Summit One Vanderbilt- New York City’s Newest Observatory

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

New York City definitely isn’t lacking in skyscraper observatories. Before this week, there were already a plethora of them: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Trade, Edge, and now, there is Summit One Vanderbilt. 

So, what makes Summit any different?

Well, according to the website, Summit was developed by the New Yorker, for the New Yorker, to get the typical local out of their traditional “box”, “the norm” and experience the unimaginable. Of course, Johnny Tourist, ahem, The Arner’s come along and we want to experience it too, and so we did, on opening night!

*Note- this contains a lot of detail about Summit, so if you don’t want any spoilers, then don’t read on. We don’t consider this a spoiler, but some people may want to have the entire experience to be a surprise, and if so, then just don’t read this blog post.

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory
One Vanderbilt is an architectural beauty.

Summit One Vanderbilt is situated on three floors at the top of the Vanderbilt building, very close to the Empire State Building, which makes for amazing views from the top. Once you arrive, you view a quick little video showing you the muse- the typical New Yorker appearing to be depressed on her couch, staring at her TV, when she suddenly breaks out of her rut, i.e. the cracks in the wall, which become an opening for her to be able to have to same views of the city that Summit allows. We’re assuming this is due to the pandemic, and that most New Yorkers aren’t feeling like this. At least, we hope not. In any case, it seems like a refreshing break from what we’ve all just been through- not just New Yorkers, so everyone can relate. 

You’re given a wristband and shoe coverings to protect their flooring; a photo is taken of your face, which is used later in one of the experiences (we will save that one as a surprise). It’s sort of odd, but whatever floats your boat. You’re then escorted down a dark hallway, and then in groups you get onto an elevator with mirrors and flashing lights that takes you to the 91st floor. You are asked if you respond in a negative way to flashing lights, just in case you have issues with that. 

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

Once you are on the 91st floor, you walk off of the elevator, through a cool blue hallway called, “Breathe” and it does make you feel at ease. We could have just spent more time just hanging in this area for a bit longer. It was cool, calming, and you feel your blood pressure go to a normal rate, even though you know you have just arrived to a very high area in the sky. Surely this was purposeful. 

The first area of experience is really all about perception. You think you are looking down onto the street level under you, but then you realize it’s all mirrors. The room also overlooks the city with the most beautiful views. We were there at night, so seeing the Empire State Building in lights, that close, was breathtaking.

Another part of this installation was a floor with mirrored clouds. The artist, Kenzo Digital, describes the experience as “Air connects you to everything: weather, light, people. Air reveals shared consciousness, invites you to revel in collective wonder.” The clouds on the floor reflect all of the people in the room, and it seems that is what the artist is trying to do with this part of the exhibit.

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

Another part of the experience is what we call the “foil ball room.” This is meant to be Instagrammable moments, galore, but you’ll see later in the “know before you go” that Summit may need to work on this a bit, or you, the visitor, just may need to get creative. We did a little with our photos and were able to get some, but not like Summit’s promo packages portrayed. The artist most likely did not design this to be an Instagram haven, so let’s discuss this as an art exhibit. The artist describes this experience as “affinity” as you become playful with the space, engaging physically with what is around you. 

There are a few other areas of viewing the city that are mentionable, of course, but perhaps the most adrenaline-packed, and for us, the whole reason worth going was “Levitation.” Walking out onto this ledge took some guts, and frankly, talking ourselves into it. You can see the video footage on our Instagram Reel. You are literally 1200 feet above the Manhattan streets, with nothing under you but a piece of glass, and it’s terrifying… but also awesome! The artist gives the directive to “consider your relationship to the built environment, your connection to nature, and your own reality from heights above Midtown Manhattan.” Yep, we definitely did that. 

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

The final portion of the event is on the 93rd floor, Aprés, on the terrace, where the wind blows around you, and you get to see the best views, and it’s just magical. It also houses a restaurant, and bar. 

à la carte

You can add/upgrade your ticket by purchasing other levels to add some extras, like a signature cocktail on the 93rd floor. Also on the 93rd floor, you can take your experience to another level of height- literally, by adding an outer glass elevator that will take you a few more floors higher than the rooftop, for another layer of adrenaline rush. We didn’t opt for that. We’re good with the level of adrenaline we experienced.

Note, if you choose to visit at night, there is also an extra charge. You will see those charges when you are purchasing your tickets here

Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

Know Before You Go

There are definitely some kinks to work out, more than likely due to the fact that it’s new, and we were there opening night.

  • Be prepared! The preview posts on social media do make you think you’re going to have plenty of space to freely enjoy the area, but that wasn’t the case with us. It was crowded, and we were herded along our way in the areas that we did want to try to make more time for, for photos, like the “foil ball room.” Also, the foil balls didn’t float around quite as well as they had planned. Many were deflated, and many were stuck on the ceiling, so again, not like it is on the social media posts that they previewed prior to opening.
  • Again with preparation – when you arrive, your photo is taken which is used later, in hopes that you will purchase photos at the end. It would have been nice but again, we were hurried through this process, and while I was trying to hurry to get my mask off for the photo and get my hair straight, we just had a rushed look on our faces. So, once we saw that at the end, we both looked at each other and said, “well, if they hadn’t rushed us, maybe we’d be purchasing these.”
  • Bring a selfie stick and work your own photo magic! We did this for ourselves, and even partnered with a few other people to help them with their pics, and they did the same for us. This place has fabulous views, so definitely make the most of it while you have the opportunity.
  • Bring a cloth. This may seem like an odd thing to bring up, but we’ve learned from other observatories with great views that lots of hands go onto these windows and they don’t get cleaned constantly, so to avoid smears and blurs in your photos, bring your own cloth that you can easily wipe smears off of the glass to make your photos picture-perfect!
  • You will need proof of your Covid-19 vaccination prior to entry, like most places in New York City.
  • If you are a local New Yorker, lucky you! You get special pricing! Just be sure to click that area on the website when you are ordering your ticket. Oh, and don’t try to order the local price if you aren’t local. Your NY zip code needs to match your billing credit card. 😉
Summit One Vanderbilt Observatory

Wrapping Up

If you’re looking for an experience that is also an observatory, wonderful view of New York City, and you appreciate an artist’s take on the life of a New Yorker, then go give it a try! We don’t regret it. We would like to return, maybe in 6 months or so, hopefully once things have been worked out, logistically, to make the visitor experience a bit smoother. This can be something that is fantastic if given more room to enjoy, and if things are working properly, and you don’t feel rushed to get through the process. Also, since we visited at night, we would like to visit during the day on our next visit, to experience the views from another perspective.

Looking for a place to stay while in NYC? Check out our recommendation for our fave hotel in Manhattan.

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