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5 Places to Ring in the New Year

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1. Beach Blast Off

St. Augustine Beach

St. Augustine’s Beach Blast Off offers a spicy and icy New Year’s Eve experience. The event is known for its Fire and Ice Chili Cook-off, where local chili connoisseurs compete from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to qualify for the world championship. Taste a range of topnotch chili dishes and balance the heat by strolling through an array of intricate ice sculptures and live sculpting.

Explore more than 30 food vendors, craft and novelty vendors, and a beer and wine tent. A Kids Zone tailored toward the little ones will include 10 inflatables and games. The event also welcomes live performances by Man of Color and The Red River Band.

In classic St. Augustine Beach style, watch the huge fireworks show set to music unveil over the water at 8:30 p.m. from the beach pier and pavilion. The event has been voted the Best Free Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve Event in Florida for the past two years! The spectacle lasts from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., with free shuttles and parking provided from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is free.

2. StarLite New Year’s Eve Cruise

Clearwater and St. Petersburg

Toast to the New Year aboard a luxury yacht sailing through the Tampa Bay. Waterfront views, talented entertainment and dancing make for a magical evening onboard the StarLite Sapphire and StarLite Majesty. Bring your sweetheart for a romantic NYE date, or gather friends and family to ring in 2015 in style. The cruise includes a delectable four-course formal dinner and a premium open bar. After the fine dining experience, indulge in a midnight champagne toast on the glimmering bay.

The city’s many seaside fireworks celebrations are sure to add to the spectacular sight. Board the Majesty from Clearwater Beach or the Sapphire from South Pasadena at 8 p.m. and set sail from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Tickets cost $140.12 per person, which includes tax and gratuity. Guests ages 10 and up permitted.

3. Kid’s New Year’s Eve

Legoland Florida

Kid’s New Year’s Eve is a blast for the whole family with celebrations all afternoon and a countdown party in the evening. Explore the park during the day and groove to a live DJ. The finale kicks off at midnight KST (Kids Standard Time), also known as a convenient 7 p.m. Watch the enormous fireworks show through 3D glasses and enjoy the kiddos’ awe-filled faces as the fireworks transform into millions of exploding LEGO bricks! An impressive lighted LEGO brick drop welcomes in the happiest of New Year’s with a countdown. Have the kids in bed in time for the parents’ New Year’s fun, or continue the evening at Winter Haven’s many restaurants and attractions. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Park admission is required.

4. Ball Drop and Fireworks in the Smokies

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Photo: Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

Tucked into the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offers a true New Year’s Eve getaway. Moments before midnight, the town’s lighted ball drop offers a dramatic Times Square-esque countdown, set with the beautiful mountain backdrop. When the clock strikes midnight, stunning music-coordinated fireworks blast off the town’s 400-foot Space Needle. Live DJ performances and entertainment accompany the upbeat celebration.

Experience the festivities all day with New Year’s Eve specials at many of the town’s quaint restaurants, shops and participating tourist attractions. Stay for the weekend to enjoy a wholesome family vacation, romantic getaway or outdoor adventure. The town offers topnotch skiing, hiking and other winter sports in the Smokies. Stroll through the charming downtown to experience the sights of Gatlinburg for an unforgettable holiday.

The event is located in the heart of Gatlinburg at base of the Space Needle, located on the Parkway at traffic light #8. The celebration begins at 10 p.m. Admission is free.

5. A NOLA New Year’s Eve

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans boasts a pizzazz-filed New Year’s Eve. The acclaimed celebration takes place at Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The square hosts a countdown to a unique “ball drop” featuring a 6-foot-tall Baby New Year atop the famous Jax Brewery. Gather with the crowds on the riverside to watch the midnight fireworks show sparkle over the Mississippi River. The event’s live entertainment contributes to the celebratory atmosphere under a huge, lighted fleur-de-lis. Admission to the street festival is free. Bourbon Street offers continued festivities into the wee hours of the morning or classy fine dining packages at the city’s esteemed restaurants. Live-music fans have a plethora of concert options including big venues, jazz clubs and bars.

The city isn’t only for night owls. New Orleans offers an array of family-fun activities during the day. The Audubon Zoo offers Zoo Year’s Eve among the furry friends at their renowned zoo. Join the dance party, games and entertainment from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and toast to the New Year with soda and juice during the noon countdown. The event is free for Audubon members or included with zoo admission. The Louisiana Children’s Museum also transports the excitement of the midnight countdown to a more kid-friendly day celebration. The event typically includes confetti and balloon drops, party items and entertainment at the museum.

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