staying warm whilst ringing in 2010
August 29, 2009 11:56 AM   Subscribe

How do you pull off New Year's Eve @ Times Square with maximum comfort?

I want to be there for the ball dropping once. My boyfriend is a life-long New Yorker and did the whole Times Square thing once, about ten years ago. He has already warned me that it is over-rated and that I will be miserable.

He has told me that you basically have to go into Times Square early in the day and just hang tight there for hours and hours and hours on end, freezing and not doing anything else and just wait for it to happen.

I get cold when it drops below 70 but I'm a native Michigan girl - and I DO think I could make it through the experience. But I'm definitely apprehensive. Still it's just one of those things I want to do ONCE to say I did it.

I'm looking for some first hand accounts of experience in making THIS experience the least irritable/freezing it can be.

I'm mainly concerned about having to pee once I'm out there. I feel I could stay pretty warm with hot chocolate and some booze but I mean if you're getting there early to stake out your spot... where (as a female) can I pee?

What do I bring? What do I not bring? Where's the best place to park myself and boyfriend/friends? What can we do to pass the time? What should I wear for maximum comfort? etc.

Any tips MUCH appreciated.
posted by mittenbex to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Two observations:

1) There are various locations in the Times Square vicinity that are indoors and sell tickets to the big event. These tend to be very expensive tickets and need to be reserved well in advance. Often these locations will have a small roped-off section immediately outside where revelers can go outside as they wish.

2) You pretty much cannot bring anything with you other than your body and the clothes you are wearing. This is due to security concerns.
posted by dfriedman at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2009

If you can AT ALL get into any one of the office buildings that overlook Times Square, that is your best bet. And I mean "get in" as in "you know someone who works there and they're staying late at work that day and you can join them."

Other than that, if you're going to be on the sidewalk, be sure to pick a sidewalk on a block where there is a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or other establishment that will be OPEN until Midnight -- because that is where you will have to do your peeing. In addition to being out on the sidewalk, you cannot even leave that block. The police are VERY strict about that -- they set up police barriers all over the place, and once they set them up, YOU CANNOT LEAVE THAT BLOCK.

So if you are concerned about where you can pee, choose your spot on the sidewalk wisely to make sure there is a coffee shop or something ON THAT BLOCK. Otherwise, you are screwed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and forget about bringing booze. You will just be arrested and will spend the night in jail.
posted by dfriedman at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2009

I've heard that booze is pretty much forbidden in the Square (one of the reasons I've never gone, along with the massive numbers of cranky tourists and the bitter, bitter cold). If you want to be able to drink and to pee easily, and still get a view of the ball, you'll probably want to look into one of the bars in the area. Many have NYE parties. It'll be expensive, though.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2009

I have heard that people wear Depends or other adult diapers, so they don't have to worry about the peeing issue. Frankly, I'd rather be anywhere else in the universe, than stuck in a holding pen, unable to go anywhere for several hours, surrounded by thousands of screaming people, wearing a soiled diaper.

But as they say, different strokes...
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

Well, I must be honest - I wanted to do it once as well - and it really is a miserable experience.

1) you will be cold
2) you will be miserably crowded
3) you will have to get there very early and not leave until everyone else does, and then trying to get to the train is hell
4) you will not be able to drink
5) you will not be able to pee. peeing is the biggest issue. i used to have a secret pee-ing spot in times square if i really had to go (12th floor of the marriot) - but you won't be able to get away with this on new years. I have known people who have literally brought things to pee in. people also get peed on. no, really.
6) you will probably be jealous of your friends who are inside someplace warm, watching it on TV, and getting trashed with a nice spread of delicious snacks and a handy bathroom.

Full disclosure: during my time in New York I gradually became more and more of a hermit - especially when major events were happening - because the crowds are unmanageable, everyone is irritated, it generally just sucks, etc... So I'm jaded on this front, but of the many 'must do it once' things, this one is really a let down.

That said, if you're totally committed, dress warmly, bring water/food/a book, be prepared to spend the whole day standing, figure out a place ahead of time that might let you pee (normally Starbucks, etc. are pretty strict about this sort of thing, especially in midtown, especially on holidays), stand your ground and put a flask of some good, strong bourbon in your underwear or something, and enjoy those 10 seconds at the end for all they are worth.

