Celebrate Twice returns New Year’s Eve

Growing bigger with each passing year, the annual New Year’s party that is Celebrate Twice will kick into full effect this week.

An ongoing partnership between the Gulf County Tourist Development Council and the Mexico Beach Community Development Council, the event invites residents and visitors alike to count down to 2016 in Port St. Joe before heading across the central time zone line to do it all over again in Mexico Beach.

Not only does Celebrate Twice allow participants to say goodbye to 2015 in style on Thursday, Dec. 31, it encourages revelers to do it safely by providing a free shuttle and trolley service between restaurants and watering holes across both cities.

“We’ve been growing every year,” said TDC executive director Jennifer Jenkins. “We’re so unique in how we celebrate.”

Starting at 8 p.m. ET trolleys will circulate between both towns and several charter busses will transport revelers from one time zone to the other. All transportation for the event is complimentary and those looking to hitch a ride only need wait at a dedicated pickup area.

 In Port St. Joe the trolleys will transport attendees to local establishments such as The Thirsty Goat, Dockside Seafood and Raw Bar, Haughty Heron and St. Joe Bar.

Those looking to head west can take a charter bus to bars in St. Joe Beach including the Lookout Lounge, Regan’s Pub and Oyster Bar and Shipwreck Raw Bar and Seafood before heading to Mexico Beach to ring in the second New Year’s countdown at the El Governor Motel, Toucan’s Restaurant, Mango Marley’s, the Fish House Restaurant or Rustic Sands Campground.

This year busses will operate on a color coding system, similar to metropolitan subway systems, to make it even easier for patrons to navigate, especially as the night winds on. Rack cards will be available in advance of the event online, at area businesses and both welcome centers.

“It’s important we can get people where they need to go,” Jenkins said. “Safety is huge for us.”

Taking safety a step further, independent security officers will be present on busses to help with traffic as well as any situations that could arise throughout the celebration.

“The security officers are there to keep the peace and help out if there are issues,” said Mexico Beach CDC director Kimberly Shoaf “We hope they give a sense of comfort to the passengers.”

Shoaf added the uniqueness of the event paired with the safety of the shuttles and the tame winter weather draws more visitors to the area with each passing year.

 “All our hotels and motel are nearly full (for the event),” said Shoaf. “We’re at 90 percent capacity. It’s one of those events that has become a staple of the community and allows us to capitalize on its uniqueness.

“Celebrate Twice brings visitors to the area who want to relax and still have a great time.”

Jenkins and Shoaf also put a strong focus on creating family-friendly opportunities before the sun goes down for those who might be visiting with children.

A scavenger hunt, running throughout the day, encourages participants to visit businesses in Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach to collect promotional party favors to be used when the clock strikes midnight.

Cards for the hunt can be picked up at the TDC or Mexico Beach Welcome Center and will list all businesses to be visited. As each item is collected, cards will receive a punch to validate the pickup. Those who complete the quest will be entered to win a free two-night stay for Celebrate Twice 2017. Completed cards must be turned in to the TDC or Welcome Center no later than 2 p.m. CT Friday, Jan. 1.

“The hunt gives businesses exposure during the regular down time in the year,” Shoaf said. “It’s a way for those participating to see what new winter merchandise the businesses have.”

Party favors to be collected include glow-in-the-dark bracelets, a champagne flute, lapel pin, lip balm, key chain and noisemaker.

“We really wanted to involve families,” Jenkins said. “We wanted to open up and encourage people to get out and about with their children and have fun.”

Among the thousands of participants in this year’s events will be four journalists visiting with their families. These bloggers were invited by the TDC and CDC and will stay in Port St. Joe or Mexico Beach and be treated to the full New Years’ experience including shopping and meals before the party begins.

“We want them to think of New Years’ Eve a little bit differently,” Jenkins said.

Should the journalists have a good experience, their follow up articles have the potential to drive additional traffic to both cities.

Two fireworks displays are scheduled to light up the night, the first over St. Joseph’s Bay in Port St. Joe at 10 p.m. ET and the second set over the Mexico Beach pier at midnight CT and for the third year running, local restaurants in Gulf County will compete to create the official drink of Gulf County, dubbed the “GCFL.” The winning mix, selected by a group of judges before the celebration kicks off, will be served at each participating bar during the event.

Each drink entered into the contest must contain five separate ingredients, one of which has to be Ed’s Red Hot Sauce, created by PSJ resident Ed Creamer and available nationwide.

For more information on the event visit www.celebratetwice.com. Trolley and bus patrons must be 21 or older after 10 p.m. ET.

“We’re going into the new year,” Shoaf said. “I hope everyone will take a moment to reflect and count their blessings.”