New York CityPASS Review: Discounts to the City’s Top Attractions

Table of Contents
  1. How New York CityPASS Works
  2. The Benefits of New York CityPASS
  3. Attractions Available on New York CityPASS
    1. Empire State Building
    2. Top of the Rock Observation Deck
    3. Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
    4. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
    5. American Museum of Natural History
    6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    7. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
    8. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
    9. Guggenheim Museum
    10. Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises
  4. Two New York CityPASS Plans
    1. New York CityPASS
    2. New York C3
  5. Is CityPASS Worth It?

New York City is a destination everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Whether you enjoy culture, shows, shopping, or just amazing views from the top of some of the most iconic buildings, NYC has anything and everything for every kind of visitor. If you've ever had to go into Manhattan for work and don't go often, chances are you took a few extra days to check out the sights and sounds.

If you haven't visited in many years, you'll recognize a lot of the famous places (Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, etc.) but a few new spots are popping up in recent years.

But New York City is also one of the most expensive cities in the country to visit. One valuable workaround to the cost issue is CityPASS (our review of the entire CityPASS program), a sightseeing pass service that helps you visit the city's most famous attractions for a lot less than retail price.

It won't cut some of your other costs, like where you'll be staying or what you'll eat, but at least it'll help with the ticket costs and help you skip a few lines.

How New York CityPASS Works

You can purchase one of CityPASS's products online. For New York City, CityPASS enables you to take in up to 10 of the city's most popular attractions at discounts of up to 43%. Also, having your attraction ticket purchased in advance usually allows you to avoid standing in long lines, giving you a priority pass. If your trip to New York City is a particularly limited timeframe, the priority pass feature will be a major advantage, in addition to the price savings.

You purchase a CityPASS booklet either online or at any attraction you want to attend that's included in the program. You can also purchase mobile tickets or vouchers, which can simply be swiped for admission at certain attractions. If necessary, you can also print paper tickets, which may be required at certain attractions. A big advantage is that you will have the tickets purchased in advance, saving you both time and money compared to waiting in line and buying at the box office.

In most cases, the ticket you have available through CityPASS will cover full admission to the attraction. The ticket will usually be good for a one-time admission, but certain attractions may permit you to attend multiple times. What's more, most CityPASS tickets also include local sales tax.

When you arrive in New York City (or any of the 13 other CityPASS destinations), your CityPASS will be good for nine days, which will begin on the first day you attend an attraction in the city. Though the CityPASS booklet will provide tickets for multiple attractions, there is no set attendance sequence. You can visit each attraction on your schedule.

The Benefits of New York CityPASS

The biggest benefit of CityPASS is saving money on tickets to major attractions. As you'll see from our analysis below, you can save up to 43% off the regular cost of attending popular New York City attractions.

But apart from saving money, CityPASS also enables you to save time. First, by purchasing a CityPASS plan, you'll have your tickets to the attractions purchased in advance. That will save you time buying tickets once you arrive in the city. Second, many attractions provide priority pass status with CityPASS. You'll be able to bypass long lines and head straight into the attraction. If you have young children, this can be especially important, since they have limited attention spans.

Finally, once you purchase a CityPASS plan, refunds are available for up to one year after purchase. That will give you plenty of time to plan your trip, as well as to change your mind later and still get your money back.

Attractions Available on New York CityPASS

CityPASS offers discounted admission to up to 10 of New York City's most famous attractions.

Empire State Building

Empire State BuildingThere's probably no building more closely associated with New York City than the Empire State Building. It's a must-see if you're visiting the Big Apple. Completed in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world for nearly 40 years. At 1,454 feet (including the antenna) it's the fifth tallest skyscraper in the US, and still one of the tallest in the world.

You can visit the 86th-floor observatory, or you can get a breathtaking 360°, open-air view of the entire city and well beyond. You'll also have an opportunity to upgrade your ticket with a trip to the 102nd floor (the building's top floor) observatory.

