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Facts About the New York Ball Drop: America’s Unparalled Celebration

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For a once-in-a-lifetime way to start the New Year, one choice stands out in the northeast: New Year’s Eve at Times Square in New York City.

New Yorkers and visitors from all over the globe come to the city for one of the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve parties. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder mayhem from start to finish – an experience you’ll never forget.

If you are thinking of heading to the Times Square area to celebrate the New Year’s arrival, you may want to start planning; record numbers of passengers are buying up plane seats and booking up hotel rooms!

The Times Square ball drop has been celebrated for the past century as New York City’s New Year’s Eve tradition, and your trip is sure to be an amazing one. Before you build your itinerary to brave the cold on the 31st of December, look below at our list of facts about the big night.

Aerial view of New York's Times Square on New year's eve with a large crowd gathered
Amith / Adobe Stock

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What to Know About Times Square’s New Year’s Eve Celebration

The annual New Year’s bash officially begins about six hours before midnight, with world-class live entertainment and lots of corporate swag. It culminates at midnight with the traditional ball drop, fireworks, and confetti.

And while midnight might be the end of the countdown, plenty of party people remain on the streets and in the bars to celebrate. Each year, over a million people watch the ball drop on television; tens of thousands brave the cold and attend the celebration in person. If you want to be one of them, consider the following facts.

If you are happier watching it from your couch, read more about America’s favorite New Year’s Eve celebrations!

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You’ll Want to Arrive Early

Crowd and establishments in New York's Times Square
Let Go Media /

To be part of the partying throng, you’ll need to get there early — the closest viewing areas fill up as early as 11 a.m., and once you get a spot, you’ve got to stay there! Anyone who leaves their spot loses their spot.

Those who’ve attended in past years warn that you’ll be standing in one place for a long time with no way to warm up or take a bathroom break. No portable toilets are placed around Times Square, and local businesses will not allow you to use their bathrooms.

Visitors should wear lots of layered clothing, bring a sandwich, and not drink anything after reaching their destination. Experts recommend planning a year, making reservations at a restaurant on the square, and watching the celebration from close up while enjoying the beautiful indoors.

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The Times Square Ball Drop is Nothing New

Ball Drop
image by: ★ SimonPix

The Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration has been a tradition for over a hundred years, and the concept of a ball drop goes back to the 1800s. The idea began in England, where a large ball was placed atop the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and dropped at 1:00 p.m. every afternoon.

This allowed shipcaptains to see it and set their chronometers precisely, which was very important for maritime navigation. There have been seven versions of the famous New Year’s Eve ball. The first was dropped in 1907 and was a large wood and iron ball covered with about 100 light bulbs.

Today’s ball is made of Waterford crystal and is covered by over 2600 LEDs from Philips Lighting! A computerized lighting system synchronizes with the countdown entertainment to create a much bigger spectacle than in 1907.

This design debuted in 2007 and remains atop Times Square year-round, so its beauty can be enjoyed even outside the holiday season.

The Ball Drop Was The New York Times’ Idea

Million celebrants marked the new year in Times Square
a katz /

Did you know that it was the famous newspaper that started the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop? When the New York Times opened its new headquarters in 1903 at One Times Square, the paper’s owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted a big celebration with fireworks on the 31st of December.

This event was very successful, and Ochs wanted to draw even more attention to the Times Square area, so he hired an electrician to construct the ball to be dropped.

He probably would have never imagined this was the beginning of a national tradition that would someday include such intricate lighting technology, Waterford Crystal, and year-round admiration.

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A Computer Controls the Actual Drop

Ball of New York's Times Square Ball Drop Celebration
rawf8 /

A team of six people was responsible for lowering the original ball at midnight, and this continued to 1995 when the ball was computerized. Today’s ball is lowered electronically and based on the time of an atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado.

At the stroke of 11:59 pm, thousands of miles across the country, the famous Times Square Ball begins its descent down the 77-foot pole it sits on. At that point, New York is technically in a different year than Colorado!

Getting Into Times Square is Free and First-Come, First-Served

Crowded Times Square

While the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop may be one of the most famous events in New York City, it is not one for which you need tickets or a reservation. If you can get to Times Square and find a spot, you can enjoy all the festivities and countdown entertainment.

As mentioned, Times Square begins filling up quite early in the day. To guarantee a good spot, arriving in the early afternoon is your best bet. The NYPD will begin to close off the area early in the evening and once capacity is reached. Don’t forget that once you are in, you must stay in!

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The Times Square Subway Station Closes

Times Square Subway Station

While driving in the big city is a nightmare on a normal day, you can imagine it gets even worse on New Year’s Eve. Taking the Subway is a good idea to avoid that headache, but remember that Times Square’s main station will shut down early in the evening.

Instead, plan to ride to a nearby station such as Penn Station or Grand Central Station. From there, it’s only a few blocks of walking. A walk through this part of New York City is quite enjoyable with all the holiday decorations.

There is a LOT of Confetti

Confetti Covering the sky and Millions of participants gather at Times Square
Ryan Rahman /

To avoid injuring those in attendance, special round confetti is used in Times Square. A small confetti “test run” is done a few days before New Year’s Eve, and about a ton of confetti is dropped as the New Year begins.

The confetti is even more special because it contains the written wishes of thousands of people, hoping that all of the fun and cheer of the celebration will help it come true!

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You Can Join the Party From a Nearby Hotel

New York Marriott Marquis Hotel Building
image by

If finding a spot in the cold doesn’t sound like your cup of tea (or hot chocolate) on New Year’s Eve, there are still plenty of options to see the action. While the bars and restaurants around the city will certainly be showing it on their televisions, I find that there is nothing like enjoying a show from the comfort of a nice hotel room with a view.

I have spent several New Year’s Eve celebrations watching the ball drop from the New York Marriott Marquis, one of the nicest hotels in the Times Square area and one that has an amazing view of the event. Their rooms are very luxurious, the food is great, and, most importantly, you’ll be toasty warm.

Here are some of the other hotels with great views of the events:

Security is Tight & Alcohol is Not Allowed

Police security check before entering Times Square
rblfmr /

About 500 people are involved in planning each year’s celebration, but fewer play a larger role than the New York Police Department. Especially after the attacks of September 11th, they are charged with making sure a gathering of this size is safe for everyone to enjoy – and they do a great job at that.

You can expect metal detectors and bag checks to get into the area, and you should not attempt to bring anything dangerous. Also included on the no-go list is alcohol, which will be confiscated immediately. If that doesn’t work for you, refer to the previous section about getting a hotel room!


Do you need tickets to attend the Times Square Ball Drop?

You do not need tickets to get into Times Square and attend the New Year’s Eve celebration. The event is free, and standing spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis, though they fill up quite early.

Are there bathrooms in Times Square on New Year’s Eve?

No, there are not! Expect not to use the bathroom for as long as you are in the area. No portable toilets exist, and local businesses will not allow the public to use their facilities. Stop drinking early, but be careful not to get dehydrated!

Can you see the ball drop from a Times Square hotel?

Yes, you certainly can, and this is a great way to enjoy the celebration. We recommend the New York Marriott Marquis for the best views and overall nicest hotel for the holiday.

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