Meetings & Conventions The Countdown Begins April
The Countdown Begins
Whimsical tips for creating the perfect millennium
By Cheryl-Anne Sturken
The new millennium doesn’t actually kick off until 2001, but
that’s just a small detail. It’s how to celebrate this
Year’s Eve when the calendar ratchets into the double-zero slot
that has folks around the globe working themselves into a tizzy.
But why wait? Celebrations held before Dec. 31, 1999, not only
get a jump on the millennium madness, they cost significantly less
and are sure to garner a higher guest count.
“Parties held before the end of 1999 will cost a lot less. And
because many people are gong to want to be with their families on
the big night, you won’t have to deal with divided loyalties,” says
San Francisco-based event planner Linda Wiggins, owner of Finesse
Many attendees will be reluctant to attend a company event
requiring air travel on New Year’s Eve, fearing havoc as a result
of computer glitches, warns Sally Schwartz, president of
Chicago-based Paint Me a Party Productions Inc. “People are very
apprehensive about traveling at that time,” she says. “They’ve all
heard the Y2K stories. They’re going to want to stay put.”
Another reason to celebrate early is that entertainment will be
hard to come by, not to mention pricey, on New Year’s Eve, says
Fred Shepherd, national director of sales and marketing for the
Design Group, a Minneapolis-based destination management company.
“The attitude we’re encountering is, ‘Hey, I’m worth three times as
much on Dec. 31, so I’ll wait for the highest bidder.’” But, says
Shepherd, the same band would be available for a party held in,
To help planners get off the party-planning fence and to get the
creative juices flowing, M&C asked destination
management companies to share their millennium-party ideas and
tips, including their takes on the traditional midnight countdown.
Keep in mind that each event can be as glitzy or as low-key as
desired. And, as always, the number of attendees, food served and
entertainment choices will determine final cost.
Steve Kemble Event Design
Fax: (214) 943-2811
“There is so much the average company can do to have a
really fabulous time, without spending a ton of money.”
Steve Kemble, owner
Why waste money on pricey decorations jazzing up some tired
ballroom when the city (OK, a few streets) can be the company’s
millennium stage for a few hours? In Dallas, downtown’s Commerce
Street is the gathering place of choice for many groups.
Stage a grand entrance for VIPs, with a helicopter fly-in or
cowboy escort. As a metaphor for the company’s strength as it
advances into the new millennium, hire hulking body builders
dressed in combat boots and black boxer shorts to act as wait
staff, and have them serve champagne from hubcaps.
At midnight, have breathtaking fireworks explode overhead, and
invite attendees to enter an enormous wine-stocked tent, where each
will find a bottle whose vintage is the year he or she was born the
ultimate take-home gift.
And, if in Dallas and money is no object, why not kick off the
next century by driving a symbolic 100 head of longhorn steer
straight through downtown?
Big Band Blast
(612) 522-6460, (800) 616-6460
Fax: (612) 522-6461
“People are looking for an excuse to celebrate. You
absolutely must have a chandeliered ballroom.”
national director, sales and marketing
Swath the ballroom ceiling with billowing, sheer fabric through
which twinkling lights shine. Decorate tables with lots of teal,
purple and gold silks, and add centerpieces made of white roses and
single-stem orchids. For a touch of elegance, trail fabric and
lights from the ceiling to the center of strategically placed
The evening’s keepsake? A gift-wrapped, digital desk clock
inscribed with the company’s logo and set to count down during the
evening’s festivities to midnight.
Onstage, a 30-piece swing band performs. Hire professional swing
dancers to encourage wallflowers and to give the evening a classy
As midnight approaches, ask guests to raise their clocks, begin
the final countdown from a giant clock unveiled center stage, then
ring in the new year.
Paint Me a Party Productions Inc.
Fax: (312) 666-1199
“You need the right space for whatever theme you’re
Sally Schwartz, president
The 4,000-square-foot Butterfly Haven in Chicago’s new Peggy
Notebaert Nature Museum, scheduled to open this November in Lincoln
Park, is the ideal location for a butterfly-themed party. But if a
visit to Chicago is not an option, not to worry. With the right
props and lighting, any ballroom can be transformed into a
Guests step into the room to find themselves in a virtual
cocoon. Huge, iridescent leaves hang from the ceiling, and enormous
caterpillars (giant costumes inhabited by as many as 10 actors
each) meander about.
Tables are draped in gauzy fabric, through which colorful,
flickering lights shine. Natural centerpieces are formed from bark,
mosses, rocks, water and candles of various shapes. Partygoers are
encouraged to mingle and move through a series of rooms, from the
Sleep Pod area (comfy pillows and costumed massage therapists) to
the the Larva Laboratory of Love (guests don lab coats and
experiment with natural juices and liquors to make a love potion)
to the Butterfly Bingo corner (forget numbers; it’s butterfly
species that players must collect). And to keep spirits high, the
Morph Patrol, a roving band of makeover artists, canvasses the room
with a millennium makeover kit to transform guests into their bug
As midnight approaches, pass out insect antennae, and watch each
of the enormous caterpillars “morph” into 10 colorful dancing
Guests are encouraged to don insect costumes and welcome the new
year by dancing what else? the jitterbug.