Best of luck!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:16 PM on August 29, 2009

and yes, people do wear depends or other similar medical apparatuses that will let you pee in your pants without really peeing you pants.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:16 PM on August 29, 2009

It's a horrible, freezing, body-crushing experience. Not that I did it, because I knew I would detest it, having gone one time to the Thanksgiving Parade at Times Square. Nonetheless, we let our teenage daughter go to the Times Square New Years Eve after she begged and begged to go to with a group of friends. My husband and I knew the security was tight, their group was large, they had cell phones, etc. and a place to stay in Manhattan.

The next day, I picked our daughter up at the train station. (You can't get out of the city on public transportation on that night after midnight.) She said she never had a more miserable experience in her life. The friends were barely talking to each other--all hated it. They were freezing, couldn't leave, had to pee, just as posters above say. This is why your boyfriend doesn't want to go. I believe there are New Years' Eve fireworks in Central Park at midnight, which I imagine would be far more magical and where you could probably be a lot more comfortable.

To quote somebody or other on a different subject: "Believe it the first time."
posted by Elsie at 12:33 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I spent New Year's in Times Square about 10 years ago. It was awful, and your boyfriend is entirely correct. I saw men peeing where they stood. I saw a few women peeing where they squatted.

The only reason I'm glad I spent New Year's in Times Square is so I can use my experience to warn other people not to do it.

The crowd control works like this: the apple is dropped from 42nd street, facing uptown (north), so the nearest uptown block fills up first. People stand in the street; the sidewalks are reserved for police patrols and exiting revelers (see below).

Once that first block fills up, the police barricade that block ON ALL FOUR SIDES. As the block behind it (to the north/uptown) fills up, the police block off that block, too. And so on. If you need to leave, you must cross the barricade onto the sidewalk and walk away (northward/uptown) from 42nd street. If you do this -- because you're bored, want to go home, or need to pee -- you will not be allowed back to your spot. From my own experience, you cannot move from the pen onto the sidewalk and into a coffee shop to pee, etc, and then return to your spot in your pen. Nor can you enter any other block behind you that has filled up and been penned off.

I think I arrived at Times Square in the afternoon, when there was still daylight. Early on, I had enough room to sit down safely (on my butt -- no chairs) or move around a yard or so in each direction before bumping into someone. Later that night, though, the crowds got so thick and there was so much pushing that I felt my feet leave the ground a few times. That was kind of scary.

I don't drink, so I didn't miss the alcohol, but I saw lots of people whom the police caught drinking and ejected (I didn't notice them getting fined or arrested, though).
posted by hhc5 at 12:59 PM on August 29, 2009

My friend Luke is required by his job to be in Times Sq on New Year's Eve, but he wears riot gear and is allowed to pee. He says he can't imagine wanting to be there if you didn't have to.
posted by nicwolff at 1:03 PM on August 29, 2009

I went over ten years ago, so this information might be a bit outdated, but I actually had a lot of fun. We dressed VERY warmly in many layers--temperatures were in the mid-20s. We got to Times Square early (around 8, but you'd probably have to be there at noon nowadays!) and found a spot in the block right next to Sbarro pizza on 47th. And waited. To use the bathroom, we'd go in the Sbarro--since the bathrooms were for customers only, and it was rather tightly enforced, we'd buy a small and very expensive bottle of champagne and drink it while waiting in the hour-long line for the bathroom. Sounds kind of miserable, but if you timed it right--got in line about an hour before you REALLY had to go--it worked out okay. Everyone was in the same boat and it was a bonding experience with other people in line. A few people had taken it upon themselves to be "bathroom monitors" and allowed men 30 seconds and women 1 minute to use the bathroom, after which they would start loudly knocking. It kept the line moving quickly.
In order to get back into the blocks, which were corralled with NYPD barriers, the cops would require you to identify the group of people you were with inside the barriers, and then make sure they knew you, before letting you back in. I recommend making sure this is still possible before leaving the barriers!
posted by janerica at 1:05 PM on August 29, 2009

I did this 1999-2000 NYE. I went with a friend. Neither of us had even been to New York and I didn't have Mefites to ask so us two Midwestern boys went up there without a clue.

