Whether you’re visiting for the holidays or a lifelong New Yorker desperate for company after years of pandemic isolation, you better be prepared before attending the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.
Right now, the temperature on Saturday night is predicted to be just shy of 50 degrees. There’s a 50 percent chance of rain, as well. But if you’re undaunted by that prospect, preparations are well underway to welcome you alongside thousands of fellow celebrants.
Critical to enjoying the ball drop in person is knowing what to expect and how to prepare. For guidance, we turned to Jeffrey Straus of Countdown Entertainment, who’s been producing the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration since 1995. According to Straus, planning for the city’s biggest night starts more or less immediately after the previous party is over.
“It’s seasonal and cyclical,” Straus told Gothamist about his planning process, “but it’s literally right after New Year’s Eve when we gather all the information. We see what we did, what went wrong, what worked well.” Pre-production picks up speed in late August, and then shifts into high gear in October.
“By December,” Straus said, “we’ll have a thousand people working on Times Square New Year’s Eve.”
One popular New Year’s Eve feature, the NYE Wishing Wall, opened on Dec. 1, and remains accessible until Friday. Visitors are invited to jot down their hopes and aspirations for the coming year on slips of paper. (Anyone who can’t tack up a wish in person can file one online through Wednesday, Dec. 28.) After Thursday, those wishes will be collected up and mixed into the confetti that will be dropped at midnight on Jan. 1, 2023.
“We collect tens of thousands of wishes, in all different languages from all over the world,” Straus said. “And what I love is at midnight I’ll be with my wife and my children, and as that confetti floats down, we’ll reach into the sky and we’ll pull down a confetti wish, and we’ll read it to each other. What you realize when you read those wishes is that we all are wishing for the same thing.”
Some of the most substantial preparations are happening today. The 7-foot-tall “2023” numerals, which arrived on Dec. 20 and were displayed at Duffy Square until Dec. 23, were hoisted to the top of One Times Square early this morning. Also today, the iconic New Year’s Eve Ball is being fitted with its coat of glittering Waterford crystals well in advance of its globally anticipated drop.
Wednesday is Good Riddance Day, when visitors are invited at noon to document and reveal their biggest frustrations of 2022, and then run a miniature obstacle course en route to symbolic relief. The photogenic annual Confetti Test is scheduled to happen on Thursday at 11 a.m., and the Ball itself will be tested on Friday.
Obviously, if you intend to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square, plan to arrive as early as possible — and then not leave for a very long time. The celebration starts at 6 p.m., but attendees jockey for position well beforehand.
The Times Square Alliance details four pedestrian access points:
South of 41st Street:
- 38th Street: 6th and 8th Avenues
North of 43rd Street:
- 49th from 6th & 8th Aves
- 52nd from 6th & 8th Aves
- 56th from 6th & 8th Aves
Pedestrians will not be allowed to walk uptown or downtown, or cross intersections, in the closed celebration area. Likewise, vehicular access will be cut off by midday Saturday, and crosstown traffic will become increasingly limited. “Vehicles will most likely have difficulty traveling across town after 3:00 p.m. or earlier above 42nd Street and as far north as 59th Street,” the Times Square Alliance website states.
Public transportation is strongly advised, and some subway lines may be affected with relatively little advance notice.
Manhole covers will be sealed and trash receptacles removed or locked up well in advance of crowds arriving. Police will close off blocks as peak capacity is reached. You should anticipate heavy security surveillance.
You should eat well in advance; pack snacks and water bottles judiciously, but not large bags or backpacks. Alcohol, coolers, lawn chairs and umbrellas are prohibited. No portable restrooms are provided, and not all local businesses grant access; plan your personal relief strategy carefully, because there’s not a lot of wriggle room. (This post from a medical supplies company provides some potentially useful tips.)
All of these guidelines and more are covered in greater detail in a helpful Times Square Alliance FAQ. Above all, remember: if you leave your viewing point, you will not be allowed to return.
One significant detail this year is the return to full-capacity admission. After a celebration closed to the public because of the pandemic in 2020, followed by reduced capacity and distancing measures as omicron loomed last year, New Year’s Eve 2022 is open to pre-pandemic attendance levels. Staff and crew members continue to be tested: an understandable precaution after a third of the team were hit with the virus last year.
“It literally got to the point where I was the backup for our host, Jonathan Bennett, if he had gone down,” Straus said. But for the public, distancing will not be imposed, and masking will be optional; plan your personal safety strategy accordingly.
Taking all of that into account, how many people turn up in a typical year largely depends on the weather. “If it’s cold and rain, it gets less,” Straus explained, “but literally, there’s hundreds of thousands of people. There’s been over a million people there.”
When the party’s over and the crowds are briskly dispersed, the Sanitation Department sweeps into action, cleaning up what’s left behind. Within a matter of hours, New Year’s Eve in Times Square becomes a happy memory — at least until Straus and his team start debriefing for 2024.