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“… is that the New Year’s Eve ball?” I asked to no one in particular, pointing to the closest thing that resembled a tiny crystal sphere. Above the lights and screens of Times Square, it was hidden in the shadows so much that you could almost miss it. The famous New Year’s Eve ball was supposedly 12 feet in diameter, but it currently looked like the size of a golf ball. Of course, from seven blocks away, even the largest shape was bound to look tiny.

“Uh … I think so …,” my boyfriend answered, with not much certainty.

The famous NYC New Year’s Eve celebration is something I’ve wanted to go to for the past 20 years. Since most of my New Year’s Eve memories consist of watching the ball drop from my friend’s couch, when my boyfriend invited me to come with his family to check this event off their bucket lists, I immediately said yes.

But I was starting to regret the decision.

The time was 6:54 p.m. Only an hour since we began waiting, four hours until the ball began to drop and six minutes before we would celebrate the New Year somewhere five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

While the ball drop might look glamorous and fun, which it is from about 11:30 p.m. onward, what they don’t show you is the waiting. Unless you’re within the block, you can’t hear the performers, so over the span of multiple hours, you really just wait, and wait, and wait. Some may describe it as an “experience” but it’s really comparable to waiting in a line that never moves.

To make matters worse, the waiting begins long before you are gated in. There are designated “pens” on every block, but to get into them you need to wait shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-chest, to go through security. With a full body scan, a pat down and a thorough check of pockets, the security mirrors TSA. No big bags are allowed, which was obvious by the number of discarded backpacks thrown in a pile before you enter the check-in area.

Once you get “in” Times Square, the police barricade every block. You have to wait a couple minutes until the first gate fills up. Then you go to the next block where another gate will fill up and another and another, until eventually it is your turn to be shoved into a pen with hundreds of other onlookers.

But, you’re finally here! You’re in Times Square to celebrate New Year’s Eve! But now you have to wait again …

You should also be warned that in order to get a decent spot (yes, several blocks back is considered “decent”), you have to get in line by 5 p.m. To be within the vicinity of the performers, be prepared to get checked in by 8 a.m. But be warned, once you leave the gate you don’t get your spot back. That means no bathrooms, no food and no water for potentially more than 12 hours.

Of course, people get creative. I witnessed a woman’s husband lift her over a gate for her to run into a neighboring store to go to the bathroom. A mini mart also started taking orders for customers who couldn’t wait to get food and even began supplying wine to ring in the New Year.

And whatever you do, leave the sparkly dresses at home! New York gets cold. Even in 40-degree weather, standing outside for hours made it feel like it was freezing. Throw on a parka, a pair of boots and multiple socks to complete your New Year’s look. It might not be fashionable, but you’ll regret leaving early from frostbite more than not being able to wear a dress covered in glitter.

So would I do it again? Probably not. When I describe it as a once in a lifetime experience, I mean it. Not being able to leave a gated area made waiting that much more unbearable and stressful.

But, the pros did outweigh the cons once it finally hit 11:59 p.m. The excitement spans almost 20 blocks back and hearing the crowd cheer for the hope that happiness and luck will follow into the New Year is something that you can’t experience elsewhere.

The fireworks going off, large block numbers counting down the seconds shine on, a large crystal ball descends slowly and confetti gracefully falls from the sky. It’s much more of an exciting experience when you’re in the middle of it, rather than watching it on a couch states away from the action.

In the end, I got a foam hat advertising Planet Fitness (and the New Year), a bucket list item checked off and a New Year’s kiss, which was a pretty great start to 2017 … even if the famous New Year’s Eve ball does look much bigger on TV.


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