History of Lady Liberty
The Statue of Liberty symbolizes New York City in the way that the Eiffel Tower means Paris and Big Ben instantly evokes London. The figure of “Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift from the people of France, although the American people were expected to pay for and erect the pedestal. Construction of the statue began in 1876 in France, and in 1884 work commenced on the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island in New York harbor. The statue was presented to U.S. Minister Levi P. Morton on July 4, 1884 and then disassembled and shipped to New York; it arrived about a year before the pedestal was ready, but the statue was rapidly erected when that was finished, and the dedication on October 28, 1886 was marked by cannon salutes, fireworks and the cheers of a million New Yorkers despite fog and drizzle.
The island, renamed Liberty Island, became part of the National Park system in 1937, and was combined with the Ellis Island immigration station in the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. The statue showed considerable wear and tear by the 1980s, and was extensively renovated in preparation for its centennial in 1986. The statue was closed after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the pedestal only was reopened to visitors in 2004. Access to the statue itself again became possible in 2009, but the number of visitors was limited until elevators, staircases and restrooms could be renovated. The statue was closed for this purpose in 2011, and on the day after it was reopened in 2012 had to be closed again because of Hurricane Sandy, which did not affect the statue but caused severe damage on the island and to its ferry docks. The statue was again reopened on July 4, 2013.
How to Get to the Island?
The National Park Service maintains the statue and island, but transportation to and from the island and around it is provided by commercial boat lines; private boats may not dock at Liberty Island. Several boat operators provided service to the island until 1953, when an exclusive contract was signed with the Circle Line sightseeing company. Circle Line served the island until 2007, and continues to offer several excursions around the Statue of Liberty. Statue Cruises, a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises, received a 10-year contract in 2007 to provide service to Liberty Island from several points in Manhattan and New Jersey.
Statue Cruises and its parent company, Hornblower, began as a charter yacht company in 1980 and expanded into the high-speed ferry and riverboat casino businesses. Hornblower came to operate 30 ships in 8 California ports, and in 2006 won the National Park Service contract to provide ferry service from San Francisco to Alcatraz Island. A hybrid ferry, combining solar power, wind power and diesel engines, was developed to provide this service. The company operated shuttle and excursion services on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and land transportation to Squaw Valley Ski Resort between 1997 and 2002, but sold this in the latter year to its competitor, Aramark. A Canadian subsidiary took over the operation of boat tours in the Niagara Falls Gorge in 2012. Statue Cruises also operates ferry service between Jersey City, New Jersey and the World Financial Center terminal in Lower Manhattan.
The Statue Cruises excursions to the Statue of Liberty depart from Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan and from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Battery Park can be reached on the 1 Local subway, which terminates at the park (South Ferry), or by the 4 or 5 Express on the Lexington Avenue line to Bowling Green, or R or W local trains from Brooklyn or Queens to Whitehall Street. The M1, M6 and M15 bus lines also end at South Ferry. Tickets are sold in Castle Clinton, the historic fort on the Battery that defended Manhattan island. By car, which can be difficult because of very limited parking, the ferries can be reached from the West Side by the West Side Highway (Route 9A) to Battery Park, and from the East Side by Exit 1 from FDR Drive (Battery Park).
New Jersey ferry departures are from Liberty State Park, next to the Communipaw Terminal of the New Jersey Central Railroad, where for a century commuters transferred from trains to ferries to Manhattan. There is ample parking, and the park can be reached from Exit 14B of the New Jersey Turnpike. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line of New Jersey Transit, stops at the Liberty State Park station, which is about a one-mile walk from the ferry. PATH trains from Manhattan connect with the Light Rail line at Hoboken and Newport stations. Passengers who take the Statue Cruises ferry from Manhattan to New Jersey save $2.00 on ferry fare from New Jersey to Liberty Island.
Fares, Discounts and Hours of Operation
There is no charge to visit the national monument, but a small fee has been added for access to the statue’s crown since the recent renovation. Ferry fares are the same for New Jersey and Manhattan departures; passengers may depart from one and return to the other but may not re-board the boat after returning to either Battery Park or Liberty State Park. A Crown Ticket with access to the top of the statue is $21.00 for adults, $17.00 for seniors (62 and above) and $12.00 for those under 17; tickets to the island with or without a visit to the Pedestal are $18.00 for adults, $14.00 for seniors and $9.00 for those 4 to 12, with children under 4 free. A ferry ticket with a guided tour and admission to an exhibit by the French artist JR costs $43.00 for adults and $39.00 for seniors. Tickets also include admission to the adjacent Ellis Island immigration museum and audio tours in multiple languages of both islands. There are several combination ticket packages available: the New York City pass combines the statue and 5 other attractions, ferry tickets can be combined with admission to the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center and savings are available for ferry passengers on the BigBus sightseeing tours.
There are concessions for food and drink on all ferries, but food and drink must be finished before visiting the statue or placed along with backpacks in lockers that are available for rental. There are also food and gift shops on Liberty and Ellis Islands. Ferries leave Battery Park every 15 to 20 minutes during the summer months, depart slightly less often during the Spring and Fall and operate every 25 minutes on winter weekends. The Liberty State Park schedule offers departures every half hour in the Summer, every 70 minutes in Spring and Fall and five trips a day with an additional return at 5:00 p.m. during the Winter. Tickets can be reserved online and printed at home.
Other Ways to see the Statue
If you do not want to walk on the Island, visit the Pedestal or ride up to the Crown, there are still several fun ways to see the Statue. The Staten Island Ferry is New York’s greatest sightseeing bargain; it operates every 15 to 30 minutes 24 hours a day from Whitehall Street at the tip of Manhattan, and it is free. It also offers a good view of the Statue as well as the Manhattan skyline. The Circle Line passes Liberty Island on its full 3-hour circumnavigation of Manhattan island, and also offers a 75-minute cruise of the harbor with close-up views of the Statue. New York Water Taxi, a division of Circle Line, offers a 60-minute Statue of Liberty cruise during the day and a night-time narrated cruise with a champagne toast.
An additional package combines the evening cruise with a 15-minute helicopter ride over the island and the Statue. For the more adventurous, a 30-minute white-knuckle ride on the speedboat Shark visits the Statue and tours the harbor at high speed. The Circle cruises depart from Pier 83 at 42nd Street and 12th Avenue, and the Water Taxi excursions leave from Pier 16 at South Street Seaport on the Lower East Side. Lady Liberty Cruises depart from Port Washington on Long Island and travel along the “Gold Coast” and “Millionaires Row” of the North Shore before touring the harbor and circling Liberty Island; these excursions offer cocktails and dinner, and operate in the evenings from April through October.
After almost 130 years and many tribulations, the State of Liberty remains the symbol of New York and also of America. From a short cruise to a day-long visit, and from a free ferry ride to a helicopter excursion or dinner sailing, there are many ways to experience and enjoy the great lady of New York harbor.