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One World Trade Center is open for business and largely occupied by tenants, but the Observatory on the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors is having its official public opening on Friday, May 29th. I was allowed in for a sneak peek.
I’ve been near One Word Trade many times, but never very close. I got off of the subway and because of the route I was taking, I couldn’t actually see the building until I turned a corner and it was right there. It’s an imposing but beautiful structure.
The Observatory has its own entrance, on West Street near Vesey.
I walked into the lobby and headed downstairs to the Observatory entrance. It felt a bit like an EPCOT attraction – futuristic, with soothing, plinky music playing.
After going through metal detectors I was greeted by a giant map of the world. As entrance tickets are scanned, the home countries of the guests pop up on the map (or individual states in the case of American visitors), and greetings are shown in ten different languages.
Next up was a series of screens (144 of them to be exact) showing stories about the building’s construction from the actual workers who made it. The movie, called Voices, is fourteen minutes long. I didn’t stay for the entire thing, but I imagine that during regular operating hours it will be an interesting thing to watch while waiting in line. Forty-eight people who worked on the tower were interviewed to make Voices.
The motif of this walkway is “bedrock,” which I guess is supposed to suggest strength. I won’t lie, there were thoughts going through my head about the building’s safety. Speaking quietly with a few friends, I realized we were all thinking roughly the same things.
But it was time: I’d arrived at the elevators. Actually, they’re called “Sky Pods” and they are five of the fastest elevators in the world, whisking visitors up to the 102nd floor in 47 seconds. I wish they were slower, because the elevator ride is amazing. I wanted to do it again and again. Three sides of the elevator are covered with high definition LED screens, showing the evolution of Manhattan and the surrounding areas for the last 500 or so years. There are two versions of the time lapse: a daytime one and a nighttime one. Since we were ascending during the day, that’s the one we saw. I would love to see the nighttime one too.
Whoever dreamed this up deserves some kind of award. Seriously, I would pay just to go up and down in the Sky Pods a few times.
The first video is mine, and the second – showing a different angle – is from the New York Times.
We headed down an escalator to the 101st floor and toured the restaurant spaces. These restaurants will only be available to ticketed guests of One World Observatory.
- One Café is more of a quick-service restaurant, with baked goods, sandwiches, soups, and salads all made daily.
- One Mix is a bar that also serves small plates of food inspired by the five boroughs of NYC.
- One Dine is a fine-dining restaurant featuring premium meats and freshly-caught seafood. As of this writing reservations were not yet available online for One Dine.
The theme throughout the 101st floor is things that help you see – magnifying glasses, eye charts, binoculars, that sort of thing. It’s cute.
Then it was down another escalator to the main floor of the observatory.
There are two “City Pulse” interactive landmark information systems, each run by a guide wearing a motion-capture armband. You can get information about the landmarks that you see from the observation windows, get recommendations on where else in NYC to go, and other trivia.
The “Sky Portal” simulates what it would be like if the observatory had a glass floor, and you could see the street one hundred stories below. It shows images from cameras around the periphery of the observatory in real time. You can step out onto it, even lay down on it. I think kids are going to love this.
There is also, of course, a gift shop. Make no mistake about it: This is a tourist attraction, not part of a memorial. I’m not saying that as a criticism, I’m just mentioning it because several people were surprised to see a gift shop. But considering there’s a gift shop in the World Trade Center Museum, it shouldn’t come as a surprise at all that there’s one here.
And it has some things that I would consider buying if I were in from out of town. There are shirts, bags, mugs, even some jewelry.
Then, of course, there’s the main attraction: The view. And it is spectacular. Even on a hazy day such as the one I visited on, I could see very far. (On a clear day you can supposedly see for 50 miles.)
I’ll let the view speak for itself.
The ride back down the elevator is almost as cool as the ride up, showing what it might be like if your Sky Pod left the building and glided down to the bottom on the outside. Just like the time-lapse ride, there is a daytime and nighttime version for the way down.
Tickets for the observatory have been on sale since last month, and as of this writing there are still tickets left for opening weekend. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors, and $26 for children 6-12 (children 5 and under are free).
Entry is timed, meaning that you have to book a specific time for your entry. Unless, of course, you want to pay for one of their more expensive “flex” tickets, which give you some flexibility. There’s also a timed “priority” ticket which allows you to bypass the general admission line.
You can also add a “view enhancing” custom iPad experience or a photo package to your tickets.
Having been there, I think the price for regular admission is a little steep, but tourists might be more comfortable with it – I know I’m usually more resigned to spending money on things like this when I’m away from home.
The view, though, is priceless.
Here’s a taste of the entire experience:
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