We got there about 10am and wore jeans, leather coats, scarves, gloves and hats. We were surprised the line had already started. Not realizing how fast it would grow we went to lunch at a place right there (Lindy's I think). We used the bathroom at the resturant and got in line proper before noon. We had to go many many blocks back by this point, walking parallel to the crowds to find the end of the line. Finally we got in a pen about 12 blocks back.

We were worried. We had forgotten water and food. This would later be a blessing. We stood there then for about 13 hours.

It was jam packed. People pressing against me from all sides. Warmth was not a huge issue...body heat went a long way. The hat helped too but I never even had to zip my coat.

It was hard for my friend and I to stay together in the crowd sometimes. I'd heard the expression "ocean of peoe" but until this I'd never experienced it. Staying with my friend was like two water molecules in a wave. People would drift to you, you'd make banal conversation, and then drift apart again.

Hours passed. We moved closer a block at a time. People would leave their cages to use the bathroom or to give up, and when a cage had space police would open the gates and people rushed foreward.

We were at least amused that day as every hour they would ring in the new year in a new time zone. It was all we had for fun, seeing which countries made it to the year 2000 ahead of us. There were no smartphones and we didn't think to bring books. So we stood. And stood.

Our feet hurt. A lot. Standing is harder than walking. Try standing for a dozen hours on cement. Not fun.

We decided early on to not use the bathroom as to do so meant to go to the end of the line, which a cop told us was near Central Park. We were lucky, having gone at munch and not drinking anything the while time. We were able to hold it. Others around us, not so much.

Whe it hadn't rained the ground was wet with spilled drinks of all types and urine. Yes, some guys just whipped it out and went. I dropped my scarf...and didn't pick it back up ever.

People had liquor. They were the pee-ers. I saw one couple who got a baby stroller in, and it was full of alcohol. They offered us a drink. We passed.

Families gave up en masse and we moved forward to about the Virgin store. Midnight came. We were so happy, happier than I perhaps had ever been. Because I could sit down. Early on We had talked about waiting until 1EST to see our native time zone ring into 2000. By 12EST we wanted to go home. Not that it was easy, it took us two hours to work through the crowd and get on the subway.

We also had 1/1 in New York. I couldn't leave the room--I couldn't walk on my feet.

Isaid that day and maintain niw, It was an experience I'd never do again yet one I wouldn't trade for the world either. It was an experience, an endurance test, a story to tell friends.

So if you choose to do it: hat. Comfortable shoes. No liquid. Perhaps Depends as mentioned if you can't go 14 hours without a toilet.

Good luck!
posted by arniec at 1:06 PM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was at both the '99-'00 & '00-'01 NYEs in Times Square. The first because I always told myself if I had nothing better to do and was in the neighborhood I would do it, the second because I didn't learn my lesson the first time. That said, both were pre-Sept. 11, and the entire city changed after that for the worse. So take everything I say and multiply the "yuck" factor by about a hundred.

At the time the security was restricted to keeping the cross streets clear. What that means, practically, is that once you get your spot... that's it. You ain't movin'. As it gets later they start pulling back on public transport into the area, and since you can't walk from block-to-block, you're basically stuck wherever you get out. My friend and I were about 4 blocks away for 2000, and about 10 blocks away for '01. I believe we were able to get out on 49th by around 8pm, but these days I don't know how they're running the lines.

If you have amazing connections, sure, get on a guest list at one of the awesome parties overlooking the Square. I figured the OP wouldn't be asking this question if that were within the realm of possibility, but I repeat the suggestion just in case it wasn't completely obvious…

The crowds are so tight that the likelihood of being arrested for drinking were (/are) near zero. The cops have more important things to worry about like dirty bombs and anthrax and guys strapped with C4 who want to make a political statement with your insides. The sneaky substitution of Gatorade with peach schnapps will likely go unnoticed, Mr. Bond. But if you start acting like a drunken fool, be prepared for your fellow New Yorker (who is no doubt annoyed at everyone at this point, including you) to get your ass thrown out, if for no other reason than the extra space he'll get to breathe and move around.

