Save and Sightsee with CityPASS
A time- and money-saving way to see NYC and other U.S. cities
“Spend less. Experience more. See Top Attractions.” While the promise may seem like a gimmick, seasoned travel writer Martha Steger did the math and tried CityPASS on a multigenerational trip with her son’s family to New York City. She shares her experience with Boomer readers.
Winter break – or any vacation time – lends itself to visiting destinations never visited or not seen in a while. At the end of 2022 my New York son’s family and I took advantage of CityPASS to experience (or re-experience) – at a significant discount – several major NYC sites (the ‘pass’ must be used during nine consecutive days). Other participating North American cities include Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas and Houston – as well as Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and others, all offering the discount program.
Each city’s program is slightly different, with San Antonio’s current offering being a promised 35% savings on four attractions; Tampa Bay, 54% on five attractions; and varied Southern California discounts at Disneyland and Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios, Sea World San Diego, and Legoland California Resort. Travelers with children should check ages used by the destinations to price tickets for children, as price-breaks occur for those under 11 as well as for those aged 6 or 5 or 2 and under.
Plan your time, skip the line
I calculated our 40% savings by comparing the cost of the CityPASS price with the combined box-office price of same-day individual admissions to the NYC attractions included on the PASS. The December 2023 cost at press-time (for five attractions) was $138 for adults aged 18+, and children aged 6 to 17, $118 – but a single adult ticket to the top of the Empire State Building is $79 (seniors, $77) and $73 for children. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours (3 hours) are $31.50, adults; $25, seniors; and $19, ages 4-12. Advanced reservations or dated tickets are recommended – and sometimes required – on a first-come, first-served basis.
Most museums, of course, don’t require reservations, but it’s a good idea to check the busiest – and slowest – days of the week. New York’s Guggenheim Museum is inevitably busy on Sunday afternoons during school breaks, but I knew in advance we could skip the ticket line and take our passes directly to the front door for admission. I felt those standing in line looking on in wonder: We weren’t celebrities, we just had CityPASS.
The biggest appeals of this program for me are that with the ability to make attraction reservations early through the My CityPASS app, we didn’t have to worry about the attractions being sold out when we arrived. (Tip: For perennially busy tourism destinations such as New York, plan to make attractions reservations about two weeks prior to your arrival date.)
With booking complete, we were free to focus on travel to the specific areas, parking, and enjoying lunches or shopping near the chosen sites. Some experiences, such as the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise around Manhattan and the ferry access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island each take almost a half-day including time for travel and parking.
Our three generations were equally impressed by the Empire State Building’s stunning 360-degree views from the 102nd floor observatory; the second-floor museum is worthwhile, too. Even before we went up, everyone wanted a photo with the King Kong image behind us!
City guides, well-versed in American and New York history on the 2.5-hour circle tour of Manhattan, add context and coherence to the trip under 20 bridges, along all three NYC rivers. (Covered parking adjacent to the departure point at Pier 83 is $35 daily.) Whether seated in the temperature-controlled interior of the boat or out on the deck, this is the ideal way to see the city’s skyline that includes iconic sites such as One World Trade Center, Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The only criticism I heard from someone else with a CityPASS was that standing in line wasn’t completely eliminated, as there are waits once visitors get inside buildings or boats – but that’s to be expected in a city that had almost 57 million visitors in 2022.
Other sites included but not heretofore mentioned on CityPASS include the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Top of the Rock, Intrepid Museum – and a favorite with my children and grandchildren from an early age, the American Museum of Natural History, which requires a timed-entry ticket. Don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations, as daily slots are limited by capacity. Like other NYC attractions, the AMNH features accessibility information on its website and tells visitors with special needs to contact its representatives at email@example.com (phone 212-769-5250) if they require special accommodations.
FEATURED IMAGE, TOP: Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island — Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. Courtesy of Statue Cruises