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A Wheelchair User’s Guide to One World Observatory in Freedom Tower

I have always enjoyed visiting skyscrapers, and especially to an observation deck at the top in a high-speed elevator. But visiting the top of One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, was different. I am a veteran who served on 9/11, and being inside the building that stands as both a testament to American resiliency and a tribute to victims, rescue workers, and their families was really special. The entire experience of visiting the One World Observatory on the 102nd floor is fully wheelchair accessible, and this is what the experience will be like for wheelchair users.

About One World Trade

One World Trade Center (WTC) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, New York City. One WTC is the tallest building in the United States, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest in the world. The supertall structure has the same name as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The new skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre World Trade Center site, on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center.

The building’s architect is David Childs, whose firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) also designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (which I have also visited) and the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower in Chicago). Following the destruction of the original World Trade Center, there was debate regarding the future of the World Trade Center site. There were proposals for its reconstruction almost immediately, and by 2002, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had organized a competition to determine how to use the site. The proposals were part of a larger plan to memorialize the September 11 attacks and rebuild the complex.

One World Trade Center’s steel structure topped out at the nominal 104th floor, with a total height of 1,368 feet (417 m), in August 2012. On May 10, 2013, the final piece of the spire was lifted to the top of One World Trade Center, bringing the tower to its full height of 1,776 (does this number ring a bell for my fellow Americans?) feet, and making it the fourth-tallest building in the world at the time. The Observatory is located on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Center. One World Observatory offers views of New York City’s iconic sights, surrounding waters and skyline.

Planning Your Visit

One World Trade Center (and the Observatory within) is located in Lower Manhattan, which is easily the most wheelchair accessible part of this New York City borough. While I saw over a dozen places during my 3-day visit to New York, this and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum were the central reasons for my visit, so I chose to stay only four blocks away at the wheelchair accessible Holiday Inn Manhattan – Financial District

If you are arriving from elsewhere in Manhattan, there are two accessible subway stations close by. The Fulton Street station under The Oculus serves lines A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, and 5. An elevator is on the northeast and southwest corners of Dey Street and Broadway. Bus connections: M5 (southbound) (northbound M5 is one block west on Church St); SIM1, SIM2, SIM4/4x, SIM32, SIM34, SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, SIM15, SIM35. The World Trade Center station serves line E. An elevator is inside the Port Authority building (33 Vesey Street) at the southwest corner of Church and Vesey Streets. Take elevator to mezzanine level for passageway to the E platform. Bus connections: M55 (northbound) (southbound M55 is one block east on Broadway); BM1, BM2, BM3, BM4, BxM18, QM7, QM8, QM11, QM25, SIM1, SIM2, SIM4/4x, SIM15, SIM32, SIM34, SIM35, SIM1c, SIM3c, SIM4c, (PATH).

The main entrance for One World Trade Center is on the east side of the building along West Street. The doors are very heavy, but there is always a doorman there to open it for you, as there’s no way you can go through the revolving door.

Hours and Admission

Hours for the One World Observatory vary based on the time of year, from either 8:00AM or 9:00AM until 8:00PM or 9:00PM. There are also special hours on holidays. For a complete schedule, please CLICK HERE.

There is a wide range of ticket prices depending on how fast you want to get in and what kind of experience you want. General admission starts at $35 and goes up to $65 for the VIP experience for MasterCard holders. You can also pre-purchase a prix fixe lunch or dinner at the Observatory restaurant. You can purchase tickets online with your computer, smartphone, or tablet by clicking here. To purchase tickets by phone call (844) 696-1776. There will be an additional service fee of $5 for processing ticket orders over the phone. Purchase by phone, 7 days a week, Monday through Sunday from 9:00am-5:00pm  You may also purchase tickets at the Box Office at One World Trade Center, 285 Fulton Street New York, New York 10007. The Box Office is located at the corner of West and Vesey Streets, inside the main Observatory entrance.

