Photos: Crowds gather in Times Square for New Years Eve ball drop 2012

Thousands of people packed Times Square on Saturday afternoon hoping to score a plum spot for the New Year’s Eve ball drop. By 1 PM–  11 hours before the event– crowds already filled the sidewalk on 7th Avenue from 42nd through 47th streets.

Up to a million revelers are expected to attend the ball drop in person. The annual tradition, which began in 1904, is televised across the United States and draws a lively mix of tourists, opportunistic vendors and New Yorkers who aren’t afraid of tight spaces.

>> Scroll down for original photos and video of Times Square on December 31, 2011

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Long wait

While spectators must arrive at Times Square in the early afternoon to secure a spot, there are few conveniences to ease their wait. As the Times Square Alliance points out on their FAQ page, there are no public restrooms, alcohol is forbidden and no food or drink vendors are allowed to operate in the viewing areas.

Still, the mood was upbeat on Saturday afternoon.  Visitors snapped photos, tour buses plied 7th Avenue and vendors hawked 2012-themed sunglasses and tiaras.

The pleasant weather might have something to do with the general giddiness. While spectators have braved snow storms and arctic chills in past years, Saturday was mostly sunny with high temperatures in the mid-50s.

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NYC Times Square New Years Eve 2012_ABC News

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Tight security

Since September 11, 2001, security has been extremely tight at the Times Square ball drop; by Saturday afternoon there was a strong police presence in Times Square and throughout midtown. Officers stood in groups on every street corner, metal gates framed the sidewalks, and cement barricades were placed on side streets. An NYPD observation tower hovered near the 49th street subway station.

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While crossing 6th Avenue near Radio City Music Hall, I spotted a mysterious armored vehicle marked “NYPD.” This military-grade Bat Mobile would seem more at home on a Batman set than on a Manhattan street. Painted a dull black, its reinforced exterior looked ready to plow through an unruly crowd.

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Locals know to stay away from midtown Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, since police barricades and closed streets make it hard to travel. Several years ago I attended an apartment party on Central Park South and had to plead with a police offer to be let through a barricade. He finally succumbed when I pulled out a scrap of paper with the party address on it.

If you are heading to midtown tonight, make sure to bring a written document that lists your destination. This could be a hotel receipt, driver’s license with your local address, or even an invitation.

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Busy day for sight-seeing

Tourists took advantage of Saturday’s warm weather to visit Manhattan’s iconic sights. Hundreds flocked to Rockefeller Center to see the famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink.

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My parents came in from the suburbs to see the tree for themselves and to do some window-shopping on 5th Avenue. The streets were packed with pedestrians, hot dog carts and dozens of vendors selling counterfeit purses.

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Grand Central Station was a frenzy of activity on Saturday afternoon, although most of the visitors appeared to be tourists snapping photos of this famous landmark. Party-goers from the outer boroughs and suburbs had not yet arrived to paint the town on New Year’s Eve.

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Where will you celebrate the New Year?

Share your favorite New Year’s Eve destinations by leaving a comment below!

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.