New York City
WHAT TO KNOW: VISITING THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
Learn from our mistakes! Here’s more than a dozen things that will make or break your visit to Lady Liberty.
There are a handful of sites that I’d encourage all American families to see at least once including the Statue of Liberty. However, when my teenaged son and I recently visited Liberty Island, we made numerous missteps - mistakes that truly impacted our (mostly my son’s) enjoyment of the experience. Honestly, we wish that we had it to do all over again. The resulting tourist fatigue really ended up ruining the rest of our day in New York City.
But atlas, there’s a silver lining. Our misfortune can serve as your education. Let’s talk about all the things that you only really understand once you’ve visited Lady Liberty.
How do you purchase tickets?
Yes, you do need to purchase tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument on Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Statue Cruises is the one and only authorized ticket vendor. You either can depart from Liberty State Park in New Jersey or Battery Park in New York City. NYC boats first stop at Liberty Island and then Ellis Island; New Jersey boats stop at Ellis Island then Liberty Island. You decide when you want to leave the first island and go to the second. Boats run about every 20 minutes. You also can choose not to do one of the islands and simply stay on the boat until the next stop.
KidTripster Tip: I’d recommend taking the first boat which departs NYC and New Jersey at 8:30 a.m. (However, know that you’ll need to be in line long before that. Keep reading!) Why the first boat? People just keep coming and coming and coming. If you arrive first, you’ll initially be touring with smaller crowds.
You absolutely will want to purchase your timed tickets online in advance, especially if you want to visit the pedestal or crown as those tickets will sell out. While it’s possible to buy same-day tickets, you’ll save yourself a tremendous amount of hassle by buying and then printing your tickets before you arrive. Know that if you’re purchasing tickets to access the crown (more on that in a moment), you’ll need to pick up your tickets at Will Call so that every adult in your party can present photo identification (for example, a driver’s license or passport). Also know that the holder of the credit card used to purchase the tickets must be present and have either a printed confirmation or confirmation email on his or her phone.
So if you’re opting to purchase a crown ticket and be on the first boat, you’ll need to be in line outside Clinton Castle at Battery Park (if departing from NYC) no later than 7:30 a.m. Will Call opens at 7:45 a.m. Once you have your tickets, you’ll join the security line (with Pedestal and Reserve ticket holders). On the day that we visited, that line stretched nearly a block long!
Which tickets should you buy?
Ok, let’s run through the various kinds of tickets. First, you have your least expensive option: the Reserve ticket. This ticket includes the boat transportation to both Liberty and Ellis Islands. You’ll have access to the new Statue of Liberty Museum, the grounds around the statue, the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, and self-guided audio tour headsets on both islands. However, you won’t have access to the crown or pedestal; the pedestal includes the raised platforms around the Statue of Liberty. Cost: Youth (under 4) Free; Youth (4-12) $9; Adult $18.50.
Next, you have your Reserve with Pedestal Access ticket. It includes everything the Reserve ticket covers plus access to the pedestal and platforms for exactly the same price.
Then you have the Reserve with Crown Access ticket. With this ticket, you get everything the Pedestal ticket includes plus access inside the crown area. Cost: Youth (under 4) Not allowed; Youth (4-12) $12; Adult $21.50.
We purchased the Crown Access ticket, so let me explain a bit about what that experience is like. Once you pass through another round of security at the base of the statue (yes, in addition to the security line to get on the boat), you climb 176 steps to the top of the pedestal. Here, a ranger will instruct you to take a few minutes and look at the views of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs from the outside observation decks. Then you return to the ranger who’ll give you access to the next set of stairs - 162 steps in all. However, this staircase is much different. It corkscrews through the very center of Lady Liberty and her exposed inner framework. The staircase is extremely narrow - to the point that the rangers won’t allow you to carry bags in your hand or on your back or even sunglasses on the top of your head. If you’re the least bit claustrophobic, I strongly would advise against doing the climb. In addition, if you have any condition where climbing a total of 338 stairs could be difficult, don’t buy tickets to the crown. Once you arrive at the top, you’ll be surprised at just how small the area is; your party will need to wait your turn. You’ll have very limited visibility because the windows in the crown are tiny. You can see part of Lady Liberty’s tablet and just the very bottom of the torch. During the summer, this area also is very hot, sometimes reaching over 100°F. The ranger stationed here will take your photo and then hustle you out to make room for the next group. Then it’s back down a separate, corkscrew staircase and out.
What is worth it? Hmmm. I’d say “yes,” because I really liked getting a behind-the-scenes peek. However my teenaged son would say “no,” because you really couldn’t see much at the top. Know that if you decide not to do it, your visit certainly won’t be ruined.
There’s one last ticket that can be purchased: the Hard Hat Reserve Tour ticket. This tour is on Ellis Island and includes a 90-minute guided look at the unrestored immigrant hospital complex. It doesn’t include the pedestal or crown portions of the Statue of Liberty, just the grounds and museum. While you can take photos on the tour, you may not take video. Cost: Youth (under 13) Not allowed; Adult (13 and up) $58.50. While I haven’t done this tour, it does strike me as pricey for a family.
KidTripster Tip: Download this free mobile app before you depart to enhance your visit.
How does security work?
Everyone passes through an airport-like security screening on land before boarding the boat. Large bags are not allowed on Liberty or Ellis Islands, and there aren’t any locker facilities on land at the departure points, so plan accordingly.