Your admission is reserved for the time and date printed on the ticket. Arrive at your specified time and proceed to the observatory entrance. You must have a ticket to visit the Observatory. Combination tickets include priority lane access for security, elevator, and exit with your timed arrival. The All-Inclusive ticket includes priority lane access as well as arrival at anytime during your selected day. Late arrivals will be accommodated based on capacity – you may be required to wait until the first possible open time slot. We encourage you to arrive at your scheduled time to avoid any delays.

Accessibility Information

One World Observatory has an ongoing commitment to achieve the highest levels of satisfaction for all aspects of the guest experience.  As part of these efforts, they are dedicated to offering a quality visiting experience to guests with disabilities that is full, equal to that provided to guests without disabilities.  To that end, One World Observatory’s exhibits and amenities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.  Guests requiring assistance e.g., auxiliary aids or services, should contact Guest Services at (844) 696-1776 in advance of their visit.

There is an accessible pick-up/drop-off location along West Street north of Vesey Street, at which point guests may proceed to the West Plaza Entrance. Alternatively, guests can access the Observatory from inside the World Trade Center Oculus. Service animals and service animals in training are allowed in the Observatory. There are wheelchair accessible restrooms available in the Observatory.

My Personal Experience

For my visit to the One World Observatory, I purchased the $65 MasterCard VIP experience for 11:00AM on a Saturday morning. I highly recommend purchasing your time to take it for as early in the day as possible to avoid larger crowds in the observatory later on. By purchasing a ticket that includes a tour, your guide will make sure to move crowds out of the way for wheelchair users so you can get up close to the glass for a great view. After entering the building, I took an elevator to the bottom floor — all other visitors had to take an escalator – to meet my tour guide and pick up my badge. We then entered through the Priority Access Lane and went through a security screening. The line for general admission was pretty long already at 11:00AM.

Next is the elevator ride, which will take you to the 102nd floor in only 47 seconds. What is really cool about the elevator is that the interior is completely surrounded by an LED screen that in those 47 seconds shows you an animated history of how the Manhattan skyline rose up in the past century. Once you exit the elevator, you’re taken to a very long and narrow room with a long white wall in front of you. Here you will be shown a short two minute video about the history of the building and surrounding skyline. There’s a really neat surprise at the end, but I won’t spoil it for you!

After you exit this room, you will go into an area where, if you’re not on a tour, you can rent an iPad for a self-guided tour. If you want to skip this, you will be led into a hallway where you will take another elevator down two floors to the observatory on the 100th floor. Technically you can stay on the 102nd floor, but the view and close-up access to the windows is much better on the 100th floor.

Once you exit into the observatory, it’s pretty much a 360° ring that gives you the most amazing views of Manhattan, the Hudson and East Rivers, and New Jersey. I was very fortunate that there was only a slight haze on the day I visited, so the visibility was really good. You could clearly see four of the famous New York bridges, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, and hundreds of skyscrapers on Manhattan. During the time I visited, the crowd really wasn’t that bad. I can picture it being a total zoo at 2:00PM on a June afternoon, so again, arrive as early as you can.

If you would like to buy a souvenir, there is a decent size gift shop on the observatory level. There are also accessible restrooms right behind the gift shop. To exit the observatory, you just go up the ramp near the gift shop and take the elevator back down at your own pace, whether you’re on your own or on a guided tour. The down elevator also has an LED screen, but this time it will show you a glimpse into the future of the architecture in the surrounding area. It’s meant to make you feel like you’re flying, which can make some visitors feel woozy, so keep this in mind. Upon exiting this elevator, you will then go to the same small elevator that brought you down to the lower level and head back up to the entrance foyer to leave the building.

For more wheelchair accessible things to do in Lower Manhattan (New York City), CLICK HERE.

For the perfect 3-day wheelchair accessible itinerary in Lower Manhattan, CLICK HERE.

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