Top of the Rock Observation Deck

This is the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the Art Deco skyscraper that's the centerpiece of New York's famed Rockefeller Center. At 850 feet high, it's one of the tallest buildings in the city. With your CityPASS ticket, you'll be able to take advantage of unobstructed views from the 67th and 69th floors, as well as the open-air deck on the 70th floor. It's New York City from a different angle. You'll be able to purchase a general admission ticket through CityPASS.

Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

This is one of the most famous ferry rides in the city. Sail across New York Harbor to Ellis Island, home of the famed Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Your CityPASS ticket will be good for a ferry ride to and from Liberty Island and Ellis Island, complete with audio guides, as well as admission to the Statue of Liberty Museum and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Be aware however that the ticket does not include admission to either the Statue of Liberty Pedestal or Crown.

9/11 Memorial & Museum

One of the most solemn attractions in the city, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum commemorates the lives of those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The site includes twin reflecting pools, where the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died during the attacks are inscribed. It also includes the “Survivor's Stairs,” part of the staircase hundreds used to escape successfully during the attacks. You'll also learn about some of the individual victims through their stories and photos. With your CityPASS ticket, you can bypass the ticket window line.

American Museum of Natural History

One of the largest natural history museums in the world, the American Museum of Natural History includes 28 interconnected buildings with 45 permanent exhibition halls, as well as a planetarium. Two of the most impressive exhibits at the museum are a 94 foot long, 21,000-pound fiberglass model of a female blue whale, as well as the fossil of a 122-foot long Titanosaur, perhaps the largest dinosaur ever.

Tickets include admission to the museum in the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which includes the Hayden Planetarium Space Show or a giant screen movie in 3-D or 2-D.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

America's largest art museum and one of the largest in the world has a permanent collection of more than 2 million works of art. Includes artwork from ancient Egypt, most of the European masters, as well as a large collection of both American and modern art. Other exhibits include musical instruments, costumes, and antique weapons and armor. It is the single most visited attraction in New York City.

Your CityPASS ticket includes general admission, which includes three consecutive days at The Met Fifth Avenue, the Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

From within the city itself, it's easy to forget that New York City is built on several islands. One of the best ways to navigate the city is by water, and you can enjoy that unique experience through a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise.

The cruise takes in New York Harbor, the Hudson River, East River, Harlem River, and Harlem River Ship Canal, completely encircling Manhattan. That will give you the best way to see the city's magnificent skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and One World Trade Center.

CityPASS admission is good for one regularly scheduled one-hour cruise, or a ride on the BEAST speedboat, which is available from May to September.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

The museum is an American military and maritime history museum located on the west side of Manhattan along the Hudson River. It includes the World War II Essex class aircraft carrier, USS Intrepid, as well as the cruise missile submarine, USS Growler. And since it's an aircraft carrier, it also displays 28 aircraft, including a Concorde SST. If that isn't enough, the space shuttle Enterprise is also on the museum site.

Your CityPASS ticket provides general admission to the carrier, including the Space Shuttle Pavilion and the Growler submarine.

Guggenheim Museum

Located on the upper East side of Manhattan, the Guggenheim Museum contains a collection of impressionist, postimpressionist, early modern and contemporary art. The building itself has a unique cylindrical shape and was designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Your CityPASS ticket includes general admission to the museum, as well as special exhibits.

Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises

Similar to the Circle Line, Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises sails around Manhattan, taking in the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. One of the big advantages for international travelers is that the cruise is narrated in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean, as well as English.

Admission includes a one-hour See NYC sightseeing cruise, a two-hour Alive After Five Happy Hour cruise, or a Hop-On, Hop-Off sightseeing cruise (available seasonally only).

Two New York CityPASS Plans

CityPASS offers two different plans for visits to New York City. Which you'll select will depend on your budget, how long you plan to be in the city, and which attractions you want to attend.

Here are the two plans – the New York CityPASS and New York C3.

New York CityPASS vs New York C3 Comparison

New York CityPASS

This is the CityPASS premium plan for New York City. As shown in the screenshot above, it gives you access to six of nine attractions (all those described earlier in detail, except the Hornblower Sightseeing cruises). The plan includes the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can then select three more from the remaining six available attractions.

