I don’t want to bore you all with the preamble, so here’s a short summary:
Today we started off with a tour of Liberty and Ellis Island. It involved a lot of ferries which I loved, and of course, the Statue of Liberty! Next we made our way to Radio City Music Hall to see the famous Rockettes Christmas Show. The dancing, singing, and general production value was off the charts and absolutely flashbulb memory forming (that one’s for the psychology 101 pals 🙂 ).
Taking the Subway Again
Getting to the harbor terminal from Times Square is easy, we just had to take the 1 train all the way to the end of the line.
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Clinton actually predates Ellis Island as an entry point for immigration to the USA.
It’s a small, brick fort that preceded Ellis Island as New York City’s immigration office from 1855 to 1890. Before that, it was actually a military fort but it never saw any action.
There’s not a ton to see here besides a few dioramas of how Clinton’s Castle and surrounding Manhattan changed during its years of use, but you can walk around inside it.
Nowadays, it’s mostly a meeting point for groups to get onto the ferries bound for Liberty and Ellis Island
They seem to have closed their visitors center which made me a little sad to not be able to get my NP passport stamp.
Getting to Liberty Island
Liberty island is a unique national park/monument (technicalities n whatnot) in that you have to take a boat to get there. Since most national parks have an entrance fee, I actually think this is cool because if you’re gonna have to pay to see it, at least you’re getting a free boat ride out of it!
Before getting on the ferry, we had to go through a security portal like the ones at the airport. I thought that was really unusual, I’ve never been to a national park with that level of security but it was laid back and didn’t take long, even with the huge thanksgiving crowds.
The ferry is 3 stories and holds 800 passengers, constantly shuttling people between Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and Manhattan. Even so, it’s usually a bit of a wait in line to catch a one. We never had to wait more than 20 minutes for one throughout the day.
There’s a open top deck and two indoor decks below, and our tour guide sneakily advised us that the second floor dock-side provides the best views of the statue, since the ferries pass the statue of liberty on the right.
We had no problem getting a seat there since most people try and go for the top, open air deck. I’m sure the views are great there too, but given that it’s late November, I was happy to enjoy the views from my seat on the indoor deck and not having to squint against the wind.
And the guide was right, we passed right in front of the Statue of Liberty, surprisingly close.
The views over the water were just the best! So much better than my attempt to see the statue from the Staten Island ferry 3 years ago.
The ferry ride is only around 15 minutes, but there is a little cafe and gift shop onboard if you want to buy a muffin or those foam liberty crowns during the travel time.
I will give it to the Staten though, it’s free and it was cloudy that day.
Seeing the Statue of Liberty
Before visiting, I always thought that the Statue of Liberty just sort of stood on a pedestal in the middle of the water, but it’s a whole, walkable place! about 15 acres that would take around 20 minutes to walk all the way around.
Rangers even used to live on the island until a hurricane swept by and posed a problem with living on the open water.
We started our tour in the middle of the island, where our guide told us about the process of France’s building and gifting the statue to the USA. Turns out, the idea to gift a statue was a recycled idea. France originally wanted to give a statue to Egypt, but they said “mmm no thanks”. So when France wanted to give the USA a gift in solidarity for democracy and whatnot, they were like “hey we have a killer idea!”.
The most important fact, I think, is that a lot of people think she looks like Elvis Presley.
They started with the supporting frame, which actually took inspiration from the Eiffel tower given that it’s demonstrated its stability as an iconic monument.
When that was done, they began to make the shell of Ms. Liberty piece by piece. They were all shipped out and assembled on Ellis island, and then viola- Statue of Liberty!
Artistically, there are quite a few neat details built into the Statue of Liberty. The sculptor wanted her to be holding broken chains to symbolize freedom and democracy, but given that this was the industrial era, rich folks didn’t want to give potential unionizers any ideas, and so the chains were replaced with the book that reads, “July 4, 1776” (The USAs founding year). Still, that clever sculptor included the broken chains at Liberty’s feet as she is stepping out of them. Cleverest of all, these chains cannot be seen from the ground level since the pedestal blocks it, and also not visible from the viewing deck in the crown, as the crown projects over the feet. So the chains are a meaningful little secret.
Another artistic choice I think is genius is that instead of simply standing on the pedestal like I thought, she is walking forward, which is symbolic of the USA stepping into a democratic future.
With our remaining time, we walked around to the front of the statue to see lady liberty up close. The coolest part to me is seeing the seams between the sheets of copper. And all the little details of her facial expression up close.
Once we took the obligatory photos, we circled back around to check out the museum.
The Statue of Liberty Museum
Probably the coolest part of the Liberty museum is the old torch. The original torch’s flame was made of orange glass through which light could shine through. Kind of like a lighthouse! Seeing it up close really gives a perspective on how big the whole statue is.
But it began to lose some of its panes as time went on, and water began to seep down lady liberty’s arm threatening her structural integrity. So it’s been replaced with gold leafing.
Another cool exhibit is a station that takes your photo and puts it into a slideshow that’s projected onto the wall. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s to keep you in the museum longer while you wait for your picture to be projected.
As for the other exhibits, there have quite a few tools that went into the building of the statue and some of the plaster molds that were used to shape the different copper pieces. I think you should take a look at this part of the museum first, and then go and take a look at the statue again to point out the different pieces and see how all of the seams fit together.
Outside the museum, there’s a grassy hill with steps built onto it, they lead to a viewing deck with yet more nice news. You can see both NY AND NJ! WOWWWWW!
Getting to Ellis Island
We had another 20 minute wait to hop the ferry to Ellis Island, so our guide gave us a rundown on some of Ellis Island’s history.