But honestly, people were passing around joints for 2000. Nobody cared. Don't smoke in front of kids. Don't start bugging out.* In short, don't be a fucking idiot and you'll be fine. Don't plan on actually enjoying yourself that much, though, unless you've got a great group of very tolerant, cold-resistant friends to pass the time with. I didn't even think about taking a piss, so I can't help you out there. The logistics of that would have scared me.

Mostly we passed the time watching idiots doing stupid things and getting arrested. People were climbing the lamp posts for 2000. The cops weren't about to risk someone falling to their death with so many cameras on them, so they just yelled at them to come down, which they all eventually had to do at some point. There was some early crowd surfing that was rapidly quashed. At first people were helping the crowd surfers to get to the front--I guess the thinking started as genuine altruism. You know, "Well, if I can't get any closer, at least I can help somebody else."

After about the second or third time people got kicked in the head by one of these idiots, they started getting pissed at the crowd surfers. I recall one kid the crowd wouldn't put down—they just kept spinning him around in gleeful frustration while he begged to be let go. Only one puker (see footnote) in '00. No pukers in '01 (around me, anyways).

Afterword I suggest going as far north as you can walk before your bladder explodes. In 2000 we ended up spending the night at one of the few bars open that you didn't need reservations for. I don't really remember what I did after the 2001 ball-drop. Sorry.

Hope that helps.

* Public Service Announcement/Request: As you will be penned up like cattle with a bunch of strangers while surrounded by heavily-armed police and sophisticated surveillance equipment with nowhere to run, move, or breath, please remember that this is a bad place to be consuming psychedelics. A girl next to us was tripping balls in a bad way during 2001; the crowd around her politely ignored her until she threw up over everyone. At that point they turned and threw her to the medics/cops, who will be at every barrier of entry (and then some) for probably a square mile.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2009

I went on a lark at the last minute (10:15) 22 years ago with some guy I met at a party who was so friggin stoked (and partied up) to go that I said, "Wtf, lets go." We got reasonably close and it was packed and cold. We had a flask of bourbon. I lost the guy in about 15 minutes which was ok. I ended up meeting so many really nice people and partying with them that I hardly noticed the cold. Peeing was not an issue I recall, but this was very pre-911 and all the security concerns they have today.

As a guy who hates crowds, I thought it was a great experience that everyone should do at least once. A bucket list item so to speak. The people I met from NYC and all over the country were fantastic and enthusiastic.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:23 PM on August 29, 2009

I went some years ago (less than 10), it was a miserable experience. Horribly underdressed, stood around for 10 hours, much of the time in 40'F.

No stores will be open at the end of the night, and you can't leave your corral anyway, so you really need to figure out how you will cope with the indignity of public urination.

By the end of the night, everywhere I stepped was either a warm puddle of urine or a closed 20 oz bottle of it. They were rolling around all over the place. Unfortunately I ended up having to make my own contribution at least once.

Huge waste of time.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2009

I know you didn't ask for alternatives, but my boyfriend introduced me last year to the fireworks set off over the bandshell in Central Park. There are plenty of people there, a raucous atmosphere, the same freezing temps, but you have free reign, can get in and out easily, and it's not roped off by the cops.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:00 PM on August 29, 2009

The crowd control works like this: the apple is dropped from 42nd street, facing uptown (north), so the nearest uptown block fills up first.

Not only that, but I was in the area a couple of years ago on NYE, and you had to walk up to 59th street to even enter the avenues in question, then walk back down to the last open block.
posted by smackfu at 2:14 PM on August 29, 2009

I went pre-9/11(not sure exactly the years, but Guiliani was in office, I think) and had an good time, certainly not the miserable time that some of the folks above had.

Crowded sure (to be expected) but not so packed you couldn't move or sit.

We arrived about in the early evening, and had to do the big "race against the barricading of the streets." Basically, as described above, the police close off the streets block by block, so we had to hustle a little to get ahead of them.

Once in though, We leaned up against some lamp posts for a while, got some coffee/hot chocolate from the Dunkin Donuts. Talked with some folks, had a big group hug as the ball dropped.

It was cold, but no colder than a typical winter day in NY. Honestly, the biggest hassle was racing for the train home. Back then, the last train upstate left at something like 1:15am, so we couldn't hang about too long after midnight.

