked if we were military. After producing ID cards the security guard took us through the crowds directly to the very front pen under the ball! We spent the next few hours meeting other military members and having a blast.
Step 4- Dress Warm. This is not the place for wearing a fancy NYE dress and definitely not heels. Wear lots of warming layers and comfortable shoes as it is an all-day effort and by night fall the temperatures frequently drop below zero. Thankfully it was an extremely mild winter that only dipped to 35 degrees (F) however I did take the necessary precautions and wore a lot of layers and the drinks throughout the day certainly helped keep me toasty.
Step 5- Speaking of alcohol, it is prohibited to bring any with you inside the Square and is not sold in the pens once you are inside. There is full security involving bag screening, metal detectors, and pat downs to go in the Square. However, any seasoned festival goer knows that there are ways around these measures. I bought plenty of small airplane sized mini bottles and stuffed my Ugg boots full of them. It was a very uncomfortable to walk going in, but it successfully got them in and there were plenty to last us both through midnight.
Step 6- Bathrooms. The challenge with drinking alcohol or any other beverages once inside is the lack of bathroom facilities. The restaurants are very strict with allowing entrance to only those customers that purchased the tickets and there are no port-a-johns nearby. It is also extremely challenging to make it in and out of the pens as the day wears on and they became more packed with people. Apparently many guys just went to corners of the pen and tried to discreetly relieve themselves (definitely not allowed) and several women we talked to admitted they wore adult diapers in anticipation of not being able to get out. Neither of those were an option I wanted to take, but thankfully the Marine Corps has taught me the talent of tactical dehydration, drinking just enough not to get fully dehydrated and pass out but not enough to require a toilet for hours on end. It is absolutely unhealthy, but this strategy made many a field exercise more bearable and often does the trick for me at festivals. Mid way through the afternoon though, I really had to go and shockingly the first restaurant I went to, the guard let me quickly sneak in. I was so relieved (quite literally) and was able to make it until after the celebration ended.
Step 7- Be Lucky. Looking back, I realized how extremely lucky we were with numerous things that were completely out of our control. In the morning while exploring the streets, we passed by the Morning Show being filmed and were invited to jump in. Then despite being late to Times Square- we were let-in and then taken to the very front, we successfully snuck in the mini bottles, the restaurant shared their restroom, and the weather was extremely mild. Overall the trip was an unforgettable and a massive success that I am so thankful to have done. That being said, I probably will not be attempting a round 2 unless I planned it out far in advance and managed to get a hotel room overlooking the Square that I did not have to leave. It is definitely worth doing once and an extremely memorable way to welcome a New Year!!