By Serena Solomon, Tuan Nguyen, Della Hasselle, Andrea Swalec, Paul Lomax, Adam Nichols and Tom Liddy
Revelers from places as far flung as Colombia and Kazakhstan jammed into the Crossroads of the World, some as early as 24 hours before the ball was set to drop, to ring in the New Year and watch a bevy of stars from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber and Cee Lo Green perform.
"This is the second time I've been to New York City for New Year's and I love it," said a beaming Andres Barrios, 22, of Bogota, Colombia, who donned a pair of blue "2012" glasses. "It's the best place in the world to celebrate 2012!"
Jordi Callan, 38, of Barcelona staked out his spot among the crowd at 43rd Street and Broadway at 10 a.m. along with his girlfriend Mariona Vidac, 26.
"It was half full then already. Some people have been here since 2 o'clock in the morning."
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience so we just can't miss it" said Callan, a salesman, as he swayed with the music. "It's New York, the greatest city. It's the crowd, it's just amazing."
Revelers had to cope with full bladders and a lack of food for hours, but the inconvenience was no match for being in the heart of it all for the most famous New Year's Eve party in the world.
"We just didn't drink and will try to hold it," said Callan. "When the ball drops we will run up six blocks up to our hotel."
Soldiers from all branches of the military toasted the New Year, some after spending extended tours of duty overseas.
Marine Corp. Rodolfo Valdivia, 26, of Brooklyn, who spending his first New Year's Eve in Times Square with his wife Kalani Valdivia, just returned from Afghanistan after a seven-month tour there.
"It's something we wanted to do while we were young," said Kalani.
But the couple, who was with Corp. Nick Starr and his girlfriend Heidi Hyatt, were most excited to be watching Lady Gaga.
"The military likes her a lot," said Corp. Valdivia, whose favorite song is "Poker Face." "Everybody can relate to something in her lyrics.
"It makes me think about smiling when life doesn't smile at you."
Gaga, donning a slinky, sparkly black number headlined the show along with Cee Lo, belting out "Born This Way" among other tunes. Bieber performed a duet with superstar guitar legend Carlos Santa.
Earlier the USO performed for the members of the military in the audience and rapper Drake entertained the crowd.
But the highlight of the evening was none other than the ball drop.
Lady Gaga joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help bring the ball down in the final moments of 2011 and the superstar songstress and Hizzoner shared a dance to "New York, New York" and smooch.
But lest the mayor's girlfriend Diana Taylor be jealous, Gaga also planted one on her as well.
When the clock struck midnight, confetti comprised of wishes for the New Year rained down on the crowd and fireworks burst in the sky.
"It was absolutely magnificent," said Stella Francour, 52, of Paris, who was with her daughter Ethel Hacman, 11. "The people here are so warm. The people in Paris are not the same. People here are phenomenal."
The raucous party even brought some former New Yorkers back to their old haunts. Native New Yorkers David Gagnon, 50, a real estate consultant and Mary O'Laughan, 55, a corporate executive, have been coming to Times Square for New Year's every year since 2007.
"We're New Yorkers at heart and love every minute when we come home to spend time with friends and family, especially over New Years," Gagnon said.
"Last time we were here we met the lighting engineers who controlled all the lights in Times Square. And without them Times Square would be dark."
An army of police started shutting off streets around Times Square beginning at 3 p.m. and there were so many people, in fact, drawn by the mild temperatures and superstar lineup, that some who came to see the performances had to stay away.
"My wife and two sisters are crying in their hotel," said Max Becker, 52, an insurance broker from Mexico as he was having dinner with his son and brother in a deli on 44th st. "They got to the square at 3 p.m. but after two hours they left.
"They said, 'too crowed, so many people and they stood too close.'" "We came all the way here for it and they were so upset now. They came for Bieber boy and Lady Gaga."
Others made the trip to Times Square because they thought it might be their last chance.
"I always wanted to come to the best ny's celebration in the world," said Barbara Martinez, 19, of Curitiba, Brazil, a student who was with college pal Sarah Clevenger, 19, of Lexington, Kent.
The girls jokingly held up signs like "Last New Year's Ever" to riff on the predicted apocalypse.
Earlier in the day, the crowds swelled despite a noontime rain shower.
"We've been here for 12 hours and only had coffee," said Lilly Arrietta, 25, a student from Connecticut who brought her friend Laid Barreto, 24, into Times Square.
"We love it. It's New York City. It's our first time and we're so excited about Lady Gaga."
For student Ariana Afanador, 14, who came from New Jersey at 2 a.m. with her mom and friend Nyck Williams, 22, it was the second Times Square celebration.
"I came last year and it was amazing," she said.
"It's full of energy and excitement. It's just a wonderful time to be with friends."
Jordan Nations, 17, came with his brother Matt, 22, from Sarasota, Florida.
"I'm crossing this off my bucket list," he said. "We always watch it on TV, but just once I wanted to be with all these crazy people."