Count on preparing for Times Square

It's not too early to decide if reveling is worth the hassle


November 04, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest and the rest of the people hollering, smiling, dancing and kissing on New Year's Eve in Times Square are liars.

Unless you have a V.I.P. badge around your neck, the experience is nothing like it appears on TV. Misery is a word that comes to mind.

You stand in below-freezing temperatures for more than seven hours with no access to bathrooms, rations or chairs. And, more likely than not, confetti will never cascade onto your head.

For those not deterred - who want nothing more than to say they've been there, done that - here are "The 10 Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Paid $5 to Stand in an Hourlong Line to Use the Bathroom at Tad's Broiled Steaks in Times Square."

No. 10: Despite how it looks on TV, confetti does not fall from the sky.

If you want nothing more than to feel a shower of thin paper on your head, expect an eight-hour wait. The confetti only falls in the primest parts of the "prime viewing area," called the "bow tie," between 42nd and 47th streets on Broadway and Seventh Avenue.

The best views, which are on the north end of the bow tie and face the ball, fill up by 4 p.m.

No. 9: The ball is small.

So small that upon seeing it, you might give up.

If that happens, at least watch the Waterford Crystal globe slowly travel up the 77-foot-tall flagpole at 6 p.m. - before returning to your hotel and watching the party on TV.

No. 8: Expect to learn a lot about life as a pig.

The system the New York City Police Department uses to herd 1 million people into Times Square and up Seventh Avenue is bizarre.

Visitors funnel into the viewing areas, called "pens," from entrances on the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) and Eighth Avenue. If it's early in the evening, start on one of these streets in the 40s and head north toward Central Park until you find an opening.

As you approach each cross street - 47th Street, 48th Street, 49th Street, etc. - you'll know that the corresponding "pen" on Seventh Avenue is full if police refuse to let you through the barricade. Ask a police officer to direct you to the nearest opening.

Once there, you'll go through security, walk one block to Seventh Avenue and turn south, funneling into a pen.

After that, you're pretty much stuck. Once a pen is full, police will gate it from behind and block off the entrance at three locations.

The "pens" only enclose Seventh Avenue's traffic lanes. You won't have access to the sidewalks, restaurants, businesses and bathrooms.

As revelers give up and go home, police intermittently open up the pens, allowing people in the 52nd Street pen, for instance, to move forward to the 51st Street pen. Aggressive revelers can move up several blocks during the course of the evening.

No. 7: Dress as if you're traveling to Antarctica.

Under normal conditions - with temperatures at or below freezing - visitors should wear several layers of clothing, including long underwear and an outer shell that is wind-resistant and water-repellent. Comfortable shoes are required.

No. 6: Don't go hungry.

Bags, backpacks and alcohol are not permitted in pens. Food vendors do not roam the sidewalks, and if you leave a pen to get food, you risk not being able to get back.

Make dinner reservations now, eat early and take snacks with you for later - anything lightweight that fits into your coat pockets or purse. I recommend 4 p.m. reservations at Zona Rosa, a wonderful and casual Mexican restaurant on West 56th Street.

If you make reservations for later in the evening and in the immediate vicinity of Times Square, you will not be able to walk outside and watch the ball drop at midnight. The pen in front of you will be blocked off, and the police will keep you off the sidewalk.

However, there are a few restaurants and hotels with views of the drop. To find them, go to and click on "New Years Eve" and then "Frequently Asked Questions." The interactive map on the left side of the page also is helpful.

No. 5: Take extra batteries for your camera.

If this event is on your "Things to Do Before I Die" list, having proof of the feat is important. Batteries run down quickly in cold weather, so take extra.

No. 4: Make friends with people who live in Manhattan. Or spend a lot of money.

The best place to stay is with a friend or relative. Otherwise, room prices start at four times the normal rate and might be sold out by now.

If you're looking for affordable and convenient - "affordable" being a relative term - stay at the Wellington Hotel on Seventh Avenue between West 55th and West 56th streets.

I stayed at the Muse, a stunning and contemporary boutique hotel right around the corner from Times Square on West 46th Street.

And to really pamper yourself - and experience the ultimate in convenience - stay at Times Square's flagship hotel, the Marriott Marquis.

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