VISITING THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
This seems like such a simple topic, many will wonder why I am devoting an entire blog entry to it. The answer is simple - visiting the Statue of Liberty is trickier than it might first appear and I want you to get your optimal experience.
First of all, you need to decide how important it is to you that you actually hop off on Liberty Island.
In New York City you will find many boats that will stop in front of the Statue of Liberty, but ONLY ONE that will drop you off on the island. That one is Statue Cruises.
HOW TO BUY YOUR STATUE CRUISES TICKET
The best way to buy a ticket to Statue Cruises is to visit their website and buy your ticket in advance. If you wait to buy your ticket at the kiosk, you will probably end up spending hours in line, thus wasting valuable time you could spend exploring and experiencing the city. So, do yourself a favor and buy your ticket online.
Whatever you do - DO NOT BUY A TICKET FROM A THIRD PARTY VENDOR WEARING A STATUE OF LIBERTY HAT! Since Liberty Island and Ellis Island are both part of the National Parks Service, they do not use third party vendors. The price of the ticket is subsidized by the NPS and always costs $18.50. (with exceptions for children and seniors.) THAT INCLUDES TICKETS TO THE CROWN. DO NOT LET THE MAN IN THE STATUE OF LIBERTY HAT TELL YOU OTHERWISE. HE IS SCAMMING YOU!
Phew, now that THAT is out of the way, let’s talk about your experience on Liberty Island.
While you’re buying your ticket, you will need to make some decisions. The most important decision is - “Do I want to visit the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty” and “Do I want to visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty.”
This decision needs to be made when you buy your ticket. Once you’re on the boat it is too late.
Also, a word of warning, while the pedestal is often available the day of your visit, tickets to the crown sell out six months in advance! They only allow 180 people up every day, so tickets are scarce! If visiting the crown is important to you, this is something you will definitely want to plan ahead for it.
These will be your options when you buy your ticket.
"Reserve Ticket" is the grounds only.
"Pedestal Reserve Ticket" gives you access to the inside and top of the pedestal.
"Crown Reserve Ticket" give you the inside and outside of the pedestal AND the crown.
"Hard Hat Reserve Ticket" is a reference to an amazing tour to the usually off limits sections of Ellis Island.
You need to make your selection BEFORE paying for your ticket. Once you are on the boats, it is too late to change your mind.
If you see that crown tickets are sold out, that is o.k. To be honest, it is far from my favorite experience in NYC. The view is basically of Red Hook, Brooklyn and you are only about 150 feet higher than the top of pedestal. The space is also very small, there are a LOT of stairs and no elevator, you’re often crouching, and in the summer it can get swelteringly hot. If you’re looking for a great view, visit one of New York’s observatories! If visiting the crown is important to you though, I totally get it! Just make sure you plan way ahead! (Guides have also found the colder winter months more pleasant as well in terms of both availability and temperature.).
The top of the pedestal, in my opinion, is more than sufficient as your "I went to the top of the Statue of Liberty" experience. You get to walk around outside the top of the pedestal, get a 360 degree view of the harbor, and look up Lady Liberty's nose. On your way down, if you stop at the top of “The Star” and walk to south point, you will get a great photo opportunity of yourself and the Statue of Liberty. Of course, someone had to basically lie down on the ground to get a great angle where both yourself and the full Statue can be seen, but it’s worth it!
If you’re just visiting the grounds, you can also take some great photographs, stop at the gift shop and cafe, see some works of public art depicting several people responsible for making the Statue of Liberty the iconic figure it is today, and most importantly, you will get to visit the brand new Statue Liberty Museum. In this museum you will get to see artifacts such as the ORIGINAL torch she held until 1984, some of Gustav Eiffel’s original girders, and some of Bartholdi’s original designs for his masterpiece. To me, this museum is the true reason to hop off on Liberty Island, and the rest is just icing on the cake.
WHERE TO DEPART FROM
You will also have to decide where you want to depart from. You can depart from Battery Park in Manhattan or Liberty Park, New Jersey. Most people prefer Battery Park in Manhattan. If you are staying in the five boroughs, this departure is infinitely easier. However, if you are in New Jersey and have access to a car, Liberty Park might be easier and far less crowded. There is also a hidden 9/11 memorial at Liberty Park, NJ called EMPTY SKY, which is interesting to check out.
WHEN TO VISIT
In terms of the best time to visit, the Statue of Liberty is open 365 days a year. The busiest times will be June, July, August, Thanksgiving Week, and Christmas/New Years week. No matter what day you visit, the best time of day to visit is the early morning.
As the day progresses, lines for security and the boats that take you to and from the island build up, and during peak season it’s very possible the boats will max out and you’ll have to wait for another to come. When boats run every 20 minutes, this could in theory set you back 40 minutes in terms of doing awesome things. The museums will also get far more crowded and noisy as the day progresses.
Statue Cruises has an up to date ferry schedule that can help you plan your trip.
