25 Apr 2010 8:32 pm   //   Filed under: New York is different

Why aren’t people going to the Rockefeller Center roof deck?

It was a banner Saturday in New York. Sunny skies. With my dad and stepmom visiting from Maryland, we set out to see the city. Down at the Battery, a massive line of people waiting for the Statue of Liberty ferries snaked around Castle Clinton. In Times Square, tourists bumped and jostled for space on the new Broadway pedestrian mall.

But at the Top of the Rock—nobody.

Top of the Rock view

There was, literally, no line for the Rockefeller Center observation deck. We walked right up to a window and paid our $21. After clearing the metal detector, we actually let some people pass us on the way to the elevator because we wanted to read the signs in the hallway.

After being closed from 1986 to 2005, the roof of 30 Rock reopened in post-World-Trade-Center New York with a gleaming $75 million renovation, a big marketing push and high expectations. By now, everybody in New York knows about Top of the Rock. It’s in all the tourism guides. Locals recommend it to our friends as the less-hectic alternative to the Empire State Building. It’s the city’s best view of Central Park, and you can snap that classic picture of the city that includes the ESB.

Empire State Building at night

So where are the crowds? At the Empire State Building, the lines to the elevators can take 2 hours. Top of the Rock was built to accommodate long lines. It has at least three ticket windows dispersed around Rockefeller Plaza, a large indoor waiting area, and even a 12-minute video loop to watch while you’re waiting. But on a beautiful Saturday, when the plaza was crowded with tourists and other attractions were mobbed, we didn’t have to wait at all. Next elevator up, express to the 67th floor!

Which leads to one question: Is Top of the Rock a failure, or the best attraction in Midtown?

Sidebar: When you’re up in the observation level, you can see the back of the red, illuminated GE sign, more than a story tall, that’s visible all over Manhattan. Years ago, it was an RCA sign. With Comcast buying NBC from GE, will they change the sign to say “Comcast”? Apparently not—GE wants its logo to stay on the building even after the sale.