Definitely smashing the turnout record number from last year, this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration at Pier Park far exceeded expectations for success. Last year’s event was immense, but this year the added elements brought out crowds by the thousands. All through the night, we were continually amazed by the shear numbers of people that were everywhere.
Tons of prizes were given out with lines at the Southwest Airlines tent at one time stretching almost right up to the front doors of The Grand (the tent location was in the “promo area” in front of Starbucks). Speaking of lines, at one point, the line coming out of Starbucks stretched all the way to the street. I did hear it remarked however that many were glad that more than just two were working this year. I know that many shops and restaurants were much better prepared this year after experiencing the success of last year’s beach ball drop.
Most of the day at Pier Park on the 31st, there were decent crowds walking, shopping and eating at Pier Park. The event started officially at 5:30 pm, but people found reason to hang anyway at arguably one of the most attractive gathering spots in Northwest Florida. When 5:30 pm came, the parking lots began to fill and the closed streets had people walking all over.
Last year, during the “Family Celebration” time, there was tons of activities for the kids. This year was the same in that there were bounce houses, stilt walkers, balloon artists and a few great bands to listen to. There was one huge difference in the way the “Family Celebration” time ended however in that there was a countdown, fireworks and 7,000 inflated Southwest Airlines beach balls were dropped on a gigantic crowd of people that literally filled the main street of Pier Park in the Boardwalk Area.
When 9 pm came around, the Family Celebration time was over and the “Countdown Celebration” began with a local band going on the big stage, called Nothing Short of Pure. They combined a new age punk sound with a little Sublime to really light up the audience. Those of you that were there know that the huge stage set up in the round about area was also the other large defining difference between this year and last. Last year there were several smaller bands entertaining the crowds throughout the property, this year they had the same with the exception of a larger band playing on a huge stage with the performances being projected on huge screens on either side.
The “headline” act was Vertical Horizon, who had hits in the 90’s such as Everything You Want and You’re a God and were promoting a new album now called Burning the Days. They put on a very energetic performance until the main countdown, then continued after the midnight fireworks calmed.
The midnight beach ball drop seemed to go off without a hitch in that the 800 lbs LED-lit Beach Ball was lowered in sync with the countdown to just above the tops of the palm trees that are arranged in the round about in front of The Grand Movie Theatre. When the ball hit the palm leaves, the fireworks went off right on time. Last year the time seemed just a little off, but this year the Pier Park team seemed to have everything in perfect sync.
All and all, the night was a huge success and tons of fun for Panama City Beach. But the pictures speak so much louder than words for the event.