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
You can travel very light to Liberty Island. The fine print on the Statue Cruises website outlines what is illegal on the island and inside the monument. You will need to go through security before you get on the boat, so it is important to visit the Statue Cruises site for a list of the most updated rules, regulations, and guidelines about what is allowed on the island AND WHAT IS ALLOWED IN THE MUSEUM AND THE MONUMENT! (The museum and monument have different rules than the island.). At the time of writing this, backpacks and food are allowed on Liberty Island, but they are NOT allowed in the museum. If you have a backpack or food, you need to store them in a locker which costs $2. I usually make it a point to leave my backpack at home as well as all my food. There is a cafe on the island and a concession stand on the boat if you need it. Though if you have a favorite granola bar or a picky eater traveling with you - feel free to through some snack in your bags.
It always feels a little silly to stress this, but it is important - WEAPONS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON STATUE CRUISES. When I say weapons, this includes guns (even if you have a license in your home state, NY is not a right to carry state and you will not be allowed on to the boat), swords, fireworks, mace, pepper spray, and pocket knives. So, if you have any of these items, you will want to leave them at home.
It should also be noted that the boat that takes you to Liberty Island also takes you to a second island - Ellis Island.
Many people have a misconception that Liberty Island and Ellis Island are actually the same, but they are actually two separate islands! Two for the price of one!
For me, Ellis Island is even more exciting than Liberty Island. So, decide if you will want to budget in time for Ellis Island as well during your Statue of Liberty visit.
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is one of the most important museums you can visit in the United States. It packs a lot of information talking about immigration in the Americas, literally starting with the very first people to set foot on the continent. It covers immigration before Ellis Island, during Ellis Island, and after Ellis Island closed. The “Through America’s Gate” exhibit is very much the bread and butter of Ellis Island, giving visitors a unique insight to what immigrants would have experienced as they passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. If you only visit one exhibit, "Through America's Gate" is the one I’d recommend.
The next exhibit I’d push for is the “Modern Eras of Immigration,” which helps visitors understand our current immigration laws, why they came to be, and when they came to be. It does a remarkable job of giving all points of view regarding our immigration laws due time and respect. Much of the exhibit is interactive as well, so it can captivate even the most restless of minds.
Another suggestion is to try and find a Park Ranger on BOTH islands and ask them for insider information. Both Liberty Island and Ellis Island are part of the National Parks Service, and the rangers working on Ellis Island can answer just about any question you have about immigration and also engage you in some secret tasks, such as trying to complete a puzzle that was given to some immigrants as an “intelligence test.” NPS Rangers also give free tours of Ellis Island.
If you book ahead of time, you can also take the “Hard Hat Tour,” where a ranger will take you to a closed section of the island and you will learn about what happened in those buildings not yet open to the public.
I could literally spend an entire day on Ellis Island, so give yourself time to really devour of the information the site has to offer.
I work for several companies that give Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours, so I feel a bit self promote-y recommending tours, that being said, I truly do believe CITY TALES offers the BEST public Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours out there! I recommend them to all of my friends. You can even pair your Statue of LIberty/Ellis Island Tour up with a 9/11 tour later that afternoon, which is a wonderful way to spend a day in Lower Manhattan. If you'd like a private tour, I'd suggest contacting The Levy's Unique New York. Their guides are all extremely lively and knowledgeable and they will customize the experience to your specific requests.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I PLAN TO SPEND AT LIBERTY ISLAND AND ELLIS ISLAND
It really depends on how many bells and whistles you have added to your experience, but as a general rule, if you are ONLY doing ONE ISLAND, allow AT LEAST three hours. If you plan on getting off the boat at BOTH ISLANDS, allow AT LEAST four hours. That includes your time waiting for the boats and traveling between the islands. I nerd out at both islands, and could probably spend three to four hours just exploring Ellis Island, but if you just want to take photos and say you were there, and then catch a Broadway matinee, that is more than cool, just make sure you check the ferry schedules and leave 3-4 hours so you can get through security, board a ferry, travel to an island, get off on an island, explore, board the ferry again, get off at the second island if you'd like, explore the second island, get back on the boat, then return to your point of departure.
Another note, the boats go in a circle. The boat that departs from Manhattan docks at Liberty Island, then Ellis Island, then Manhattan, rinse and repeat. As such, if you want to do Liberty Island, do that BEFORE Ellis Island. If you want to skip Liberty Island and go straight to Ellis, stay on the boat when it docks at Liberty Island, then get off at the second stop which will be Ellis. DO NOT PLAN on doing Ellis first then going back to Liberty if there is time. Liberty First, Ellis Second.
If you depart from Liberty Park, NJ, this will be reversed. The boat will dock at Ellis Island first, and then Liberty Island. If you depart from NJ and want to do Ellis Island, hop off at Ellis first!
And if you are SUPER adventurous and creative, you can depart from Liberty, NJ, do Ellis Island, then do the Statue, then board the MANHATTAN ferry back, which will dock at Ellis Island, but drop you off in Manhattan.
WHEW! Super confusing, but you are smart and I'm sure you can figure it out!
I hope this was helpful in demystifying some of the trickier parts of visiting The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. They are truly great monuments and symbols that have so much meaning to our country, they are definitely worth seeing. Dress for the weather, bring a camera, bring an eager mind and open heart, and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!:)