Looking for a super fun, family-friendly way to ring in the New Year? You’ve got options. That may be hard to believe when it looks like the only celebrations are party hard, open bar events at restaurants and clubs. Here are unique ways to ring in the New Year for all ages.
When we started our family, New Year’s Eve was a holiday we assumed we’d have to abandon. Counting down the minutes until the midnight ball drop and popping bottles for champagne toasts didn’t mesh with 4 am feedings. Plus, the cost of a babysitter for the night was comparable to our weekly grocery bill.
But I learned there ARE ways to ring in the New Year with the kids! You can go big…plan a trip to one of the many family-friendly celebrations across the US. Or stay home…and hold a fancy party for the littles. Here are fun and festive ways to kickoff your new year.
Wacky (and Wonderful) New Year’s Eve Ball Drops
Everyone’s familiar with the big one…the epic ball drop in Times Square. But, did you know, that there are a number of others that happen on the holiday across the US? The marina near my sister’s home in Florida, for example, hauls an illuminated cooler to the top of a boat mast and drops it on the dock when the clock strikes midnight. Weird? Yes. But fun nonetheless.
- At PEEPSFEST in Bethlehem, PA, a giant yellow replica of the beloved candy chick is dropped at 5:30, the highlight of this family-friendly festival.
- The Peach Drop returns to ring in 2022, one of many fun New Year’s Eve activities in Atlanta.
- Moonpie Over Mobile draws thousands of visitors to Alabama each year to celebrate, Mardi Gras-style. There’s a traditional “second line” brass band parade through the city and a fireworks and laser show. But the star of the night is Mobile’s favorite sweet treat, the Moonpie. Each year a giant edible version is unveiled, cut and consumed by 200 lucky revelers. Another inedible one is dropped at midnight and it weighs 600 pounds!
New Year’s Eve at Disney?
Can you celebrate New Year’s Eve at Disney World? Of course you can! Although Animal Kingdom closes at 7, EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are open until midnight and the Magic Kingdom closes at 1 am. The Disney resort properties have a variety of dining options available for the night too.
Disneyland and California Adventure also stay open past midnight. Ringing in the new year in a very Mickey way is a popular option for families. With capacity limits in place, it’s important to make your plans in advance.
More Theme Park New Year’s Eve Celebrations
It won’t be warm in Pennsylvania in December, but Hershey Park is another wonderful destination for New Year’s Eve. Kids can participate in bubble wrap stomps throughout the day and three countdowns at 11am, 1 and 3pm. After the park closes at 9pm, head to Hershey Square for free live music and a midnight drop of a huge Hershey’s Kiss.
At Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, families can enjoy a special New Year’s Eve dinner, followed by kid-friendly music and entertainment, including games, crafts and a fireworks show. Dolly Parton joins the party (virtually) to count down the seconds to midnight!
Find a First Night Celebration for Your Family
Haven’t heard about the First Night tradition? TravelingMom contributor Kendra Pierson reports that the first First Night was held in 1975 as a gathering of artists in Boston to celebrate a spirit of community. She says that many cities host them now; the New Year’s Eve events are generally alcohol-free and have free admission.
Here are a few worth checking out:
- Boston – Where First Night was founded, the party kicks off at 10am and hosts two fireworks celebrations, a family-friendly 7pm showing followed by a midnight display. Staying the weekend? Check out more cool things to do in Boston with kids.
- Portsmouth, NH – Make a day of it with a Children’s Museum of NH visit for “countdowns to midnight” during the day complete with glittery disco balls and confetti.
- Dahlonega, GA – To celebrate the town’s history in the Gold Rush, Dahlonega will host a Nugget Drop at 8:45pm.
- Charlottesville, Virginia – Canceled due to Covid for New Year’s 2021, check back next year for the 2nd oldest First Night.
- Tacoma, WA – 2021 info is not yet available but in the past, Tacoma’s First Night has featured a version of The Iditarod race, teams of human-powered dogsleds racing 400 yards! If you stay a little longer, be sure to check out our list of FREE fun things to do in Tacoma.
