One World Observatory: Breathtaking, Panoramic Views & NYC History for Kids & Families

One World Observatory taking you to new heights! Photo courtesy of the observatory
One World Observatory taking you to new heights! Photo courtesy of the observatory
6/1/15 - By Jody Mercier

My husband and I trekked to the top of the Empire State Building following our City Hall wedding, and we've hauled our entire family up to the Top of the Rock. So when the Freedom Tower unveiled One World Observatory, I jumped at the chance to be among the first to check out its stunning panoramic views.

Mother Nature seemingly didn't share my excitement, however, for we arrived at 10am to see that the top of One World Trade wasn't visible from the ground. Despite this downer, my toddler and I still headed for the entrance and all the way to the top.


The entrance to the observatory takes you past the Voices exhibit, where construction workers share their stories of building One World Trade.

Your trip to One World Observatory actually begins underground on the concourse level of the towering structure. You'll pass through security and a winding hallway with video screens featuring construction workers talking about how they helped build the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

We visited during a free preview and were able to sail through these hallways, though I imagine on a typical day visitors will encounter a line. In addition to the videos, you pass through a section of the famous Manhattan Schist (the bedrock on which the skyscraper is built) where other tidbits of information are projected upon the wall in white lights for visitors to read as they pass.

Once you arrive at the elevator bank, expect a quick trip to the top in a car lined with LED screens that play a time-lapse video of the evolution of the NYC skyline. You'll go from terra firma to the 102nd floor in less than a minute, so be prepared for some ear popping!

The See Forever Theater gives visitors a peek at the pulse of the city 102 stories below them.

The elevators exit directly into a theater where visitors are treated to a two-minute video meant to depict the pulse of the city below. Upon completion, the video screens lift revealing the city skyline (or, as our bad luck would have it, clouds). There is a small observation area on the 102nd floor; a quick escalator ride down to the 101st floor reveals a balcony that houses three separate dining options, varying from quick cafe-style bites to fine dining.

The Sky Portal provides a real-time video feed that gives visitors the impression of standing on glass 101 stories above the ground.

One more quick escalator ride takes you to the main observatory on the 100th floor. Here you'll find the Sky Portal, which was a huge draw for my fearless toddler, though some tourists were freaked out by the experience, meant to make you feel as if only a sheet of glass and steel girders separate you from the city below. In reality, you're standing on an HD video screen playing a real-time feed of the streets so there are still 100 floors between you and the earth.

Panoramic views include this breathtaking glimpse of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Stepping away from the Sky Portal, visitors can peruse the 360-degree view that includes Manhattan, New York Harbor, Staten and Governors Islands, New Jersey, Queens and Brooklyn in windows that stretch from floor to ceiling. The water views are particularly striking, and my daughter enjoyed pointing out the boats and helicopters whizzing by. Unlike the city's other two famed observatories, the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, there is no outdoor access at One World Observatory.

Fellow Mommy Poppins staffer Stephanie snapped this photo of her son with the fabulous backdrop.

Brave visitors, including my daughter, stepped onto small windowsills to press their faces right to the glass to take it all in. At first I thought this might be frowned upon, but none of the staff seemed to bat an eye.

Speaking of the staff, there are a slew of blue-shirt clad "global ambassadors" who operate interactive "City Pulse" stations—basically a circle of interactive touch screens that highlight all NYC has to offer. While we were on the 100th floor, several ambassadors gave presentations on topics varying from the best cheesecake in town to the history of Times Square to the current hopes of NYC's professional sports teams. They were happy to offer suggestions, concierge style, to anyone who asked, and dubbed all visitors who stopped to listen honorary New Yorkers. Watching the motion-sensor technology as they waved their arms around and pointed at the various screens was very futuristic, a feature I'm sure my husband and 9-year-old son will love when they get to visit.

The "City Pulse" stations offer an interactive opportunity to explore the city and listen to global ambassadors share their insider tips.

Like all tourist spots, One World Observatory offers the ubiquitous green-screen photo op, and pics can be purchased upon exiting. The on-site gift shop is smack-dab in the middle of the 100th floor observatory. Also available for an extra charge is the One World Explorer: iPads that provide up-close interactive views of many of the sites you can see from One World Observatory, plus videos and a special kids section.

If you're traveling with a baby or toddler, as I did, be prepared to fold your stroller. While you are able to use your stroller on the observatory levels, you cannot have it unfolded in the elevators or on the escalators. Traveling alone with my tot made the folding and unfolding difficult even though I planned ahead and had a carrier to tuck her into.

One World Observatory is open seven days a week. You can find the exact hours on the website. The entrance is at the corner of Vesey and West Streets.

Tickets are sold for timed-entry slots, so hopefully the lines won't be too bad. If you do need to wait, we got a great tip from Tribeca Citizen that you can bypass the street level line if you enter through the PATH/Brookfield Place corridor entrance (at least until everyone figures this trick out). Tickets are $34 for ages 13 to 64, $28 for ages 6-12, $32 for seniors and free for children under age 6. There's also a more expensive express admission ticket, which allows you to skip the general admission line.

If you're making a day of it, check out our tips for visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with kids or grab a bite at a nearby kid-friendly restaurant.

If you're booking several top attractions in New York City and looking to save money, consider purchasing a Go City Explorer Pass, which includes discounted admission to One World Observatory, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, and more.

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