Surviving the Ball Drop in Times Square on NYE

So that’s one for the bucket list, I suppose. On new year’s eve 2017, the boyfriend and I went to Times Square to watch the ball drop! Here are my experiences and what I’ve learned from it.

Firstly, I never want to do it again. Yes, it looked amazing for the 2 minutes at midnight when all the confetti fell and everyone was cheering. But outside of that, it was almost 12 hours of straight suffering.

The thing is, I’m not going to tell you not to do it. So many people (online and in real-life) told me not to go. Even on the day of the celebration, as I approached an NYPD officer to ask for directions on how to get into the Square, he was like “Oh no…why would you want to do that?” He looked like he was genuinely worried for us. But of course, if your heart and mind are set on trying it out, there’s no use trying to convince you otherwise. But I can firmly say I personally won’t do it again. I do hope to watch the Ball Drop at a more comfortable distance (maybe from one of the surrounding hotels should I decide I one day have more than $1K to splurge on a room for a night), but I’m not sure if I’d survive another outdoor Ball Drop.

Here’s my guide based on my experience. There are definitely things I could’ve improved on and I’ll note it down along the way so hopefully, you’re more prepared. I’ll start off by outlining what I brought and then move on to the logistics of getting through the day.

Things to bring

What we brought in terms of food:

  • 4 x Asian buns (for lunch + dinner)
  • Snacks consisting of:
    • 4 x granola bars
    • Bag of pretzels
    • 1 bottle of water

We saw lots of people bring loads of snacks, candies, etc. To be honest, I ate one granola bar + 1.5 out of my 2 allotted buns. It was so cold I just didn’t feel like eating frozen buns. Our bottle of water froze by the end of the night. You also want tsavoryin mind not to bring anything too savoury or salty since you can’t have much water.

What I wore from my bottommost layers to my outermost ones:

  • A Uniqlo HEATTECH long sleeve innerwear t-shirt
  • A regular knit sweater
  • A regular hoodie
  • A Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket 
  • A North Face trench coat (that I use daily in Montreal since it’s pretty warm and goes to my knees so I get that extra protection)
  • A scarf
  • Thermal underwear leggings
  • Lululemon leggings
  • Jeans
  • Knee high socks
  • Thick winter socks
  • UGG Adirondack II winter boots (these aren’t the usual UGG boots your mind conjures when you think of UGGs. They work quite well in the snow and they’re lined with wool)
  • Gloves with touchscreen finger capabilities (from Muji. They work quite well!)
  • A pair of mittens to go on top of those gloves

You’d think I was pretty decked out in clothing eh? I literally couldn’t feel my entire body for a good 5 hours towards the end of the night. I would also recommend a toque or something, but I personally did have 3 layers of hoods on my head (1 from my hoodie, 1 from my down jacket, and one from my trench coat).

Other things we had brought:

  • Headphones
  • 4 stick on heat wraps in total (usually for neck/back pains) that last 8+ hours
  • 3 x 2-pack hand warmers per person (so 6 each, 12 in total)
  • 2 x battery packs (10,000 mah each)

I rarely pulled out my phone. I had brought a battery pack since I thought I’d be playing with my phone for much of the wait. I didn’t end up using my phone much other than to film or take pictures of key moments during the 12 hours.

 

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Waiting to be let into a holding pen.

 

Keep in mind that you’re not allowed big bags in Times Square on NYE. Everyone with backpacks either had to throw them away or go home. I had a small women’s Kate Spade bag, and also used my various pockets on my clothes to hold stuff.

Word of advice, keep mostly everything you’d want to take out during the day in your outermost pockets. I made the mistake of keeping something in my inner jacket, and unzipping to get to it made me want to kill myself.

I’d also advise bringing like double the number of hand warmers/heat packs that we brought despite them lasting for 8+ hours. Here’s the thing: the direct part where your skin comes in contact with the hand warmers are warm. It doesn’t carry through to any other parts of your body—at least that was my experience. Your body just stops being able to warm up at a certain point. Seriously, if you could stick hand warmers all over your body, I’d do it.

I’d highly suggest you bring diapers. I know a lot of people around us had it. There are absolutely no washrooms as you wait. There are already a million and one other things you will be worrying about, and having to not piss your pants because you have the option of a diaper sounds like a good idea. I personally didn’t end up using the washroom for 12+ hours, but I’ll get into that in the next section!

Logistics

So obviously, one thing you have to do before going at all is to check out this website: https://www.timessquarenyc.org/times-square-new-years-eve

This is Times Square’s official website, and they have a special section for New Year’s Eve where you can find FAQs, information, and more. Even if you think you don’t need the FAQs, you definitely will need to know where the road closures are and how you can access the square on December 31st. We also read a lot of other online forums first and guides.

Secondly, eat a good breakfast, but lower your water consumption. Personally, upon waking up that morning, I ate at our Airbnb but didn’t drink anything. For breakfast, what I did was pour some water in my mouth, swish it around, then spat it back out in the sink. Just so I could get rid of that thirstiness. I literally didn’t drink anything else (not even the water we brought until about 9PM ish when I got nauseous from slight dehydration. At that point, I took like 4 healthy gulps from our semi-frozen water bottle).