All in all, an experience, but not really something I'd go out of my way (or spend a lot of money) to do.

That said, and to answer your question:
If money is no object, buy a ticket for one of the parties at the hotels, Doubletree, Marriot, etc. or restaurants, Bubba Gump and Olive Garden have views. They cost, but if you want to have a guaranteed view with toilet and food, it's the only way.
Get there reasonably early, remember that there are no portable toilets, and wear layers.
If possible, try to get close (but not right next to) where the sound system is (Broadway and Seventh).
When you get there, try to find a place that'll give you something to lean against (barrier, lamppost, etc) even if it's not the closest spot available.
A small bag is fine, but don't expect to carry in a cooler or anything. Also remember that alcohol in public is technically illegal, so don't chug a huge magnum in front of the NYPD.
Here are some approximate times for the street closures last year.

Last but not least, enjoy the experience. It's fun if you let it be. If you get too worried about having the perfect time, you're just going to be miserable.
posted by madajb at 2:26 PM on August 29, 2009

I did this once -- a friend at college had a girlfriend whose dad was a police officer, and he took them, me, and my then-girlfriend to the ball drop VIP-style. Shortly after 11 he pulled us through all of the barriers way to the front. We got our picture taken with the mayor, hung out for a bit, saw the ball drop, and then got escorted out of Times Square posthaste and beat everyone to the trains.

Without that very specific set of circumstances, though, I don't think I would have done it. It's a huge pain for the reasons outlined above, and IMO the event itself isn't that much fun anyway.
posted by danb at 3:18 PM on August 29, 2009

Small edit for posterity: the puker was in '00.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:27 PM on August 29, 2009

I have office-building access to Times Square New Year's eve. It's not a panacea.
We have to arrive pretty early (we try for before 4PM) because the police get testier as time goes by. We carry passes, letters, and most important a cell phone to call building security when all else fails. Rescue generally happens in under 20 minutes.

Inside, there's a little party, and we meet people's SOs and kids. Nice. It's where I used my first Wii.

If you want a tolerable outdoor experience, and can stand for 10 hours:

Don't eat. Don't drink. Don't shit. Don't piss.
Dress warmly. No, warmlier than that.
Put extra socks in your pockets. They can double as socks or gloves. If you don't need them, that cute person near you probably does.

Get there by noon at the latest. Blocks fill up and are closed off by the police.
If you find yourself above 50th street, just leave--what's the point?

Try to get near one of the stages. It's lots less boring.

There are 'goody bags' given out, I think around 11PM. Funny hats, scarves, balloons with mylar, all sponsored by your favorite Big Companies (well, maybe not GM this year).

After midnight, the square empties like a flushed toilet (is that too apt an analogy?). Everyone is gone in minutes. Public transportation seems to be up to the task (at least there are extra buses at the Port Authority, and of course the subway always runs all night).

If you want to see the ball, it's up on Times Tower right now. Starting this year, the ball is permanent. It is also twice the size of previous year's balls.
posted by hexatron at 5:17 PM on August 29, 2009

Everyone has already said just about everything, but one thing I didn't see: more than just "comfortable" shoes, make sure you are wearing shoes that are warm and more waterproof than sneakers. I stupidly had a pair of Adidas cross trainers on, and my toes were soooo cold and wet that I got panicky about how numb my pinky toes were. I was basically standing in a semi-frozen puddle of (hopefully) water for hours upon hours, and on top of being in pain from all that standing, my feet were extremely cold. Good luck! I think it is something to do once, and I think if you read all these great posts from everyone, at least you'll be prepared. :)
posted by rio at 10:39 PM on August 30, 2009

Ooh, hexatron, you've reminded me of something --

Public transportation seems to be up to the task (at least there are extra buses at the Port Authority, and of course the subway always runs all night).

However, be warned that the taxis are also running all night -- but will be charging a flat fee rather than using the meter. If you're staying somewhere far-flung from Times Square, this could be dealable, but if you're staying in Manhattan, the flat fee is going to be a rip-off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on August 31, 2009

« Older Dremel Tool question   |   infinite zoom visual source code editor? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.