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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

First Night offers plenty of family-friendly fun

Posted December 27, 2011
Updated December 31, 2011

First Night to bring Ferris wheel to downtown Raleigh.

For families looking to celebrate the new year together, First Night Raleigh is always a great option.

The long-running event takes over a 20-block area of downtown Raleigh and kicks off with a special Children's Celebration that lets families ring in 2012 early with performances, special activities and an early acorn drop.

This year, the event takes on a French-inspired theme, complete with performances and activities that reflect French influences, including the installation of a 90-foot Ferris wheel dubbed La Grande Roue de Raleigh in the 100 and 200 blocks of Fayetteville Street.

It all begins at 2 p.m. with the Children's Celebration at the state history and natural sciences museums and Bicentennial Plaza, the open area between the two museums. You'll find crafts, music, circus performers, storytelling, and more.

I checked in with Artsplosure's Terri Dollar, who plays a major role in putting it all together. Dollar tells me that The Owl Tree, an interactive sculpture that lets you "send your hopes for the new year soaring into the universe" is not to be missed. It will be on Bicentennial Plaza from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

If you're looking for family-friendly entertainment, Dollar recommends Transactors Improv shows at the Progress Energy Center for Performing Arts; Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble, which will perform at the Sir Walter Apartments Ballroom, a new venue for this popular performance this year; the Silver Drummer Girl in the RBC Plaza Lobby; and, especially if you have any 14-year-old boys in the house, Josh Lozoff's Deep Magic show at First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street.

While families with younger kids often start their day at the Children's Celebration, Dollar says families with older kids, who aren't melting down by 8 p.m., begin at the early countdown and then catch some some of the shows.

If you plan to go, here are some more tips from Dollar and my own experience:

  • You can watch the acorn drop for free, but to attend any of the performances, ride the Ferris wheel, take part in the children's activities and more, you'll need an admission button. You'll save a few dollars if you get them early. The buttons are $9 through Saturday at Triangle area retailers, including Harris Teeter, Rite Aid, the state history, science and art museums, Marbles Kids Museum and more. You can also buy them online through Friday. The buttons will be $12 for adults and $10 for kids on Saturday at the event. Kids ages 5 and under are admitted for free with a paying adult. Click here for more on buying passes.
  • Get there early if you plan on attending the Children's Celebration. This is a very popular event and can get really busy. A couple highlights during the Children's Celebration: 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m., Jammin' Baby interactive music class for toddlers and preschoolers at the N.C. Museum of History. Jammin' Baby also will host a toddler room at the history museum from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. And there's a 4:30 p.m. screening of "Madeline," part of a French film festival at the N.C, Museum of Natural Sciences. The 1998 film, starring Frances McDormand, is rated PG. The festival also features the classics "Funny Face" at 7:15 p.m. and "The Triplets of Belleville" at 9:15 p.m.
  • The People's Procession is fun to watch, but even more fun to be a part of. Line up to be part of the parade at 6 p.m. on the north side of the State Capitol grounds. The procession ends up at City Plaza on Fayetteville Street in time for the early acorn drop at 7 p.m. It includes the giant puppets from Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The N.C. State University Pipes & Drums leads the way. It is quite a spectacle.
  • La Grade Roue de Raleigh, the 90-foot Ferris wheel, opens at 2 p.m. Saturday. Again, I'd recommend getting there as early as possible because I suspect this will be very popular. It runs until 11:30 p.m. Again, you will need an admission button to ride the Ferris wheel. There are no separate tickets to ride.
  • The early acorn drop is at 7 p.m. and finishes up with fireworks. I love that short winter days allow for an early start time for this fireworks show. It's great for my younger kids. (There's another official acorn drop at midnight too). WRAL-TV's Kelcey Carlson will be co-hosting the early countdown.
  • Peruse the schedule before you go and pick what you want to see and do. Allow plenty of time to get between venues. Entry into the performances and some of the activities is on a first come, first served basis, so you'll want to get there early if it's something you really want to see.
  • Sign up to volunteer. This massive event couldn't be done without the help of many, many volunteers. Volunteers who help out for at least 2.5 hours get a free admission button. Volunteers must be 16 years or older, unless accompanied by an adult on the same shift. This can be a great opportunity for families with older children to help out and, then, enjoy First Night together for free. (Some of the shifts could be full, but it's always something to file away for next year too). Click here for details on volunteering.

Happy New Year!

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  • Nicole Rose Dec 31, 2011

    "La Grande Roue de Raleigh " :)

  • dwntwnboy Dec 28, 2011

    Sounds like a wonderful time- hate I have to work both jobs that day or would be fun! Love the french theme- it's something different.