The Staue of Liberty and Ellis island

I waited far too long to visit the Statue of Liberty, considering my own family’s immigration story. A cold weekend seemed like a good (and uncrowded) time to finally take the kids, so we could all get a sense of what our Italian ancestors experienced on their very first day in America.

All tours begin with a ride on a Statue Cruises ferry. They depart every 30 minutes from both Battery Park in downtown Manhattan and Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side. The ferry makes a loop, stopping at Liberty Island first, then Ellis Island, then back to the dock. Expect to go through a security screening before boarding.

Visiting Lady Liberty

We reserved “Pedestal Tickets” in advance. This allowed us to not only walk the grounds around the Statue, but also go up five stories to the outdoor observation level. You can walk around the entire base for great views. Inside there’s a small museum that tells the story of French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, his 21-year journey to create his 151-foot masterpiece, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the process of transporting it to New York, and the affect the Statue has had on American life.

Yes, you can visit the crown, with a special ticket, but children must be at least 4 feet tall. You take an elevator to the pedestal floor, but from there, you have to climb 146 steps up a spiral staircase.

Exploring Ellis Island

You could easily spend an entire day exploring the Ellis Island museum, depending on how interested your kids are in history. The Registry Room is a must-see, as this is where all 12 million immigrants passed to process their paperwork. Exhibits explain the immigrants’ experiences as they came through.

My kids were most interested in the “Treasures from Home” display of 2,000+ possessions brought over by immigrants that have been donated to the museum, and the Dormitory Room which shows where detainees slept. It was also enlightening to see the Citizenship Gallery, where exhibits drive home what it takes to become a U.S. citizen. We all took the multiple choice citizenship test on the touch-screen kiosk, and luckily passed with a score of 90 percent!

On the first floor, there’s a small “Ellis Kids” room with a few displays and fun worksheets. Other than this, I didn’t notice any exhibits specifically geared toward preschoolers. In my opinion, this is an expedition best suited for school-age kids. Plus, navigating a stroller is difficult on the ferry gangplanks, and they’re not even allowed inside the Statue.

Timely Tips

It’s best to visit when crowds are lightest, from October through March. During peak summer months, wait times to board the ferry can be 90 minutes. Get on the earliest ferry to stay ahead of the crowds.

Always buy your tickets online in advance to avoid the line at the ticket window, located inside Castle Clinton in Battery Park.

The NPS has an app (for both iOS and Android) that includes maps with ferry departure points; exhibit information; a tour section that retraces the footsteps of immigrants; and a virtual postcard you can email to someone. Download it before you go, because cell signals are spotty on the islands.

Consider taking the ferry from Liberty State Park in New Jersey, where parking spots are plentiful and less expensive than downtown NYC.

Try to pack light. Backpacks aren’t allowed inside the Statue, so you’ll need to pay for a storage locker. However, do take snacks or lunch. There is a café on Liberty Island, but it’s crowded and overpriced.

Traci L. Suppa, a frequent contributor, writes about travel, parenting and family life. WordScapesny.com.

When You Go …

The Statue of Liberty and
Ellis Island

Liberty Island

New York, New York



Admission: Free.

Ferry: Departs daily except Christmas Day from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. approximately every 30 to 45 minutes.

Cost of Ferry: $18.50 adults (ages 13 and older), $9 children ages 4-12, free under 4.

Tour Options: The base price is for the ferry, which also includes access to Liberty Island grounds. There’s no extra fee to get into the pedestal, but reservations are required. There’s a fee to climb up to the crown and reservations are limited. The audio tour may interest older kids. Your ferry ticket also allows you on Ellis Island to tour the National Museum of Immigration. A hard hat tour of the hospitals on the south side of the island, for anyone ages 13 and older, is extra.