When to Visit the Top of the Rock Observatory

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for…

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for.

My second visit to the Rockefeller‘s famous viewpoint was unfortunately also in the middle of winter, around 8 PM on Friday, December 22nd, 2017. It took an entire hour from me getting in line to buy a ticket using my New York Explorer Pass to stepping out onto the observation deck. It would have taken longer if one of the guards hadn’t taken pity on me.

I must have looked quite pathetic squatting on the cold floor, my feet aching after four consecutive days of non-stop walking. He looked at my ticket, winked and let me in half an hour earlier than my allotted time that stood out on the glossy paper in bold.

Getting in the elevator was the first step of a grueling wait. There was an obnoxiously long line to get through security, picture people taking off all their winter layers and stray scarves getting stuck in the conveyor belt in between overflowing trays. Next came another line to get photos taken that few people would actually end up spending the price of lunch for two on. Then came another elevator before we finally reached the top deck where I had to wait patiently for people to take the perfect selfie before clearing a tiny gap for me to look out at the city through.

Once again, the view was spectacular! I didn’t recognize much except for the Empire State Building, the ball that would be dropped in just nine days in Times Square and of course, the darkness in between the lights that was Central Park. It was beautiful but meaningless unless you know the city… and the journey out of the building was an adventure of it’s own that took another hour.

Less than a week ago on an only slightly too warm Sunday afternoon, I visited Top of the Rock for a third time. This time I could actually see the buildings clearly and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the myriad of neon lights. Maybe it was because I knew the city a little better this time or because I was sharing the experience with Isaac, but it was by far the best my three visits.

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We spent ages looking up the buildings we were looking at, reading up on them (download the official app) and taking photos. There were essentially no lines going up (or down) and there were few tourists to obstruct the views. There was even a couple taking wedding photos because it was just that empty! We walked around leisurely, soaked up the views and sat down on a bench overlooking the Empire State building to eat lunch that we brought along from home. #zerowaste #vegan #newyorkonabudget

If you only have one opportunity to go up to the observation deck, I recommend doing it during the day. Not just because of the crowds, but you really get to appreciate the city if you can recognize the buildings in between green parks and sparkling rivers. You can enjoy the city lit up from the ground – specifically Dumbo in Brooklyn or from atop Manhattan bridge.

We do plan on going up the Empire State building at night and we’ll let you know how the views compare so stay tuned! The reason that so many people go to Top of the Rock at night is to specifically see the Empire State building lit up in all it’s glory. So when you go depends on what you want to see. But personally, I think it’s just as beautiful, if not more, during the day!

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New York City Explorer Pass vs. Sightseeing Pass

Quick facts about both passes:
– They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
– They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
– The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
– They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

A quick Google search of “Which Tourist Pass to use in New York City” will no doubt leave you scratching your head. Under all the ads from Viator, TripAdvisor and Groupon, you’ll see links to the many different tourist passes offered in New York City. The most popular are the New York City Explorer Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass. You’ll have to advance several pages into the Google results to finally find personal accounts written by people who have actually done the research and planned out an itinerary that makes sense. If you’ve made to this page, congratulations! I am a real, live person here to tell you which pass is actually worth it!

The Travel Bug Bite has already posted about how the New York City Explorer Pass saved us over $100 with its 5-attraction pass. I’m not here to say one is hands-down better than the other. Instead, I’ll take you through the process we used to decide where to go and which pass to purchase. If you’re in a similar situation, great! If not, this article should still give you some idea about how these tourist passes work.

Quick facts about both passes:

  • They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
  • They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
  • The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
  • They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

Prices and attractions:

New York City Explorer Pass

  • 3 choices – $89
  • 4 choices – $119
  • 5 choices – $134
  • 7 choices – $169
  • 10 choices – $219

You can get a quick 5% off for entering your e-mail address so our 10-choice card would be $208.05 per person.

New York Sightseeing FLEX Pass

  • 2 attractions – $64
  • 3 attractions – $89
  • 4 attractions – $110
  • 5 attractions – $135
  • 6 attractions – $150
  • 7 attractions – $165
  • 10 attractions – $199

The 10-attraction Sightseeing Pass is already $10 cheaper, plus we got a Father’s Day discount which made each ticket for 10 attractions only $159.20! We found that it would still be worth it for the original price though – read on!

How Did We Decide?

No matter which package you want, whether a quick two-day trip or a longer trip like ours, it comes down to what you want to see and how much it would cost to pay for everything separately. Me being my stingy self, I wanted to find out how much money we would save if we went to the most expensive attractions that we wanted to see. To get a general idea, you can see the value on each of the company’s websites: Sightseeing Pass here and the Explorer Pass here. Take these with a grain of salt though because some of the prices are exaggerated. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History are both “Pay what you want” and the listed fees on the websites are actually the “suggested admission” prices. Don’t waste one of your valuable “Attractions” on these!

