Despite the rain, the Akron Zoo rang in 2019 in style Monday: by dropping a red plastic ball full of holes from jaguars' teeth.

The zoo hosted the event, dubbed Zoo Year's Eve, earlier in the day for families to enjoy New Year's Eve at a family-friendly hour.

"What is Zoo Year's Eve all about?" Akron Zoo president and CEO Doug Piekarz said to the more than 200 people gathered for the ball drop. "It's about all of you guys here who might not be able to stay up 'til midnight tonight still being able to take part in the celebration."

After a few false starts from some over-eager kids, the official countdown started just before noon. When the clock struck 12, "ecofetti" shot into the air, and children threw handfuls of the biodegradable, compostable confetti into the air as "Auld Lang Syne" played.

Akron Zoo vice president of communications Linda Criss said shortly after organizers of the First Night celebration in downtown Akron announced that last year would be the final one after 22 years, discussion began on a new family-oriented event at the zoo to take its place.

"We were more than happy to come up with something that we could do with families," Criss said.

The event included crafts, live music, food and a resolution wall, with resolutions ranging from the simple yet optimistic "I will eat candy" to the more thoughtful "take care of myself" and "spread kindness daily." The first 34 people into the zoo got a free carousel ride on the "first carousel ride of 2019" after the ball dropped.

Best friends Jocelyn Dougherty of Kent and Jen Kennedy of Warren visited the zoo Monday with their sons, Asher Dougherty and Cameron Stohlmann, both 7.

"We thought it would be fun to come out and do it. At least they'll be awake to enjoy it," Kennedy said of the kids.

Kelly and Michelle Papp of Akron and their children, Joey, 6, and Samantha, 5, heard about the event from family.

"We figured, well, we got the little ones," Kelly Papp said as Joey examined a midas cichlid, a bulb-headed orange fish, floating in Komodo Kingdom. "We'll try to get them out here to see the animals and see the ball drop."

"They're never gonna make it past 8," Michelle Papp added of her children.

Piekarz reflected on 2018 at the zoo and what's coming up in 2019.

Construction on the Pride of Africa exhibit, which will include African lions, Speke's gazelle, white storks and goats, started in June, with the exhibit slated to open in summer 2019. The exhibit will focus on the Maasai people of Kenya and will include a train to take visitors behind the scenes. 

The zoo's Tiger Valley, one of its oldest exhibits, will be replaced with Wild Asia, slated to open in summer 2020 with Sumatran tigers, red pandas and white-cheeked gibbons.

Both the Pride of Africa and Wild Asia exhibits will be five times larger than the current space for the zoo's lions and tigers, respectively, Piekarz said. The Wild Asia exhibit will also have almost twice the amount of space for guests compared to Tiger Valley.

The zoo's winter hours, from November through March, are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.