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 a good amount of money and sometimes skip lines and save time spent in queues. One of the passes on offer is the New York CityPASS. We 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
- Product: New York CityPASS
- Price: $126 (18+)
- Price Child: $104 (6-17)
- Where to Buy: http://www.citypass.com/new-york
- Number of Attractions: choose 6 of 9
- Time Limit: 9 consecutive days
- 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
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
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 Basically a Booklet with a number of vouchers allowing you to visit set attractions once per pass for a fixed price. $122 for adults and $98 for Children. As you can see that’s quite an outlay. So does the CityPASS represent good value?
The Current Price is the lowest it has been for quite a while and appears to be in response to Smart Destinations Adding to their roster of attractions. So right now the Value is greater than ever.
On the face of it, it’s a very good saving, up to 42% compared to full price tickets. But it’s not as simple as that. You have to really want to see the attractions available for it to make sense. Visiting only 4 of the attractions means the pass doesn’t really add value so you need to be planning on seeing at least 5 of the attractions.
Of course, the Attractions on offer are all top-shelf Marquee attractions that most people do want to see so that’s good news. However, City Pass’s, in general, get some pretty rough reviews from people on certain Trip planning sites. Saying they add queuing time and generally detract from the experience. This goes against the Idea of a Pass and we decided to check it out. So armed with a CityPASS Each Kate and I got off our plane at Newark ready to see how the CityPASS played out in Anger.
*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 New York CityPASS is a small booklet containing actual tickets to the various attractions that are manually removed from the booklet as and when you visit the attractions. This works really well as the tickets allow entry directly to most attractions without having to queue separately in the ticket line.
After Purchasing a Pass you have two options, Either you receive a Booklet in the post or have a confirmation voucher Emailed to you. With the Email version, you simply present the Voucher at the first attraction you wish to visit and they will provide you with a Booklet that you can then present at the remaining attractions.
UPDATE – The New York CityPASS now offers a Smartphone QR Code that can be used instead if the Email Voucher so you can quickly and easily scan the code at the first attraction to redeem your booklet. We haven’t actually used this system yet as it is still very new. Having used the E-mail voucher system which worked flawlessly We see no issue and think it’s very useful to have the code there on your phone rather than printing out vouchers.
It’s not as advanced as the SmartDestinations system when the Mobile QR code IS your pass and you simply scan the code at each attraction. But maybe CityPASS will move to that system soon. And some people do still prefer actually having something they can hold in their hands!
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.
When is not the Best time to go?
To be fair to our readers we needed to go at a very busy time to fully test the pass. No point seeing how bad queues were the end of February when the town’s deserted (apart from residents who don’t tend to frequent the Statue Cruises and Empire State Building). Apart from maybe New Year’s Eve, New York is at its manic busiest the weekend after Thanksgiving Weekend. It is obviously, After Thanksgiving where things shut down for family time, but Christmas is in full swing. But not TOO close to Christmas that a trip to New York interferes with Christmas plans. A quick check of hotel prices ($250+ for budget accommodation) confirmed things were going to be HECTIC! So we booked our flights for a New York Christmas Fairytale
One of the best things about having a pass is Flexibility. Pre Booking everything means know in advance exactly what each day will be like weather-wise. Or how you are feeling on any given day. This is obviously not practical and may mean you booking for the top of the rock in low cloud, or spending a day on a Statue Cruise in pouring rain with low Visibility. Having a pass in your Back Pocket means you can just look out the window and do what you want to that day.
Still, some attractions are located near each other and are better done the same day to avoid traveling too much. So we planned to do Empire State building one day while we spent the rest of the day shopping and exploring midtown and Times Square. Another Day would be Downton with a Statue Cruise and a visit to the 911 Museum and the Memorial. And another day would be our Museum Day with time to explore Central Park in between. This left the top of the rock Open to be fitted in whenever best suited, according to weather and mood. We were determined to hit the top at Sunset though as this was both the Best time for photos and also the busiest time so it would give the pass a good test.
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.
Buying a pass has two delivery options should you buy a pass beforehand. Voucher or booklet delivery. As the Voucher was free (download and print) and the booklet would cost we went for the voucher so this needed to be changed at one of the attractions for the booklet. In the end, it was a good choice.
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 (Not a mistake) 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 the attendant.
We were instantly ushered inside and toward the ticket desk. Wahoo. 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 its 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 a ticket but IMO actually worked better than a booked ticket. As I wanted to get there at 9:00 am so that’s when I would have booked the ticket and we would have been late! It also gives you the complete flexibility to go on the day that suits. 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 line up 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.
Central Park from the Top Of The Rock just before Sunset
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 Chelsea district, 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. 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 round 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?
Incredible View of Time Square from the Roof of Manhatten
By purchasing the New York CityPASS you can save up 41% depending on what attractions you visit. That’s $71+ ($75+for children) It’s a sizeable saving. And that doesn’t factor the same day evening return for the empire state building which is a top perk.
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.
I 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. Only maybe on our next trip, we might try another pass as they offer attractions the CityPASS Doesn’t and we like trying new things.
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.
New York CityPASS very rarely has deals or offers so it 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!