If a trip to the City of Brotherly Love is in your future, then check out CityPASS, for an affordable and accessible way to explore Philadelphia. This prepaid ticket booklet contains admission to five popular Philadelphia attractions, is valid for nine days and saves users 46% off individually priced admissions. Even better, you don’t have to stand in those long lines that plague the more popular attractions. And with a little advance planning, you can map out a very accessible Philadelphia CityPASS visit.
Plan your Route
There are several ways to enjoy the Philadelphia CityPASS, and to a degree that depends on your mobility. A 24-hour Big Bus (215-389-8687, www.phillytour.com) pass is included in the ticket booklet; and although the whole bus fleet is not accessible, arrangements for an accessible bus can be made with 24-hours notice. That said, it’s not a good option for folks with power wheelchairs or scooters, as the ramp can only accommodate manual wheelchairs that weigh less than 50 pounds. Additionally, if you want to enjoy the view from the top of the double-decker bus, you have to negotiate the narrow staircase. Still it’s a good option for many slow walkers and manual wheelchair-users.
There are two ways to ride the Big Bus; you can ride the entire route as a tour, or you can hop off and enjoy attractions along the way. If you elect to hop off, the same accessible bus will return to your stop two hours later, so be sure and check with the driver and plan accordingly.
The CityPASS booklet includes a ticket to the Franklin Institute, which is located along the Big Bus Route. Additionally, CityPASS ticket holders can choose between visiting the National Constitution Center or the Philadelphia Zoo, and the Eastern State Penitentiary or the Please Touch Museum.
The National Constitution Center and the Eastern State Penitentiary are located along the main Big Bus Route, but the Philadelphia Zoo and the Please Touch Museum require a transfer to a connecting Big Bus, which may not be accessible. Alternatively, if you have a car, the Philadelphia Zoo and the Please Touch Museum are located right across the street from one another, and they make for a full day of fun, especially if you have kids in tow. A ticket to the Adventure Aquarium, located a short ferry ride across the Delaware River, is also included in the CityPASS booklet.
Even if you have a heavy wheelchair or scooter, and can’t ride the Big Bus, you’ll still save almost $15 off admissions to the individual attractions, and you won’t have to stand in lines to buy tickets. You can save even more time by purchasing your CityPASS booklet on-line; however they are also available at all CityPASS attractions.
Hit the Historic District
No visit to Philadelphia is complete without a stop at the attractions in the historic district, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Museum. There’s so much to see in the area, that you might want to set aside two days to see it all at a leisurely pace. And while you’re in the area, be sure and use your CityPASS ticket to visit the National Constitution Center (215-409-6600, www.constitutioncenter.org).
Located across Arch Street from the Independence Visitor Center, the National Constitution Center is the first and only institution established by Congress to disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis. And although that sounds like a mouthful, it’s a world away from eight grade civics.
There is level access to the front entrance through the courtyard on Arch Street, with barrier-free access throughout the galleries. The first thing on the agenda is Freedom Rising; a live multimedia production which outlines the history of the Constitution. There is level access to the auditorium, with elevator access up to the wheelchair and companion seats.
After the show, save some time to browse through the interactive exhibits that chart the history of the Constitution, from its ratification to present day. Along the way the exhibits depict the effects that different events have had on our freedom and our government; from slavery, the New Deal and prohibition, to Watergate, the Americans with Disabilities Act and women’s rights. They even address some controversial contemporary issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, same sex marriage, immigration reform and presidential power in the age of terror. It’s well-done, balanced and very thought provoking.
Downstairs you’ll find an equally thought provoking exhibition, Slavery at Monticello. It includes artifacts from Monticello, personal effects of some of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves, the family tree of his alleged children with slave Sally Hemings and a very interesting commentary. It’s said that Jefferson was a man of contradictions, as he believed slavery should be abolished, but he also owned over 600 slaves. The exhibition is well worth seeing, but don’t tarry, as it closes on October 19, 2014.
Hop on the Big Bus
If you plan on using the Big Bus CityPASS ticket, you need to do a little planning to get the most our of your day. The two CityPASS attractions that are on the main Big Bus route are the Eastern State Penitentiary and the Franklin Institute. If you get an early start, and arrange for an accessible bus, you can easily see both of them in the same day.
The Big Bus departs from the Independence Visitor Center, on 5th and Market Streets, every half- hour from 9:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Just exchange your CityPASS ticket for a boarding pass and you’re good to go for 24 hours. It’s best to try and catch the first bus, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy both attractions.
