By MADDY VITALE
Neither fog nor rain could keep family-friendly reveling on New Year’s Eve from happening in Ocean City, as thousands of visitors attended “First Night 2023” to ring in the new year.
From ice skating to inflatables to live bands, magic shows, a ventriloquist and even a show by the Ocean City Theatre Company, there was something to keep everyone smiling in 23 different venues throughout the resort.
The annual tradition, in its 30th year, offered residents and visitors activities in an alcohol-free environment from 4 p.m. to midnight for $20 a person.
By 4 p.m. the First Night admission button sales were closing in on the capped number allowed to be sold of 10,000, city officials said.
Teresa Foresta, of Ocean City, brought her children, Olivia, 12, Anthony, 20, and 14-year-old Anthony to First Night for the first time.
They waited in line to ice skate in the high school gym. The popular attraction is usually held outdoors at the Sports & Civic Center, but this year, due to the weather forecast, the venue was changed to inside at the high school.
Foresta and her family recently moved to the resort and wanted to take part in a signature event to make it a part of their family’s traditions.
“This is family-friendly fun in a community where we have met a lot of wonderful people,” Foresta said. “It’s a wonderful community event.”
While Olivia couldn’t wait to get on the ice, her big brothers wanted to head across town, to the Intermediate School to watch the Harlem Wizards play basketball.
Each year, ice-skating tops the list for the favorite event of First Night.
The three pageant queens of Ocean City, Miss Ocean City Grace Oves, Junior Miss Antonella DiAntonio and Little Miss Lyla Clark, ice skated while chatting and doing a lot laughing and having a good time.
Grace’s mother, Donna Oves, took photos of the girls and said, “We are very impressed at how quickly the city switched it up to accommodate ice skating with the rainy weather.”
Mayor Jay Gillian watched as families lined up to skate and others already took to the ice.
“Even with the weather not cooperating, it is turning out to be a great night,” he said. “First Night is a family tradition that the community loves.”
Many of the locations had live bands to enjoy.
The Aaron Palermo Band performed in the high school community room, as did crooner Keith Hickman. Captain Jack – a Billy Joel tribute band – performed as kids hopped on inflatables and parents rushed along to keep up in the Sports & Civic Center.
And the Music Pier had tribute bands for Chicago (Brass Transit) and the Bee Gees, (Stayin Alive)
The Sensational Soul Cruisers performed in the high school and the Ocean City Pops performed at the Ocean City Tabernacle.
Megan and Tom Costello, of Barnegat Light, and their daughters, Kate, 4, and 6-year-old Autumn, enjoyed some inflatables at the Sports & Civic Center before heading to the high school to see the Ocean City Theatre Company’s show, “Madagascar Musical Adventure JR.”
“We come to First Night every year,” Megan Costello said. “Even though the weather wasn’t so good, we already bought our (First Night) buttons, so we decided to come anyway.”
The Costellos, along with Tom’s parents, Jane and Joe Costello, were having fun at their first stop, the Sports & Civic Center, where there was an abundance of inflatables for kids to hop on and be amused. Kate and Autumn zipped down an inflatable slide.
The girls were eager to head to their next stop.
“We want to see Madagascar!” exclaimed Autumn.
While some families make it a staple year after year, others were new to the event.
Ashley Dalsey, of Ocean City, brought her 7-year-old daughter, Addy, to the event for the first time.
She and her daughter were busy shooting hoops into an inflatable basket in the Sports & Civic Center.
“Our family has lived here for 40-plus years. We all went through the school system here. We are usually in Florida at this time of year so we miss it. Now that we are here and we love it, we will do it every year.”
A fireworks show at midnight capped off the celebratory evening.