From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million people passed through Ellis Island en route to immigrating and starting a new life in the United States. In fact, I’d say a huge portion of Americans have a relative that came through its halls. I have quite a few Irish ancestors that did.
After closing down, the island fell into disrepair and was only recently restored and made into the U.S. National Museum of Immigration. This, in my opinion, is one of the best places to learn American history.
So enough chatter, let’s see it!
The National Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island
Ellis Island! It is a huge museum.
We decided to explore the second floor first since that is where the iconic hall is. This is where immigrants would wait in line to get approved for citizenship. I’ve got quite a few Irish ancestors who came to the US this way, which makes getting to see this hall especially impactful. Once arriving, we learned that those hoping to immigrate had to have a health screening, an interview, and to solve a basic intelligence puzzle to gain citizenship. You can even see replicas of what the intelligence puzzles looked like. Most people who came through (I think 97%) were able to gain citizenship, but I cannot imagine the feeling of not getting it after traveling all that way.
The rooms surrounding the hall on the second floor have info and photos about what the journey to the US from Africa, Asia, and Europe was like, the different groups that immigrated, and what became of them once they arrived here. Many, many people settled right here in NYC, which is what makes the city so diverse today.
I was drawn to the exhibits of the Irish immigrants, many of whom immigrated because of the potato famine. I was also fascinated by the political cartoon and how they reflect the public’s thoughts on the heavy immigration happening around that time.
Even after two hours of looking around, we really only saw a small part of the Ellis Island museums. I think you’d need a whole day to see everything.
A lot of the first floor contains exhibits about what immigration is, and there’s also a wing with exhibits from the on-site hospital that I would’ve liked to see, but I believe you need to book an organized tour to go in there. Oh well! I really, really enjoyed visiting and would love to come back someday to see the rest of the museum.
After arriving back in Manhattan, we had another uneventful subway ride back to our hotel to get ready for… the Rockettes!! I’m so excited!!!
A little about our hotel because why not
By the way, we’re staying at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square and it is great!
One of my great struggles on my last trip to NYC was never having anywhere to go to the bathroom, so having the hotel in the middle of Manhattan has been an unexpected but wonderful benefit. In addition to the room with the Times Square view, the Marriott also has a (very expensive) restaurant and bar overlooking the square, plus a gift shop, and a little herb garden? Confusing but neat. I have not been to either because wow! Way too expensive.
There’s also a gym overlooking the square on the upper floor. I kept telling myself I was gonna check it out but after the miles of walking we’re doing everyday, I may not have it in me for any more exercise. 10/10 blogging wtb!
The Rockettes’ Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall
Another New York City holiday activity that I always read about but never thought I’d get to see firsthand.
We made our way over to Radio City music hall and loitered under the bright neon lights for about 20 minutes until they let us in. Since my sister and I joined the trip so last minute we got tickets that were labeled as “obstructed view”. Not that I minded, I’m seeing the Rockettes! That’s all that matters.
The reason I mentioned it is that the label was misleading in our case. We were pretty far to the left, but also very close to the front, and there wasn’t a single obstruction to our view! Being far to the side actually ended up being cool because there are mini-stages to the right and left where we could see the background singers/dancers up close.
So let me paint a picture for you:
The Radio City music hall is huge, much bigger than the Ambassador theater. The ceiling has Christmas patterns like garland and stars projected onto it.
The orchestra rises up from a platform under the stage and begins to go thru the tuning process. Just to our left, some backup singers/dancers dressed as nutcrackers are waving to everyone. Then, it begins!!
I’m not sure how to summarize the Rockettes show besides it was the most extravagant show I’ve ever seen. I had expected dancing and the famous kick line, but they’ve really amped it up.
Sure, there were some classic ballet and musical theater numbers, but some songs had a special effects added to them that made an already entertaining dance into a surreal Christmas experience.
Before being seated, we were given 3D glasses for a 3D cartoon about Santa flying around the theater. They also had robot snow fairies flying around during their “winter wonderland-ish” number. If you ever had a sky-dancer doll as a kid, that’s what the robot fairies looked like.
And the effects! Such a high-quality production! The orchestra would sink back into the stage and appear on a raised platform for the Central Park number- how is that even possible? And at one point, they had an ice rink on stage. What!? My 3 favorite numbers in this order: with the names I made up for them:
- Santa Invasion- to explain how Santa gets to everyone’s house on Christmas, he multiplied into 100 santas who all danced around in the audience and on stage
- Nutcracker contemporary art dance- the rockettes were all dressed as nutcrackers, and they did that one type of dance where they all take teeny tiny steps so it looks like they’re gliding across the stage. The synchronization it takes to do that is beyond my level of comprehension. At the end, they all did what I can only describe as a controlled fall where they all fell over very slowly like dominoes. It was very weird.
- Bus through New York- they had a life-sized sightseeing bus that all of the dancers would hop on, then the bus would spin around and drive on stage, and they’d pop out and dance at each location. Times Square, Central Park, etc. Of course, with costume changes between each place, but again, how!?
I guess there’s no way to describe it in a way that delivers the full effect. But I can say this- I was a theater kid for a few years and so having seen a lot of shows, I feel like it’s significant to say that this is the best production I’ve ever been to. It was incredible for me to see as a 23 year old, so I can only imagine how utterly magical it would be to see it as a kid. So hint hint, this is the motherload when it comes to family Christmas activities in NYC.
I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it and determine that the Christmas show at the Radio City Music hall is worth every bit of hype that it gets.
The rest of the night was spent gathering a dinner. We tried to get sandwiches at a the hotel cafe but given that they were $17 each, we set out into the cold cold night. The only reasonable way to find dinner seemed to be to leave Times Square and find a bodega, where bagels and cream cheese are $3 and black-and-white cookies are $1.50. the dinner of winners.