Heralding the arrival of 2003, hundreds of thousands of revelers massed in New York City to watch the glimmering Times Square ball drop.

The Times Square 2003 Balloon Crew blew up 10,000 red balloons to hand out to revelers, and a blizzard's worth of red, white and blue confetti flew from rooftops.

But police also welded manholes shut and removed mailboxes from Times Square, and said undercover officers would mix with the crowd, expected to exceed 500,000.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said about 2,000 officers were on duty, with sharpshooters stationed on roofs, and that security would be heightened at New York Harbor.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a low-level alert for New York's ports earlier in the day, saying an intelligence source had warned of eight "diversionary" attacks throughout the state before a possible harbor attack.

"There was an uncorroborated report about New York Harbor," Kelly said, adding that pleasure craft had been barred from the harbor and additional police vessels had been deployed.

Revelers seemed unfazed by the tighter security. As 2002 dwindled and the crowd grew, they eagerly accepted the glittering blue-and-white pompoms Times Square employees handed them.

"I've wanted to see this since I was 3," said C.J. Reeves, a 14-year-old high school student from Austin, Texas. "It's my dream come true."

Boston also heightened security for the estimated 1 million people at its downtown First Night celebration, a mix of arts shows and exhibits punctuated with fireworks and a procession along Boylston Street.

Several communities put their own spins on New York's ball-dropping. Pennsylvania alone was to see a 9-foot wooden lollipop dropped in Hummelstown, a 100-pound slab of bologna lowered in Lebanon, and a giant green pickle mascot taking a plunge into a barrel in Dillsburg.

An estimated 270,000 tourists gathered for the festivities in Las Vegas.

A number of New Yorkers said they favored the wide-open feel over jammed Times Square. "Every square inch of the Strip is a party on New Year's. And there's space to enjoy it," said Scott Karstedt of Buffalo, N.Y.

In some cases, celebrations were scaled back or canceled because of the shaky economy.

In Mobile, Ala., fireworks were dropped from the First Night celebration after last year's $160,000 budget was trimmed to less than $100,000.

First Night parties, family-oriented festivities that emphasize the arts, were set up in 139 cities this year, 21 fewer than last year, said Naima Kradjian, president of First Night International.

"Individuals aren't giving as much," Kradjian said. "There's also corporate support that has not been as free-flowing as it has in recent years."

Some people skipped the New Year's Eve festivities altogether and staked out spots along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Calif., to watch the 114th Rose Parade on New Year's Day.

Despite ordinances barring sidewalk squatting before noon on New Year's Eve, chairs, camping equipment and umbrellas started appearing Tuesday morning.

The Rose Bowl events weren't immune, though, from the slow economy. On Tuesday, there were still vacancies at some Pasadena hotels -- a departure from years past when they'd be sold out weeks in advance.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.