If you are planning on visiting a number of attractions while you are visiting New York an Attraction Pass can be a very good way to save some money. One of the passes on offer is the New York CityPASS. Despite promises of Massive Savings and Skip the Line Privileges we actually hear quite a bit of negative chatter about attraction passes in New York so we decided to spend some time in New York armed with a New York CityPASS to see what the score really is. Here is our New York CityPASS Review, Hands-On so you can decide if the New York CityPASS is the right Pass for you. So, is the New York CityPASS Worth it?
There are a number of different passes available in New York we have reviewed many of them. If you want to see what other passes are available and if one of the other passes suits you BETTER, see our comparison review here
While we are sick to the back teeth of the Virus, we cannot ignore its cataclysmic effect on travel and the value and effectiveness of the CityPASS. For a while, many New York Attractions were closed and the City in lockdown. Things are opening up now and most of the CityPASS attractions are back up and running. However, there are still issues with Covid and the Pass which we discuss later. This should help you decide if the Pass is still worth it for you in a 2021 post-pandemic world.
- Product: New York CityPASS
- Price: $136 (18+)
- Price Child: $112 (6-17)
- Where to Buy: www.CityPASS.com
- Number of Attractions: choose 6 of 9
- Time Limit: 30 consecutive days
- Expiry: 365-Day Risk-Free Returns
- Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 4.5/5 Stars
- Empire State Building Experience
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises (Closed)
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Closed)
IN A NUTSHELL
The New York CityPASS Is a really good Pass for New York. It offers all the Marquee attractions and at one of the lowest price points. While the number of attractions are limited, It skips the overpriced fluff and just provides the very best New York attractions at a very attractive price. It is simple to use and gets you quicker entry to almost all the attractions on offer. The pass is best suited to first-time visitors and it adds great structure to get out and see most of the City. Probably our most recommended Pass and we love the same day return to the Empire State Building Experience at Night.
What is the New York CityPASS:
The New York CityPASS is the “Official” Attraction pass for New York. The Pass allows users to access 6 of New Yorks’s best attractions for one fixed low fee, potentially saving over $90 or 40% compared to buying separately.
The Pass is a Digital Pass and you simply Scan the QR Card Directly from your phone or printout and you are in the attraction. With the CityPASS, the attraction line-up is pretty rigid with only minimal choice. But the Attractions are some of the best in New York and are some of the most Visited. If these are the attractions you were planning on seeing any way the Pass can save you a heap of money.
Aside from a purely financial incentive, there are also a number of other ways the CityPASS is beneficial. It is also one of the most keenly priced of New Yorks Attraction Passes and gives you a great taste of what the City has to offer for what is really quite a small outlay.
*NOTE – We purchased our CityPASS’s personally and were not provided free of charge in exchange for a review. For impartiality, we always purchase products to test ourselves.
How Does the Pass Work?
The CityPASS is now a Digital Product and the old booklets have been retired. After Purchase, the Pass is emailed to you and can be used directly from your phone or you can print the Pass out and use it that way. We suggest both just in case of any tech malfunctions or flat batteries.
The Pass needs to be scanned at each attraction to gain entry, and in past, it was as simple as that. However, due to the Pandemic, most attractions now require Advanced booking. This is a bit of an issue as it reduces the flexibility of the Pass, but this is the case whether you are using a pass or not as it ensures adequate social distancing can be maintained.
Really for some attractions, this is a big plus as timed tickets were always in place. Now you can use the Pass to book these slots to avoid you having to visit the ticket desk to get your timed ticket on the day. When the dust settles this will hopefully remain but as an option.
The Timed slots can be rearranged just in case you miss the slot, you haven’t missed out you can just re-arrange and visit another time. You may be able to book your timed slot at the venue but this is subject to availability and you may have to return later or even another day for the timed slot, it is a lot easier if you just do it online first. You do have to visit the individual attractions websites and book the slot, using the code that comes with the pass.
We have also reviewed the Cutdown version of the CityPASS, the New York C3 Pass. With the C3 you only have the choice of any 3 attractions from a list of 10. Perfect for those planning short trips or who only want to visit a few attractions.
