May 2

Ocean City Welcomes Big Crowds for New Year’s Eve Celebration

first_imgBy Donald WittkowskiFor Ryan Kelly, New Year’s Eve 2017 will always be magical.The 7-year-old boy from Harleysville, Pa., was pulled from the audience by illusionist Anthony Salazar and suddenly found himself on stage at the Ocean City Music Pier in the middle of some jaw-dropping magic tricks.Salazar delighted the crowd by plucking large silver coins out of Ryan’s hair, ears and nose. Ryan seemed spellbound by the illusionist’s sleight of hand, breaking into a smile as each coin magically appeared and then fell into a tin cup with a distinctive clink-clink-clink sound.“At first, I was scared. But it was fun when all of those coins came out of my hair, nose and ears,” Ryan said after leaving the stage amid cheers and applause from the audience. He held a magic wand given to him by Salazar as a keepsake.Ryan Kelly, 7, helps illusionist Anthony Salazar perform a magic trick during a show at the Music Pier.The magic act was among an array of family-friendly shows, concerts and other entertainment at 20 different venues scattered across town during Ocean City’s 21st annual First Night celebration. Tens of thousands of visitors poured into the city for an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration. However, the midnight fireworks display that was supposed to officially usher in 2017 was canceled due to high winds.Michele Gillian, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said the holiday is shaping up as a blockbuster weekend. All 10,000 admission buttons for the First Night events were sold out, hotels were packed and restaurants were expecting to do brisk business, she noted.“If you look downtown, it’s almost like a summer day with all the traffic on the street,” Gillian said of the crowds. “We know that they’re here because they love Ocean City’s family entertainment.”Gillian estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 people would be in town for the holiday weekend. The festivities will continue on New Year’s Day, with a 5K run on the Boardwalk and local streets and the annual First Dip plunge in the nippy surf.A big, inflatable slide inside the Sports and Civic Center was one of the popular attractions for children.Despite a chilly breeze and temperatures hovering in the low 40s, there were big crowds on the Boardwalk and at other outdoor venues for New Year’s Eve. A paved area outside the Sports and Civic Center at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk was transformed into a skating rink with the help of some artificial ice.“It’s pretty cool. It’s not real ice, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Carter Reilly, an 11-year-old from Mount Laurel, said after gliding around the rink a few times.Carter’s grandfather, Jack Healy, of Marlton, said four generations of his family came to Ocean City to enjoy the holiday celebration. Their family has a summer home in Ocean City on Haven Avenue.Healy and his four grandchildren had planned on having a busy evening, starting with a trip to the skating rink.“Next, we’re going to play at a bounce house, then we’re going to see someone sing, then we’re going to have dinner. After that, we’re going to swim at a pool,” Carter said.Although the area outside the Sports and Civic Center was converted into an ice-skating rink, the inside of the building was turned into a children’s playground featuring inflatable slides, a bounce house, an obstacle course and some basketball hoops.The Street family, of York, Pa., enjoyed the amusement rides inside the Sports and Civic Center.Hydee and Keith Street, of York, Pa., watched as their 7-year-old son, Liam, and 6-year-old twin daughters, Skylar and Gemma, played on the amusements.“This is our first time for the First Night celebration. We wanted to do something fun to ring in the New Year,” said Hydee Street, whose parents have a summer home in Ocean City.All three of her children clamored to play on the rides, but they also wanted to see the magic show at the Music Pier and a Little Red Riding Hood play.The towering Ferris wheel at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier lit up the night.Many other families took to the Boardwalk to enjoy the amusements, including the rides at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier. Gillian’s towering Ferris wheel, illuminated in bright lights for the holiday, was visible for miles.Waverly Dunn, just 3 years old, had a thrilling time on Gillian’s kiddie roller-coaster. Her mother, Christine Dunn, asked her daughter how she liked the ride.“Was it fun?” Dunn said.“Yeah,” Waverly replied, laughing.Dunn, of Ocean City, said she brought her three children to the First Night celebration because it is one of the few places where she can take her entire family out on New Year’s Eve.“It has something for people of all ages,” she said. “You can spend the entire night with your family. There aren’t many places where you can do that.”First Night was conceived 21 years ago by Ocean City’s publicist Mark Soifer, who closed out his illustrious 45-year career with his retirement on New Year’s Eve. In his last official act as public relations director, the 84-year-old Soifer cut the ceremonial ribbon to kick off the First Night festivities.Mark Soifer, Ocean City’s retiring public relations director, was joined by Martin Z. Mollusk, one of the characters he created during his 45-year career.Soifer didn’t let a broken hip, suffered in a recent fall at his home, prevent him from appearing at the ceremony. He was in a wheelchair because of his injury. He bade an emotional final farewell to city officials and the public.“On a scale from one to 10, it was a 10. It was very important to be here,” Soifer said in an interview. “I wanted to be here to finish up my career.”Soifer was the creator of a series of wacky publicity events that draw scores of visitors to town each year. They include Martin Z. Mollusk Day, the Miss Crustacean Contest, the Doo Dah Parade and the Quiet Festival.“No one has done more to put this city on the map than Mark. No one,” said Soifer’s long-time friend, Norm Schaut, 84, a former Ocean City resident who now lives in Linwood. A skating rink made of artificial ice was one of the highlights during the First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve in 2017.last_img read more