The Eastern State Penitentiary (215-236-3300, www.easternstate.org) comes up first on the route, at stop 11. There is level access over to the entrance, with curb-cuts and wide sidewalks along the way. There are three steps down into the ticket office and gift shop, but if you can’t manage them, just ask the attendant to open the gate. There is level access to most of the buildings, and an accessible porta-potty on the grounds. There are a few cells that are not accessible, but you can certainly get a good look at them from the corridors.
Make sure and pick up the audio tour (included with admission) as it’s narrated by former guards and prisoners and it paints an accurate picture of what prison life was like. Opened in 1830, the Eastern State Penitentiary was designed to strike fear into the prisoners, and to isolate them so they could reflect on their crimes. They spent 23 hours a day in their cells, and when they did leave they had to wear a black hood so they wouldn’t see anyone else. Talking to anyone — prisoners or guards — was strictly forbidden. Indeed it was a solitary life and the tour reflects that. That said, it’s really not appropriate for children under seven, so if you have kids in tow, the Please Touch Museum is really a better choice.
The Franklin Institute (215-448-1200, www.fi.edu), located at Big Bus stop 17, is an excellent place to spend the remainder of the day. From the bus stop, there is a level pathway over to the building; and although steps grace the front entrance, an accessible entrance is located just to the right of it. There are also steps in the atrium; however there is ramp access up to the ticket counter and entrance.
Known as an innovator in hands-on interactive exhibits, the Franklin Institute has a large collection of science-based touchable attractions that explore everything from sports to space. Highlights include The Sports Challenge, which uses virtual-reality technology to illustrate the physics of sports, Space Command’s simulated earth-orbit research station, a fully equipped weather station and exhibits on electricity.
Access is good through all of the galleries, with elevator access to all floors. It’s best to use the B bank of elevators, located near the entrance, as these elevators serve all floors. And although there is a restroom on the third floor, it’s difficult to get a wheelchair in the door; however there is a truly accessible restroom on the main (second) floor, just off the atrium.
Admission to the planetarium is also included with the CityPASS ticket. There is level access to the planetarium, with wheelchair and companion seating in front. Unlike most planetariums, the seats don’t tip back a lot, and most of the show is easy to see from a wheelchair or a standard chair. The immersive done — measuring 60 feet in length — provides the ultimate screen for cosmic exploration, with good views of the night sky and a live program.
There are also a number of demonstrations throughout the museum during the day, so make sure and check your program. And although there are a lot of kids at this attraction, it’s also a fun place for adults.
Cross the Delaware
Although it’s located in Camden, New Jersey, the Adventure Aquarium (856-365-3300, www.adventureaquarium.com) is also included in the Philadelphia CityPASS booklet. That said, it’s just a short ferry ride away, and you can even see it from Penn’s Landing.
If you are riding the Big Bus, get off at the Hyatt, and walk behind the hotel to the RiverLink Ferry (215-925-5465, www.riverlinkferry.org) kiosk. The ferry departs from the Philadelphia side on the hour, and the Camden side on the half-hour, with round trip tickets priced at just $7.
There is level access to the ferry on both sides, and there is a large accessible restroom on the main deck of the vessel. There’s plenty of room for wheelchairs on the main deck, with lots of companion seating nearby. Access to the upper deck is only by stairs, but the view from below is just as nice. It’s almost like a mini river cruise, as you get nice views of the waterfront, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Battleship New Jersey and the Philadelphia skyline on the way to Camden.
Over on the other side, there’s level access along the riverside promenade up to the Adventure Aquarium. And with a CityPASS ticket, you can bypass the long ticket line and exchange your pass for an admission ticket at the will-call window.
There is level access to the aquarium entrance, which is located on the river side. Accessible restrooms are located next to the main desk, and there is elevator access to the second floor. All of the galleries have ramp access, wheelchair-height exhibits and plenty of room to navigate a wheelchair.
Must-sees include Hippo Haven, which houses Nile hippos Button and Genny, and the Jules Verne Gallery which features magical creatures such as Pacific Sea Nettles, Moon Jellies and Weedy Sea Dragons. And don’t miss the shark exhibit, which includes a Plexiglas tunnel that offers a 360-degree view of the inhabitants. Next door, the Rivers of the World gallery includes everything from crocodiles to a giant tank filled with rays. Last, but not least, don’t miss Penguin Island, where you’ll see the incredibly cute Black-footed African Penguins.
All in all, it’s a great accessible place to spend the day. And if you can’t manage the distance around the aquarium, wheelchairs are available for loan at the front desk. Take your time to enjoy it all, before you head back to Philadelphia on the return ferry.
If You Go