Those who have pedestal or crown access will have an additional security screening. You won’t be allowed to bring any bags (including a camera bag), backpacks, strollers or umbrellas. No food or drink is allowed, even if it’s unopened. You can bring your camera and your phone in your hands. Everything else must be left in a storage locker next to the pedestal. Now here’s a strange thing that still has my son and I scratching our heads: you must pay 25¢ to use a locker, but you get the quarter back when you retrieve your belongs. So why do you have to pay in the first place? I rarely have cash and even more rarely have coins, but I just happened to have a quarter in my pocket on this day. If we wouldn’t have had a quarter, we would have had to take turns holding our camera bag while the other person climbed the pedestal and crown (which takes time). So don’t forget to bring a quarter!
Is there reserved seating on the boat to the islands?
No, and frankly, there’s hardly any seating at all. We visited during the peak summer tourist season, and our boat was standing room-only. Honestly, my son and I were a bit shocked with just how many people the crew allows on the boat. People just kept boarding and boarding and boarding. If you or your child are sensitive to large crowds, I’d reconsider making the trip. It’s really that many people.
KidTripster Tip: Sit or stand near the edge of the ferry so that you’ll be well positioned to take photos as you approach Liberty Island. This will be your best opportunity for a full shot of Lady Liberty. Also it’s very difficult to get a selfie with the statue on the island because of the angle. Take one from the boat.
What should you do first when you arrive?
(Note: This assumes that you departed from NYC, making Liberty Island your first stop. If you’re departing from New Jersey, Ellis Island will be first.)
When you arrive, go straight to the audio tour kiosk on the right just before the flagpole and pick up your complimentary headset. If you’re holding a Crown ticket, the staff member will tell you that the audio headsets are not allowed in the crown area and that you should do the tour first and then return for your headset. Don’t listen to that person! You’ll waste valuable time retracing your steps needlessly. Instead let that person know that you plan to put your headset in your locker. Clearly, we didn’t realize this and ended up returning later.
What should you do next?
Now that my son and I have visited, we realize that there are several ways to learn about the Statue of Liberty and that you don’t have to do them all. In fact, each way basically imparts the same information, and when you do them all (which we did), it’s repetitious and a waste of time and energy.
Regardless of what kind of ticket you’re holding, go to the Statue of Liberty Museum first. It’s just beyond the audio tour kiosk on the left. Opened in 2019, this $70-million-dollar facility is a vast improvement over the old museum inside the Pedestal. Start your visit here by watching the movie narrated by Diane Sawyer on the history of the Statue of Liberty. If you have young children (or impatient teens), you could skip to the very end of the museum after the movie, take a look at the original torch on display, and then go outside to the statue.
Or you could delve a little bit deeper and use your audio tour headset to tour the rest of the museum. As you approach each exhibit, you’ll see a number to punch into your headset to hear more information. (You also could simply read the placards, if you rather not listen.) Know that some of the information will be repeated from the movie. I’d give yourself about 30 minutes in the museum.
If you have a Pedestal or Crown ticket, head next to the base of the statue on the left side to deposit any belongings in the lockers and go through another security checkpoint. Depending on how quickly you climb stairs, budget about 15 to 20 minutes for the pedestal and another 20 minutes for the crown.
KidTripster Tip: In case you’re wondering, there’s no access to the torch. It’s been closed to visitors since 1916.
If you don’t have a Pedestal or Crown ticket, you simply can begin your walk around Liberty Island, taking in first the view of Manhattan and then the various views of Lady Liberty herself. You again will see numbers that can be plugged into your headset for additional information, but at this point, the information will be very repetitious if you visited the museum, so I’d suggest skipping the outdoor audio tour. If you take a leisurely pace and lots of photos, the walk around the statue will last about 20 minutes.
KidTripster Tip: As of this writing, the museum in the pedestal was still open. Don’t waste your time! Most of the artifacts have been removed and are on display in the new museum. Again, don’t do the audio tour here. It’s all the same information. I really wish the National Park Service would simply close this area. Because we went to the crown first (instead of the new museum), we wasted time by doing the audio tour here and again outside.
Where to next?
Once you have seen the Statue of Liberty, you can head back to the dock to catch the next boat to Ellis Island. Admittedly, because my son and I didn’t use our time efficiently on Liberty Island, we were pretty tired by the time we got here. (If I’m being really honest, my son was done.)
Again, there’s an introductory movie (which is not done as well as the one on Liberty Island) that plays on both the first and second floors of the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration at alternating times. If you’re too tired to listen to another audio tour or read lots of placards after the movie, you may just want to take a look at Registration Hall on the second floor and then head to the cafe which has a wider selection than Liberty Island. If you were to look at all the exhibits inside the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, it likely would take another hour or two.
KidTripster Tip: If you have young children or disinterested teens, I’d recommend skipping Ellis Island altogether.
KidTripster Tip: The one thing that could make Ellis Island come alive for your kids is if you had enough information on your own ancestors who may have passed through here to look them up at the American Family Immigration History Center. For more on how to do that, click here.
Is there any place to eat on Liberty Island?
There are two small food stands on the island, serving a limited, overpriced menu though the smoothies are pretty good. Again, you have more food options on Ellis Island.
Really take into account your children’s ages and attention spans when planning a trip to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Even if you did the bare minimum - took the boat to Liberty Island, watched the movie in the new museum, and walked around the statue (skipping Ellis Island) - I still think the trip would be worthwhile. A shorter visit here would ensure that your family would still have enough energy to take in some other NYC sights.
For KidTripster’s Top 10 Plays (things to do) in NYC as suggested by our local KidTripster mom, click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah enjoys traveling to national monuments and parks with her family. They have a goal of visiting all the national parks in the country. Currently, they’ve been to 45.