Wondering if you should purchase NYC CityPASS when you’re in town? Here’s the pros and cons on if it’s worth buying.
In preparation for visiting New York City for the first time, I made a to-do list of all the iconic sights I just had to check out. To my surprise, when I went to book tickets, almost all of the iconic locations like Top of the Rock, Empire State Building and more all promoted the option of buying an NYC City Pass.
A self-proclaimed way to see New York’s top attractions, handpicked and packaged together at significant savings – I was intrigued.
For $122 for adults and $98 for youth, the CityPASS admission includes access to:
- The Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum
- State of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
At first glance, purchasing an NYC CityPASS is a no-brainer. This features all of the top tourism locations, front of the line passes, and special perks, all while saving 42% of ticketing prices.
So, where’s the catch?
While this is a great way to save money, it doesn’t provide the top experience for all of the locations. In fact, CityPASS works to help keep its users at a second-tier level.
Here’s what I mean.
For the Empire State Building, CityPASS offers guests the ability to enjoy the Sustainability exhibit, the historic Dare to Dream exhibit, and a same-day return visit to enjoy the late night open-air view of NYC. In discussing this (which the Empire State Building calls their AM/PM Experience) it sounds fantastic, however, guests are only allowed access to the 86th floor. For those who want to visit the top floor on the 102nd floor, that’s not included.
The same goes for the Statue of Liberty. On the CityPASS bio, they talk about how guests can explore the grounds of Liberty and Ellis Island, stand in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and explore the rich history of immigration. It’s not until you view what admission includes at the bottom, that you realize you only receive a round-trip Statue Cruise ferry ride which takes you to Liberty Island, and Ellis Island along with Ellis Island Immigration Museum admission. For those who want to go up the Statue of Liberty, it’s not included.
So, is it worth it?
For guests who don’t want to worry about planning, and are ok with seeing the sights not in full, this is a great opportunity. For those who want the full experience of being at the top of the Empire State Building, or enjoying the view from the Pedestal or Crown at the Statue of Liberty, you need to decide if this pass is worth the savings or not.
This is especially true for guests who want to visit both of the “or” locations. If you want to see the 9/11 Memorial Museum AND the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, is this still worth the savings?
To decide if the CityPASS is right for you, here’s a price breakdown complete with some extra tidbits of information that CityPASS left out on their website.
Here’s how the prices break down:
- The Empire State Building – The CityPASS AM/PM tour which provides access to the 86th floor costs $53 for adults and $44 for children on the Empire State Building website.
- American Museum of Natural History – This museum follows a pay-what-you-wish admission, where what you pay is up to you. If you don’t want to pay at all, you don’t need to. However, if you don’t donate, you’re only provided general admission without special perks the CityPASS ticket includes. If you were to donate for full access, the suggested donation which includes general admission plus all special exhibitions, giant-screen film and Space Show is $33 for adults, $27 for students/seniors and $20 for children ages 2-12.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – This museum also follows a pay-what-you-wish admission, but it’s suggested adults donate $25, seniors donate $17 and students donate $12 with children’s admission complimentary.
- Top of the Rock – Admission is $34 for adults and $28 for children.
- Guggenheim Museum – $25 for adults, students and seniors are $18 and children 12 and under are free. *Keep in mind they’re closed on Thursdays.
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $14 for seniors ages 62+, $9 for children ages 4-12 and free for children under 4 years of age.
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises – Prices start at $30 for adults, with prices varying depending on the ticket selected. CityPASS covers regularly scheduled Landmark Cruises, Harbor Lights Cruises, Liberty Cruises + Brooklyn Cruises, or a ride on The Beast (available May – September).
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum – Tickets are $24 for adults, $18 for seniors ages 65+, students, and veterans and $15 for youth ages 7-17.
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – Tickets are $33 for adults, $31 for seniors, and $24 for children ages 5-12. Children four and under along with U.S. military and veterans are given free admission generously provided by Bank of America.
Knowing the prices, say you want to visit the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
If you’re cheap, you *could* get in for paying $53 at Empire State Building AM/PM Tour, nothing at American Museum of Natural History, nothing at the Met, $34 for Top of the Rock, $18.50 for Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, and $24 for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
If you were to pay out of pocket, even opting out of donating, you’d still be paying $129.50. This is with the cheapest options as well. For adults, this isn’t a 42% savings, but you do save $7.50 and receive front-of-the-line passes along with special perks at the museums.
Is the NYC CityPASS worth it?
It’s up to the traveler. If you have discounts because you’re a senior, military, have AA discounts, and more – the NYC CityPASS isn’t worth the savings.
CityPASS also isn’t worth it if you’re not completely certain you have time to visit all six locations within a nine-day period. Say you get sick, there’s crazy weather or you simply have a change in plans. With the CityPASS, you’ve already agreed to the $122 payment, even if you don’t visit all of the locations.
Finally, CityPASS isn’t worth it for people who want the “extra” experiences. Want to go up the Crown at the Statue of Liberty? Want to go to the top of the Empire State Building? CityPASS doesn’t cover those options, and you may be disappointed with what your ticket gives you compared to what’s left out.
So who is the CityPASS for?
CityPASS works best for people who don’t want to wait in line, who know that they’ll take advantage of all six locations, and who don’t qualify for any discounts on their own. For guests who don’t care about being on the top floor of the Empire State Building, or going up the Statue of Liberty, but do want to take advantage of the more expensive cruises and expensive museums, this is for you!
Even though I love saving money, I couldn’t justify purchasing the NYC CityPASS prior to my NYC trip. There were items that I wanted to enjoy the full experience of, and museums I didn’t want to donate $28 per person.
Personally, I wouldn’t pay for the original NYC CityPASS but I would consider their newest option of the New York C3 Pass. With the C3 NYC CityPASS you can choose any three locations you want to visit for $78 – no catch. As I wanted to visit the Top of the Rock ($34), Empire State Building ($37 *This ticket is not the AM/PM ticket, but rather a one-time use), and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ($24), I would be paying $95 if I purchased all three at-cost, however I can save $17 by purchasing through CityPASS C3.