RESEARCH QUESTION: After closing following Sept. 11, 2001, the Statue of Liberty reopened earlier this month -- or at least from the pedestal on down. We wondered: Is it worth visiting Lady Liberty if you can no longer climb up to her crown? And if so, will you spend more time standing in lines than exploring this national icon?
METHODOLOGY: To tour inside the statue, you must now have a timed pass, available only through Circle Line Ferry, which handles the free park ranger tours as well as the $10 ferry to Liberty Island. You can't enter the statue without a guide, but you can hop on a ferry and wander the island on your own without a pass. We ordered tickets online at www.statueoflibertyferry.com on the Monday before our Saturday tour. We also stopped by the Battery Park ferry terminal (the other outpost is at Liberty State Park in Jersey City) the day before to see if we could buy a ticket on-site. Finally, we tallied the time we waited in lines vs. the time we spent exploring the monument.
RESULTS: Before even putting a toe on Liberty Island, we learned some important lessons. First, when ordering a tour ticket, check with the ferry's phone reservationist and its Web site if your preferred time seems booked. We were told the 9:45 observatory tour (the second of eight daily time slots running hourly) had only one available spot, but when we checked online, there were 46 vacancies (the company says that was an anomaly). However, by Wednesday, the site showed only two open spots -- for the whole day -- so we were pleased with our good planning skills. (Note: Two tours are offered, the Observatory and the Promenade; pick the former, because it gets you inside the statue, not just around it.)
Next, we discovered post-purchase that we had to be at the terminal two hours before our tour time. To avoid an early wake-up call, we stopped by the ticket booth to change our tour time for either that day or later Saturday. No luck: All tickets were sold out for that afternoon, and you can't buy advance tickets on-site. That made a lot of people mad. Crazy mad. "This is so disorganized!" yelled one woman to an employee after learning that she couldn't go inside the statue that day but could only look up at it.
On Saturday morning, we picked up our tickets when the counter opened at 8 -- just one of 360 tourgoers allowed inside per hour, or 60 per group -- then stood in another short line to catch the first boat at 8:30. Next was the preboarding security line, followed by a 15-minute cruise to Liberty Island. Then more queues: We waited for a locker (bags bigger than a child's pillowcase must be locked up), followed by a pre-security line, a high-tech security line and five minutes of thumb-twiddling while our group gathered. At 10 a.m., we were ready to enter.
Our ranger was interesting but moved faster than a meteorite. After a scant 20-odd minutes in the info-rich museum in the statue's base, our group was divided into Promenaders, who could pace around the lower outdoor decks of Fort Wood and the statue, and the Observatories, who could walk around the higher pedestal, view the innards of Miss L and . . . wait in more lines. We waited 12 minutes for the elevator going up, four minutes to go down. But in between the idling, we peered through a window and saw the spiral staircase visitors climbed pre-9/11, as well as Liberty's bulky calf 20 feet above and thin rays of sunshine streaming through her crown.
After a stroll around the outdoor deck, we descended to the three promenade levels where the views of the harbor were delightful -- and the lines for the return ferry were demoralizing.
CONCLUSION: The final tally: about 75 minutes of lines and other waits vs. two-plus hours of touring and exploring. But don't let the queues scare you off. Just steel yourself with these lessons:
* Buy tickets online or by phone well in advance. Some tickets are set aside for walkups, but they usually sell out by 10 a.m., if not earlier. Advance tickets also sell out.
* Pick an earlier tour time, preferably before noon, as lines will be shorter -- much shorter.
* Carry a small bag; anything larger and you'll have to rent a locker. Also, no beverages allowed inside.
* Once inside the statue, take your time. Look at everything -- twice -- because once you leave, you can't come back. That includes the museum. We thought we had to exit the exhibits when our guide departed, but that wasn't the case.
-- Andrea Sachs
For more details on visiting the Statue of Liberty: 866-782-8834, www.statueoflibertyferry.com or www.nps.gov/stli.