Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

I was so glad when J came up with the suggestion to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, because I’ve been feeling guilty about not visiting for about, oh, seven years. M dressed up as the Statue of Liberty for Halloween when she was in the 2nd grade and I thought, “Oh, we should go visit.” But we didn’t.  Then she did a report on Ellis Island for her 4th grade New York State project, and I thought, “Man, we should really go visit.” But again we didn’t. Then J said, “Let’s go,” and I said, “Yes, let’s!” and we did. Thus proving that I love her best. No, no, no. Really, I vaguely recall a construction project of some sort that precluded access to the Statue of Liberty for a couple of years. Plus, I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured out that I should just do stuff. I used to be more intimidated by the notion of fitting things into our schedules and figuring out logistics, and I’ve become much more devil-may-care about all that. Now I say, ready or not, let’s go. And the truth is it’s pretty easy to get ready once you’ve firmly decided that you’re going.

Anyway, when I mentioned to people that our family had visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, a few different people said, “Oh, both of them?”

Yes. Actually, that’s how it works.

If you’ve never gone before, the way that you get to both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is via a ferry run by Statue Cruises. You can leave from either Battery Park in lower Manhattan or from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. Then the ferry makes a loop to both locations before bringing you back.

If you’re planning to visit, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, since your visit will include three ferry rides, weather is a factor. On a beautiful day, the ferry rides are a delight. On a super-cold day, the ferry rides are less likely to be delightful. You can sit either inside or outside and the rides themselves are pretty short, so you won’t be in abject misery on a cold or rainy day. You just won’t be actively delighted. Keep in mind, too, that fewer people visit in the winter than in the summer for just this reason, so if you can luck out and get a warm day during the winter, your life is good.

Our lives are good. It was practically balmy, and with our jackets it was pleasant even when the ferry ride made it windy.

The second factor to bear in mind is how much access you’ll want for the Statue of Liberty. Your choices are crown access, access to the pedestal, or no special access. As you might expect, crown access is limited and it sells out quickly. Right now there’s almost no availability for March, April, or May, but then July is still pretty open. So if you’d like to climb all the way up to the crown, you should pick a day this summer and reserve tickets soon.

Pedestal access is still pretty tall, with a bunch of steps to climb before you’re able to get outside to an overlook that’s not too far below her toes.

No access means basically not going inside, just walking around the little island park.

We left from Liberty State Park. It was really quiet, actually. There was a 9/11 memorial there and a pretty old railroad terminal station with exhibits on local history, including an explosion by German saboteurs during WWI than I couldn’t remember ever hearing about.

Our first stop was Ellis Island. I actually love Ellis Island. I think it’s really interesting, it’s a beautiful building, I love retracing the steps of our ancestors, and it’s packed with compelling stories. I pretty much insisted that we do the audio tour (free with admission), and even if there may have been a bit of grumbling from the kids, I’m glad we did it. Here’s the main hall:

Love the lights:

We followed along the audio tour and then headed outside to look for family names on the big wall. That’s a terrific feature for kids, I think, because along with literally connecting their lives to the history lesson, it’s a chance to run along on a hunt. So it’s rejuvenating after checking out all those historical exhibits.

After that, we were feeling pretty done, honestly, but we had to wait a while before the next ferry was coming–that’s another thing to keep in mind, actually, because we didn’t have to fight the crowds, but the ferries run less frequently in February.  We ended up eating at the Ellis Island restaurant, and I thought it was actually pretty tasty. I ate some super-delicious burger, and the space was created to give you the Ellis Island feel, with tables, chairs, and wall murals reconstructed from the historic dining room.

After lunch I got sucked into the exhibit talking about more recent immigration with modern immigrants’ stories. They had tons of oral histories that were really compelling, and the whole thing felt especially bittersweet because of the current political climate.

Then we said goodbye to Ellis Island and headed to the Statue of Liberty. Here are “the good hair twins” taking in the sights.

At the Statue of Liberty, everyone was excited to climb up to the pedestal. It was a lot of stairs, and in fact one poor guy ahead of us had to stop to rest when he was one short flight away from the observation area. He only had, like, 8 or 10 steps to go and he couldn’t push through. Meanwhile my super-fit athletes were springing ahead easily, and I was trying not to pant too obviously. The observation area is really close quarters. Like. . . this close, in case you were wondering (yes, those are random strangers).

Under the statue there’s an exhibition about how it was built, but the kids were pretty much done learning stuff at this point, so they sped through it. Then we headed outside and soaked up some sun.

I loved the last ferry ride, when the girls and I were goofing around–you don’t really get this picture, but there was something about M asking for a hand massage and me pointedly giving J a massage instead, in retaliation for some sort of rudeness. I love how any sort of break from the routine ends up giving the girls some bonding time.

We left straight from Liberty State Park for home. If you’re planning a trip and have younger kids, I strongly recommend coordinating this trip with a visit to the Liberty Science Center, which is super-fun.

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