New Year’s Eve in Times Square New York is one of the most Iconic Celebrations Anywhere in the world. Along with the Sydney Harbour Bridge Fireworks, London’s incredible modern displays and increasingly Dubai’s stunning displays, New York is right up there as a bucket list place to spend New Year’s Eve. While the Times Square Celebration lacks the elaborate firework displays of its competitors, the atmosphere created by over a million people lining the relatively small square, filled with the bright lights of the broadway billboards, makes for a stunning setting for the world-famous Ball drop.
As Midnight approaches on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, New York, the Waterford Crystal ball, over 5000kg in weight, begins its 60-second journey to the New Year. The “ten count” is roared aloud by over a million revelers and at the stroke of midnight the New York Times Building, upon which the Ball rests, erupts into a display of exploding fireworks, as over 30 million pieces of confetti rain down onto the streets below. It is a stirring image, and one many people dream of from childhood while watching the festivities on TV. An amazing Spectacle, so why would you need a Survival Guide for New Year’s Eve in Times Square New York?
Well, The Reality is somewhat different, it can be a real nightmare. Crammed into tight pens with no amenities for hours on end, in freezing conditions, waiting for the allotted hour can feel more like an act of survival the entertainment. Millions of people still attend every year though and it is one of the most attended annual events in the year worldwide. The Appeal is so that people are willing to overlook the negatives and make the pilgrimage. If that is you, this guide takes a look at how to survive it, what precautions to take, and how to make the most of the most special night of the year.
It is not that bad, is it?
Over one million people attend the celebrations every year and have done for as long as anyone can remember, so the horror stories must be false right? Wrong, first up let’s take a reality check about what you can expect from the big night.
The cheapest way to experience New Year’s Eve in New York is in one of the free public pens set up inside Times Square. These are on a first come first serve basis and fill up quite early. The Public pens do have their drawbacks. And that is, to put it mildly.
Temperature – “The Wind Goes Right through you, It’s no place for the old!” as sung by a rueful Kirsty MacColl in the Pogue timeless Christmas hit. And oh boy was she right! New York, when it wants to be, is Bitterly cold. It’s one thing charging round the city visiting tourist attractions, nipping in and out of shops, and heading down to the perpetually hot Subway. But on New Year’s Eve, you will be required to stand in the Square for “Several” hours without moving. It is impossible to express how utterly miserably cold you may end up if the weather is bad!
The Chances of it being cold are one thing and not to be underestimated, but really that is the least of your worries, what if you are caught in one of New York’s rain bursts, or worse still a snowstorm? When the weather is REALLY bad in New York it is not funny, most of the time you can just shelter from it, but if this coincides with New Year’s Eve…
12+ Hours of boredom – We have alluded several times you may be there for some time, but it’s only now we fully address the lunacy. If you arrive after 1 pm availability will be limited! We advise 12 pm at the latest to get a good spot. Yep, that’s 12 hours of standing in a pen with little or nothing to do in the FREEZING cold… it gets worse.
Champagne – Since the age of 18 (Born in the UK) I have toasted the New Year in with some bubbly, a cork popping on the turn of the year is a well-worn tradition, but if you are in a Time Square pen…Forget it. In fact, forget any alcohol at all.
Public Drinking is illegal in New York and while the NYPD “may” let you off, by that we mean they won’t arrest your ass and haul you off to jail. They will confiscate it. The best plan is to not even try.
There are no Toilets! – This is the one people really struggle to get their heads around. Including us. Once in the pen THAT IS IT. You can leave, no problem, you are not a prisoner, but you will not be allowed back in. No, You can’t save your spot by leaving your other half in there while you nip off, once the NYPD closes a pen off as full, it is one-way traffic until next year! If you need a pee, hold it. If you need anything else, sorry, the same advice.
Other People will not be holding it – Yep if you need a wee there are limited options and you can be sure they will all be exploited by the people around you. Some will leave, either through the cold or desperation, and you will not see them again. Some will use a receptacle. A Bottle, Bag, the floor, anything that can hold fluid. Some will fill their ready-worn Adult Diapers…yes really. Others may just have an accident!
At this point two trains of thought tend to develop, One group will be thinking ” This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I have watched the Ball Drop EVERY year for my entire life and I am willing to do whatever it takes to realize this Bucket list item!”
