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Revelry With Dose of Security

Celebration: Extra measures are taken in stride at Disney theme parks, and Fullerton has its annual First Night party.

January 01, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO and JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Tens of thousands of New Year's Eve celebrants packed Disneyland on Monday night, unfazed by heightened security that included front-gate purse searchers and uniformed police officers scattered throughout the Anaheim resort area.

A few miles away, many more welcomed 2002 at First Night Fullerton, a family-oriented street fair.

At the inaugural New Year's Eve festivities for Disney's California Adventure, some guests partook of beer or a bit of bubbly.

"I don't want to see any stumbling drunks running around Disneyland, but as long as people keep their cool, it's fine," said Nick Fernando, 21, of Torrance, as he sipped an $8 glass of champagne at the Golden Vine Winery in California Adventure.

Deron McCoy, 29, of Hermosa Beach said he and his friends had visited the theme park so they could have a couple of beers with dinner. "We got some tickets at the 11th hour," he said. "We decided to come to Disneyland because everything in the L.A. area was pretty calm. We thought this would be something different."

It did seem festive as park officials handed out party hats and noisemakers that sounded like quacking ducks. Countdowns to midnight were planned at several locations in both Disney parks.

Michelle Nachum, spokeswoman for Disneyland Resort, said New Year's Eve "is the busiest time of year for us. It's a well-known fact."

Though Disney does not release attendance figures, one supervisor said projections were the same as for 2000: about 65,000 at the Magic Kingdom, with 15,000 more arriving after midnight from Disney's California Adventure. The holiday is Disneyland's latest night of the year. It closes at 3 a.m., and California Adventure closes at 1 a.m.

Nobody was turned away from either park this year, officials said. Ticket sales were halted three times between Christmas and New Year's in 2000, because of heavy crowds, but that did not happen in 2001, officials said.

All three of the resort's hotels were sold out for the night, however, and other large hotels in Anaheim reported the same situation, including the 1,572-room Anaheim Hilton and Towers and the 489-room Sheraton Anaheim.

"I thought it would be quieter, to tell you the truth," said Al Lutz, editor of the MousePlanet.com Web site, which is devoted to unofficial Disney news and advice. Disney parks in Florida seem to have been hurt more by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, he said.

"For some reason, we've been really unaffected out here. I think they've been doing great. Disneyland, in particular, has been well exceeding its numbers," Lutz said.

Disney officials said security has been heightened since the terrorist attacks and guests are being asked to open their purses and backpacks for searches. "It doesn't bother me," Erica Sotelo, 20, of Los Angeles. "It's for safety. It takes up a little time, makes the lines longer, but that's it. I love Disneyland."

The only other reminders of the tragedy were U.S. flag decorations and the red, white and blue merchandise that has popped up at stores throughout the resort area.

Crowds were heavy Monday, with 90-minute waits for popular Disneyland attractions such as the Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain.

Both Disney parks had plenty of holiday trimmings: Christmas lights and decorations, the fireworks and snow show, special entertainment at California Adventure, and rides such as the Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World made over for the season.

Even Disneyland's trademark "Happiest Place on Earth" motto was altered ever so slightly on concession area napkins and cups to read "The Merriest Place on Earth."

That was fine with John Talwar, 17, of Sierra Madre, who said he had not come looking for Mickey Mouse anyway. "I'm just checking out the ladies," said Talwar, adding that he and his friends were supposed to meet some girls at Legoland in north San Diego County. "I'm pretty sure they're going to be there," he said. "I hope. Knock on wood."

In Fullerton, meanwhile, families gathered for the 11th year to celebrate New Year's Eve. Most of the entertainment at the late-night, non-alcoholic event was aimed at the young and featured acrobats, stilt walkers, magicians, a sorcerer, pony rides and plenty of equipment for climbing and bouncing. And nobody passed judgment on the quality of the karaoke singing.

Curt and Nancy Regitz of Fullerton said they have always partied with adults on New Year's Eves past. This year, however, they wanted to be with their 4-year-old twins, Jack and Bailey. "This is our first time at First Night Fullerton, but it's been great," Nancy Regitz said.

The couple had talked friends Steve and Joy Wright into bringing their three children as well. "This is really what Fullerton is all about: family," Steve Wright said.

Would the whole group make it until midnight? "We hope not," Nancy Regitz said, laughing.

On the other hand, the Sunny Hills High School girls water polo team would not even think of shutting down before welcoming the new year. They flitted through the crowd selling light-up rings ($3 each) to raise money for team events. "We always make a lot of money," said Eleanor Deleon, 16.

Others also were out working for a cause. Fullerton First Christian Church sold chili and hot dogs to raise money for its weekly Wednesday dinner for about 100 homeless people. "The crowd isn't quite as great as last year, when we sold out," said Leslie Beck, one of the church workers. "But it's colder this year, and it's still early."

Fullerton Mayor Don Bankhead said the annual event should have special meaning this year because of Sept. 11.

"First Night embodies the energy and positive spirit that make Fullerton strong," he said. "It demonstrates the resilience, unity and creativity of Americans."

*

Times staff writers David Haldane and Bonnie Harris contributed to this report.

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