Attractions included on the New York CityPASS
The attraction lineup is pretty solid, but it lacks many choices. There first three are set choices and then there are either-or choices for the last 3. Other Passes offer a lot more choice and you can make up any itinerary you choose. This is not the case with the CityPASS. However, the lineup is strong. It is a little heavy in the Museums though so if these are not your thing you may find the other passes to your liking.
The Headline attraction and one we simply never miss on our trips to New York. The Empire State Building is utterly iconic, and standing on top of it gives us a feeling we do not get many other places in the world.
The Concrete Jungle sprawls out below in a mesmerizing and awe-inspiring way. This is just a place we can visit over and over. The best feature of the CityPASS is the bonus day and night visit. It is hard choosing whether to visit the Empire State during the day or night the views are stunning at both times but completely different. We simply could not choose! With the CityPASS, you don’t have to.
The Pass offers same-day evening return. So head on up in the morning and then go about your day, before returning before close, after dinner maybe and head back up to see the city in its evening dress!
Read more about the Statue of Liberty Experience
Another must-do in the City. The American Museum of Natural history is an incredible Showcase of the Natural World. Inside this cavernous facility is the complete history of the planet’s (and beyond) existence. Huge Lifesize Diaroamas depict the current diversity of life on the planet while the Fossil Halls host some of the best Dinosaur Skeletons ever recovered.
The Oceans are brought to life in the Hall of Ocean Life, while Earth sciences are represented in the geology and meteorite halls. There is so much on display and you can spend hours exploring the exhibits. Even Kids will be enthralled with the Giant Dinosaurs that appear in the Fossil Halls. All the Favorites, T-Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus are all present, there is even a gigantic Titanosaur on Display one of the largest land animals ever to exist.
Another World-leading Museum and another colossal museum complex. Situated right across the park from the Natural history museum these two are the perfect combination for those rainy days where exploring the museums is the perfect escape from the weather.
The Met is so much more than a collection of old paintings, which is what most of us expect from an Art Museum. The Met is more of a collection of the entire history of human endeavors. It is a stunning collection featuring Egyptian Tombs, Ming Dynasty Artifacts, Medieval Armor, Greek and Roman Sculptures, and European Masterpieces from the Grand Masters.
It is a Priceless collection both in terms of value and importance to human history. It’s both a humbling and evocative attraction and definitely not something to miss.
Like the Natural History Museum, you are going to need at least half a day here. and you can read more about both Museums here
The first three attractions are set, the next three you get to choose either or. While you are free to choose whichever interests you the most we do have our favorites.
Top of the Rock Observation Deck – $42 or Guggenheim Museum – $25
The Guggenheim museum is pretty special but for us, it’s not up there with the Top Of The Rock. We are pretty museum’ed out by now and while the MOMA may have been a tougher choice the Rock has arguably the best view in New York. As such we can’t miss this one out.
With a Day and Night Visit to the Empire State already in the bag, the perfect choice here is Sunset! Simply ask when booking your ticket for the best time for Sunset and the assistant will let you know. This way you get to see the best view in Manhatten by day, you get to see the sky color up and enjoy the Golden Hour before watching the lights start to come on and see New York Sparkle.
Honestly, the Top Of the Rock at Sunset is unmissable! The Guggenheim…less so
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – $19.25 or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises -$37
Really this is a tougher choice, as getting to see the Statue up close is an unmissable attraction but how you go about it is a tougher question.
Really the Circle line cruise is probably the better option, it has superior views, is more comfortable, and sails a much better route than the Island Ferry, however, we take the Liberty Island ferry every time. Why?
Because you actually land on the island. This gets you as close to the statue as possible and is not just sail by. It’s another Iconic must-do. No New York trip is really complete without visiting Liberty Island. As an added bonus the Statue Ferry also lands on Ellis Island where you can visit the free Ellis Island immigration museum. Millions of Americans laded here in the early days of the country and many can trace their ancestry back through this facility!
