Published Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 | 6:30 p.m.
Updated Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas ushered in the new year with fireworks, big-name DJs and hardly a hitch even with an estimated 300,000 visitors in town, police said Sunday.
There was also plenty of love and marriage, including a spur-of-the-moment wedding for Tempe residents Laura Atayde and Daniel Saavedra just after midnight at the Little Neon Chapel in downtown Las Vegas. They decided to elope in the new year for tax purposes, but also because after eight years together, the time was right.
"I love her and she loves me," said Saavedra, 30, a police officer who met Atayde when he was in the Marines. "We woke up this morning and we decided let's drive 5 ½ hours from the Phoenix area, and here we are."
Aside from newlyweds strolling the sidewalks, Las Vegas' celebration featured some of the biggest names in music holding court in the nightclubs and an eight-minute fireworks show that launched from the tops of half a dozen high-rise casinos.
Metro Police Officer Larry Hadfield said there were an undetermined number of arrests for minor incidents during the night, but no major events to speak of. Clark County firefighters, who serve the Las Vegas Strip, said 26 people from the tourist corridor were transported to hospitals but none of the injuries were life-threatening.
Local police joined forces with National Guard, Secret Service and FBI agents to protect Sin City at a time when terrorism was on many tourists' minds.
"We are very concerned about safety," said 35-year-old tourist Jonathan Potwana, who was visiting Las Vegas from South Africa and snapped a picture with a group of uniformed officers milling outside of downtown bars. "When we see visible policing, we feel much safer."
The heart of the Las Vegas Strip was closed to vehicle traffic starting Saturday evening so pedestrians could wander the famous boulevard in the misty weather that hovered in the mid-40s.
Police ramped up barriers this year to prevent cars from reaching partiers, and a new county ordinance prohibited large bags, strollers, backpacks and glass bottles on the Strip for the party.
At a lower-key celebration in downtown Las Vegas' casino-flanked Fremont Street Experience, bands played under a video canopy while visitors sipped giant beers. Ken and Linda Troyan of Peoria, Illinois were decked in a light-up "Happy New Year" hat and "2017" glasses as they took in a concert.
"We're looking forward to a new adventure in our career," said Linda Troyan, 54. She added, "2017's going to be awesome."
Check below for a recap of events surrounding the transition to the new year.
The gran finale of Fireworks by Grucci's annual Las Vegas show makes its final bursts above the rooftops of MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood and Aria as hundreds of people clap, shout, whistle and cheer.
The doors to Strip casinos reopen as those in the street flock inside for food, relaxation or yet another drink. About half of the crowd lingers outside, taking in an experience some called "once in a lifetime."
"It's definitely not something you get to do every year," said Canadian tourist Kathleen Murphy.
Murphy, 40, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario, stood holding a mixed drink in a large grenade-shaped plastic cup she said she bought from a vendor on the Strip. She took the last sips as the fireworks show concluded, then excused herself as she walked toward the MGM Grand.
"The party's just getting started."
After the rush of counting down to 2017, the happy crowds of people began to thin across Fremont Street and downtown Las Vegas. On sidewalks, passing strangers yelled "Happy New Year's!" with smiles and cheers. Police officers stood watching the celebrations, and on rooftops and from speakers music rang out, filling the first hour of 2017 with the sound of celebration and cheer.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman emerged onstage in the middle of the Fremont Street Experience beside her husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, flanked by a procession of showgirls and Elvis impersonators. As they approached the front of the stage, the crowd clamored and cheered.
They began counting down from 10, and at the strike of midnight, confetti exploded from the stage as a 2017 banner unfurled.
"Happy New Year!" Goodman exclaimed to the cheering crowd.
Moments after the year began, the band onstage began a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, and many in the crowd sang along while others embraced and kissed in the first moments of 2017.
The Strip is packed as hundreds of thousands of New Year's Eve party-goers prepare for the countdown to 2017.
The intersections of Las Vegas Boulevard at Flamingo Road, Tropicana Avenue and Harmon Avenue require zigzagging to maneuver through hundreds of people lined up side to side.
"We're getting close," a woman says in the crowd at Las Vegas Boulevard at Flamingo as she hugs another woman standing next to her.
World Cup-style horns permeate the buzzing air as people clap and cheer. A lone firework explodes over Planet Hollywood to the excited screams and whistles from those gathered to see it.
