Even though I’ve ferried across the New York Harbor a handful of times, I still get goose bumps every time. I’m sure it could never compare to how over 12 million immigrants felt as they looked upon the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the first time. Over 40 percent of America’s ancestors passed through the harbor between 1892 and 1924, did yours? We took a NYC family trip to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island recently, and I recommend it for anyone traveling to the New York area.
Getting to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Your adventure to these national treasures begins on a ferry. The ferries depart daily from Liberty State Park, N.J., or Battery Park, Manhattan. Ferries generally run every 30 -45 minutes starting at 9:30 a.m., with extended hours in the summer; for ticket times and prices check the official ticket outlet.
Once aboard a Statue Cruises multi-leveled ferry enjoy the views of the Manhattan skyline and the New York harbor. My family included the ferry ride in their “favorite things of the day” lists and enjoyed naming the famous skyscrapers. This is also a good time to grab a snack; food and beverages aren’t allowed in the museums or the monument. The ferries offer concession-style food services and restrooms.
After you dock check out information centers located at both islands, staffed by national park rangers, ready to answer your questions. Audio tours are available at both islands for an additional fee.
The first stop of the day is Ellis Island, basking in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, where our countries immigrants first touched American soil. The buildings are enormous and regal and resemble a train station rising above the water. Once inside the main building, appropriately named the Great Hall, you’ll be transported back in time through pictures, interviews and artifacts. Our kids learned a lot listening to interviews of the immigrants’ experiences at Ellis Island. Before you leave stop by the gift shop for an array of souvenirs inspired by the immigrants’ homelands.
If you’re a genealogist at heart you will want to allot time for a stop at The American Family Immigration History Center. Staff is available to help you research your family’s trip through Ellis Island and you can take home a copy of the ships manifest with your family members name upon it. The center offers easy access to records of the 25 million immigrants who entered through the port of New York and Ellis Island from 1892-1924. .
The Statue of Liberty
For the grand finale or icing on the cake… board a ferry from Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty. Walk right up to the statue to appreciate the size of the 22-story copper statue, sitting upon a pedestal, in a fort, dating back to the War of 1812. Great photo opportunities and interesting facts are all around the perimeter of the statue. No visit to Liberty Island is complete without a trip inside the statue. The museum inside the pedestal traces the history and symbolism of the Statue of Liberty through museum objects, photographs, prints and videos. The original torch from 1886 is also on display in the lobby. If you want get up close and personal through full scale replicas of her face and foot, so young kids can pick her nose or sit on her toe.
To the Top We Go!
Tickets must be reserved for a peek inside or a trip up the 354 steps and can be purchased with your ferry tickets. The crown tickets are an additional $3 and sell out months in advance. Crown visitors must be at least 48 inches tall. We hiked the 192 steps to the pedestal observation deck for views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty looming overhead, another great photo opportunity.
Family Trip Advice: Travel Light
That’s right: Travel light. Water, food and large backpacks are not allowed into either museum or the statue. Airport- style security screenings are necessary and done before your board your first ferry and a second time if you enter the Statue of Liberty. Visitors with pedestal or crown reservations must complete their second security screening before 3:30 p.m.
A trip to Ellis and Liberty islands offers something for everyone, and getting there is as fun as learning about the great strides our ancestors took to make their way to the New World. I promise you’re not likely to hear “are we there yet” as you sail the New York Harbor for a fun, enlightening look at our nation’s beginning.
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