With music, movies, dancing, theater, carnival rides, magic shows, dinner and fireworks, First Night in Ocean City certainly isn’t short on things to do.
And the citywide New Year’s Eve celebration is about to get bigger.
Now in its 22nd year, First Night has expanded onto the Ocean City High School’s Carey Stadium grounds, where a “winter spectacular” will include the world’s tallest inflatable snowman (named “Bouncy”), pony rides, a dragonfly swing ride that can hold 20 adults or 30 children, and the largest ice rink south of Rockefeller Center (surrounded by a track-less train ride).
“We decided this year we wanted to change it up and add a couple venues,” says Michele Gillian, director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and a First Night Committee member. “We’re using the high school stadium grounds, putting the skating rink there, inflatables and pony rides to make it more like a carnival event.”
“We think ice skating will really bring people out and be a lot of fun,” Gillian says.
For the cost of a $15-per-person admission button, families can enjoy First Night entertainment ranging from popular children’s shows featuring magicians, jugglers and puppeteers, to Broadway shows, ballroom dancing, Japanese drummers and concerts featuring the Original Blue Notes and The Trammps. Venues include the Music Pier, the Civic Center, Ocean City High School, the Ocean City Free Public Library and St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.
Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, usually included in the admission price, will not be open for this year’s First Night due to construction.
“The $15 admission fee hasn’t been raised,” says Mark Soifer, public relations director for Ocean City and a member of the First Night Committee since the event was founded. “It makes it very affordable for families and gets people off the roads. My grandkids love it, because there is always something for them to do.”
For the second year, Soifer says, the new observatory at Ocean City High School will be open to the public during First Night. Last year’s evening proved to be a little too cloudy for stargazing, Soifer says, so he’s hoping for clear skies this time around.
“So people with buttons will be able to go check out the stars on New Year’s Eve,” Soifer says.
The inaugural First Night, held in 1991 and organized by Soifer, drew about 1,000 attendees to take in a few live shows, some music, amusements and ring in the new year. Last year’s event — even in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — drew an estimated 10,000 attendees.
The evening begins with opening ceremonies at the Music Pier, located at Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace, at 4 p.m., and concludes with a fireworks display at midnight. Headliners this year will be the Original Blue Notes performing at the Music Pier Auditorium at 8 and 9 p.m. and the Trammps, playing at 10 and 11 p.m.
First Night attendee and volunteer Jennifer Bowman, who has attended every year with her three daughters Caroline, 17, Katie, 11, and Kelsea, 8, is looking forward to the addition of the skating rink this year.
“I’m so excited this year, because I grew up here and I still remember when I was little, when they used to flood the basketball courts and we used to ice skate,” Bowman says. “I think that there is something for everyone. Something for your elderly grandmother, down to the children. So it’s really a family event. You can all go have dinner in the cafeteria at the high school … It’s just really a neat, unique night.”
New Year’s Eve Dinner
First Night has dinner covered, too. Head over to Ocean City High School for “A Taste of the Jersey Shore,” provided by the Ocean City Restaurant Association. Menu includes garden salad, vegetarian bean soup, chicken marsala, tilapia with mango chutney, shrimp, scallops, clams and crab over penne pasta, potato and vegetable sides, and assorted baked sweets. Cost is $21 for adults and $9 for children. Hourly seating will take place from 4 to 8 p.m.
The high school is located at 501 Atlantic Ave. Attendees are asked to use the Atlantic Avenue entrance for dinner.
Book reservations online at EatinOCNJ.com.
First Night Transportation
Jitneys will provide free transportation from 5 p.m. until midnight for button holders, operating continuously between sites starting at the Transportation Center, located at 9th Street and Haven Avenue, and the 7th Street Parking Lot at 7th and Central Avenue. For a map and complete list of jitney stops, go to FirstNightOCNJ.com.
First Night Parking
Parking is free in Ocean City during the winter. Municipal lots are located throughout the city, including the Transportation Center, city lot at 5th Street and Asbury Avenue, 8th Street, 9th Street, Moorlyn Terrace and the Tabernacle church. All performance sites are located within walking distance of one another.
First Night will be followed by First Day at the Beach, featuring a day of activities to celebrate the new year.
A 5K Boardwalk Run/Walk begins at 1 p.m. at the Music Pier, located at the Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace. Registration starts at 11 a.m. Entry fee is $20 and includes a t-shirt. Contact race director Mike Givens at 609-861-0674 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join hundreds of bathers for a “First Dip” in the ocean, set for 2 p.m. Tuesday. All participants should report to the registration area in front of the Music Pier, where they will sign a waiver and receive a “Beach Nut” certificate.
Shoppers are also invited to kick off the New Year with First Day in the Downtown along the Asbury Avenue business district. Most stores will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.