9/11 Memorial & Museum – $28 or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – $33
The Intrepid Museum is a really great location if military hardware is your thing. We love the Museum and it houses some of our favorite jets from recent history, the F-14 Tomcat, Harrier Jumpjet, F-4 Phantom, and of course an A-12 Blackbird (Elon Musks Fav plane too!) On top of this is one of the last Concordes and Space Shuttle Enterprise!
If all that’s not enough it is housed on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid a WW2 Era Aircraft carrier. You get to explore the carrier along with its hangers and flight deck, all with the stunning backdrop of New York City.
We can’t think of much I would miss this for, One thing however would be the 911 Museum. So while it’s upsetting to miss out on the Intrepid with this pass, the 911 Museum is just a must-visit. It is a fairly harrowing place, and the exhibits are extremely powerful in taking you back to the fateful day. The Museum is huge, housed in the old basement of the original buildings.
It’s one of the most moving experiences we have visited and is so integral to the story of the city is needs to be experienced despite the upsetting nature. If you can’t manage it the Memorial Gardens and Reflecting pools are a more comforting place, the rebuilt WTC as backdrop serving as a reminder that the country will not be beaten by terrorism. Young kids in particular might struggle, in which case the Intrepid might be a better bet.
Total Value of Attractions: $190 – $228
As you can see while the available attractions are limited to a setlist they are all absolute marquee attractions. Visiting these will make any trip one to remember, and there is still plenty of time to enjoy the other sights and sounds of New York.
With the Pass costing $136 that is a very substantial Saving. Our recommended Itinerary would cost $208 Dollars bought separately so by using the Pass you save a huge $72 that can be put towards any number of other activities such as a posh meal out or maybe a helicopter tour? Even if you missed an attraction, you would still save so that pass is very good value financially.
However, money is not everything and if the Pass makes the trip worse then the money saved is pointless. A pass should make things better. We look for the ability to Pass Less and See More when deciding if a Pass is worth our time and money.
So we headed to NYC to try the CityPASS in person
Our Testing Strategy
We always test passes in person to see how they actually fare in the City themselves. We visit New York often and normally at the busiest times. We used the New York CityPASS during one of the busiest weeks of the year, just after Thanksgiving when the city is absolutely in chaos. The perfect time to test for any flaws in the Pass due to surging crowds.
Some of this may have changed since the Pandemic and the ability to book online with the pass has increased due to strict social distancing. But as far as we are concerned things will only get better with pre-booked time slots
Day One – Arrival
We landed around 12:00 and began the trek through US Customs. After we breezed through Customs (Yeah Breezed isn’t the right term lol) we got the NJ Transit into Penn Station. Then Walked the few blocks to our hotel. After checking in and having a brief refresh we realized it was only 3:00 pm (Not too bad) the skies were clear and bright and we still had time to get the Top of the Rock in before sunset, due at approx. 4:30.
Arriving at the Top of the Rock entrance things were looking hectic. The queue heading all the way down the street and we were all ready to run. We had already fought through insane crowds down Fifth and the chances of getting anywhere near the top before sunset looking pretty unlikely. I was beginning to think the “Nay Sayers” were right. Only we decided to head to the front of the queue to speak to the attendant.
We were instantly ushered inside and toward the ticket desk. We later found out the Queue was for groups so even if we had a regular timed ticket or buying on the day we would not need to queue. At the ticket desk, we were placed in the VIP queue because of the pass. This queue had 1 couple waiting in line so hardly a queue at all. The Ticket line wasn’t horrendous and a pre-paid ticket would have skipped this part altogether. So having a pass cost us 3-5 mins on one of the busiest weekends of the year at the busiest time! and remember the CityPASS was saving us a significant amount of $
Unfortunately, by this time, time was getting away from us. The earliest ticket time would have only just got us up for sunset. And we wanted to get to see Central Park in daylight. A bit of a disappointment but we just booked tickets for another time. You see once you have got your ticket you don’t need to use it. If you miss your time slot, the ticket remains unused and you can just reschedule. Which was pretty cool. They had also exchanged our Voucher for a Booklet at the same time so that was sorted also. So we had our tickets and our booklets.
At this point, we were unsure about how good the pass was. If we had bought at the attraction we would have taken more time and missed the sunset. A pre-bought timed ticket would have also seen us miss the sunset as we just got there too late (thanks to US Customs) but it would have saved us the time in a queue (5mins max) So all things considered it’s about even. Only remember the 41% $ value we have saved.
