New York Icons: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty and New York skyline from Statue Cruises ferry (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline from a Statue Cruises ferry (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It is a must-do in the Big Apple: visiting those New York icons the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

You can do it the easy way, though, or you can do it the hard way.

The hard way is not doing any planning, showing up to get tickets in the middle of the day, and standing in line forever. Bonus pain points if you do it with impatient small children.

To enjoy the experience, don’t be in a huge rush. Plan on a full morning or a full afternoon, and reserve tickets ahead of time.

My original “perfect” itinerary during a recent visit to Manhattan was to spend the morning doing Statue/Ellis Island activities, have lunch at Katz’s Deli, and then visit the outstanding Lower East Side Tenement Museum, but we didn’t get going early enough from our hotel way over in Queens to fit all of that into one day.

I don’t know when I’m going to learn that I don’t have a jetpack built into my body.

Whatever you do, go here to buy tickets ahead of time. Statue Cruises is the only authorized way to do this trip, so don’t fall for any shady offers elsewhere. You’ll need additional reservations to see the Statue’s pedestal area, and will pay a little extra to climb all the way up to the crown.

We had our purchased ticket info on our phones, and although the website sort of gives the impression that you have to print them or pick up paper tickets at our Battery Park ferry departure point way down at the tip of lower Manhattan, we had no problem showing security people the phone version.

With a reserved timeslot, we still had to wait in line to go through a TSA-like security check before boarding the ferry, but the line moved right along and we were efficiently boarded in short order.

The ferry ride itself is quick (maybe 15-20 minutes) so stay along the outside rails if you want to take photos.

Once the ferry arrived on Liberty Island, all we wanted to do was to walk around the monument and soak in the views, so we did….

New York's Lady Liberty through the trees (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Lady Liberty through the trees (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The park is still recovering from the incredible devastation and storm surge from Hurricane Sandy.

From the park website:

“On October 29, 2012, flood waters from Hurricane Sandy covered 75% of Liberty Island and almost all of Ellis Island, flooding basements of all buildings with the exception of the Statue and Monument. Winds and flooding from the storm destroyed most of the infrastructure on both islands including; electric, water, sewer, HVAC systems, phone systems, security systems, and radio equipment.”

There is construction activity for the new Statue of Liberty Museum on the island, which is projected to open in 2019.

After our Liberty stroll – I’m not sure what got into me, but my son had to talk me out of buying one of those lime green foam crowns at the rather tacky gift shop – we got back in line to catch the next ferry going to Ellis Island and the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

Here is the main hall where 12 million immigrants came into the United States from 1892 to 1954….

Registry Room Great Hall Ellis Island New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Registry Room or Great Hall on Ellis Island in New York Harbor (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There are three floors of exhibits about the immigrant experience, plus audio and Park Ranger-led tours, so there is plenty to see.

We focused mostly on the second floor rooms, including “Through America’s Gate” which steps you through the whole immigration “intake” process, and “Peak Immigration Years” which focuses on the 1880-1924 wave of people who came to the U.S. from all over the world.

A quick look at the third floor included “Treasures from Home” (personal possessions that immigrants brought from their home countries which were later donated to the museum by their families.) We also stuck our head into the Bob Hope Memorial Library; it has research materials and a little about the comedian and performer Hope, who came through Ellis Island as a child in 1908.

As you can see, between the Statue and Ellis, there is a lot to absorb, plus time standing in lines, so if you try to push through too quickly because you haven’t scheduled enough time, you’ll just get frustrated.

Don’t miss a couple of other famous places that are right there near the Battery Park ferry landing.

The “Charging Bull” statue is located at the intersection of Broadway and Morris Streets in a section of the Financial District called Bowling Green.

It isn’t hard to find. Look for the enormous numbers of photo-taking people clustered around it….

It is a bit crowded around the Wall Street bull in New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It is a bit crowded around the Wall Street Charging Bull in New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Also very close to the Battery Park ferry area is a key building in American history – Federal Hall on Wall Street.

Remember, Washington DC wasn’t founded until 1790. New York and Federal Hall were home to the first U.S. Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices.

George Washington took the first oath of office for the Presidency at Federal Hall, which is why there is a big statue of him in front of it.

George Washington statue at Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

George Washington’s statue at Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

As always in New York City, there is so much to do, and everything is located in a relatively compact area, with plenty of public transportation options. It is tempting to jam, jam, jam things into your travel plans.

Don’t do it.

Slow down and enjoy seeing the real Statue of Liberty from the water, from the front/back/side, and even looking down from the crown.

Take your time to learn the extraordinary immigrant stories that fill so many rooms at Ellis Island.

Take a look at some of the cool things that are within blocks of the Battery Park ferry landing. It’s not only the Wall Street Charging Bull and Federal Hall … we walked right past the National Museum of the American Indian inside the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House without even realizing that it was there. D’oh!

Sounds like we need to plan another trip, right?

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