Seeing Lady Liberty up close on Liberty Island is always exciting. But it is time consuming to go through security, and if you're like me you hate waiting on line on vacation. The good news is that there are a ton of other ways you could get a great photo of the statue.
Battery Park: This park at the southern tip of Manhattan is the easiest spot to sneak a peak. But she is more than a mile offshore from this vantage point. This is usually the spot from which people utter the oft-heard phrase, "I thought she'd be bigger." So while you will get to see her, it's quick and a little disappointing.
Staten Island Ferry: This is one of the world's classic voyages. It might be a stretch to call a 25 minute ferry ride a voyage, but the view of the Manhattan skyline is truly epic. And not only that, the ferry passes alongside Liberty Island from about half a mile or so. Check out the view at sunset.
So the SI Ferry has a lot of advantages. Most importantly, it's FREE! So there's a rare cost-savings on your trip to NYC. It runs every 30 minutes, and even more frequently at rush hour. They sell some of the cheapest beer in the city on board. Staten Islanders are awesome and friendly. The views at sunset and in the evening are stunning. If there is a big crowd on the railing you can always head to the lower decks where there is plenty of room. Just about the only downside is that you are still about a half mile away, and that there is no narration or guidance of any kind.
Historic Sloop Pioneer: This small 1885 sloop was a working ship in Pennsylvania. It's now part of the South Street Seaport Museum and is used as a great little harbor tour ship. It can only carry about 20 passengers at a time so it is a fairly intimate harbor tour. It supports the South Street Seaport Museum, which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. It only runs from April to October and costs a little more than other options at $45-odd dollars. But it's a great piece of history. The Pioneer departs from pier 16 at the South Street Seaport. Clipper City is also a cool ship but it is a replica, and doesn't support the excellent non-profit that the pioneer does.
Schooner Adirondack: This is a great sailing vessel through Classic Harbor Lines that does day sails for $46 and sunset sails for $64. What's nice about adirondack's sails are that they provide beer (all sails) and wine/champagne (sunset only) included in the cost. What's even nicer though is that they provide the booze but make clear that it is not an unlimited get drunk kind of cruise. It creates a nice relaxed vibe. The ride is confined to a seat along the side, but the drinks come right to your seat. Plus by giving everyone a seat along the side, there won't be anyone in your way to see the views. Classic Harbor Lines has other nice schooners and yachts as well. Adirondack departs from pier 62 at W. 22nd St.
The Big Guys: NY Water Taxi/Circle Line: Both services are around $30 for their 1 hour Liberty only cruises. They offer the best deals and the most direct way to get right up next to the statue. They also have a tendency to oversell or prioritize bus tours and things like that. The best strategy for these companies is to just go to pier 84 (W. 42nd St) or pier 16 (South street seaport) and see when the next tour is available, rather than buying through third party vendors. Buying tickets for Circle Line online only gets you a voucher, which must be exchanged for an actual ticket. Water Taxi actually sells timed departure tickets in advance, but they also take a lot of bus tour passengers so it's not unheard of for people to get bumped. I think the water taxi is the better boat (the Zepyhyr) and ticketing process, but they both come with potential pitfalls and overcrowding.