The area designated for religious demonstrators was once again set up in front of the Linq. About 20 demonstrators turned out, carrying signs with such slogans as "Ask me why you deserve hell."
One demonstrator, wearing military fatigues and a combat helmet, berated celebrants.
"Mohammed was a pedophile! Pedophile! You don't even know your stupid book!" he said to a man who apparently had indicated he was Muslim. "You don't stand a chance against my god!"
Several Metro Police officers were stationed at the area, occasionally pushing back celebrants to create space between them and the demonstrators.
A steel drum rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" rang out over the entrance to the Fremont Street Experience, just below the Slotzilla zip line ride. While one of the lines was closed when its track ran into the light display set up near the stage where Mayor Carolyn Goodman will soon count down the new year — one line remains open.
"We've had about 50 riders tonight," an operator of the ride said, a low number by his estimate. Overhead, riders took an exterior elevator to the top story of the ride, where the long lines that ran the length of the Experience began.
With little over one hour remaining in the year, pedestrians both merry and excited began making their way toward the stage where pulsing bass rhythms blared from speakers suspended below the electronic awning. Police officers stood by, giving directions and sharing laughs with passers-by, while overhead kaleidoscope images shifted on the screen.
The Clark County Fire Department has so far treated nine attendees of New Year's Eve festivities on the Strip, all but one of whom has been hospitalized, according to officials. Details that led to them needing medical attention were not immediately available, but no one's life is in danger.
Crowd traffic on the Las Vegas Strip is getting heavy to the point where fighting for space requires pedestrians to zigzag and keep up with the brisk pace of the crowd.
Donned in yellow hoodies with a modified Gadsden flag logo reading "Do not Trump on me," Las Vegan Kevin Fitzgerald, 60, stood with his sons Daniel, 29, and Gustavo, 28, and friend Randy Scott, 41 at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, on a mission "to make this country a better place."
Handing out cards reading "Don't be a victim," Fitzgerald hopes his brand concept can serve as "a beacon of hope for anyone struggling in the stormy seas of oppression."
"Basically, we're against bigotry and bullying," he said. "Recent events have enabled prejudice across our country and we want to be a community that stands against that."
The Las Vegas Monorail ticket station at Westgate was a popular place, with about 30 people lined up around 9:30 p.m.
Monorail cars headed to the Strip were full. On one, riders who were trying to board at the Las Vegas Convention Center weren't able to get on at least one car.
"I've never seen this train so busy that people couldn't get on," one passenger said.
The monorail is $1 per each leg for Nevada residents.
Beijing natives Li Ying, 49, and Yang Wei, 24, stood smiling in awe while watching the fountain show at the Bellagio, nearly two hours before counting down to the start of 2017.
The mother and son said it will be their first time watching the New Year's Eve fireworks from the Las Vegas Strip, despite having visited Las Vegas on two other occasions — in 2005 and 2012.
Wearing an orange and black San Francisco Giants jacket and gold 2017-framed glasses with dark-colored lenses, Wei said the diverse mix of visitors from across the globe made Las Vegas "an interesting city."
"It's very different seeing all of the people from around the world here," he said. "You don't see this in many other cities."
Standing in full uniform with M4 rifles in hand, National Guardsmen and Las Vegas natives Jesse Medellin, 22, and Ian Niechaj, 27, said activity on the Strip has been "well under control" through the unit's three hours on patrol. With over 200 Guardsmen, nearly all Las Vegas-based, here to assist Metro Police, the units are serving as an extra layer of security to look out for everything from petty crime to terrorism threats.
Medellin and Niechaj have been posted for just over three hours at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue, taking pictures with eager tourists as they pass by.
"More than anything it's just an honor to be here and give back to the community," said Medellin, a Mojave High School graduate and current UNLV student.
Pedestrian traffic has nearly doubled on the Strip in the last hour as the new year looms less than three hours away.
Michael and Gabriella Garcia tied the knot just after 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Married at the Lucky Little Wedding Chapel in Downtown Container Park, the newlyweds posed for wedding pictures below the iconic metal mantis as it erupted in bursts of flames.
"We're just so happy for them," Erik Garcia, the groom's brother, said with tears in his eyes.
Dating for two years, the couple decided on the date and location of the ceremony only a week ago.
Fourteen other weddings were officiated today at the chapel, said Christian Peralta, a photographer and videographer for the chapel.
They may not be the last of the night, however.