PRA Destination Management
San Diego, Calif.
Fax: (619) 232-5869
“Serving things in unusual ways adds a lot to a theme.”
Sandi Cottrell, vice president
Black, and lots of it, is the key to this futuristic avant-garde
party. Drape the walls with shiny, black fabric and use lots of
powerful laser spotlights to create a sci-fi atmosphere. The room
is dotted with free-flowing metal sculptures, and guests sit at
angular metal tables with plexiglass tops, through which colored
lights shine softly, as a hypnotic blend of techno-dance music and
New Age saxophone plays.
Food is served from slabs of brightly colored tiles by servers
who look as if they got lost on their way to a Star Trek shoot. For
a sense of the surreal, serve champagne from huge platters of dry
ice. Forget standard dinnerware; guests eat from odd-shaped tiles
and quirky, long-stemmed glassware.
When midnight arrives, video monitors suspended above each table
display exploding fireworks or the company’s millennium message,
and out come the silver-suited, stylized dancers.
Empire Force Events Inc.
New York, N.Y.
Fax: (212) 675-9106
“It’s like a big corporate bar mitzvah with tons of
Jacklyn Bernstein, president and partner
The evening is a feast of musical highlights from the past 100
years, from ragtime to jazz, disco and rock ’n’ roll.
The room is a fusion of color and style, with clusters of tables
themed to a particular decade and loaded with appropriate props
doubling as giveaways. For instance, 1910 is a blend of soft
colors, kazoos and straw skimmers with black bands. Red, white and
blue set the stage for the 1940s, with tiny American flags and a
wooden tabletop radio. Flower power rules the 1960s, with abstract
daisies on linens, a floppy-hat centerpiece and smiley necklaces
with attached bubble- blowers. And for the 1980s, lots of black
spandex, leopard stripes and silver disco balls.
Flappers, a doo-wop singing group, swing dancers, a big band and
a master of ceremonies guide revelers on a giant sing-along through
a blend of hand-picked chart-toppers, from the Andrew Sisters’
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”
to Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” and the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing
An image of a giant clock is superimposed over the stage, and a
cry of “Let’s get ready to rumble!” signals the millennium
countdown. Hundreds of balloons drop from the ceiling amid a hail
of swirling confetti to announce the new year.
A Walk Through Time
San Francisco, Calif.
Fax: (510) 222-5597
“People often confuse the millennium with the change of the
century. It’s much more 1,000 years.”
Linda Wiggins, owner
A comedic twist and plenty of interactive entertainment will
involve guests and will keep the mood light and frivolous.
Guests begin their stroll down memory lane by entering a giant
walk-through millennium clock, then selecting one of several paths,
each leading to a different period-themed area.
In the Dark Ages, attendees encounter barbarians, unicorns,
satyrs, druids, monks belting out Gregorian chants, humorous
troubadours, ribald jesters and maidens serving up goblets of
A visit to the Renaissance is marked by encounters with Galileo
and his new telescope, Michelangelo musing on the Sistine Chapel,
Elizabethan musicians, Shakespeare working on a play, actors
spouting soliloquies about the future and plenty of mock sword
The 1700s through the 1990s leads to characters more familiar to
inhabitants of the late 20th century: George Washington, Paul
Revere, Martin Luther King, Charles Lindbergh, Mae West and Marilyn
For a look at the present and a peek into the future, guests are
invited to wander through a gigantic computer monitor where
“celestial” lights sparkle through black drapery and exotic blue
drinks are offered up by silver-sheathed servers.
As midnight approaches, pocket watches embossed with the date
and the company’s logo are handed out, to help attendees count down
those final minutes. Historical images are flashed onto a black
wall and the music builds to a crescendo, signaling the birth of
the new year.
100 Years of Food
Long Beach, Calif.
Fax: (562) 435-4421
“You want people to walk in and feel totally surprised, and
you want them to participate. When guests participate, they bring
an added sense of fun.”
Gregory Jenkins, partner
Find a wide open space one with panoramic views would be ideal
and erect a whimsical tent for this elaborate food bazaar that’s a
virtual ramble through 100 years of American cuisine.
Be sure to theme invitations to a decade and ask attendees to
dress in a manner appropriate to the decade they’re assigned.
Divide the tent into decade-specific areas, and decorate each
area with plenty of pop-culture icons and memorabilia.
For instance, create a diner for the 1950s, with jukeboxes and
James Dean posters, and dish up burgers, malts and root beer
The 1960s can be a mini-Woodstock, with a smorgasbord of
In the 1980s corner, invite guests to chow down on stuffed
potato skins, fried mozzarella and sushi while standing in a sea of
shredded junk bonds. Pass out copies of the Iran-Contra hearings
and broadcast the famous “who shot J.R.?” episode of
Dallas on giant TV monitors.
To offer a glimpse of the future, think silver, black and white,
with an emphasis on science and technology. Project images of Dolly
the cloned sheep, futuristic cars, the stock market and space
travel. And to count down the new year, invite guests outdoors for
a laser and fireworks display.
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