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International New Year’s Eve Celebrations

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2008.jpg When you think of unforgettable New Year’s celebrations, you may think of reveling in Times Square or partying by the Eiffel Tower.

But contrarian travelers know better than to get caught up in the usual tourist traps.

So slap on your party hat, pack up your noisemaker, and head to one of these unusual New Year’s celebrations around the world.

CLOSER TO HOME

new-years-vegas.jpgNew Years Day is all about fresh starts, so make yours count by committing some final sins in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. The Strip is closed to traffic and it’s legal to drink alcohol on the street! Revelers pack the bars and spill out into the streets for true Vegas-style carousing, rubbing shoulders with drunken celebrities and gathering to watch fireworks go off from the roofs of 10 casinos. This year, in downtown Las Vegas, Fremont Street features performances by The Doobie Brothers and the Bangles, electronic “fireworks,” and four blocks of non-stop festivities. At $60, tickets are considerably less expensive than the overcrowded clubs along The Strip, which can cost upwards of $250 a pop. And remember, what happens in Vegas … www.vegasexperience.com, www.Vegas.com/newyears

Another funky (and slightly classier) West Coast option is a screening of the 1929 version of Phantom of the Opera at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The movie will be accompanied by organist Dorothy Papadakos. The show ends at 9 p.m., just in time for families to gather and celebrate the New Year with the East Coast. Closer to midnight, the cathedral’s Ghiberti Doors will open, one of only a few times out of the year this happens before the fireworks commence. $10. 866-468-3399.

It’s always a party on New Orleans, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. The French Quarter hosts a NOLA New Year’s Eve with a ball drop from the top of Jackson Brewery. Or, try something different with a night at the opera: The Louisiana Philharmonic and New Orleans Opera Chorus will be putting on a musical starting at 6:30 p.m., with a champagne intermission at 8. The early show allows attendees to either continue the party elsewhere, or join a dinner and celebration in the Wyndham New Orleans at Canal Palace ballroom and watch fireworks over the Mississippi River. www.NewOrleansOpera.org

How about ringing in the New Year with lions, tigers and bears? Oh my! Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota hosts both kid-friendly afternoon celebrations and adult-only evening festivities. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be arts and crafts, live entertainment by the Radio Disney Party Patrol, and a rousing countdown to … noon. In the evening, the grown ups can join the dinner at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory among candlelit gardens, with live music and champagne toasts. Tickets are $125 per couple. 651-487-8250, www.comozooconservatory.org

boston.jpgParty for 12 hours straight at Boston’s First Night celebration. Starting at 1 p.m., anyone with a First Night button ($15, firstnight.org) can partake in activities at more than 40 venues throughout the city. The Hynes Convention Center hosts the Family Festival with cultural and musical performances, rides on safari animals, and much more. There is also a Mardi-Gras style grand procession, with participants lead by puppets from Back Alley Puppet Theatre and Puppeteers Cooperative. Families can see fireworks over Boston Common at 9 p.m. and the city also sets off fireworks over Boston Harbor at midnight.

Don’t fish around for New Year’s plans. Known as the Walleye Capital of the World, Port Clinton, Ohio celebrates by dropping a 20-foot, 600-pound fiberglass walleye fish named Wylie. People gather throughout the day, brave the freezing temperatures, and enjoy everything walleye. We’re talking walleye chowder, walleye cinnamon chips, walleye popcorn, and even walleye white wine. Heated tents along Main Street provide entertainment for revelers of all ages with carnival games and activities. www.walleyemadness.com

Key West, Florida is one of the best places to find wacky alternatives to the midnight ball drop. At the Bourbon Street Pub/New Orleans House complex, a drag queen named Sushi is lowered in a giant high heel at the stroke of midnight every year. The celebration starts at 10 p.m. with a street party. Call 305-294-4737 for more information. However, if drag queens aren’t really your thing, Key West has another one-of-a-kind experience that will make pirate lovers shout “Aaar matey!” Schooner Wharf Bar has a pirate wench drop from the mast of the Schooner Liberty Clipper and cannon blast. The countdown starts 10 minutes before midnight, but the party really begins at noon with live entertainment.

INTERNATIONAL CELEBRATIONS

Tired of the winter chill? Head down to the southern hemisphere where it’s summertime. Although Sydney is often thought to be the first city to ring in the New Year, Auckland, New Zealand actually celebrates earlier. First Night at Aotea Centre is a free event where different cultural groups perform, including Bollywood and hip-hop dancers. Like many other events throughout New Zealand on this night, this is a drug-and-alcohol-free event. www.the-edge.co.nz

rio-new-year.jpg Rio de Janeiro is sizzling this summer. This is the mecca of over-the-top beach parties (think of New Year’s as the precursor for Carnival). Rio festivities mix Christian and Afro-Brazilian religious traditions with candle-illuminated beaches and red rose offerings to the Queen of the Sea. With more than five million people gathering at mostly Copacabana or Ipanema beaches, be prepared for a long, wild night that will last well into morning. www.riodejaneiro-turismo.com.br/en

The Scots love New Year’s so much they have their own name for it: Hogmanay. Beginning on December 29 in Edinburgh, locals gather to watch a torchlight procession and the fun continues through January 1, when the city welcomes the New Year with fireworks over Edinburgh Castle. Or, head outside of the city for some real Edinburghian traditions: bonfires, rolling of blazing tar barrels and tossing torches.
www.edinburgh-festivals.com/news.cfm?id=2401372005

New Year’s Eve is a rare time when Toronto residents head toward the tourist district of Nathan Phillips Square for the Cavalcade of Lights Festival. It may be cold, but thousands of people gather every year for the live performances, singing, dancing, and fireworks. The Toronto Zoo also hosts a New Year’s Eve Family Countdown from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with food, music, and animal visitors. www.torontozoo.com/newyears.asp

If you dread New Year’s Eve because you have no one special to kiss at midnight, London is the place for you. SpeedBreaks, a speed-dating company, is hosting a New Year’s singles event. With more than 600 attendees, the event features a Lock and Key party, optional speed-dating sessions, a charity casino, and plenty of food, drinks and entertainment. The company also offers group rates so you can still spend the night with friends. Best of all, getting back to the hotel will be no problem because all public transportation, including the Tube, is free from 11:45 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. www.speedbreaks.co.uk

The town of Viella, France hosts an annual New Year’s Eve grape-picking event. Wine lovers can join in the grape pickers’ noontime dinner, visit the vineyard for demonstrations, and attend mass with the grape farmers. The mass features preachers blessing the grapes and locals dressed in costumes depicting important aspects of the harvest. Then, at midnight, everyone can view the torch-lit harvest, where farmers (and sometimes even guests) pick grapes for special bottles of wine. The dinner costs around $130. 33 5 62 69 74 16

By Kaitlyn Voyce for Petergreenberg.com.

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