Saturday, October 2, I took a private family tour up both the Top Of The Rock (TOTR) at Rockefeller Center, and the ESB, in the same day. First, TOTR, at the GE Building. TOTR maintains that there is rarely a wait of more than ten minutes to get to its observatory. At the ESB, by contrast, the wait can be between ten minutes and two hours, depending on the season, day of the week, and time of day. Nights, for instance, are usually slower than days. The charge at TOTR is $21 as opposed to the ESB's $20.
We had prepaid tickets. I showed them to the personnel, and we headed upstairs to security for metal detectors. That done, we took an elevator with a transparent ceiling, on which were projected images of the GE Building through its history, up to the top. Elapsed time was 11 minutes. Not bad!
TOTR takes you to its 67th floor, as opposed to the ESB's 86th floor, so you're not as high up, even when you account for Rockefeller Center being atop a plateau and the ESB being halfway down Murray Hill. The parapets are lined with clear walls that protect people from the wind, while offering great views of Manhattan, its rivers and bridges, and surrounding lands and islands. We stayed up there for about 20 minutes, until my guests indicated they wanted to get on to our next view from the heights, the ESB.
Here's an almost-straight-down view of the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint Patrick, which is across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center.
Since my guests had prepaid tix to the New York Skyride, we were already committed to enjoying it. On a hunch, I called the Observatory to find out how much time the wait was that day and hour, without The Skyride. The voice said the wait at that time was about 90 minutes.
The Skyride plays every 30 minutes, in a small theater of roughly 50 seats. The seats are on a platform held up by hydraulic jacks that lift, tilt and lower everyone at once, in response to cues from the screen. For instance, part of the Skyride shows a helicopter ride. At every sweeping turn, the seats lean this way or that. Wonderful.
We arrived there at 11:32 AM, just a little late for the 11:30 show. We escalated up to the second floor, showed our tickets to a lady at a popcorn-and-snack counter, and had to wait for a bit, as there was some snag with the tickets. Finally we were escorted ahead, to the Skyride area.
One of my charges was an 80-year-old man with a back problem. I earlier had had offered him my cane, but he refused it. We, along with many other customers, were taken to a standing-only area outside the theater itself. I was concerned about my customer's back pain. He found a shelf just to the left of the door and sat on it, and I sat with him, there being no seats in this anteroom.
We were there treated to about fifteen minutes of wraparound videos showing, among other things, the top ten things to see in New York City. At 12:00, we entered The Skyride, strapped in, and enjoyed the show. Kevin Bacon's image hosted. The Skyride really is a fun show.
At the close of the ride, we and the other customers went on up to the Observatory. I looked at my watch when we got there: over an hour, nearly 75 minutes, had passed. The Skyride had not saved us much from the projected waiting time, after all; less than fifteen minutes.
The Empire State's Observatory is on the 86th floor of the building, some 150 feet higher than TOTR's. It features a four-foot limestone wall topped with inward-curving steel fencing. You can poke your camera--or your head--through spaces in the fencing to look straight down, if you want. The views are breathtaking: roughly 45 miles in every direction on the day we came. We could see from the woods near Stamford, Connecticut, practically down to Snooki and The Situation on the Jersey shore.
An impromptu treat was in store for us all: an NYPD helicopter hovered for a moment, almost touchable, some 30 feet from the Observatory. It occupants waved at us, and we all waved back.
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