Originally created 12/03/99

World plans year 2000 parties



Party beneath the pyramids in ball gowns after crossing the desert on a camel. Plunge into the waves at the 180th meridian for a midnight millennium dive. Plant first-light footprints in the snows of Kilimanjaro.

Or try the millennial mush: a dogsled ride into the wilds of Ontario for a champagne soiree under the Milky Way. (Don't forget to feed the dogs before breaking open the bubbly.)

The choices for ringing in this New Year are as endless as the ringing itself. From mountaintops to ocean floors the world will go a bit mad on Dec. 31, 1999, celebrating a madcap nonevent. The real millennium, after all, doesn't arrive until a year later.

But 2000 is the magic number and all over the world people will hike, dive, drink, drum and mush their way into the new year.

"It's all a lot of psyche and hype," says Robin Banerjee of Call of the Wild, an Ontario travel company organizing a dogsled extravaganza in the frozen forests of Algonquin Park. "Mostly it's just an excuse to have something to talk about, especially in January," he says. "When everyone else says, `I was in a bar on New Year's Eve,' you can say, `Guess what I did?"'

Guess indeed. Mr. Banerjee promises New Year mushers that they will "feel like an explorer with the Hudson Bay Co." during a weeklong expedition that includes bonfires on frozen lakes and champagne under the stars -- accompanied by companions named Snowball, Dagar and Spike.

Those who prefer champagne in the desert are also promised a trip back in time as they dance among the dunes in the shadow of the Sphinx.

"Caesar stood there," boasts the advertisement for the Chicago-based Millennial Society's World Millennium Charity Ball pyramid celebration. "So did Napoleon. And now you and your friends can greet the year 2000 as the sun rises up out of the African desert and seven millennia of Egyptian history."

From the comfort of their luxury tents, ball-goers will witness an elaborate state-sponsored celebration, including a 12-hour opera that will transform the area around the Great Pyramids into an enormous, laser-lit stage for a cast of 1,000. On the stroke of midnight, a 30-foot golden pyramid will be flown by helicopter and placed atop the missing peak of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, flooding the area with rays to signal the birth of the first day.

Egypt isn't the only country harking back to centuries past to celebrate. In Britain, passengers can steam through the night steeped in Old World elegance aboard the Orient Express, ringing in the New Year with champagne and a Scots piper.

Peruvians will be busy with purification rituals and offerings to the moon at Sacsayhuaman, the Incan stone temple in Cuzco plundered in the early 16th century. Special effects will enhance the backdrop.

New Zealand will light a "beacon of hope," the first of a series of such beacons around the world, as Maoris perform their traditional haka war dance.

And in Romania, revelers can soak up the New Year at a medieval ball in Bran Castle, the craggy home of Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century prince who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. The extravaganza, called Blood Red, costs $3,995.

It's cheaper to waltz at Versailles. For $2,429 a plate, guests can transport themselves back 300 years for a lavish reproduction supper with the Sun King. Among period costumes and court music of Louis XIV, they will dine on veal, truffles and wild strawberries in one of the world's most opulent settings. The party poses some logistical challenges. The 1,250-room palace has few restrooms, and no kitchens: Dinner is prepared in buildings near the stables and dancing will be in a glass "palace" on the terrace.

But with plans for fireworks reflecting in Versailles' famous fountains -- well, c'est magnifique.

Across the channel, Britons are calling London the "Millennium City." It is, after all, the home of Greenwich, the spot from which time is measured all over the globe. London has orchestrated a four-day bash that organizers say will be the biggest street party since VE Day in 1945. There will be shows at the futuristic Millennium Dome, lavish fireworks, and a "river of fire," a 195-foot wall of flames that will streak up the Thames in the first seconds of the new year.

Five hours later the party will peak in New York's Times Square as a gigantic Waterford Crystal ball is lowered among the throngs. Festivities will include fireworks, lasers and thousands of helium balloons, as well as 4,000 pounds of confetti and an enormous puppet of Father Time drifting through the crowds. Giant video screens will broadcast images around the world.

In other ways the world will be connected as never before.

The All One Tribe Foundation in Taos, N.M., is organizing a global peace party in which people in towns around the world will drum simultaneously, chanting "As we drum, we are one."

Not that all the world will hear them. Some people will be too busy chasing time-zones on supersonic Concorde jetliners during millennial week, spending up to $75,000 each to take in capital cities around the world.

Others will be taking cruise ships into the first dawn. Precisely where that dawn rises is a matter of debate.

Several tiny islands in the South Pacific are fighting for first-light rights. In 1995, the island of Kiribati moved the international date line from the middle of the country to include its easternmost islands, meaning it will be the first place, in terms of longitude, to witness the sunrise. In disgust, its neighbor, Tonga, declared the true first dawn can be witnessed from its shores.

Meanwhile, Gisborne, in New Zealand, is planning a lavish celebration of its role as "the first city of the sun." Festivities include a waterfront festival, where sunrise will be greeted by a flotilla of tall ships and traditional double-hulled canoes with sails. Two thousand cyclists are expected to descend on the city for the first ride into the first sun, while outside the city, thousands of Christians plan to camp out in tents as part of a reconciliation service called Servant 2000.

Closer to home, there are also squabbles about exactly where the first rays will fall.

In Maine, the tiny town of Lubec, population 2,000, believes it has the lock on the honor despite the U.S. Naval Observatory's declaration in September that Cadillac Mountain, just outside Bar Harbor, was the spot. After a local outcry, the observatory obligingly refigured its calculations to find that sunlight on Jan 1 will hit both Cadillac Mountain and Lubec's Porcupine Mountain at precisely the same time: 7:04.

For most people, firsts don't matter. The last seconds of the 1990s are quite simply a big excuse to party.

Across the United States every major city is promising fireworks and festivities like never before.

In Los Angeles, 2,000 gospel singers will sing, 2,000 folk dancers will twirl and 2,000 band members will march while 2,000 drummers rock San Pedro and 2,000 line dancers step across the San Fernando Valley.

Reno is holding a New Year's Eve Buck 'n Ball, a cross between a rodeo and ballroom dancing. Chicago is planning a Dance 'til Dawn gala. And Washington is throwing an "America's Millennium" party on the National Mall.

For those who want some physical exertion after a night of new-century cheer, there's always the Jan. 1 marathon in San Diego.

Not everyone plans to party. For some, the end of the century has spiritual connotations, and prayers, chants and church bell-ringing will echo around the world.

In the United States, the United Methodist Publishing House is hoping to persuade thousands of teens to spend first night reading the book of Revelation in church cellars as part of the "catacomb project." The teens will gather at designated churches and be "locked" in faux catacombs to help them understand the persecution of early Christians.

It's a far cry from the "Killy climb" being promoted by a New York tour company, which has signed up an unnamed Nevada family to spend New Year's Eve scaling Africa's tallest peak. As the sun rises on Jan. 1, family members will plant their footsteps in the snows of Kilimanjaro, and greet the first dawn with the Swahili word "Hodi" -- "I am here."