Others will just be thinking “F$%^ That!!!” Amazingly over a million people each year are in the first group!
So if you are really determined to Brave the Cold, Stay Sober, Hold Your Pee, and generally be miserable for 12+ Hours we will explain how to best survive the experience below, but first, here are a couple of alternatives to Actually enjoying New Year’s Eve in New York.
Attend a Times Square Party
These are definitely the BEST all-around solution, however before we do the BIG sell, let’s get one thing straight, you are going to have to cough up a lot of cash to attend a Party that has a live view of the ball drop, How much? $700-1800 Per Person!
Ouch, there are a lot of cheaper parties in Times Square, but all the cheaper options will not have a view of the Ball Drop. Essentially you will be in a lounge or bar with no view of the outside world watching the event unfold a few meters away. If you can’t see it live why even bother with the expense and hassle of being in Times Square? So if You are attending a party in Times Square make it one that has a view of the Ball Drop, yes it is insanely expensive but you will have a premium Open Bar, Fancy Food Buffet, and most importantly, Toilets!
Check Out All the Best Live View Parties in Times Square here
Book a Hotel Room and Enjoy Your Own Personal Live View
If you can bag a hotel room overlooking the Square and the New York Times Building then you really have bagged a winner, there are two principal drawbacks though.
Hotels are not Stupid, they know if their rooms offer this, and they now can charge unthinkably high prices for them. Expect to pay 800-2000 a NIGHT. And have minimum stays rules applied to the booking, you are not going to be able to book for just one night! This makes this option incredibly expensive!
Secondly, it’s a bit like watching it on TV, From behind your hotel room window, the party is going off in the distance without you. It is not really the sort of once-in-a-lifetime event most people expect, it is certainly civilized, but you could be in a nicer, much cheaper hotel room, actually watching it on TV instead.
But if you can afford to splash out and enjoy the spectacle from afar, self-catered with Champagne it is definitely a sophisticated and viable option.
Here are a few Hotels with Rooms offering a Times Square View of the Ball Drop.
Forget Times Square
This can be considered fairly good advice no matter the day of the year, but on New Year’s Eve expect utter carnage in and around the whole Times Square area. Really this is the point and we do not want to discourage people too much as the whole insanely busy thing is why so many people crown in there. The excitement of the hustle and bustle. But New Yorkers avoid it like the plague, and there is a ton of other stuff going on in New York on New Year’s eve, it does not all begin and end in Times Square. If the sound of all this madness is not your cup of tea you can still have a GREAT night out seeing in the New Year in the Best City in the world.
Surviving the Pens
If you are one of the many millions who make the yearly pilgrimage, Be Warned it is not an easy feat and is a mere act of survival at times. Below is everything we have learned in order to make the experience as painless as possible, however, expect to endure long periods of standing, boredom intense cold, hunger, thirst, sobriety, and possibly a bursting bladder.
You are not allowed large bags into the cordon, and while a common misconception is you are not allowed food and drink into the pens this is permitted within reason. Snacks are definitely a good idea but you will be limited, drinks wise we can only advise water, anything with caffeine will increase your need to urinate.
Americans love to start the day with a large cup of coffee, however, this is to be avoided at all costs. Caffeine is a diuretic, it makes you pee, and this is the last thing you need in the pens. Start the day with some orange juice, or just water. You can try Decaff Coffee, but it obviously won’t have the same kick.
So a Small Bag with essentials and snacks is the way forward. A bottle of water each is enough, you need to drink to stave off dehydration, but not so much you need to wee. Men have more leeway in this (it is easier to wee in a bottle) but it’s still not ideal with 1 million people present and the TV cameras rolling.
A Small bag is a little ambiguous. They specifically mention knapsacks (rucksacks) are not allowed so we have to assume even small knapsacks will be frowned upon. So a small bag to us is something you carry in your hand. Maybe a tote bag or drawstring/cinch bag. However, this term is ambiguous and the ONLY person who decides is the NYPD officer who checks your bag. Also, remember ALL bags will be searched so don’t try and smuggle in anything you shouldn’t have. If the officer decides you are not having it, you will lose it or be denied entry.