So we headed off and enjoyed the rest of our day doing free activities and having some food and drinks. Before heading to bed early…It had been a long day. The forecast was looking great for tomorrow so we decided that tomorrow would be our Downtown day including a Statue Cruise and The 911 Museum.
Day 2 – Downtown
we were up early and had breakfast in a diner and then headed off to Downtown to get our cruise booked. This would be an acid test for the pass as it’s the one it gets pretty slammed for. Here is how it went.
As we approached Battery Park things were busy. But when we entered the Ticket area the queues were pleasingly nonexistent. We got to the booth almost immediately and exchanged our booklet page for the next available cruise. Scheduled to leave at 9:45 am it was 9:15 am. I suggested spending this time shooting some photos whereas Kate suggested maybe we should actually just head for the boat as there may be long queues for the ferry. She was right the queueing now started and it took nearly 25 minutes to pass through security and so we had a whole 5 minutes left until the boat left. Just time to get some great photos from the boat deck.
Clearly, the CityPASS worked very well at this destination. It equaled a walk-up ticket but In our opinion actually worked better than a booked ticket. As we wanted to get there at 9:00 am so that’s when we would have booked the ticket for and we would have been late! It also gives you the complete flexibility to go on the day that suits you. If we had woken to rain or poor vis we could have done a museum day and leave the cruise for another day… A booked ticket would not offer that flexibility!
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island: Draw (But beats pre-booked, based on flexibility)
Note: is that with this pass (and any other) You can’t book and Pedestal or Crown Ticket. If that’s what you want to do then DON’T use the pass for this! Book directly here and do so well in advance. You can still get a pass and do the Circle Cruise which is a great sightseeing cruise and use your pre-booked ticket to access the pedestal or crown. We were not too fussed about the pedestal and crown so were happy to just access the island and park, plus Ellis Island. The CityPASS website and other guides say you can book Crown and Pedestal tickets on the day. But they were sold out by the time we got there and had only just opened. So we really wouldn’t pin your hopes on that.
On to the 9/11 Museum
As we arrived at the 911 Museum there seemed to be a sprawling mass of multiple different queues. We spoke to an attendant who directed us to the last queue. This was the actual queue for direct access. all the other queues were to purchase tickets and had we not had our CityPASS we would have had to queue once for the ticket and then again for entry.
It was exceptionally busy at the Museum and the lineup just for entry took nearly 20 minutes. At that time people who had begun queueing for the tickets were still stuck in the ticket line and would then have to begin queuing for entry. Of course, a pre-purchased timed ticket would have got us in AS quick as the CityPASS but we would have lost any flexibility and it would have cost more!
A clear win for the CityPASS!
Note: we would have is if this was our first attraction and we needed to exchange our voucher for a booklet or wanted to purchase a booklet this would not be the place to do it. We would have needed to use the ticket queue for that. That would have significantly added to our queueing time! so Make sure your first stop is somewhere quieter or where you need to use the ticket booths anyway. Top of the Rock or the statue cruise are perfect choices for this.
DAY 3 – The HIGH LIFE!
As the day broke it was clear it was going to be another beautiful day! So what could be better than spending the day atop iconic skyscrapers viewing one of the most dramatic cityscapes in the world!
So after breakfast, we headed for the Empire state building. We entered via the iconic lobby and were ushered up the elevators to the ticket queues. They were looking quite long. But mentioning CityPASS got us ushered left to a lane that simply bypassed all the queues. Straight to Security. Then off on the long meandering journey to the top.
Another Clear CityPASS Win
The day before while in the area we had popped back to the Top of the Rock while doing other things in the area, to Book Timed Tickets for the top in time for Sunset. If you are not sure exactly what time to book to be at the top for sunset? well simply ask! The Staff get this all the time and they know the Rock better than anyone and will get you up there, on time, no problem.
