Perhaps your new year’s resolution for 2012 is to step up your travel plans, or to just simply step out more overall? With the new year soon upon us, here are 10 good reasons to get your goals into gear straight from the starting gate. This roundup of New Year’s Eve celebrations spans destinations across the U.S. that do it best, each staging unique takes on blowout bashes for the biggest party night of the year. When the clock strikes midnight, opt to usher in 2012 with some raucous revelry or a family-friendly affair. Either way, these fetes are just the ticket to guarantee that your fun-fueled farewell to 2011 is met by a bragging-rights beginning to 2012.
New York City, NY
Yes, it’s freezing and crowded, but attending the most famous New Year’s Eve celebration in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime must. December 31 will see 1 million revelers pour into Times Square (while another billion ogle the spectacle from their TV screens), where the center-of-the-New-Year’s-Eve-universe for more than a 100 years will usher in 2012 with star-studded performances by Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, part of Dick Clarks’ New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. Crowds that stick it out for the sparkling12-foot, Waterford Crystal-covered, illuminated ball drop will be rewarded with a blitz of confetti, balloons, pyrotechnic displays, and celebratory smooches. Of course, countless restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are abuzz with their own bigger-and-better-mentality Big Apple-style NYE bashes to follow up with, guaranteeing that the City That Never Sleeps lives up to its moniker for another year to come.
Walt Disney World, FL
With even more fireworks and entertainment scheduled, and extended openings to as late as 2 a.m., a trio of Orlando-area theme parks manage to up their oomph in the name of New Year’s Eve – no small feat considering Disney pretty much makes every day over-the-top magical (where else are fireworks a nightly occurrence?). The Magic Kingdom kicks things up a notch with a double dose of pyrotechnics lighting up the skies above the Cinderella Castle at 8:30 p.m. (prime time for the little ones), and again just before midnight. Epcot combines music, fire, lights, lasers, and fireworks for two showings of its “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” display, ideal for viewing from the various international pavilions and restaurants. Hollywood Studios, meanwhile, brings together music, fireworks, lasers, and water effects for two showings of its “Fantasmic” Disney movies-and-music spectacular, followed by a midnight fireworks presentation.
Key West, FL
A warm-weather winter magnet, this southernmost Florida city’s quirkiness can’t help but spill over to its New Year’s Eve celebrations, with not one, not two, but three only-in-Key West events. A trio of outlandish “drops” showcase Key West’s unusual take on the Times Square countdown tradition, including the descent of a costumed “pirate wench” from a schooner’s mast, set to the sound of booming canons and the cheers of spectators and the ship’s “pirate” crew (at the Schooner Wharf Bar in the Historic Seaport area). Thousands more gather on anything-goes Duval Street to watch a mammoth manmade conch shell descend from atop Hemingway’s favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s Bar (live music is on inside), while more crowds congregate for the “Red Shoe Drop” just down the road, where bedazzled local drag queen legend Sushi is lowered in a super-sized red high heel from above the Bourbon Street Pub (peek inside for over-the-top performances by female impersonators).
Billed as the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the Southeast, Atlanta’s Peach Drop event – now in it’s 23rd year – serves as sweet nectar for the more than 100,000 revelers who buzz in for the full-day, family-friendly festival. Expect carnival rides, vendors, live music (classic-rock band Kansas headlines this year), and its namesake Peach Drop (a play on Times Square’s ball drop), all in the name of feting the new year. Held at downtown’s Underground Atlanta (a six-block shopping, dining, and entertainment complex), the activities culminate with the descent of an 800-pound fiberglass and foam peach (the Georgia state fruit) from atop a 138-foot-high illuminated tower, set in sync with an explosion of confetti and fireworks. Bars and nightclubs in Underground Atlanta’s Kenny’s Alley keep the late-night party going till 3 a.m.
Head to Miami for a myriad of New Year’s Eve celebrations, mixed up with the sun, surf, sand, and sexy scene that the city is known for. Kick off the day in Coconut Grove with the whimsical 30th annual King Mango Strut Parade, a parody of traditional holiday parades that serves to spoof on the year’s major news and players. Then, take in some of the top names in music (Cee-Lo Green, Ne-Yo, Pete Wentz, and more) at the second annual, three-day-long Orange Drive Miami Music Festival, which kicks off on December 30, and is held on the sands along South Beach’s Ocean Drive (look for a midnight pyrotechnics display on the beach on New Year’ Eve). Or, head to Bayfront Park where a free concert gives way to another midnight fireworks show over Biscayne Bay and a drop of the 35-foot neon “Big Orange” down the side of the InterContinental hotel. Some of the hottest tickets in town are for the world-class nightlife venues that continue on well into the night, with top-billed DJs like Rick Ross at Cameo, Ne-Yo at Mansion, and DJ Axwell of Swedish House Mafia at Fountainebleau.