"They were the last one scheduled for the night, but we may get some walk-ins," she said.
Peralta said the chapel turns away anyone suspected of being intoxicated, and couples who want to be married have to have their marriage license in hand.
"We had a guy missing a shoe one time," Peralta said. "That was a red flag."
Dressed as Alan from "The Hangover," complete with aviator sunglasses, a faux shaggy-haired wig and a baby doll strapped to his chest, Las Vegas Strip busker Michael Hopkins said New Year's Eve is "easily a top- five night" for receiving tips from picture-seeking tourists.
Walking near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue with two fellow busker friends, both dressed as Elvis Presley, Hopkins said that while "The Hangover" film's popularity is "fading," he still "makes plenty of bank" on New Year's.
"Anything from $1 to $5 per picture, it's whatever they want to give me," Hopkins said of tourists posing for pictures with him. "Sometimes I'll get $10, if I'm lucky."
The Strip crowd continues to grow as the turn of the new year is only four hours away. More Spanish can be overheard among the early crowd than English, as can conversations in Portuguese and multiple Asian languages.
The central Las Vegas Strip is still walkable without too much risk of running into someone. Of 10 New Year's Eve revelers interviewed, seven said they're here to experience the evening's atmosphere but plan to return to their hotel rooms to watch the countdown and midnight fireworks.
Fabio Barreira, 27 and Gisele Nunes, 28, an engaged couple visiting from Curitiba, Brazil, said they plan to stay at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road for the finale. Beer-filled plastic cups in hand, the first-time Las Vegas visitors said they started early in hopes of getting "the true Vegas experience."
"We wanted to say we were here from the start to finish," Barreira said in Portuguese. "It's Vegas, you can't stay inside all night."
No major incidents were reported a year ago during New Year's Eve festivities, according to Metro Police, and authorities are aiming for the same outcome tonight, Sgt. Jeff Clark said this week.
To ensure the safety of more than 300,000 revelers, local, state and federal authorities have beefed up resources on the Strip and downtown. Although Metro, which coordinates the efforts, keeps its methods secret and says there's no credible terror threat locally, Las Vegas' party was designated by the federal government as a special events assessment rating of two, Clark said. The only higher designation is applied to events like the Super Bowl.
Along with the presence of officers, agents and National Guard members, there are undercover police throughout the events, Clark said. A reported 220 Nevada National Guard members are helping with security at McCarran International Airport. There were also several command posts from where authorities are surveilling through cameras, police said.
Heaven Smith, 28, and Dedrion Williams, 31, arrived at Fremont Street just before 7 p.m. They met with a group of about a dozen people, all carrying bags and wearing black shirts with "#notjustforbabies" printed across the back.
"Are you going to be drinking tonight?" Smith asked a group of passers-by, attempting to hand them a packet of Pedialyte. The group was working to make sure those celebrating the new year did so safely — in their own fashion.
"This is our way of keeping the city safe," Smith said. Holding a packet of the electrolyte-rich mixture, Smith said that a person who planned on drinking heavily could mix the powder into water to keep hydrated.
Smith said she had worked with the group before at the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival in Las Vegas.
"It's about helping people," Williams said, jostling the duffel bag full of packages of the electrolyte powder. "I have a child myself, but like the shirt says, this isn't just for babies."
The group will be working until midnight, or until all of their product — "two cars full," Smith said — had been handed out.
Security at the gates leading to the Fremont Street Experience held the small but gathering crowd back while police made their final preparations and checks below the famous lights. Just after 6 p.m., the first pedestrians made their way through the security checkpoint, past security checking bags and waving metal detectors, to enter the mostly empty walkway.
With hours to go until clocks ring in the New Year, and with light rain falling on downtown, foot traffic was light on the streets. At Downtown Container Park, a small crowd gathered watching the pyrotechnics erupting from the iconic metal mantis.
The National Weather Service was reporting light showers on the northeast valley and warning commuters about slick roads.
Road crews were beginning to shut down access from Interstate 15 to the Strip from Spring Mountain and Flamingo roads and Tropicana Avenue. They weren't slated to reopen until about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
Desert Inn, Russell and Mandalay Bay roads, as well as Sahara Avenue, the 215 Beltway and U.S. 95 are the best roadways to travel east to west, according to authorities.
The Sun’s Ric Anderson, Christian Bertolaccini, Ricardo Cortez-Torres, Chris Kudialis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.