It's roughly a ten-minute walk from the hotel to the eastern edge of the WTC site, but the observatory entrance is on the west side of the new building, which is situated at the western edge of the site, so it took a few minutes longer to get over to it. Upon entering the building we were sent down an escalator to a security screening much like at an airport, then through a winding passageway, decorated with mementos and artifacts from the construction process, to the elevators.
As we ascended, the walls of the elevator showed a video projection representing the growth of New York City from its founding to the present day, in the space of about a minute. That's all it takes for the elevator to rise to the 102nd floor. We were ushered into a long, narrow room to watch another video, this one maybe three minutes long, hyping New York in general. Then the screens pulled away for a look outside. After a few moments they closed again, and we were briefly confused: was that it?
But then they sent us through another door and down another escalator, to where the staff hit us with a hard sell for rental of a tablet device ($15) that would provide additional information about what we'd be seeing through the windows. Ignoring them, we moved around a corner to where some other staff tried to get us to pose for and buy a photo in front of a green screen; we waved them off and finally went down one more floor to 100, to the observatory itself. (I'm sure some of you might be interested in these extras, but that's not us.)
We deliberately chose the first timed entry of the day (9 am) thinking it wouldn't be quite as crowded, and that was a good choice. We had room to move around and take plenty of pictures without having to jostle with others for window space. Here's a sample:
(For those of you who may be wondering, the 9/11 museum is separate from the observatory. We did not visit the museum; I would be willing, but I don't think the Mrs. has any inclination to do so.)
We returned to the hotel to gather our things and check out. We took a cab back to retrieve the car, which was fine (let's hear it for a lower crime rate and an older vehicle). Before leaving we had one more thing to do: a stop at the Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, a short drive from where we'd parked. Unfortunately, the guy ahead of me got the last peanut butter and blackberry jam doughnut, so I had to settle for chocolate.