Best sites of Manhattan & Statue of Liberty - Trip Report

The second stop of our East Coast Trip was at Staten Island. The drive from Niagara Falls to Staten Island in New York took upwards of nine hours even though the distance was only four hundred and some odd miles. A series of lane closures that resulted in single-lane traffic slowed us down – though not bumper to bumper the speedometer never moved past 45 miles per hour.

The free Staten Island Ferry from St. George Ferry Terminal to Whitehall Ferry Terminal in lower Manhattan makes getting to Manhattan a breeze. Parking was available for $6 near the terminal private lot (Staten Island Yankees Ballpark lot) – parking entrances are to the left of the terminal – there is a shuttle back to the terminal (less than half a mile) but it was not reliable. The unattended municipal lots at the terminal and on Hyatt Street while a little cheaper involves purchasing NYC parking cards and/or feeding the meters. The ferry is regarded the best value for money for New York tourists and we concur – the terminals and the ferry are state of the art and the views simply outstanding (Statue of Liberty, skyscrapers of Manhattan, etc.). It operates year round 24 hours a day, with frequencies varying between 15 minutes to an hour – travel time is around 25 minutes. Both terminals had extensive renovations done in the 2005-2010 timeframe and it showed – the glass and steel Whitehall terminal was especially impressive and the $200M renovation included several green design decisions and providing a natural setting – rooftop solar panels provide part of the electricity, warming the floor using hydronic radiant floors (water from a boiler is passed through tubing underneath the terrazzo flooring), and natural lighting from the glass design make for a unique yet functional structure.

Next to the Whitehall terminal building is the historical Battery Park – 25 acres of greenery pampered by the Ocean on one side and by the skyscrapers of Manhattan on the other side. Located a short walk away across the Battery Park are the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ticket counters (Statue Cruises, LLC – authorized by the National Park Service). Three types of tickets can be purchased online ($12 adults, $10 seniors, $ 5 kids 4-12, audio tour option additional) - they were all the same price but availability varies as follows:
  1. Crown Ticket: This is the superlative of the choices - it allows priority entry to the security screening facility, access to the Pedestal/Museum at the Statue of Liberty, and access to the Crown. Access to the crown was closed following September 11 and reopened July 4, 2009. This crown access is allowed in groups of 10 at a time and hence limited numbers of tickets are available any given day. As such, they need to be reserved online three or more months in advance. Crown access was set to be available for another couple of years after which an extended closure for renovation is planned.
  2. Pedestal/Museum Ticket: This allows priority entry to the security screening facility and access to the Pedestal/Museum, but NOT to the crown. These tickets can be reserved online usually a week or so earlier.
  3. Grounds Only Ticket or a 3-day Flex Pass Grounds Only Ticket: The Grounds Only Ticket lets you ride the boat to the islands and allows for walking around it. It is issued for a particular day and time and allows priority entry at the security screening facility if reserved in advance. The 3-day Flex Pass Grounds Only Ticket is issued for a particular day but allows the flexibility to go at any time in the next 3-days starting that day. The other Flex Ticket does not allow for priority entry at the security screening facility. Security screening can add upwards of an hour at peak times.

Then there is the option of going directly to the ticket counter and purchasing what is available for that day. Waiting in line is the order of the day for this category - first there is the line for the tickets followed by the security screening facility entrance line (much longer usually). Unfortunately, we were in this situation for reasons beyond control – after about 20 minutes in the tickets line we purchased the Grounds Only Tickets and the Security line took another hour.The trip itself was great and as our cousins accompanied us in New York time was not lost in any way, although access to the pedestal and crown would have made the experience even more so for all of us. All told, out of the five hours we spent around two hours at the Liberty Island and skipped Ellis Island. Our first trip to the Statue of Liberty was 12 years earlier and it was indeed a wonderful experience getting to the crown with hundreds of others from all walks of life and that too from all over the world.

Grayline and CitySights are the two major hop-on hop-off tour operators in Manhattan. We chose the one by Grayline (Red Double Decker Open Roof Bus) for they were the first tour operators we ran into from Battery Park. Different tour options are available and we took the all encompassing All Loops Tour valid for 48 hours ($54 Adults, $44 Children 3-11). Looking back, given our limited time we would have been better off with the Downtown Loop Tour valid for 24 hours ($44 Adults, $34 Children 3-11) which does not include the Uptown Loop as the tours operate from 8 AM to 6 PM.

The hop-on hop-off tours are a great value if two full days are at your disposal to spend in Manhattan – for $54 one gets to experience Manhattan without having to worry about transportation, arguably the hardest part. Live commentary is part of the deal – the quality though varies by personnel, but to be fair they provide good information. The bus has 24 stops on the downtown loop and another 21 stops in the uptown loop. The route goes in front of the major landmarks with couple of exceptions – the route only crosses the streets to Ground Zero site and Wall Street but doesn’t go through them hence plan ahead on the stops to hop off. It was a truly memorable tour as we got to see: a) United Nations Building, b) Rockefeller Center, c) Times Square, d) Empire State Building, e) Madison Square Garden, and f) Central Park. Time Square lived up to its reputation as “out of this world” and the lit buildings and the crowds combined to provide a unique visual experience – the movies and pictures that attempt to capture the spirit of Time Square fall way too short compared to the real thing…

Last Updated: 02/2011.


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