Good Snacks would be anything calorie-dense. So Candy Bars, Nuts, chips, etc. Anything convenient really. You are not on a health kick here this is survival! Oh and avoid anything sugar-free as certain sweeteners can act as a laxative, and we don’t even want to get into that! Other good things to pack are Lip Balm, Mints, Portable hand Warmers, and tissues.
Avoid a large breakfast and a large fatty meal the night before, and try and have a “movement” before you leave the hotel! along with ensuring your bladder is as empty as possible.
Sorry for all the crude talk, but really this is necessary if you don’t want to have the leave the pen after an hour or two!
We cannot understate how warm you have to dress! Let’s start from the bottom up.
Wear Sturdy shoes, preferably hiking boots but anything of that ilk and preferably a size too big, so you can wear more socks! At least three pairs and one pair of long thick woolen socks that you can pull up.
A thin insulation pair of trousers with a more robust outer pair will do for your legs but if you could bare a pair of windbreakers over trousers then you will be winning, but this may be too much of a fashion faux pas for some, this is no fashion parade, but you might end up on TV so there are limits!
Top half you need layers, preferably thermal, maybe some Merino Wool, but as long as you layer up you are onto a winner. At some point, you need a windbreaker though. The number one cause of cold is wind chill and all the layers in the world will not stop an icy new york blast! Something in your wardrobe HAS to be impervious to wind. If you are planning on a nice wool overcoat, this is fine and we understand if you don’t want to wear an Anorak on the outside, No one wants bad New Years’ Eve Selfies!
In such a case the windbreaker can be worn underneath, so a really light waterproof windbreaker will keep the wind at bay and not cramp your style! Emergency windbreakers can be packed in your bag too, Newspaper, and Bin Liners both work well in a pinch, even if you are prepared you could save someone else New Year if you have a couple of bin liners or a newspaper in your bag, and both of these are to be worn UNDER your outer jacket. You can punch a hole in the bin liner and wear it as a poncho but remember… TV cameras!
Gloves, Minimum Two Pairs, again it’s all about layers. A thin woolen thermal pair for the base and a thick breathable windproof pair for the outer layer. This should be enough to keep frostbite at bay!
And last but not least, in fact, arguably the MOST important, a Hat and Scarf. Something rather than nothing is most important here but making sure your neck, ears, and head are covered is essential for keeping warm. Most of the body’s heat is lost through the head and the wind really does blow down your neck. A big thick hat and wooly scarf will help stave off the cold for as long as possible.
If you heed all that advice we can safely say you will…Still be freezing cold! Honestly, with temps as cold as they can be in New York in December, NOTHING will keep you warm, you need to keep moving or shelter, neither are possible in the pens, you just have to do your best to not get dangerously cold.
Another great tip for staying warm is copying penguins, they huddle together for warmth, and there will be plenty of people to get close to in the pen!
For best viewing, start arriving at Midday. The pens fill up fast and by 1 pm the best pens will be full. They will not reopen until NEXT YEAR. As we have stated this is a whole 12 hours before midnight and a long time to spend standing around in the cold.
Remember that you will need to decide which side of Times Square you wish to stand on, there is NO crossing over so approach from either 6th Avenue if you wish to stand on the east, or 8th Avenue if you wish to stand on the west. This will make more sense when we explain the Cordon system.
The NYPD Cordon
To control the crowds the entire Times Square falls under an NYPD cordon and is closed off. To access this you need a good reason, a hotel booking in the area, a restaurant reservation, or a ticket to a party. But don’t think any of those is a ticket to get in. You will be granted access but only to get to your ticket location. There is NO entering the cordon and wandering around for any reason.
The Entire 7th Avenue is closed off from 38th Street northwards as far as 59th Street, That’s Park Avenue!!! Times Square is accessed from 8th or 6th Avenue, Depending on the side. If you are on the west side and need to get to the east you have to go all the way around. The various streets, starting at 38th are closed as the pens in the square fill. Once a street is closed you move northward to the next street and begin filling the pens from there. This is carried on until all the pens are filled and they have literally run out of entry points at 59th Street.
