Liberty's price worth paying

Email|Print| Text size + By Peggy Shinn
Globe Correspondent / June 18, 2006

NEW YORK -- Thinking of taking the kids to see the Statue of Liberty this summer? Towering more than 300 feet above New York Harbor, the monument is awe-inspiring and well worth the visit. But be prepared for long waits in many lines and for questions such as, ``Mom, why is that boat armed with machine guns?"

As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Statue of Liberty might more aptly be called the Statue of Security. With more than 4 million visitors a year -- as many as visit the Grand Canyon -- Lady Liberty is one of the most popular attractions in the National Park Service's fold of parks and monuments. But park and Circle Line employees (Circle Line runs the ferry concession to Liberty Island ) do little to prepare visitors for the experiences they probably will face while visiting America's ``beacon of hope and liberty."

Circle Line suggests that ticket-holders arrive approximately two hours in advance to allow time for ferry boarding as it is on a first-come, first-served basis. This can mean a two-hour, when-are-we-going-to-get-there wait in the hot sun -- or rain -- in Battery Park.

At the end of this line, everyone is herded through an airport-like security checkpoint before boarding the ferry . Once on the island, those with the required ``time passes" -- tickets that allow visitors to enter the monument during a specified two-hour time frame -- face another long line with nary a bathroom or drinking fountain in sight. All backpacks, purses, lunch bags, strollers, and Game Boys must be stowed in lockers before you get in line to await the next level of security: a bomb detection device that loudly puffs air across everyone, then sniffs for explosive residue.

With the 354-step spiral staircase that leads to Liberty's crown permanently closed, the only reward for all this is . . . well . . . a view up Lady Liberty's skirt. But not until after waiting in another 20- to 30-minute line for the elevator up the statue's pedestal.

Having endured these lines on a recent trip, my family collapsed onto the ferry to Manhattan (after yet another line), feeling like a tired, poor, huddled mass .

``Both the National Park Service and our concessionaires do their best to move people along in a manner for a safe and enjoyable visit," Park Service spokesman Brian Feeney said in a telephone interview. ``We do everything possible to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. That's the key."

But there is no getting around the security. Coast Guard speedboats armed with bow- and aft-mounted machine guns escort the ferries and low-flying military helicopters circle the island.

``The Statue of Liberty is the best -known icon in the world," Feeney said, ``and is a terrorist target not only in our current climate but in previous years. We always had the tightest security of any national monument in the nation."

Despite the hassles, the Statue of Liberty is a national treasure that should not be missed. My 5-year-old daughter has said repeatedly that she wants to visit again. But there are ways of making the trip less of an endurance test.

``No matter when you go, it's always good to catch the earlier boats," Feeney suggested. Ferries leave Battery Park every half-hour starting at 9:30 a.m., 8:30 in summer and on holiday weekends. Ferries also leave from Liberty State Park in Jersey City , where lines are often shorter.

The time passes, which are given to those who make advance reservations (with a limited number available on a walk-in basis), have improved the experience on Liberty Island, Feeney said. The passes have eliminated the two- to three-hour lines that would form outside the monument.

To avoid this line, skip the statue tour, especially if the kids are antsy. The spiral staircase to Liberty's crown closed on 9/11 and the Park Service has sealed off the statue's interior with a glass ceiling at the top of the pedestal. From this vantage point, the only real sense of the statue is a neck-craning view of its internal framework.

Instead, walk around the island's promenade and view Lady Liberty from the front. From here, her very size stirs emotion, a beautifully sculpted statue symbolic of what our country holds dear.

Exhibits along the walkway explain the history of the statue and New York Harbor. The Park Service also sells audio tours for $6 at the food and gift concessions.

To skip the lines altogether, take the free (yes, free) Staten Island Ferry. The huge ferries travel five miles across the harbor and pass in front of the statue. Ferries leave every half-hour from the terminal adjacent to Battery Park for the 25-minute-long journey.

Or visit in January or February when , Feeney said, ``you'll have the place to yourselves."

Contact Peggy Shinn, a freelance writer living in Rutland, Vt., at

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