New Orleans, LA
You wouldn’t expect the city responsible for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest to skimp on its New Year’s Eve celebrations, would you? New Orleans pulls out all the stops on December 31, when the stroke of midnight is really just the starting bell for an all-night bash. Jam-packed Jackson Square is the hub, with live musical entertainment leading up to the countdown, helmed by the drop of an 8-foot-tall, illuminated fleur-de-lis (symbol of the Big Easy) from an illuminated perch that it shares with “Baby New Year,” set five stories atop the Jax Brewery. Fifteen minutes of fantastic fireworks follow, shot into the night sky from a duo of barges on the Mississippi River, before crowds disperse to the surrounding French Quarter with its boisterous Bourbon Street, and to nearby music club-dotted Frenchman Street, where they whoop it up till the wee hours.
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio serves up New Year’s Eve celebrations in Texas-sized proportions, with no fewer than a quarter-million revelers rolling in for one of the biggest free fiestas in the country. The energized event, dubbed Celebrate San Antonio, unfolds at HemisFair Park, set just a stone’s throw away from the buzzing bars, eateries, and shops of the city’s star strip, the River Walk. Musicians perform on four stages, food stalls dish out international grub, and family activities abound, all in a buildup to a fireworks extravaganza at the stroke of midnight. The pyrotechnic pageant launches off of the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas in a dazzling 17-minute display (tip: Book a table in the tower-top restaurant for private access to the viewing observation deck). Round out the revelry with a late-night stroll to the festive nightspots by the adjacent River Walk, which will still be basking in the glow of some 1.8 million holiday lights (20 times more than years past).
Las Vegas, NV
Sure, Las Vegas parties like it’s New Year’s Eve just about every night of the year, but come December 31, the city raises the bar to a larger-than-life level. The epicenter of activity unfolds at the America’s Party event on the pedestrianized Strip, where some 320,000 revelers gather for some merrymaking, mingling, and nearly 50,000 mesmerizing pyrotechnic effects shot off above Sin City’s neon lights from surrounding rooftops. Or, wander downtown to the Fremont Street Experience, where the fourth annual TributePalooza street party sees a dozen metal and classic-rock cover bands play underneath a dazzling illuminated overhead canopy. Meanwhile, A-list headliners swooping in to ring in 2012 include Stevie Wonder at The Cosmopolitan, Guns N’ Roses at the Hard Rock Hotel, and John Legend at The Palms, to name but a few. Of course, a wealth of celebrity- and star DJ-hosted nightclub events are on the roster (try Pure with Chris Brown, TAO with Kim Kardashian, Marquee with Kaskade, or Rain with Paul Oakenfold), as are opening nights for the new pageant of 2012’s sure-to-be “it” spots (look out for the 1-OAK nightclub at Mirage, hosted by Fergie; RPM nightclub at Tropicana; or the Hyde Lounge at Bellagio).
Take your New Year’s Eve celebrations to the slopes of the Rockies, with some revelry in Vail. The evening festivities kick off with a traditional torchlight parade on Golden Peak, featuring as many as 300 skiers and snowboarders from the Vail Ski & Snowboard School who schuss the slopes in an illuminated train, glow sticks in hand. The Colorado ski town’s first round of NYE fireworks follow up the spectacle, as does the family-friendly First Night festival, held at the mountaintop Adventure Ridge – accessible by gondola, food stands, kid-centric activities, a choral group, and a live broadcast of the Times Square ball drop assure the festivities maintain their momentum. A secondary fireworks display explodes above Vail Mountain for more merriment at midnight, as does some pretty explosive nightlife at bars and restaurants throughout town. A massive dance party at the Dobson Ice Arena is due to be the biggest bash in town, featuring three DJs and a midnight balloon drop, with thousands of dollars in cash and prizes tucked inside the balloons.
New Year’s Eve celebrations in Boston run through the requisite roster of big-city offerings (fine dining, concerts, nightclubs), but what really sets Beantown apart from the pack is its family-friendly First Night festival. The prototype for some 70 spin-off First Night events nationwide, the daylong event was launched in 1976 as an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve festival dedicated to celebrating the arts, cultural diversity, and the family institution. More than a million people are set to pour into downtown on December 31 to ogle the work of some 1,000 artists and indulge in any of nearly 200 performances and exhibits, including live music acts (like soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples at Symphony Hall), the Family Festival at the Hynes Convention Center, the Grand Procession down Boylston Street, ice-sculpture displays, and much more, all rounded out by a midnight fireworks display over the harbor.
- Times Square
- Times Square