At a curling rink in his hometown of Bridgetown in the scenic Annapolis Valley, Liberal supporters erupted as the results rolled in riding by riding, giving the party victory after victory.
Later, McNeil said he felt good about his party's prospects heading into election day.
"We knew there was a mood for change and people were looking for an alternative to that (NDP) government," said McNeil.
"I'm grateful for the fact Nova Scotians rewarded us."
He said the lesson of the NDP's devastating loss is that governments shouldn't take voters for granted. "You take the mandate that you are given and you do what you say you are going to do," he said.
It was the party's first electoral victory in 14 years. The Liberals last held power under Russell MacLellan in 1999.
McNeil, 48, ran a consistent campaign, promising less government spending, greater competition in the energy sector and a cut to the harmonized sales tax as long as the books are balanced.
An despite some stinging attacks from his opponents, he appeared relaxed as the campaign drew to a close.
Earlier Tuesday, McNeil was asked whether an election victory would be the culmination of his attempts to re-energize the Liberals since his election as leader in 2007. He took over at a time when the party was still smarting from its weak third-place finish in 2006.
"This is a very different party than the one I became the leader of in 2007," McNeil said, adding he was proud of the changes implemented under his leadership.
"We modernized our fundraising ability. We modernized our organization and opened the party up when it comes to the platform and resolutions and policy making."
Party president John Gillis said the job McNeil did in rebuilding the party is indicative of the way he will govern the province as premier.
"He didn't come in like a bulldozer, he came in, in a thoughtful fashion," said Gillis. "That's the type of guy he is and that's how he'll govern."
In his victory speech, McNeil told supporters he will deliver on what he promised, which included restoring trust to politics.
"The people of Nova Scotia have agreed with our plan to put Nova Scotia first," he said.
"We will work tirelessly to ensure that we give you the honest and hardworking government that you deserve."Suggest a correction