Like most of us who live in New York, I rarely visit tourist-packed sights like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or the 9/11 Memorial. So I was ambivalent about taking the Viator VIP Access: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and 9/11 Memorial, particularly given its start time…7:20 AM.
Empire State Building VIP access
I arrived bleary-eyed at the Empire State Building and joined a small group of international visitors for the tour. Our guide Kiernan explained the reason for the early start: we were about to enter the landmark building before it opened to the public, which meant we’d have the observation deck completely to ourselves. En route to the elevators we passed through room after room filled with labyrinths of stanchions, and I began to appreciate “VIP access.” (The friendly lady at the elevator told me the wait in line is often 3 hours).
The 86th floor Observation Deck, empty of the usual crowds and chaos, was oddly serene with only the sound of rushing wind and the hum of traffic far below. Spread before us was the remarkable cityscape of Manhattan, its spires rising through the morning mist.
Skip the Lines at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Next we boarded an open double-decker bus (exclusive for our group) for a ride through midtown Manhattan via Rockefeller Center and Times Square. We arrived at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, strode past a line of visitors waiting for the ship to open, and were escorted through the massive aircraft carrier to the new Space Shuttle Pavilion. I’m no science geek, but walking directly under the historic Enterprise, peering into the cockpit inches from its nose was a thrilling experience. The “space” and the shuttle were exclusively ours to explore.
Timed entry at the 9/11 Memorial
We then boarded a water taxi for a trip down the Hudson River to Battery Park. Kiernan lead us on a walking tour through lower Manhattan, and we arrived at the 9/11 Memorial on schedule for our timed entrance passes (included in the tour). It was incredibly moving to gaze into the massive reflecting pools that mark the footprints of the Twin Towers, hearing the cascade of water while reading many of the 2,983 names inscribed around them.
Statue of Liberty & views of Manhattan
My ticket for the hop-on, hop-off water taxi was valid all day, so I walked to South Street Seaport for lunch before hopping a boat to Brooklyn’s Fulton Ferry and New York harbor. As we sped through the water, the views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline were amazing. We stopped before the Statue of Liberty and I, like everyone on the boat, marveled at the colossus. Finally, we traveled back up the Hudson River and I disembarked in midtown.
In few hours I’d experienced many of NYC’s greatest sights, which would not have been possible without “VIP access.” (I might still be in that line at the Empire State Building). My ambivalence long surrendered, I’d become an awe-struck tourist in my hometown.
- Jeff Dobbins
Photos courtesy of Jeff Dobbins.
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