A SHAKY ECONOMY may have slowed holiday gift buying, but it doesn't appear to have sidetracked many plans for New Year's Eve. Celebrations are in the works all over town -- from a non-alcoholic parties to elegant dining and dancing at the city's pricey hotels.
But one doesn't have to spend a fortune to ring in the new year. The annual non-alcoholic extravaganza at the Baltimore Convention Center offers five parties in one for a single ticket price of $10 for adults and $6 for children younger than 13.
The entertainment menu includes contemporary jazz from Moon August, comedy from Jeff Charlebois, a cappella sounds from Part Harmony and Top 40 hits from DJ "Dan the Man" Gladding. In addition, the Mahoney Brothers will resurrect rock 'n' roll legends such as Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys in their "Jukebox Heroes" performance.
Guests who choose to make their own music by singing along with the Karaoke machine can take home a free audio cassette of their recording. The admission price covers an international assortment of food, including Italian sausage, chicken tacos and all-American subs.
"The Party With a Pop," as the city calls it, runs from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m., when guests are encouraged to take the skywalk to the Inner Harbor for a midnight fireworks display by Zambelli Internationale.
Of course, the Inner Harbor skywalk isn't the only place to take in the musically choreographed fireworks, which will be simulcast on B-104 Radio. The Baltimore Museum of Industry, on Key Highway, will be the site of a fund-raiser for the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter. The fireworks will be visible from there as well.
Or take a cruise aboard the Bay Lady or Lady Baltimore and view the display from the water.
Or try a view from one of the hotels circling the Inner Harbor. Harbor-area hotels say reservations are going strong for evening parties, if not for overnight stays. Most hotels are offering packages at last year's prices.
At the Hyatt Regency, where $295 harbor-view rooms sold out early, bookings for overnight stays in general are down, says assistant manager Scott Dignan. But reservations for the party alone are keeping pace with previous years. The $40 admission price is the same as the past two years, says Dignan.
At Stouffer's Harborplace Hotel, it costs $125 a person to attend the New Year's Eve celebration. Party coordinator Jyl Buzas says reservations are running about the same as last year but that the hotel is getting a lot more phone inquiries than usual, perhaps indicating that people are shopping around more.
Those who prefer to party in Annapolis, can take in First Night Annapolis. The community-wide event, now in its second year, was designed as a celebration of the lively arts in an alcohol-free, family-oriented environment. Small businesses, public buildings, historic homes, churches and schools in the downtown area will transform their space into a stage for the night.
There will be continuous performances -- ranging from opera and kung fu at the Statehouse to ice dancing at the Naval Academy -- at about 30 different sites beginning at 6:30 p.m. A $10 button, which can be purchased in advance or on New Year's Eve, will admit visitors to the many different performances. The evening will end with fireworks at the City Dock at midnight.
Wherever you choose to celebrate the new year, you should plan a safe return home. The Baltimore Metro will remain open until 2 a.m. New Year's Day to accommodate party-goers.
In addition, the Sober Ride program sponsored by Yellow Cab and Winner Distributing will be in effect again this year. The 10-year-old program offers free cab rides home to those who have been drinking and are encouraged not to drive. About 100 establishments in the metropolitan area participate by designating an employee to call a cab for patrons who may have celebrated too much. The program is in effect all day New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The number is 685-1212.