Here’s a little-known travel secret: nobody goes to the Statue of Liberty in February. There are several reasons for this. It’s in the middle of the school year, for one thing. And especially early in the month, it’s not very far removed from the previous end of the year holiday season, when many people travel to visit their families. Still, I think one reason looms larger than the others:
The weather sucks in February.
We’ll get to that in a bit. My daughter Sarah turned 9 (Holy crap! Halfway to college!) on Feb. 5. We had told her she could either have a party with her friends or a day trip for her birthday, and she chose a day trip: she wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. Armed with that decision, we set out to make it happen.
A bit of web research revealed that both Liberty Island and Ellis Island are serviced by ferries which operate out of Liberty State Park in New Jersey and Battery Park in New York City. I ruled out Battery Park quickly, as it’s one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is this: never drive into New York City unless it is your only chance of escaping a nuclear holocaust.
The ferries are timed on a schedule and have limited capacity, so the tickets are timed. Also, if you want to climb into the crown of the statue herself, you must reserve tickets for that as well–only a limited amount are given out per day. Luckily, this can all be reserved at the same time and isn’t terribly expensive. None of us had ever been there before, so we asked the kids if they wanted to climb up to the crown. Sarah and David (6) were enthusiastic. Scotty (4) said no (which will be shocking to anyone who followed my Disney World TR). The rules say you have to be 48″ tall to climb the statue, and Scotty fell just short. So that ruled him out anyway. But it also meant someone would have to wait with him while the others climbed. So we did what any loving, sacrifical parents would do in that case, and called my mom and dad to see if they wanted to come with us and hang out with Scotty. A few minutes later, they were in.
Sarah’s birthday was Saturday, February 5. As the date drew closer, I visited the Weather Channel website to see what it would be like in New York that day. The words “Winter Storm Watch” crawled across the screen. As I’m sure you know, the words “travel” and “winter storm watch” go together as well as “kangaroo” and “minefield”. Nevertheless, we held firm with our plans.
We woke up early that day, and hastily gave Sarah her birthday presents, as we wanted to get on the road around 7:00 a.m. As usual, she made out like a bandit. Her haul included a kid’s most prized possession, her very first Flyers jersey.
We were on the road only about 15 minutes late or so, and a half-hour later, we were crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge and entering the De-Militarized Zone, also known as the New Jersey Turnpike. Rain was limited to a light drizzle, and the roads seemed fine. Traffic was light, and by mashing the accelerator matching the speed of traffic, we flew through New Jersey.
Even though the roads were fine, we noticed a slight problem that could hamper our day. We, um, couldn’t see anything. Fog was everywhere. I got particularly worried when we passed the Newark airport, which is right next to the turnpike, and couldn’t see the airport. We reached the exit for Liberty State Park near Bayonne, NJ around 9:30, in plenty of time for our 11:00 tickets.
The grand entrance to Liberty State Park is majestic, grand and truly befitting an American icon such as the Statue of Liberty. And by “majestic and grand” I mean it’s a poorly paved road through various run-down factories and warehouses in an industrial park. Welcome to New Jersey! We followed the signs to the park, which led us down a half-mile cobblestone road that I’m sure was doing wonders for the shocks and suspension on my van. A gate led to the parking area, and an attendant charged us $7 for the right to park our van. We looked around and saw no one else in sight, and had a brief panic attack: what if the boats weren’t running today? Did this guy just charge us $7 for nothing?
Here’s the kids and my parents, all relieved to finally be out of the van.
And here’s the parking lot. Note how we parked our van in strategic position to beat the traffic leaving the lot at the end of the day.
We trudged through the snow and poorly-melted ice to the station without incident. The ferry docks at a building that is actually a converted train station, which was pretty cool.
A visit to the box office confirmed that yes, the boats were running, and yes, they had our reservations in the system. Better still, because of the light crowds, they were allowing us to catch the 10:30 ferry instead of waiting for our scheduled trip. Sweet!
We were herded through an airport-style security screening before we could get on the ferry. My mom was flagged for trying to smuggle contraband: she had a small Swiss-army knife in her bag. They made her go put it back in the car before allowing her through. Personally, I think there was more danger to her from walking on the ice outside than there would have been to anyone else from that tiny knife, but I guess we were all safe. Soon, the ferry arrived and we were able to board and enjoy the spectacular view of absolutely nothing but fog the New York City skyline.
Coming Up Next: A visit to Ellis Island, where we learn that a highly-sophisticated computer search is only as good as the information you put into it. In other words: Garbage In, Garbage Out.