Here is our suggested method of planning your trip:

  1. Make a list of places you want to go
  2. Check each attraction’s website to confirm its cost
  3. Since each pass is around $200 for 10 attractions, make sure your average price per attraction is over $20.
  4. Read the fine print! Does any attraction say “only covers blahbitty-blah?” Does it require booking in advance? Be sure to check these things before making your choice. Nothing worse than getting all the way to Ellis Island only to find out the tour doesn’t actually include going inside the Statue of Liberty!

After looking at the list on both websites, we decided on the following attractions:

  1. Empire State Building – $37

For the Main Deck on the 86th, the 102nd floor is $20 more and not included. Also, for the Sightseeing Pass, this attraction isn’t technically included. You need to redeem your $40 Attraction Credit and book this for free through CitySitesNY.com.

  1. Top of the Rock Observatory – $36

$5 extra for Sunset Times not included.

  1. One World Trade Observatory – $32

Only available on the Sightseeing Pass, not the Explorer Pass.

  1. Coney Island Luna Park – $49

The $49 fixed date pass includes ALL rides when purchased separately. The Explorer and Sightseeing pass both exclude the iconic Cyclone roller coaster and any “Extreme Thrill” rides. We decided to use this on the Sightseeing Pass and pay the $8 each if we want to ride the Cyclone.

  1. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – $25.50

NOT including access to the pedestal and crown of the statue. Only includes ferry and access to the Immigration Museum. To get to the Crown, you need to book months in advance here for $21.50.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Bus – $59

Downtown Tour, Uptown Tour, Brooklyn Tour, Night Tour and Ferry Tour. Unfortunately, the Night Tour and Ferry Tour count as separate attractions.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Night Tour – $0

Valued at $0 because the $59 when purchased separately here lets you ride all four tours, including the night tour, for one price. We already counted that $59 above, so we can’t count it again here.

  1. Spyscape – $39
  2. I ntrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – $39
  3. 9/11 Memorial Museum – $24

Grand total if purchased separately – $340.50

Total savings with the Sightseeing Flex Pass – $141.50

Total we will save because of the Father’s Day discount: $181.30

Wow! So either way, even if you aren’t lucky enough to score the discount we did, you’ll be saving some serious money!

The Verdict

When it comes right down to it, these are very similar passes offering an almost identical list of attractions for a similar price. We went with the Sightseeing Pass because it includes One World Trade, we got a discount on Father’s Day, and it was already $10 cheaper. Make a list of attractions check the prices and fine print, and you’re sure to save with either pass.

Want your own pass? Use the affiliate links below! It’ll help The Travel Bug Bite grow =)

New York Sightseeing Pass: http://www.anrdoezrs.net/links/8827860/type/dlg/https://www.sightseeingpass.com/en/new-york

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The New York Explorer Pass Saved Me $100 – 2018

The New York Explorer Pass did, in fact, save me $100, this isn’t just click bait. But it could have saved me even more! Or nothing at all… The New York Explorer Pass is the way to go if you want to use it to do some expensive tours and sightseeing, however, it can also lose you money if you only use it for the cheaper options.

The New York Explorer Pass did, in fact, save me $100, this isn’t just click bait. But it could have saved me even more! Or nothing at all… The New York Explorer Pass is the way to go if you want to use it to do some expensive tours and sightseeing, however, it can also lose you money if you only use it for the cheaper options.

It’s basic math. The New York Explorer Pass lets you visit 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10 attractions for a set price. There is a custom option if you already know which specific places you want to visit, but I really enjoyed the flexibility of choosing from the 82 different activities on offer!

If you want to calculate whether or not the Pass will save you any money, you just need to do some basic math and you don’t need to do any research outside of this website. As you scroll through all of the offered attractions, you will see their regular admission prices that range from $18.5 for the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Immigration Museum – Ferry Ticket to a whopping $69 for the Luna Park at Coney Island: 24 Ride Pass.

During my visit to New York last Christmas, I chose the 5 attraction Pass since I only had a week to explore the city! It cost me $134 (it would have been $99 for a child) and I was planning on only using it for the most expensive attractions and visiting the cheaper places without using the pass to save the most money. Souvenir shopping excluded, I actually only spent $300 on my entire week in NYC, Airbnb included!

Of course, a week passed with the blink of an eye and I ended up running out of time and using it for whatever attraction I happened to stumble upon – and I still saved lots of money! I’m already planning my next trip to New York in August and this time I will be getting the 10 attraction Pass for $219 ($169 for children). To make this one worth it, you simply need to make sure that each of your 10 attractions costs more than $21.9.

For the 5 attraction Pass, each activity had to be over $26.8 to get your money’s worth. I originally planned to do:

  • Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus New York: Classic 1-Day Tour – $60
  • Night Tour by Big Bus New York – $45
  • National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey – $43.01
  • Gossip Girl Sites Bus Tour by On Location Tours – $49
  • Catacombs by Candlelight Tour – $35

This would have had me paying just $134 for 5 attractions worth $232! If need up trading in the Night Tour and Gossip Girl Tour for the Top of the Rock and Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Ferry which were both much cheaper options, I still ended up saving $70.

So basically, as long as you’re not just riding the $18 Ferry every day for a week or only visiting two places instead of five, you’re not losing money on the Pass!

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