Getting the timed ticket was a very quick process again using the city pass VIP line to get it changed. Then after spending the day enjoying the Chelsea district and a few Bloody Marys, we returned to the Top of the Rock at our allotted time and got to the top for an incredible sunset view of the city. It’s such a great time to view it. We found the pass to be neither a great hindrance nor a massive benefit. The VIP queue was very fast so getting access to that was a bonus. But the main queueing for the Top of the Rock was done while getting up there and there was no way to skip this with any ticket.
So It’s a narrow CityPASS win …only…
After dinner and drinks, it was time to utilize another big CityPASS perk! the Same day return to the Empire State Building experience. Use your CityPASS to go to the top and then you can return after 8 pm the same day for a FREE nighttime trip to the top. This is an incredible perk and seeing the city at night was amazing if a bit chilly in December!
DAY 4 – Museums
Day 4 dawned with low cloud and poor visibility and drizzle. Had we pre-booked some of the attractions like the Top of the Rock or Statue Cruise like we had been advised to by “travel forum experts” We would be stuck doing them in poor weather while we had wandered around indoor museums in beautiful clear crisp bright weather. The Flexibility of the pass really showed here as we were able to avoid the unpleasant weather inside the museums.
Having a pass for the museums (American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) was a bit of a letdown. It basically made no difference at all. everyone queued up the same to get tickets to get in. We did get free entry to one of the paid extra exhibits at the AMONH which was a nice touch.
It’s a shame there was no queue skipping here but having the CityPASS certainly didn’t hurt in any way.
American Museum of Natural History – Draw (although we did get the free exhibit)
the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Draw
So let’s look at the scores based solely on the speed of entry and ease of use.
- Empire State Building Experience: Pass Wins
- American Museum of Natural History: Draw
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Draw
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck: Pass Wins
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island: Draw
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum: Pass Wins
So as you can see the pass was a clear winner. If the pass cost the same as buying on the day or pre-booking I would still have been happier with the pass. The flexibility it offers makes it a clear winner over pre-booking as you really don’t know beforehand what the days will offer. The pass was a lot faster at half of the attractions we visited. Of the ones it wasn’t, we were no worse off.
The pass, however, IS NOT THE SAME PRICE
So is the New York CityPASS worth it?
By purchasing the New York CityPASS you can save up 41% depending on what attractions you visit. That’s a max of $92+ ($96+for children) or $72 ($69 Children) if you use our suggested Itinerary It’s a sizeable saving. and for a Family of 4, that’s $282!
So by Purchasing a CityPASS you are saving a whole heap of money and improving your trip by reducing queuing times and getting more for your money. Not to mention the more subtle benefits of Ease of budgeting and cost spreading. In our opinion, the CityPASS really does let you See More and Pay Less!
We really struggled to criticize the experience. Apart from not being able to book Pedestal and Crown tickets for the Statue. But we were not too bothered about this. The crown is not a Great experience more of a thing to say you have done and then from the pedestal, you lose the view of the one thing you have come to see…the statue of liberty!
Overall we completely feel the pass was worth it. It is one of the cheapest passes available and covers all the best attractions. We never felt rushed to get to all the attractions on our short trip and really loved the flexibility it offered. We would not hesitate to use this pass again.
This, of course, all assumes the attractions that are on offer are what you want to see, you should never see an attraction because it’s on the Pass. You should only Buy a Pass because it covers the attractions YOU want to see. To read more about other New York Passes, Our New York Passes Comparison Guide Covers all the big New York Passes. There are certainly many more options on these passes and some of the newer glitzier experiences are available, Such as the Edge, Hop-on Hop-Off Buses, or the Ride.
It is critical you get this right so take some time to compare the passes and see which suits you best.
Where to Buy the New York CityPASS?
New York CityPASS very rarely has deals or offers so it is best to buy directly from their website. I have provided a link below. We recommend getting an Email Voucher to Print at home but they are happy to send out the booklets for a small fee, which may save you queueing to get it changed depending on which attraction you visit first.
Have Your Say
We hope you found this review informative. We really tried our best to give the Pass a thorough going over as we read a lot of negativity surrounding them. We honestly found none of this to be founded. Please comment below if you have had a different experience? Also, let me know if you have any questions. Or even if you have just made it to the end of the post!