By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City is the place to be to ring in the new year with “First Night 2023.”
The annual tradition in its 30th year, offers an array of family friendly entertainment and activities in an alcohol-free environment for a bargain price.
Live bands, a ventriloquist, ice-skating, amusement rides and more, not to mention tons of food offered at many locations, give First Night button holders an abundance of fun and excitement for $20 a person.
“First Night is what Ocean City is all about, family fun in a safe place that everybody loves,” Mayor Jay Gillian said Thursday. “I’m proud that this tradition has grown for 30 years now and will continue for generations to come.”
First Night 2023 will feature many shows and activities at 23 different venues throughout town from 4 p.m. to midnight. The evening is capped off — weather permitting– with a fireworks display.
“There is something for everyone to enjoy. This is the 30th anniversary of First Night and it is so exciting to see an event start with only a few hundred people to grow to what it is now, 10,000 attendees,” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Ocean City really has evolved from being a little sleepy shore community in the winter, into a place that is the destination of thousands of people to ring in the new year.”
City spokesman Doug Bergen said this year’s events offer “a great lineup of entertainment with some fun high-energy bands.”
There are tribute bands for Chicago (Brass Transit,) the Bee Gees, (Stayin Alive) and Billy Joel (Captain Jack), along with the Sensational Soul Cruisers. The popular Ocean City Pops will also perform, he said.
“All the favorite shows and activities are returning – like Boardwalk rides; magic, mentalist, quiz and ventriloquist shows; Japanese drummers and the Harlem Wizards,” Bergen added.
First Night Buttons are selling fast, city officials emphasized.
The city caps the number of buttons that are allowed to be sold at 10,000.
“Sales are going strong now. We sold hundreds of buttons today at the Chamber of Commerce. We know it will be a sold out event,” Michele Gillian said. “We can see the traffic coming in to town. The accommodations and restaurants are packed and the downtown is thriving. All indicators are good for a very successful First Night.”
Bergen added that button sales “have been very strong since they first went on sale on Fall Block Party weekend.”
“There’s been a lot of activity this week, so we don’t have an exact number right now,” he said. “But we definitely anticipate selling out at 10,000, so everybody should plan to purchase their buttons before Saturday.”
First Night in Ocean City was modeled after an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration in Boston that marked the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, according to Ocean City officials.
The first celebration in Ocean City was in 1992 and included 25 entertainment acts in five different locations with admission buttons selling for $8 and $5 before Dec. 26. About 800 buttons were sold.
Throughout the years, the event continues to grow in popularity and sell out, while other First Night- style events have faded over time, officials noted.
The event not only means a busy New Year’s Eve for the city, but also a bustling weekend, giving businesses in the downtown and on the Boardwalk an economic boost in the winter.
“Every year, First Night has definitely helped the business community extend its shoulder season through the new year,” Michele Gillian pointed out. “Our restaurants do very well and our hotel accommodations fill up. The retail businesses in the downtown and Boardwalk do very well throughout this celebratory weekend.”
Sunday also offers family fun.
“Adding First Day to the event made it a two-day event, where families can participate in events and attractions the next day with the plunge in the water and the run,” Gillian noted. “It is a perfect signature weekend of events for Ocean City, America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
The “Boardwalk Run,” a 5-kilometer run starts at 1 p.m. in front of the Ocean City Music Pier and the “First Plunge” begins at 2 p.m. on the beach adjacent to the Music Pier, on the Eighth Street side.
Because it could rain Saturday evening, the city moved ice-skating indoors at the high school.
As for fireworks, Bergen said, “We’ll make every effort to launch the fireworks show at midnight, but we won’t make that call until Saturday.”
If the fireworks do go off, they will be launched from the beach at Fifth Street at midnight on Dec. 31. The display will best be viewed from the beach or boardwalk in the blocks surrounding Fifth Street. There will be no rain date for the display.
Parking is free in all of the municipal parking lots and metered parking spots. Jitneys will provide free transportation from 5 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. for button-holders, operating continuously between all venues starting at the Ocean City Transportation Center (Ninth Street and Haven Avenue) and Seventh Street Parking Lot (Seventh Street and Central Ave.).
“We encourage everybody to keep tabs on firstnightocnj.com for the latest information on updated schedules, how to purchase buttons, and a complete guide to the events,” Bergen said.
For a route map and complete information, visit the guide page at firstnightocnj.com.