On my first visit to New York which I estimate to be around 1985, I remember going to the observation deck at the top of the World Trade Centre. I recall visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and then when wandering around in Lower Manhattan coming across these two magnificent buildings soaring from the plaza that linked them.
Now gone, I have been back once to visit the Memorial.
However, on this day as I stepped in to the lift at the new One World Trade Centre, my thoughts were of the old building with the wind whistling through the gap between the elevator car and the building. Scary in the moment, and then interesting every time I took that ride.
I had been advised to use the entrance which can be accessed from the New Jersey train station exit and this proved an excellent tip. Walking through spectacular halls which will be part of the link to station, the exit for the Observatory is well signposted.
Once you get to the entrance you are funnelled in to airport-style security before accessing the elevators.
Modern elevators don’t have the wind issue and on the still, calm and sunny day that I had my visit the lift was designed to distract you for the few minutes it take to reach the top.
As you speed upwards the LED panels which form the walls give you a visual tour of history, showing New York as it grew and changed. Fascinating.
I was the only one in my lift early on a Saturday morning and when I arrived at the top there were only a couple of people in line for the video show. It was having problems – there was even a version of the Windows Blue Screen where one of the projectors had failed. The imagery of the city and its inhabitants is great and there is a climax at the end that I will not spoil.
Leaving the cinema (standing only), you exit to the right to what turns out to be the first of a few hard sells. They encourage you to rent a viewer – a clever app on an iPad which tells you all of the sights as you hold it up to the window. I didn’t want to do this but the staff were pretty insistent that you watched the presentation and sales pitch.
You then encounter the Cafe (and restaurants) before going down one floor to the next sales pitch.
Here they want you to have your photo taken and you can buy a copy when you leave the building. Not me. The way to slope past was just to keep your head down but it was designed to make this embarrasing which I felt a poor show.
Finally able to get to the observation floor the views were wonderful. 360 degree observation – New Jersey, Staten Island, Manhattan, Queens… all came in to view as I strolled around the windows. If there is a complaint it is that there is a lot of reflection back inside the floor from the windows making images had to capture properly.
Soon the view of Jersey City was there with the Hyatt prominent on the shoreline sticking in to the river.
Of course the view that everyone comes to see if that from Lower to Upper Manhattan, up the great Avenues and Broadway towards Central Park.
It was a clear day and the views of the Empire State, next to where my hotel was located, were great. Moving round to Queens, and with the bridges must closer now it was possible to capture some of the beauty in close-up.
There is no time limit as to how long you can stay and I would allow an hour for the full experience. You can pre-book tickets on the Observatory web-site and my flexible ticket (any time on a given date) allowed me to join the shorter priority line at the entrance. The tickets are checked but no ID is required. Tickets vary in price depending on how flexible you wish to be and when you wish to visit. The cheapest adult ticket is $32 (one hour slot). You can pay $90 to visit at any time over a chosen weekend, giving maximum flexibility (one visit only though).
The lifts deposits you at the base of the tower after a wonderful ride down which makes full use of the screens I mentioned above.
At the exit you are deposited on the Jersey facing side, just along from the old exit of WTC 1 where the airport bus used to leave and United Airlines had a desk for many years. Even on leaving the memories kept coming back.
You are in the memorial for the WTC as soon as you turn the corner. Looking back at the building I realised how spectacular the new facade is:
The pools at the Memorial are as sombre as ever even on this bright summer Saturday.
I didn’t visit the Museum, and will wait for a future trip before doing that. The queues were long that morning and even those for pre-booking had to wait in the sun for their turn.
Walking back to the Subway I saw what will be the entrance of the new World Trade Centre station – spectacular:
In summary, I think the Observatory is a great place to visit. BUT – there is a hard sell which I don’t like, it is pretty expensive and you have to be lucky with the weather. A misty day in November would not be a good day to go.