At this point Times Square is full and you cannot get in without a ticket or hotel booking and even then you will only be allowed straight to your hotel or venue. This highlights the need to be there earlier. It rarely fills up this far and in all honestly, from 47th Street onwards you are not really in times square and a fair way from the Ball drop. You will get a view of the ball and fireworks but it’s not really worth the effort.
You Cannot Come and Go
Once inside a pen that is it. You are there for the duration. Of course, you cannot be held against your will and you are free to leave at ANY point. But be under no illusion. That is that. Once you have left your pen you will not be allowed back. You can always move further north and join a new pen, assuming they are not all full, but your view is going to be hugely compromised and you have just wasted whatever time you spent in the first pen. Simply put take what you need, in your small bag, to last you the entire 12 hours!
Restaurants up and down the Square are often open for most of the day. These will require reservations and some people think this is a cheat to get in the cordon. It sort of is and you may be allowed in to visit the restaurant at the time of your reservation. But you will be required to leave afterward. You will not be allowed into a pen and certainly not allowed to linger in the small areas where there are no pens such as the sidewalks. The NYPD is present and will move you on sharpish!
The Unpleasant Topic
This brings us to the thing that no one wants to talk about but is on everyone’s mind. The Restroom Situation. There are No Restrooms available to anyone on the Pens. No Potapotties, No shielded areas, and No system in place for you to leave temporarily to visit a restroom. If you need to go inside the pens you have 3 options.
- – Leave and give up your place
- – Hold it
- – Go
If you just can’t manage either 2 or 3 then you may leave to find the nearest restroom, but you are unlikely to be allowed to return. We have heard tales of younger revelers being given sympathy by the NYPD and allowed back in but this is rare and any adult will be shown little compassion. Holding it works to a point but obviously has its limitations, which leaves you to option 3, to go, inside the pen via whatever means necessary! We said people don’t want to talk about this.
Men – Us men have it easy-ish. We can find a bottle or some kind of receptacle and with a little care and shielding from fellow sympathetic revelers, we can relieve ourselves fairly modestly and easily.
Women – have it far tougher! Really the options are so limited. The most horrifying solution we hear is Adult Diapers. We should be maybe a little more sympathetic here as for some this is just a reality of life and we don’t want to be too negative to these people but really when health is at a stage where adult diapers are a necessity you are usually under near-constant medical supervision and are there to catch accidents. Choosing this option seems unthinkable really. We are not talking about slightly senior ladies who have a touch of bladder control, those products won’t help here, these are full-on diapers that can take a full bladder.
When we first heard people took this option we found it hard to believe but people really are donning full-sized adult diapers and simply relieving themselves in the middle of times square crowds. This option is not for us!
The other choice is a Shewee, a more modern approach started by festival-goers. At festivals, there are two types of toilet facilities, the portapotty type, which are limited in number and have LONG queues, and the male-only urinals. These are male-only purely down to anatomy, we can rock up, whip out, and go, ladies, are just not so gifted. A Shewee readdresses that in-equality. A plastic funnel, routes the fluid into a more conventional jet, just like men’s “plumbing” and gives the user the same freedom as men. So now women can aim for a bottle, urinal, up against a tree, whatever.
In Times Square with a million people it is still an issue but with care and even using an optional “bag” Women can get by without resorting to the baser option of a diaper. It is still not ideal, but really options are super limited.
Here is a full “set up”of a Shewee and Peebol Bag to catch and store everything!
Honestly, many a civilized person must now be at their wit’s end reading this. We honestly think the main reason the event is free is if they charged they would be sued! It is next to inhumane and simply unthinkable for so many. The concept of New Year’s Eve, at Times Square, seems so alluring, but the lack of basic amenities just pushes it to the unthinkable for many.
If so, then your options are limited, forget it! or head over to our Times Square Party list and get ready to drop $1000 a person for a live view. This is the Reality of Times Square on New Year’s Eve!
Food And Drink
We are at the very bottom of the barrel here, so let’s start moving on up. After all 1 million+ people do this every year there MUST be an upside, and it starts with Food. Drink is limited to non-alcoholic, and you are on your own short of begging for some water. But for food, there is a loophole. And that loophole is Domino’s Pizza!
