From morning to midnight, thousands of revelers gathered at the Inner Harbor on Friday to welcome 2011.
"It's festive, everybody's happy," said Sophia Finch, who was at the harbor for the annual New Year's Eve Spectacular with her husband, Burton, and their grandson, 8-month-old Isaiah. "Everybody's doing the same thing: celebrating."
The couple, who live in West Baltimore, have come to the Inner Harbor celebration for the past seven or eight years, said Finch, a cosmetologist. They planned to leave before midnight and head to church services.
About midnight, Baltimore City police officers were standing guard within a few feet of each other among the noisy, festive crowd. Families, couples and groups of friends packed the promenade of the Inner Harbor to watch the fireworks. Some were sitting on benches or lawn chairs, wrapped in blankets and wearing glowing 2011 glasses. Where space allowed, people danced to the oldies such as "Shout" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" performed by a live band. Horns from cars as well as noisemakers blared because closed streets such as Light and parts of Calvert made parking and driving difficult.
Just before the countdown to midnight, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "Next year, I know that we all feel Baltimore will be better, safer and stronger."
The fireworks display dazzled the harbor to the tunes of Usher, Justin Bieber and other artists popular in 2010.
The weather was also friendly to revelers, with few strong gusts and the temperature hovering in the upper 30s.
It was an especially poignant night for the Edwards family from Camp Hill, near Harrisburg, Pa. Don and Terri Edwards and their children — Chelsea, Madeline and Donny, all decked out in festive New Year's headgear — were out to celebrate the end of 2010, a year in which Don Edwards had difficult cancer treatments.
"2010 hasn't been one of our favorite years," Terri Edwards said. "We're looking forward to a healthier New Year."
"We're saying goodbye to last year," interjected Donny.
The family spent the day in downtown Baltimore, shopping in Fells Point, dining at McCormick & Schmick and stopping in at the National Aquarium.
Andre and Donna Redmond, from Woodbridge, Va., said they decided to come to Baltimore this year to ring in the New Year for a change of pace from Washington, where they usually celebrate.
The couple had checked into the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel and were enjoying the scene several hours before midnight.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Donna Redmond. "The lights, the boats. It's kind of spectacular to me."
Rocco Vitale, whose company Pyrotecnico was hired to stage the Inner Harbor spectacle this year, said he's not sure exactly how much fireworks are used in the 18-minute midnight display.
But one thing is sure, he said: You can weigh the amount of fireworks used in tons, not pounds.
"I measure them in 'oohs and aahs,' " Vitale said.
In the past, the Inner Harbor event has attracted between 40,000 and 50,000 people, said Tracy Baskerville, a spokeswoman for the city's Office of Promotion and the Arts.
"It can go up, depending on the weather," she said.
Ports America Chesapeake covered the cost of the fireworks display as well as the city's Fourth of July fireworks this year with a $200,000 sponsorship, Baskerville said.
About 50,000 revelers at last year's celebration — most of whom came from outside the city — added more than $93,000 to the state's coffers through sales taxes, according to a study of the economic impacts of the 2010 New Year's event.
The study, commissioned by the Office of Promotion and the Arts, found that most people were drawn to the city for New Year's Eve by the lavish waterfront fireworks display, a city tradition for more than 30 years, Baskerville said.
Earlier in the day, the mood was set to ring in the New Year at the Maryland Science Center, but the timing was a little off — on purpose.
After all, this was a rockin' New Year's Eve bash for the parents-and-small-children set, and they were celebrating at noon instead of a dozen hours later. There was a band, confetti, noisemakers, party hats — even a New Year's ball poised to drop from the high ceiling to usher in 2011.
Many parents at the event conceded that they — and not just their children — would be asleep well before midnight. So why not party early with the little ones?
"I haven't seen midnight in six years," said Mike Harris, a 41-year-old Arbutus resident who was there with his wife, Marieangela, their 8-year-old daughter, Michella, and her friend.
Lines started forming at the science center before 10 a.m., when the doors were opened to swarms of parents and children looking to party at its "Midnight Noon" event. Families were treated to special activities — puppet shows, party hat and noisemaker crafts, and a performance by the Baltimore-based, Grammy-nominated kids' band, Milkshake.