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LIVE coverage of the Miss America Arrival Ceremony

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The buildup for the 2018 Miss America Competition begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday with the official arrival ceremony of the contestants at Kennedy Plaza in front of Boardwalk Hall.

Follow our live blog below for updates from the ceremony:

Meanwhile, 35 of the Miss America contestants arrived at Bocca Coal Fired Bistro on Tuesday night for a celebratory dinner, welcoming the young women to South Jersey.

Despite the rain and gloomy weather, state titleholders from Maine to Hawaii were excited to be in Atlantic City, just 12 days before Miss America 2018 is crowned at Boardwalk Hall.

Miss Idaho Taylor Lance was all smiles, even after traveling nine hours. “I started my day at 5:30 a.m.,” said Lance, who promised she’d stay awake until dessert, but after that “I’ll go back to the hotel and go right to sleep!”

Miss Texas Margana Wood checked in with her fans and supporters on social media before the dinner. “As much as I’m excited to be here,” said Wood, whose hometown is feeling the affects of Hurricane Harvey, “my heart is in Houston.”

Many selfies and online updates happened as the women took their seats.

Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Schoeffel was recognized by many restaurant patrons and stopped for photos. “I feel so popular!” Schoeffel said.

For many contestants, Tuesday was their first time in Atlantic City and their first experience with South Jersey culinary classics such as pan-seared scallops and house specialty “Nonna’s meatballs.”

“We love having the girls here every year,” said bistro owner Lou Freedman.

The Ventnor Avenue restaurant has hosted a dinner for the Miss America contestants for the past three years and caters many of the Miss America events, Freeman said.

”We’re the first stop every year,” he said.

Freeman, who was born and grew up in Atlantic City, said he thinks the Miss America Competition is not only good for the city but for all of Absecon Island.

“When the pageant went to Vegas, it was upsetting,” he said. “When it came back, we wanted to help as much as we could.”

The bistro also provided welcome gift bags to the contestants, including items such as local favorites salt-water taffy, Johnson’s Popcorn and other Boardwalk treats.

The official Miss America 2018 arrival ceremony takes place Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Kennedy Plaza on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Contact: 609-272-7286 Twitter @ACPress_LC

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.