8 Great Places to Celebrate New Year's Eve
By Linda Tagliaferro
2001 is just around the corner. While some would argue that December 31, 2000 is the true eve of the new millennium, no one would argue that it's definitely time to party! And why spend New Year's Eve at home when you can pack your bags with your frilliest, fanciest dresses and sexiest shoes and celebrate in style? Whether you're looking for a street party with fireworks or a sandy, snow-white beach in paradise, here are eight super destinations that will get the new year off to a good start. (A separate suitcase with champagne and confetti is optional.)
1. Oahu, Hawaii. Turn your New Year's Eve into an ongoing beach party. From the Honolulu waterfront to the North Shore, the island of Oahu beckons with miles of magnificent beaches, rushing waterfalls, and hidden rainforests and valleys. Great shopping, cultural attractions and international restaurants abound in this unforgettable paradise.
Spend the last day of 2000 on the famous beach at Waikiki. Check out some of the gorgeous hunks on surfboards or get really daring and try surfing yourself. You can ride in a sturdy outrigger canoe that rushes to shore on the crest of a wave, or work on your tan while taking in the stunning view of Diamond Head Crater.
For a quiet adventure, you can head outside of the bustling city and kayak to tranquil, uninhabited islands or sit back while a pilot steers a silent glider that soars above the mountaintops.
The old year goes out with a bang with fireworks at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, with its harborside restaurants offering entertainment and a variety of tempting cuisines ranging from Pacific Rim to seafood to Hawaiian favorites. For reservations, call Ambassadors of Aloha at 808/566-2337 or go to www.alohatower.com.
2. Yosemite National Park, California. If you'd like to get out of the heat and into the snow-covered mountains, head for Yosemite National Park in the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central California. With towering granite cliffs, deep blue lakes and giant sequoia groves, Yosemite is truly a winter wonderland at this time of year.
You can enjoy an active end-of-the-year by learning how to downhill ski on the more than 300 miles of ski trails or embark on a cross-country ski trek to Glacier Point, which overlooks breathtaking Half Dome. There's also ice skating, hiking and more.
If you need some R & R, curl up by the fireplace at one of the park's hotels. Attend evening programs on topics ranging from the park's wildlife to the history of the hotels.
There are New Year's Eve parties at the Wawona Hotel and the Yosemite Lodge. (The elegant Ahwahnee Hotel is so popular that you can only attend their end-of-year celebration by winning a lottery held each February!) For more information, packages and rates, go to www.YosemitePark.com or call 559/252-4848 for reservations.
3. Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is a city of superlatives. It has the world's longest pedestrian walkway, the Walnut Street Bridge, which goes on for more than 2,000 feet. It boasts the world's largest freshwater aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium. The highest overland bungee jump in the world is at Chattanooga's High Adventure Sports.
And yes, there is a choo-choo in Chattanooga - several, in fact. The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, reaching a 72-degree angle near the top, is the world's steepest passenger railway line.
The city also offers a wealth of museums as well as scenic trails, rivers and overlooks. Spend the last day of 2000 walking, hiking or even hang-gliding.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo/Holiday Inn offers Victorian Holidays Packages at this time of year. Call 1-800-TRACK29 for reservations.
The city's New Year's Eve Celebration takes place at Miller Plaza in the downtown area. Festivities are free and non-alcoholic, with live entertainment, a countdown and a fireworks finale. Nearby restaurants cater to every taste from pizza to gourmet food. For more information, call 800/322-3344 or go to www.chattanoogacvb.com.
4. San Antonio, Texas. Spend the end of 2000 enjoying San Antonio's scenic charms as well as historic sites like the Alamo. Stroll down the cobblestone walkway of the Paseo del Rio - the River Walk - which meanders for three miles along the San Antonio River. Shop 'til you drop in the many boutiques along the way, or stop in one of the riverside restaurants, flanked by tall oak, cypress and willow trees.
