8,000 ring in the New Year at Ocean City’s annual First Night celebration

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Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

OCEAN CITY — The 22nd annual First Night, with 60 entertainment programs at 18 different venues, went off without a hitch as families flocked to the shore to enjoy the fun. 

Thanks to a last minute push, more than 8,000 people participated.

“Attendance was great,” said First Night director Michele Gillian, who also serves as the executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. “I think the weather really helped us.”

The big attraction, she said, was the 80-by 40-foot ice skating rink, located in the parking lot between Fifth and Sixth streets.

“Everyone was really excited about it,” she said. “We tried to change it up a little bit, try some new things.”

An assortment of activities, including the four-lane horse derby inflatable, Polar Extreme obstacle course, Jungle World play center and Circus Train Adventure kept children busy throughout the evening. There was a dinosaur zoo at Ocean City High School featuring museum-quality dinosaur fossils and other prehistoric items to see and touch, and for star- and planet-gazers, the Ocean City High School observatory was open.

The world’s tallest snowman, a 30-foot tall bouncy; the Dixie Dragonfly swing ride, a trackless train ride, the Peanut Elephant ride and pony rides were also popular, Gillian said.

The Moorlyn Family Theatre offered free shows for children, including “Veggie Tales” and Disney Pixar movies.

“That was another big draw. We were very happy to have the Moorlyn Family Theatre participate,” Gillian said.  

The ice skating rink and the movies were not the only new additions for 2014, she said.

“We saw a lot of new faces,” she said, a welcome addition to the veteran event. “We saw a lot of familiar faces, but we added a lot of new friends this year, more families to enjoy the tradition. For these families, a new tradition has begun and we welcome them to come back again next year.”

The Ocean City Restaurant Association once again offered “A Taste of the Jersey Shore” in the cafeteria of Ocean City High School.

A lot of the shows, Gillian said, were sold out and the boardwalk was crowded throughout the evening. The fireworks display at midnight topped off a spectacular First Night, she said.

“We couldn’t ask for more,” she said. “We heard a lot of really good things.”

City Councilman Keith Hartzell was one of the volunteers for the event. Stationed at the Music Pier, he said the Trammps and the Original Blue Notes were a huge hit.

“It was awesome,” said Hartzell. “People were dancing in the aisles. It’s the best it’s ever been, just spectacular. When Disco Fever came on, I bet at least 300 people got up and danced.”

Hartzell said he was feeling a tad stiff from all the dancing, but “it was worth it.”

“The Music Pier is a great venue, it’s the best, and this was great entertainment,” he said.

Further south on the island, Fred and Susan Miller previewed their latest book, which will feature Ocean City’s historic hotels, at the library. Fred Miller joined Ken Cooper, president of the Ocean City Historical Museum, to discuss Ocean City’s history.

Ocean City’s First Night was modeled after an alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration in Boston that marked the nation's bicentennial in 1976. 

Believing that it could be a popular event, local residents Carla Heist and the late Jay Eggly, working with city publicist Mark Soifer, brought it to Ocean City. The first celebration included 25 entertainment acts in five different locations. About 800 buttons were sold.

“First Night and First Day at the Beach are really cool events,” said Michele Gillian. “It really helps the local businesses, more than anyone can imagine. They’ve all been busy since Monday, at a time they otherwise would not be. An event like this takes a sleepy little town at the end of December and brings it to life before winter sets in.

“It’s a great event, and everyone really enjoys it,” she said.

Mayor Jay Gillian credited the good weather for the large turnout.

“We had a spectacular day,” he said. “We sold thousands of buttons the last few days, it was great. The ice skating rink added a whole new element.”

First Night, he said, meant something new and different for him for 2014 as he officiated at a wedding at the Roy Gillian Welcome Center on the Ninth Street causeway. The couple married at 11:45 p.m. 

“It was fun,” he said. “We had the ceremony and then we rang in the New Year and we watched the fireworks.”

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Claire Lowe / A train ride gets ready to take off around the track at Ocean City High School, one of the many kid-friendly attractions set up for First Night 2014. Claire Lowe / A train ride gets ready to take off around the track at Ocean City High School, one of the many kid-friendly attractions set up for First Night 2014.

Claire Lowe / Children take a turn on the pony rides at Carey Stadium during First Night on Dec. 31. Claire Lowe / Children take a turn on the pony rides at Carey Stadium during First Night on Dec. 31.

Claire Lowe / Parents watch as children ride a flying elephant ride. Claire Lowe / Parents watch as children ride a flying elephant ride.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.

Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve. Claire Lowe / First Night participants enjoy ice skating on a faux ice skating rink set up behind the Civic Center at Sixth Street and Atlantic Avenue on New Year’s Eve.


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