Life magazine has called the Waldorf Astoria's annual New Year's Eve party "One of the Ten Best Parties of the Year." The big question: What will they do for the party of parties on December 31, 1999? According to James Blauvelt, director of catering at the Waldorf, reservation requests are rolling in before the plans are even firmed up.

Though the hotel typically plans its New Year's Eve bash about eight months out, "I wouldn't be surprised if we don't have [the 1999 party] finished before the 1998 one," says organizer Frank Dickson, president of Ray Bloch Productions, New York City.

That's because everyone is starting to ask, "What are we doing for New Year's Eve 1999?" For those companies that want to host an event to entertain top clients and performers, now's the time to plan.

TIME TO BOOK "People are just beginning to speculate," says Dianne Devitt, CMP, director of sales and marketing for PGI and president of the Greater New York Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). Devitt predicts that corporate meeting executives will begin making their plans when 1998 rolls around.

Jim Skiba, CMP, president of Incentives to Intrigue, San Francisco, reports that although he recently has started working with a couple of corporate groups on their New Year's Eve 1999 (NYE99) events, "a lot of people are working very short-term." Additionally, he says many corporations will want to keep their special plans under wraps.

"People are just now going, 'Wait--this is coming,'" confirms Laurie L. Sprouse, director of tours and incentives, Ultimate Ventures, Inc., Dallas. But, for some, "now" is already too late. A company that wanted to hold an event on the USS Lexington in Galveston, TX came to Sprouse with its ideas early in 1997, but the ship was booked.

Destination management company (DMC) ME Productions in Hallandale, FL has been working with companies for the past six months on their special NYE99 plans. "They had the foresight to realize that things are getting hectic already," says spokesperson Brian Norris.

A meeting executive from a equipment manufacturing company, shut out of the quintessential New Year's Eve event, is recreating what his group will be missing. "They thought it would be really cool to go to New York [City], but all the hotels are booked," says Norris. So ME Productions is bringing New York to them--in Florida--with skyscraper replicas, street scenes, Big Apple landmarks, and a Times Square ball.

Venues in New York are going quickly, agrees Robert W. Hulsmeyer, CSEP, senior partner, Empire Force Events, Inc., in New York City. "The biggest hurdle is securing space--sleeping rooms and event space."

Hulsmeyer has one client that made its hotel arrangements back in 1989 and has been working on special events, as well as VIP services and transportation, for almost a year. Right now, they are deciding between a traditional, black-tie, Guy Lombardotype evening and a contemporary, high-tech event. And even though the group has ballroom space reserved, it has considered "bigger and better" locations, says Hulsmeyer, but the problem is transferring guests on a night when the city will be mobbed.

"People are also asking, 'Do we need to be tuned in to what's going on around the world?'" he says. This group wants to have video-link coverage of different time zones as each one welcomes the year 2000, so "they're not being left out while having their own celebration." The group holds a number of yearly programs, but this one, says Hulsmeyer, is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

JET-SETTING ACROSS TIME ZONES Technology has made great leaps since the last time the world saw a new millennium, and one of its products, airplanes--fast ones--will play a very important role in many NYE99 extravaganzas.

John Shoup, a producer of Great Chefs on the Discovery Channel and PBS, has been working with Patty Habeeb, president and owner of Conventions a la Carte, New Orleans, for a couple of years preparing for a party that stretches from one end of the U.S. to the other. Shoup has been talking about his idea for a long time, Habeeb says, "but you never know when someone's serious, especially when it has to do with the year 2000."

xShoup will be celebrating New Year's Eve twice with a couple of hundred clients (or "however many fit" on the jet, he says). The night begins at Smuggler's Cove, St. Croix, USVI with a feast prepared by the renowned chefs of the Caribbean. Then the group will take limos to the airport, where they'll board a chartered jet and fly nonstop to Kauai, HI, crossing six time zones. "It'll be a great party on the plane," adds Shoup.

Once the group has arrived at the westernmost point of Hawaii's westernmost island, they'll celebrate again, this time with a meal by Hawaii's greatest chefs and a fireworks display.

Though all the details of the trip are not yet ironed out, Shoup says his clients are ecstatic. "Why not do something different?" he asks. "I don't like to do what everybody else does."

ME Productions also is working on an event with a multiple-parties-in-different-time-zones theme. "A long-time client wants her executives to celebrate the new millennium several times," says Carlo Valdes, operations manager. The group of approximately 60 executives from a pharmaceutical company and their spouses will begin New Year's Eve with a celebration in a private mansion close to Atlanta's Stone Mountain, where they'll see a laser light show. Then they'll fly to New Orleans--either aboard a Concorde or two smaller Lear jets--for a Mardi Grasstyle party in a plantation home. "It'll be tight," concurs ME's Norris, but he's confident that the double celebration is logistically possible.

The parties are the highlight of a three-day retreat that also will include such events as teambuilding activities and wine tastings.

