Empire State Building Secret Observation Deck Tour

Think the 102nd floor is the top? Think again.

ByABC News
August 6, 2010, 4:40 PM

NEW YORK <br/> Aug. 9, 2010&#151; -- The vast size of Manhattan's skyline can be best appreciated from high up -- very high up.

Unfortunately, when I was treated to one of the most-unique vistas of New York, I was shaking so hard testing the limits of my nerves that I couldn't fully appreciate the view 103 stories up.

Travel and trivia buffs will know that the highest vantage point in the city is the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. But the other day, I got the rare opportunity to climb even higher and view the city from a tiny outdoor ledge that only a handful of people each year -- mostly celebrities and dignitaries -- are granted access to.

More than 3.5 million people each year visit the Empire State Building's observation decks. But unless your name is Johnny Damon, Pierce Brosnan or Roger Federer, don't expect to gain access to this space. Being a reporter for ABC News also doesn't hurt in -- literally -- opening a few secret doors.

The folks who run the observation decks -- the main one is on the 86th floor and a smaller, indoor space is on 102 -- wanted to highlight their revamped visitor experience. A small group of reporters were invited to see a refurbished lobby, spiffy new uniforms and a larger, air-conditioned space where tourists can line up as they wait for elevators.

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Jean-Yves Ghazi, who runs the observatory, told me that despite having record attendance in July, the longest wait was one hour and 15 minutes. During our summer morning visit, the line to purchase tickets was just 20 minutes long and subsequent lines to take elevators up and down seemed minimal.

Visitors can save some time by purchasing their $20 tickets in advance or pay $45 to cut all of the lines. Note it's an extra $15 to also visit the 102nd floor observatory.