The town will host the Celebrate San Antonio street bash, starting at 6 o'clock in the evening on New Year's Eve. Most of the festivities will center around the downtown area and La Villita, an arts and crafts community filled with boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Live music and strolling street performers will put you in a festive mood as you choose from dozens of food and beverage booths featuring cuisines from all over the world. Enjoy a grand countdown and a spectacular fireworks display to welcome in the new year.
For a Holiday S.A.V.E. coupon booklet which will make your adventure more affordable, call 800/447-3372 or visit www.sanantoniocvb.com.
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ring in the New Year in the city that's home to the Liberty Bell. You can also enjoy Independence Hall, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the African American Museum and much more before the year ends.
On December 31st, watch Luminaire in the Square, a fireworks display in Rittenhouse Square. The Old City Lighted Parade takes place in the most historic section of town, which also boasts galleries and restaurants.
The New Year brings the 100th annual Mummers Parade on January 1st. Following a tradition that dates back to pre-colonial days, this event starts early in the morning and continues throughout the day. Clowns in multihued costumes parade through town, revelers flaunt their outrageous costumes to the crowds from elaborate floats, and brass bands march to their own tunes.
"The Heart of Philadelphia" hotel packages make your trip to Pennsylvania more economical. They include a Culture Pass with a two-for-one admission to over 50 attractions and historic sites. For more information, call 1-888-GO-PHILA or visit www.gophila.com.
6. Miami Beach, Florida. Are you feeling lonely this holiday season? Does the idea of being surrounded by tens of thousands of people appeal to you? For the biggest December 31st event outside of New York's Times Square, check out the 12th annual Bell South Big Orange New Year's Eve Celebration in Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
Enjoy ethnic foods and a spectacular fireworks and laser show with live musical entertainment in the background. Watch the 400-foot ascent of the 35-foot Big Orange as it climbs to the top of the Hotel Inter-Continental at the stroke of midnight.
The city also hosts the Orange Bowl Parade along Biscayne Boulevard on December 31st. It's one of the world's largest nighttime parades replete with floats, marching bands, clowns, antique cars and much more.
At various locations along Lincoln Road and Convention Center Drive, you can experience First Night Miami Beach, with music and dancing and a special children's festival. For more information, call 888/766-4264 or visit www.tropicoolmiami.com.
7. Dude Ranches. Ride out the old year at a dude ranch that caters to beginning equestrians. The West is chock-full of guest ranches that offer the wide-open spaces on New Year's Eve. For example, the Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, Colorado offers all-inclusive 5-night packages starting at $995.
Located in a scenic valley alongside the Elk River in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this ranch features cross-country skiing, ice skating, fly fishing, and even dog-sledding and hot-air balloon rides.
At Vista Verde's New Year's Eve extravaganza, you'll be treated to an eight-course gourmet meal prepared by three top chefs. Local musicians will serenade you, and the staff sometimes likes to get into the act with some humorous skits.
For information and reservations, call the Vista Verde Ranch at 800/526-7433. For an extensive list of other guest ranches, go to www.duderanch.com.
8. The U.S. Virgin Islands. Give a sun-filled farewell to Y2K in the lush landscapes of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Relax on sugar-white sand beaches and swim in sapphire-blue waters to gear up for December 31st.
Step aboard the Atlantis Submarine to view sea turtles, multicolored fish and other marine creatures among the corals without getting your feet wet. Ride a cable car to a height of 700 feet above sea level on the Paradise Point Tramway in St. Thomas for a panoramic view of the harbor.
Go hiking on St. John, where most of the island is designated as a national park. Visit historic forts on St. Croix and afterwards, go snorkeling in the waters surrounding nearby Buck Island, an 880-acre nature preserve just one mile away.
There are lots of parties planned in major hotels like the Ritz Carlton and the Buccaneer. The highlight of your stay will be on January 1st, starting at 8 p.m., when St. Croix hosts the annual King and Queen of the Bands competition, featuring fabulous steel bands, calypso music and much more. For more information, call 1-800-372-USVI.