While visiting NYC with kids, the Statue of Liberty is a must-do. We found, however, that Ellis Island’s Immigration Museum is an even more interesting stop, so be sure to do both. You’ll want to start your trip planning with a visit to the Statue Cruises website, where you can purchase your ferry tickets (you can also purchase them at the New York Visitor’s Center at 234 W. 42nd or through Smart Destinations’ Go Select cards).
Because the limitations of these tickets are confusing, I’ll explain further. What your ferry tickets will do for you: get you to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (and into the free Ellis Island sights and museum). What it will not get you into: the Statue of Liberty (unless you upgrade online). When picking up your ticket, you can ask for a free pedestal access upgrade (gets you into the pedestal) but they are first come, first served (and they were gone when we got there at 11 am). If you want to try for one of the crown tickets (climbing the stairs inside), they are not offered every day, and are an additional cost. Ask when you reserve. Since the statue is a national monument, you can find out more at the national park site, or you can ensure your pedestal ticket by reserving online through Statue Cruises.
Once on the ferry, you have the option of stopping at both or either monuments. Because we didn’t have pedestal tickets, we opted to stay on-board at the statue (snapping some great shots) and got off at Ellis Island only. The free historic site and museum here is extremely well done, and you’ll want to dedicate at least an hour and a half to two hours to it. We ate lunch at the museum café first (there’s a nice outdoor seating area overlooking the greenery and water), then ducked into the theater to catch the 45 minute documentary on the history of the island. This movie gave a great overview, and was age appropriate for all but Toby (age 6), who got restless at about the half-hour mark. Younger kids may want to opt out with a parent, but I’m glad we went: it really put the monument in context for the older kids.
After viewing the movie, there are three floors of the main building (processing headquarters for millions of immigrants over the span of decades) to tour. It was interesting to see the Great Hall, the medical examination rooms where millions endured ‘six second physicals’ that determined their mental and psychological status, and the sleeping quarters of the immigrants, but most fascinating were their stories: in every room, their memoirs, letters home, and photos are preserved, depicting a sobering history of the trials they faced.
Tip: If your goal is only to see the statue up close, not to stop, a better option would be the free Staten Island Ferry or the New York Water Taxi (which actually slows near the statue to give passengers time to snap some shots). You can board both in the Battery near the Statue Cruises terminal.
Getting there: All ferries depart from Battery Park (easy to find via Subway if you take a downtown train to the end of the line at South Ferry, though Rector Street will also work). Once in Battery Park, you’ll want to go to Castle Clinton National Monument, where you can buy (or pick up) your Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry tickets.
Cost: The monuments are free, but ferry tickets cost $13 for adults, and $5 for kids 4-12. (Under 4 is free.) You can reserve tickets online ahead of time, or buy them at the booth.
Tip: CityPass allows you to skip the ticketing line and get right in line for the ferry, a big time saver (keeping in mind that you’ll still have to ask for pedestal tickets on the day of your cruise, should you want them). If you use Go Card USA: Discount Attraction Passes from Smart Destinations, head past the battery monument (Castle Clinton) to the Bike and Roll booth (blue sign) to pick up your tickets.