An estimated 1 million people were expected to cram into the neon-lit district to see the crystal ball drop and countdown to 2013, organizers said.
Among the early celebrants were Kevin and Laura Concannon of Hingham, Mass., and his parents, Jim and Ellen Concannon of Boston. They were in town to attend a wedding in New Jersey but came to Times Square to try to see the New Year's Eve ball, take photos and perhaps make a few wishes for a better 2013, for themselves and the nation.
"It's been an OK year for us but, obviously, with all the sadness in the country, we're looking for some good changes in 2013," Laura Concannon said.
On a personal level, she and her husband, who have five children between 5 and 15, are hoping 2013 is better for Kevin professionally and financially. Kevin Concannon, who is in technology sales, said business was down this year.
On a broader scale, "no more talk about the fiscal cliff," Jim Concannon said. "We're all tired of it. Let's start doing the jobs in Washington that we sent you there for."
The crystal ball is covered with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles and illuminated by more than 32,000 LEDs in red, blue, green and white. One crystal panel is engraved with the name of longtime host Dick Clark, who died in April at the age of 82.
Square-inch pieces of paper with tributes to Clark are part of the confetti that will shower Times Square as the clock strikes midnight.
Ryan Seacrest will host the countdown show from Times Square, with Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Neon Trees, Flo Rida and Pitbull among the musical guests. Seacrest hosted the past few years with Clark making short appearances; a stroke had diminished Clark's communications skills.
Security in Times Square was tight.
Along with an army of uniformed officers, police were using barriers to prevent overcrowding and for checkpoints to inspect vehicles, enforce a ban on alcohol and check handbags.
Plainclothes officers were assigned to blend into the crowd.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly predicted that Times Square would be the "safest place in the world on New Year's Eve."
Elvis Rivera of Manhattan was among the early revelers in Times Square.
He wasn't planning to ring in the new year there but came by to take pictures.
How did he feel about the end of 2012?
"Relieved," Rivera said, adding that there had been a death and job losses in his family this year.
His hopes for 2013?
"A better life"—and more money, he said.