For years it was the gateway to opportunity for millions of immigrants into the United States and I, despite living so close, had never been. A few weeks ago I had some family visiting New York City from out of town. Since none of us had ever been to Ellis Island, we planned to all go together before they headed back to Florida.
Buying Your Tickets:
You can book your tickets in advance online through Statue Cruises, www.statuecruises.com. The ferry departs from either Liberty State Park in New Jersey or Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, which we chose for our trip. To get to Battery Park by subway, take the 1 train to South Ferry, the R train to Whitehall Street, or the 4/5 train to Bowling Green. All of these trains let out within a few blocks of each other, so once you exit just head toward the water – easy enough to spot due to the southern tip of Manhattan being a narrow, flat plane – to get to Battery Park.
Ferry Schedule and Route:
From Battery Park, the ferry makes two stops, first at Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty, and then to Ellis Island, about a thirty-minute trip total. The Ferry leaves Battery Park each day every hour on the hour, 9am-2pm. Tickets cost $13 for adults, $10 for senior citizens over 62, and $5 for children ages 4-12. Tickets cost the same, listed above, for both Reserve Tickets (tickets booked for a specific date/time) and Flex Tickets (tickets that can be used within a three-day window with flexible dates/times). Either type also admits you to the Statue of Liberty Pedestal as well as the Ellis Island Museum at no extra cost.
Boarding the Ferry:
We had tickets for the 11am ferry, but due to New York’s famous transit complications at the peak of Monday morning rush hour, we all made it to the back of the line closer to 11:30am. The security guard trolling up and down the line confirmed we could still gain entrance to the ferry even though our check-in time had lapsed, so we huddled together for warmth and waited. Two lukewarm soft pretzels and eighty minutes later, we had reached the front of the line.
At this point I double checked our tickets, which nobody had yet asked to see or collected, only to discover were in the longer, Flex Tickets Line. I notified my party and proceeded to climb over the metal barricade separating our line from the Reserve Tickets line. This got the immediate attention of the security guard, who ran over, shouting, “hey! This isn’t a jungle gym. If you need help you need to ask for it. Now lemme see those tickets.” At this point he skimmed our tickets, didn’t scan the barcode with an electronic device, didn’t ask for IDs to confirm our status as the rightful ticketholders, and didn’t collect them. Despite this, Statue Cruises states that all tickets are nontransferable, nonrefundable and that all sales are final. Seemed like a lot of sales jargon for a policy that had zero onsite enforcement.
The front of the line may feel like reaching the summit of a mountain, but you still have to go through security, similar to what you would experience at an airport. All belts, coats, jackets and jewelry must be removed, and placed with any wallets or purses into a plastic bin to be put on a conveyor belt and scanned. Unlike an airport, however, you get to skip the hassle of removing your shoes.
At Ellis Island:
Once you hit dry land, you can enter the main building to visit the two gift shops, see the museum, or stop by the fast-food restaurant to order simple American fare like sandwiches, hot dogs, French fries and soft drinks. There is outdoor seating to enjoy your meal, along with views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. While at the gift shop I picked up the Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook, a 272-page book of family recipes from thirty different countries, personal anecdotes from the living relatives that submitted to the publication, and quotes from various immigrants. To learn more about this fantastic and engaging book, or even to order your own copy, visit www.ellisislandcookbook.com. A history book for all five senses, I can’t wait to try out some of the dishes I found.
We made sure to visit the American Immigrant Wall of Honor while here. Located behind the main building near the water, it spans nearly the length of the island, and with over 700,000 names inscribed, it is the longest wall of names in the world. Even if you don’t have a personal reason to view the monument, you can be sure to recognize some of its more famous constituents, such as the original Kennedys, great-grandparents to President John F. Kennedy, the silent film actor Rudolph Valentino, the elusive Harry Houdini, plus many, many more. Have a family member you wish to personally commemorate? You can add a name to the Wall for yourself! Visit The Wall of Honor website, www.wallofhonor.org, to fill out the online application and pay the $150 contribution for each name you wish to list.
Despite the disorganized lines, crowded ferry, and cold, harsh late-winter weather, I loved my trip to Ellis Island. At the end of it, however, no one had still collected, scanned or checked tickets for myself or anyone else in my party, so maybe next time, like so many have done in the past, I’ll try to smuggle myself in for free.