Unless if you’re a guy and can maybe go in a bottle, you can expect no washroom privileges for the next 12+ hours. And even if you’re a guy, no one will appreciate you holding on to a bottle of your pee near them throughout the night.

We actually stayed in New Jersey in Secaucus for most of our New York trip, but we booked an Airbnb for our last night in New York which was about a 15 minutes walk away from Times Square. This was great because public transit was a nightmare after the Ball Drop and due to all the road closures, Taxis and Ubers weren’t the most accessible.

We headed out at around 11AM after checking into our Airbnb, and along the way, I wanted to hit up the washroom one last time. This was at about 11:15AM. We were aware of what streets were closed and which ones were opened, but it was still confusing to find the actual path to get into Times Square. We ended up walking around quite a bit and had to ask police officers stationed around the gated areas till we figured it out.

When you get to the entry point, expect a wait. We waited about 20 minutes or so before we got in. By the time we were in our holding pen (they have separate holding pens to separate the 1 million people into sections), it was basically 12PM. That meant we had a 12-hour wait ahead of us.

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Our view from where we stood of the Countdown Stage

Our spot was right next to the Countdown Stage, where the major celebrities and announcements happened. Basically, to help you get a sense of the bearings, this was right outside the McDonald’s (1560 Broadway, New York, NY 10036, USA).  There’s also a “Planet Fitness” stage (basically, the name changes based on their key sponsor for the year) that was further away from us.

To be honest, we only saw the celebrities for brief moments since the Countdown Stage actually isn’t set up to face the crowds. All the announcers and celebrities face away from the crowds with One Times Square (the building where the Ball is dropped) behind them. There’s a special section where press and cameras see them directly, but again, not really anyone else in the crowds. We could catch glimpses of say, Mariah Carey and Camila Cabello from the side every now and then as they performed on the stage, and also when they walked down the stairs to a tent behind the stage.

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Steve Harvey exiting the stage via the stairs.

Don’t worry though, because throughout Times Square, several of the huge screens (that usually show advertisements) will become a TV screen during performances. We entered Times Square from beyond the bottom of the following picture.

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From our spot that I circled in pink, we can see the Sponsor Stage pretty well actually. Some of the performances happen on the Sponsor Stage (e.g. Neil Diamond led us all in a massive “Sweet Caroline” sing-along from the Sponsor Stage). You can check the Times Square website about 4 days in advance to see which stage your favorite performer will be on. However, to be honest, you don’t really have too much of a choice in terms of where you’ll stand. If you got in early in the morning, you would’ve been in a holding pen near One Times Square, which also means you were pretty far away from the stages.

So how did I pass the time? My boyfriend and I downloaded some podcasts. This was actually pretty smart because it uses up not too much battery, we didn’t have to use our fingers much to tap on our phone screens, and we could pre-download the podcasts. We listened to:

I lied. We didn’t actually listen to Alice Isn’t Dead because I kind of gave up doing anything at some point since I was so cold.

For the first 2 hours or so, we stood. But then some people behind us started to sit down on the floor, which was wonderful. I had hurt my back during this trip so standing kind of hurt. But after about 2 hours of sitting, everyone stood up again since performers were starting to do sound checks and it got everyone all excited.We heard Camila’s new year’s speech before her song several times hours before she was set to perform. Same with the other artists. So you’ll get treated to mini soundcheck concerts throughout the day. But this also meant that since everyone packed closer together, there was no room again for the rest of the time we were there to sit down.

As the day progresses though, the floor gets littered with more and more garbage. Bits of granola wrappers here, hand warmer packets there. And then people’s cigarette butts too. So I guess at some point, you probably don’t really want to sit down anymore. (Also note that you’re not allowed to bring in folding chairs.)

At around the 9PM mark, I did have to sit down. I managed to carve out enough space for me to sit cross-legged for a while till 10PM. I was so cold but my back hurt way too much for me to do the last 3 hours without some rest. I honestly wanted to take a nap, but I was pretty sure I might die (not kidding) if I fell asleep. My boyfriend was pretty worried during my hour on the floor since I became very still, and he knew how cold I was getting.

My boyfriend bought up the question as we waited in our holding pens: “Is it animal abuse if the animals willingly sign up for it?”

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I’m not going to lie. Seeing the Ball Drop and everyone counting down together at midnight was amazing. As I watched the confetti fall, it felt slightly less cold. It was almost as if I could feel my fingers again. We gave it about 2 minutes before we tried heading into the McDonalds.

McDonald’s was crazy. It was packed, it didn’t actually feel much warmer, and there was no rhyme or rhythm to their lineups. We ordered 3 burgers and 2 hot chocolates and left. They had closed down their seating areas…but there was an employee who allowed people upstairs to grab a seat if they paid him $20. I guess if the demand is there, it’s the perfect time to raise your price. I cannot believe people had to pay a cover for McDonald’s.

There were actually a lot of places still opened as we walked to our Airbnb that night, considering how it was midnight and New Year’s Eve. When I finally got back to our apartment, I was thankful for the super warm room. And the fact that I didn’t have to deal with commuting anywhere.

I hope that if you’re reading this and hoping to make a trip out on New Year’s Eve for the Ball Drop, you gained some insight into what you’ll be up against! I wish you the best of luck, and even for those of you not looking to do the Ball Drop, I hope you have a Happy New Year 🙂

 

 

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