The cost for the New York CityPASS plan is $132 for adults 18 and over and $108 for children between the ages of six and 17. In most cases, children under six will be free, though the following attractions do have fees:

  • The American Museum of Natural History – $16.50 for children between two and five, and free for children under two
  • Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – $9 for children ages four and five, and free for children three and under
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises – $31 for children ages three to five, free for children two and under
  • Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – $24 for children age five, free for children four and under

How much can you save off the regular cost of the attractions using New York CityPASS?

Below are the regular box office admission prices to the top six attractions:

  • Empire State Building, 86th floor Observatory – $61
  • American Museum of Natural History – $28
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art – $32
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck – $41
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise – $37
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – $33
  • TOTAL: $232.

Since the cost of a New York CityPASS is $132, an adult can save $100 on tickets to all six attractions, for a total savings of 43%. A family can save several hundred dollars, which may be the difference between visiting all six popular attractions, rather than just one or two.

New York C3

C3 is a more limited plan, that includes fewer attractions but at a lower cost. It's designed primarily for those who want to save money on the New York CityPASS plan, and only want to attend a more limited number of attractions.

With the C3 plan, you can visit any three of the 10 attractions offered by CityPASS in New York City. For example, you can take in the Empire State Building, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. This will be a perfect arrangement if you will only be in the city for a short time, or if you plan to attend attractions and events that are not included in the CityPASS list.

The cost is $84 per adult, ages 13 and up, and $64 per child, between the ages of five and 12. Children under five will generally be free, except for the attractions listed under New York CityPASS that do charge fees for younger visitors.

How much can you save attending three attractions through the New York C3 plan?

Below are the regular box office admission prices to three popular attractions:

  • Empire State Building, 86th floor Observatory – $61
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise – $37
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – $33
  • TOTAL – $131

At $84 for the New York C3 plan, an adult can save $47, or about 36% off the box office ticket prices. A family of four might save close to $200.

Is CityPASS Worth It?

New York City is one of the most expensive and populous places in America, you should do anything you can to save a few bucks and hours waiting in line.

You should consider CityPASS if any of the following apply:

  • You want to save up to 43% on the cost of major attractions
  • You want the benefit of priority pass, enabling you to avoid long lines
  • You're specifically interested in at least some of the 10 attractions available through CityPASS
  • You're traveling with family, and saving money on attraction tickets can add up to hundreds of dollars
  • You live in or around New York City and have been avoiding going to any of the included attractions due to the high cost
  • You think you might want to visit certain attractions more than once
  • You're a first-time visitor to New York City and looking for a way to see its most iconic attractions without having to pay full price

You might want to pass on CityPASS if any of the following apply:

  • You're not especially interested in most or even any of the attractions included with New York CityPASS plans
  • You plan to be in the city, but would prefer to spend time and money on other activities, like concerts, Broadway plays or sporting events
  • You won't have time to visit a sufficient number of attractions to make purchasing a plan worth the money

If you'd like more information, or you'd like to sign up for the service, visit the CityPASS website.

New York CityPASS

$64 - $132
8.5

Overall

8.5/10

Strengths

  • 30-44% savings off box office prices
  • Skip lines at some attractions

Weaknesses

  • You are pre-paying for attractions you may not see

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Kevin Mercadante

About Kevin Mercadante

Since 2009, Kevin Mercadante has been sharing his journey from a washed-up mortgage loan officer emerging from the Financial Meltdown as a contract/self-employed "slash worker" – accountant/blogger/freelance blog writer – on OutofYourRut.com. He offers career strategies, from dealing with under-employment to transitioning into self-employment, and provides "Alt-retirement strategies" for the vast majority who won’t retire to the beach as millionaires.

He also frequently discusses the big-picture trends that are putting the squeeze on the bottom 90%, offering workarounds and expense cutting tips to help readers carve out more money to save in their budgets – a.k.a., breaking the "savings barrier" and transitioning from debtor to saver.

Kevin has a B.S. in Accounting and Finance from Montclair State University.

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