Ultimate Venture's Sprouse also has been working for more than a year with a German company that is taking a group of 40 persons on an around-the-world millennium tour. Stops on the tour--which takes place over several days instead of just one evening--include Bora Bora, Hawaii for New Year's Eve, and Texas.

Whatever the theme of the celebration, and however many time zones it spans, companies need to start their New Year's Eve 1999 event planning now. As Sprouse warns: "The pickings are getting slim already."

Throw a New Millennium Party--Any Time Empire Force Events, New York City, already has one millennium event under its belt. In July, the destination management company threw a Countdown to the Next Millennium party for more than 100 meeting, event, and incentive planners in the pharmaceuticals field.

It's a party that transcends the entire century, says Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner, Empire Force Events. Each table of attendees represented a different decade; tables were decorated with hats and necklaces--for instance, gangster hats and feather boas for the 1920s--for the guests to wear. The emcee and wait staff changed their outfits as the night progressed through the decades, and the music reflected the era. "It was four hours of music that everyone knew the words to," says Bernstein.

The night ended by ringing in the year 2000, with confetti and "Auld Lang Syne." The room was in a frenzy, Bernstein says. "It was out of control--that's the best way to describe the event."

The Ultimate New Millennium Gift Once a company has its NYE99 event planning well under way, it will want to start thinking about gifts for its clients or top sellers; Howard Greenberg, for one, will be ready to accommodate.

While meeting executives might begin planning an event three to four years out, "the last thing they get to is gifts," says Greenberg, vice president, marketing and sales, HLG Promotions Plus, Inc., Westport, CT. He expects orders for special NYE99 merchandise won't start coming in until the spring of 1998.

So what kind of gifts will attendees receive to promote their NYE99 events? "Multifunctional clocks are going to be hot," Greenberg says. Digital clocks that display the current time and date, as well as the number of days left until the year 2000, will be popular with big-budget events, he predicts. For those with tighter budgets: single-function clocks--displaying the millennium countdown only.

Splurge! A sampling of the most glamorous--and expensive--trips being offered for New Year's Eve 1999

ANTARCTICA--Celebrate New Year's Eve on board Abercrombie & Kent's Explorer. At the height of summer, the sun never sets.

Cost: $5,210 per person, double occupancy (final prices will be set June 30, 1999)

Contact: Rex Travel/Abercrombie & Kent, Chicago, (800) 777-7739

EGYPT--A highlight of this six-day trip to Cairo will be the New Year's Eve dinner and celebration, held at the Pharaonic Village among more than 100 authentically costumed actors recreating the lifestyle of ancient Egypt.

Cost: $2,895 per person, double occupancy (prices subject to change and do not include airfare)

Contact: Vagabond Cruise & Travel, Stockton, CA, (209) 951-9512

ISRAEL & JORDAN--The New Year's Eve event is in a Bedouin banqueting tent in the ruins of Petra, Jordan.

Cost: $3,845 per person, double occupancy (final prices will be set June 30, 1999)

Contact: Rex Travel/Abercrombie & Kent, Chicago, (800) 777-7739

KENYA--The 13-day safari includes a New Year's Eve dinner with a performance by the Chukka Drummers.

Cost: Final prices available in December 1998

Contact: Big Five Tours & Expeditions, Stuart, FL, (800) BIG FIVE

LONDON/PARIS--The trip begins with two nights in London including a historical pageant at Hampton Court. The transfer to Paris aboard the Millennium Train comes complete with entertainment, food, wine, and cham pagne. The train arrives in France just in time for fireworks welcoming the year 2000. The two-day stay in Paris ends with a grand ball. (The same trip is available with the Paris portion first.)

Cost: Prices start at $7,292

Contact: The Millennium Train Company, Surrey, UK, 44 0 1737-223 303

MOROCCO--A week in Marrakech culminates in a New Year's Eve dinner in a carpet-lined tent lit with torches. Dancers and acrobats entertain.

Cost: $6,550 per person, double occupancy (final prices will be set June 30, 1999)

Contact: Rex Travel/Abercrombie & Kent, Chicago, (800) 777-7739

SOUTH AMERICA--The tour begins in Buenos Aires and ends in Peru. The mood of the New Year's Eve dinner at Machu Picchu is enhanced with the folklorico music of pan pipes and flutes.

Cost: $4,990 per person, double occupancy (final prices will be set June 30, 1999)

Contact: Rex Travel/Abercrombie & Kent, Chicago, (800) 777-7739

OR GO AROUND THE WORLD IN TWO AND A HALF WEEKS--Travel on the Concorde to Sydney, Australia; Delhi, India; Kenya; and Cairo. Christmas is in Honolulu; welcome the year 2000 in Hong Kong. "We have a tremendous number of inquiries," says Linda Steffen, director, marketing services, INTRAV. "We anticipate that it will sell out rapidly."

Cost:$75,000

Contact: INTRAV, St. Louis, (314) 727-0500