American Express is currently working with America’s National Parks to encourage visits and volunteering. As part of my work with the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, they asked me to participate by visiting a National Park with my family and sharing photos of our experience.
When I looked at the list of parks in my area, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty stood out. Many New Yorkers I know, even native New Yorkers, say they have never been to either, but that is not the case for me. My family went when I was a kid and climbed to the crown. I remember walking up thousands of stairs to get to the top, the physical accomplishment feeling just as great as the pay-off of seeing Manhattan as an island from up high and a distance.
We returned when I was a bit older after Ellis Island had gone through a renovation and opened its doors to the public as a museum. You see, my mother came to the United States through Ellis Island, arriving with her family just after World War II as part of the Displaced Persons Act. Her name had been etched into the wall and I remember feeling the weight of our family history as she described seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. She remembered that moment of freedom even at only four-years-old.
I was excited to take my family there for the first time, even though I knew Mazzy and Harlow wouldn’t understand exactly what it all meant. Mike loves New York history so he was on board as well. We also brought along our cousin Reyna who just returned from college in Scotland for the summer. She’s studying photography and was interested in taking some pictures for us.
You need to buy tickets online ahead of time because spots sell out, especially tickets to the pedestal and crown. To purchase the tickets, I used my Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which I have been using religiously since it launched last year. It has no-annual fee and is great for multi-tasking moms, who make small purchases throughout the day to keep the household going. You earn 2x the points at grocery stores and 1x for every dollar you spend. Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period.
Initially, the most exciting part was the ferry ride over.
I don’t think Harlow has ever been on a boat before and Mazzy loved peering over the side, watching the Manhattan skyline get smaller and smaller.
Mazzy squealed when we got up close to the statue. I don’t think she ever realized how big it is, since it’s mainly something she has only seen in her Good Night New York City book.
When we disembarked the boat, Mike got us all audio devices which gave guided tours of the island. They have channels programmed for both kids and adults and they look like TV remotes, so Mazzy and Harlow had lots of fun holding them to their ears and listening. Well, that’s when Harlow wasn’t busily pressing all the buttons.
Of course, they abandoned them after about 15 minutes so I ended up wearing three around my neck for the rest of the trip.
Our first stop was ascending to the pedestal. We did not get tickets to go all the way to the crown because I think that would be a big mistake with a two-year-old. I’m not even sure a five-year-old could handle the walk up. But the pedestal presented the best opportunity for a great view and an authentic Statue of Liberty experience, without risking a huge meltdown on a staircase 300 feet up with people crowding in back of us to get to the top. That sounds like no fun whatsoever.
To be truthful, carrying Harlow up the stairs to the top of the pedestal was exhausting enough and I wanted to kill the family in front of us who thought it would be a good idea to have their toddler take the stairs all by himself. NO. I GET HE CAN DO IT BUT YOU ARE HOLDING EVERYBODY UP!
The view from the pedestal was awesome and we skirted around the narrow walkway, taking in views from all sides and pointing out landmarks to the kids.
When we went back down, we came out onto the lower pedestal which has a much wider walkway around the bottom. Most people just descend straight to the grass and the waterfront, but Mazzy and Harlow decided to run around the base for a little.
That was hands-down my favorite moment of our trip. No crowds, a wide expanse and not many ways to lose your children. It was at that moment I realized this was one of the most beautiful days of the year.
Mazzy and Harlow played Tag, Red Light Green Light and Follow the Leader until it seemed like a good time to continue our tour, even though I honestly could have stayed there all day.
Then we sat and had snacks in the grass…
Walked along the water…
…and took some quintessential Statue of Liberty family shots.
Mazzy asked why so many people had their cameras on sticks (they were EVERYWHERE) and I had to explain about selfies. Not everybody gets to travel with cousin Reyna.
Next, we took the boat to Ellis Island.
After walking around the main entrance, we had a quick lunch at the café which has both indoor seating and tables outside by the water. We bought sandwiches, chips and drinks— another opportunity to earn Amex Rewards points.
After lunch, we walked around the various exhibits.
Mazzy had a lot of fun matching families with prospective cities, something that was set up as a kid’s activity in the main hall.
Throughout, we tried our best to explain that people came to the United States from other countries to make better lives for themselves, leaving out the part where Grammy’s family came due to necessity. Mazzy’s class has studied jobs and communities all year so it was interesting to explain how people used their skills to decide where to settle. I told her how Grammy’s mommy was a seamstress and how Grammy’s daddy opened up a small grocery store in Queens.
Then we put my mom’s maiden name into a computer system to locate where her name appeared on the wall of immigrants who came through Ellis Island. We found Mike’s grandfather too.
The last thing we did before we took the boat back home was send a picture to Grammy of us all at the wall surrounding her name.
If my grandparents were alive today, I’d want them to see how their decisions, their survival and their instincts resulted in a family who continues to thrive.
Thank you to American Express for encouraging me to take my family on this meaningful trip and thank you to Reyna for taking such gorgeous pictures!
This post was sponsored by American Express, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.