We are not sure how they wangle it but Domino’s is able to deliver Pizza to the Square. Not individual orders but they cook up large numbers and sell directly to the crowds. Prices are $20-30 per Pizza depending on demand. This is a lot of money for a Pizza but trusts us, it is a godsend after hours with no food, or nourishment in the harsh New York Winter air, a piping hot pizza covered in gooey cheese is like Crack to a Crackhead.
Other than that you are pretty limited to what you have brought in with you.
After the cold, the lack of food, the lack of amenities, the No Alcohol rule, and the sheer pain caused by standing still for 12 hours the next biggest issue is Boredom. 12 hours is a long time to essentially do nothing. It really drags and gives you endless time to focus on all the negatives. However, this time is often put to better use as one of the most fun elements of the experience is the almost “wartime” camaraderie that starts to rear its head as things go on.
You get a real sense of, we are all in this together and the pen starts to become a community, you will meet new friends, almost certainly from very different walks of life. People really pull together and help the crowd get through it.
As the day wears on things start to pick up and the entertainment gets going. There are live performances and the tv anchors patrol the crowds doing interviews and getting everyone n the spirit. Freebies are provided by the main sponsors and the crowd gets a lot of interaction from the hosts. Around 6 pm the Ball is lifted into place ready for the drop. This is one of the biggest moments of the day and an exciting event to focus on. Still, 6 hours to go!
As the night draws on and the clock runs down things really get exciting. In the last hour you forget all the hardships and the buzz ramps to levels you are unlikely to have experienced before. With a single minute of the year left the ball begins the journey and the atmosphere goes off the scale when the ten count starts it goes up a few more notches over a million people counting in unison. And at the stroke of midnight, it erupts!
The Noise of the Fireworks and the ton of confetti raining down it really is a spectacle like no other. We wish there was an easier way to experience it but part of the magic is the anticipation, the knowledge that good things come to those who wait, and once the payoff arrives the hardships are instantly forgotten, the spectacle so mind-blowing you feel you would have queued 48 hours to witness it. And after crawling into your bed freezing and exhausted you will awake to one question, one every other person really wants the answer to:
Is it Worth It?
Over a million people every year cannot be wrong, can they? Well, the ratio of return visitors is pretty low. For the majority, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With so many things that are hard to do the effort of the journey makes the reward all the sweeter. If things are easy they are less gratifying when you achieve them.
There is no doubt that bagging a great spot in NYE pen in times square and holding out for 12 hours of freezing, starving, bladder-busting torturous boredom is anything but an extreme challenge. As such the payoff can definitely feel worth it, but there will definitely be times when you seriously question that. It is one of those journeys that you can only judge its worthiness after the fact. Most of the day is not fun, apart from snippets of camaraderie and companionship it’s a cold miserable grind to midnight.
For many it is simply intolerable, the toilet situation, the being on your feet for 12 hours, the cold, and boredom it’s just too much. Many fail to make it, driven out of the pens by the intense cold r bladder urgency never to be seen again. The Attrition rate makes the success even sweeter.
Of course, it is worth a thought that we may be one of the lost, one who has underestimated the boredom and cold and has to run, thought should be given to a plan B as we never really know how strong we are and No one wants to sit alone in a New York Hotel room watching the Celebrations on TV.
So is it worth it, Of course, it is, as a once-and-done type of thing, and if you ever decide to have another go, then you will be just as qualified as us to answer the question!
The Noise and Excitement of the Square at midnight along with the torrents of confetti pouring down on the elated crown sends shivers down your spine, these are moments you never forget and the grueling journey only adds to the sense of accomplishment.
Really compared to paying $900 to stand in the window of Bubba Gump Shrimp or look down on the party from a rooftop seem all the less exciting, you are paying to be a voyeur at someone else’s party rather than being in the very heart of the action!
Have your Say
Have you got any questions? We know the setup and the system are pretty confusing and are scarcely believable, but we have done our best to be as honest and upfront about the challenges you face and the difficulties imposed on revelers to make it to midnight. So if you have any other questions, concerns or queries then fire away.
Maybe you have braved the Chaos and have war stories to tell, we would love to hear them. As we say the Atmosphere in the pens is almost warlike and has a great camaraderie and we would love to extend the here. So let us have your stories, warts and all, the good and the messy, in the comments below!
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