- Pittsburgh – The party kicks off at 6pm with fireworks. There’s storytelling, a variety of performances and the 2021 event is free for all ages.
Check out NYE at the Zoo!
Who needs noisemakers when you can listen to a lion roar? If you’ve got a local zoo, check out the events calendar to see if it’s hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration. For example:
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- Head to New York’s Bronx Zoo and enjoy the live animals until 4pm when the exhibits close. Then stay for the Holiday Lights show.
- The San Diego Zoo continues its holiday Jungle Bells celebration through New Year’s which includes lots of kid-friendly entertainment plus the amazing “Aurora” light show.
- The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY, gears its celebration towards the littles. Their Noon Year’s Eve celebration includes a dance party and ball drop at noon!
Noon Year’s Eve Events
Not prepared to take the toddler to a nighttime New Year’s celebration? A Noon Year’s Eve event followed by a nap can be a lot of fun. Lots of our favorite museums and science centers are hosting Noon Year’s Eve events.
- The 2021 Noon Year’s Eve Countdown at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia Washington features a Fairy Tales and Dragons theme.
- Confetti cannons will be firing fun at the Mississippi Children’s Museum’s Noon Year’s Eve event.
- The Oak Lawn Children’s Museum in Illinois is one of 10 children’s museums in Illinois and Indiana with daytime events for the New Year’s holiday.
DIY New Year’s Eve Party at Home
Prefer to stay at home and celebrate? Your party can be simple or fancy schmanzy, whatever you prefer. To celebrate the turn of the millennium, we dressed up in formal wear and ran around the cul de sac, banging pots and pans at midnight. The noise is supposed to scare away the evil spirits lingering since Halloween. We had a blast.
Here are some party ideas to make your New Year’s Eve at a home a night to remember:
- Stock up on party favors and supplies, everything from festive plates and napkins to noisemakers, glittery tiaras, top hats, feather boas and maybe even a giant 2022 balloon!
- Serve a variety of appetizers for the kids to pick at, on the run. My local Costco always has a really nice selection during the holidays.
- Have several easy games set up and ready to play. Think Twister and charades, rather than Monopoly or board games with lots of pieces.
- Kids love sparklers. If they’re legal where you live, consider lighting them…if you’ve got plenty of adult supervision.
- Check out the internet for mocktail recipes. They can be elaborate. Or as simple as mixing apple cider with seltzer to make it bubbly…and cut the sugar!
- Got a whiteboard at home from your Zoom work presentations? Set it up as a resolution wall where the kids can each write down their intentions for the New Year.
- Stage a wall for a home photo booth. You can use balloons as a backdrop or string twinkle lights.
And don’t forget to bang those pots and pans for a noisy neighborhood parade!
New Year’s Resolutions
Wherever you decide to have the best New Year’s Eve, the subject of resolutions will come up. Personally, I like to make mine in September. The start of the school year seems like a more logical time for new beginnings than the dead of winter. But, that’s just me.
If one of your resolutions is to be more active as a family, lay low on New Year’s Eve and plan an outdoor activity for New Year’s Day. TravelingMom contributor Amanda Williams suggests heading out on the water, if you’re in a warm climate. “Get out in a kayak, canoe, or heck, a yacht if you’re so lucky! Enjoy the day with family, maybe some good food or fishing fun. Get out there and just reflect upon last year and perhaps your reflection in the water itself!”
If you live in the snow belt, like me, plan a family hike at a local, state or national park near you. Or go ice skating at a beautiful outdoor rink. Then, once you’ve worked up an appetite, treat yourself to brunch. Have a healthy food choices conversation with the kids: fresh fruit vs. donuts; ham and cheese omelet vs. egg whites and spinach.
What you DON’T want to do on New Year’s Eve is spend the night looking at the holiday season debris and your needle-shedding Christmas tree. Make plans to DO something, even if it’s as simple as takeout, decorations from the party supply store and a confetti toss at midnight.