It was the beginning of the “lasts” on this road trip, as this was the last big city we would visit. While we didn’t prepare detailed plans for NYC like we did for DC or Philly, we were still very excited about the visit. We originally thought we’d take the train from Connecticut into the city, as that’s certainly an option. However, it was way more expensive then we planned, so Thom and Deejay worked on an alternate plan. They found a way to get on the Statue Cruise from New Jersey. They also discovered that we could get on in New Jersey and get off in New York (after the tour), but we’d have to find another way back to Jersey…but there were lots of affordable water taxis that would meet our needs. So, we got up early that morning and drove to the big city. We had a harrowing moment (again) when we drove straight towards Manhattan and Thom got panicky for a few minutes, but many fast lefts and rights in traffic put us on the George Washington bridge over to Jersey. I think this was the first double decker bridge we had gone over, and we ended up on the lower level (which was cool but not as scenic).
Parking was relatively easy at Liberty State Park, and the ticket line was short, but there was about an hour-long line to go through security and get on the ferry. (We later talked to people that boarded in New York and found out that their wait was twice as long.) The kids enjoyed the ferry ride to Ellis Island, and it was a fun moment to recall the crazy ferry ride we took at Patriot’s Point years ago when a hurricane was out at sea…this ferry ride was extremely calm in comparison!
Our first stop on the cruise was Ellis Island, also known as the Island of Hope and Tears. I expected more history on the building, how the island was chosen, and the people who first ran operations at the island. However, the majority of information was centered around immigration—both the stories of places/situations that people were emigrating from as well as the stories of the people once they arrived. It really made us think about our history, as we read about the freedoms and opportunities that drew people in from around the world while also seeing the hard life and poor treatment that many received while getting here and once arriving. It was also striking to see how many of our freedoms weren’t applied to all people.
After our Ellis Island tour, it was time to line up for the ride to Liberty Island. The line wasn’t too long, but we did have to wait about 30 minutes for another ferry to arrive and unload. It was really cool to circle all around Lady Liberty in the boat before landing on Liberty Island. We enjoyed our stroll around the island, taking pictures in front of the statue, and watching all the people around us. It was interesting to see how many groups were there with flags from other countries in their pictures, celebrating their heritage and their American life simultaneously. We weren’t able to go up in the statue at all, a side effect of “going with the flow” and not having set plans in advance. We discovered that, for this time of year, you need to make reservations three months in advance to walk up to the pedestal; you need to make reservations nine months in advance to walk up to the crown. Ah well, it was still cool to see it up close and remarkable to see how very tall the statue is (since it seems dwarfed against the New York skyline and all the skyscrapers).
We also saw the Liberty Bike, covered in copper, which was created to commemorate the 125th anniversary back in 2011. Before departing the island, the kids all bought a souvenir…they had all been waiting for something here and did a great job hanging onto (most of) their money during the prior week. Then we were back in line (for over an hour) to get on the ferry—this time to Battery Park in New York. On the plus side, we passed the time having a quick “lunch” of hot dogs and soft pretzels.
Once we got to Battery Park, we walked towards the 9/11 Memorial. It was funny that the kids thought (and Thom hoped) that this area was right off the ferry. Seeing the city from the water, everything looked close, but this area was actually six or so blocks away. It was stunning to see how they had replaced the building footprints with amazing, huge reflecting pools. There were 30-foot waterfalls all around the square, cascading into the reflecting pool and pouring into deep voids. It was mesmerizing and saddening. The shining spot was the rebuilt towers and the lone surviving tree.
As we headed out of the city and towards the water taxis (ie, ferries), everyone discovered they were hungry. We didn’t believe a dinner in the financial district would be very affordable, and no one wanted another hot dog (mainly because the street vendors were cleaning their carts and the smell of cleaning products and hot grease from the day was less than appetizing). We decided to push dinner back until we got to the car, and instead stopped at a smoothie stand. I bought one to share, but the kids all decided to buy their own after tasting how amazing it was. Thom & I got to enjoy ours while watching the kids make decisions on how much to tip. We also got a culture lesson as one of the smoothie truck workers left, pulled out a mat, and went through the motion of prayer right there next to the road. Smoothies in hand, we hopped on a ferry and enjoyed the late day ride on the water.
Dinner was later than planned because we dared not look for food until safely past any chance of driving into NYC. We all agreed on Mexican food and located a well-rated place in New Jersey–El Bandido. The food was great, the place was packed, and the service was shockingly fast. While the entrees were a little pricey (compared to normal restaurant Mexican combination platters), they slapped down free mini cheese quesadillas and a loaded nacho chip for each person, in addition to the chips and salsa. The party atmosphere filled with loud music precluded any conversation, but we just enjoyed the experience. It was especially funny when the mariachi musician (one guy with a guitar and an ipod playing the other parts) came to our table, stood across from Elizabeth, and sang La Cucaracha (btw, she hates all bugs, but especially roaches). As the meal finished up and we got the bill, we were about to get up from the table when they delivered a complimentary dessert…some sort of cross between bananas foster and sopapillas. It was a crazy (and delicious) way to end the night.
Reflections: Brandon really liked the Statue of Liberty, and enjoyed the immigrant stories of how happy they were to see the statue. Alexander liked hanging out with Deejay and his kids; he also loved the ferry ride back in the evening. Elizabeth enjoyed looking through all the immigrant artifacts in the Ellis Island museum, and loved the Mexican place with all the freebies. Thom found the most meaning in the 9/11 memorial since it’s something that’s been part of our lifetime.