Even though I lived in NYC city for 13 years, I still enjoy playing tourist. I also think virtual reality rides are fun, it’s neat to be transported to another place or time. In New York, I have gone on many tours, but never one that incorporated virtual reality until I had the opportunity to try the Downtown Experience.
The Downtown Experience is an NYC virtual reality experience tour from the same company that offers the Tour and the Ride. You may have seen their unique buses (more on that below) in Manhattan. If you hadn’t guessed from the name, the Downtown Experience tour explores downtown Manhattan. You will see many points of interest and learn more about the history of New York City. The Downtown Experience lasts 90 minutes and is included in most NYC tourist passes or you can buy tickets just for the tour.
The Downtown Experience Bus
You have never been inside a tour bus like this! It is designed to provide the best views possible for everyone on board. All the seats face the left side, which is floor to ceiling windows, and the ceiling is glass too. There are three rows of stadium style seating, with each row higher than the one below it. No matter where you sit on the bus, you will have a great view. I sat in the first row right by the aisle so that I would have a little extra space for my leg brace.
In addition to the great views through the windows, there were also several small screens that would play video. To be honest, most of the time I didn’t watch the videos because there was so much to see through the windows.
Your Virtual Reality Headset
Each person gets a virtual reality headset. Just to be clear, this is virtual reality not augmented reality like Pokemon Go. The headset is fully adjustable so it will fit any size head. We had time to try them on and get them fitted before the Manhattan experience tour started. There is also a button to adjust the focus.
During this time you can see aerial shots of New York City. It felt like I was in a helicopter over Manhattan because as I moved my head I could see more. The headset allows for views any way you look – behind you, above you, etc. I loved the views over Central Park.
You won’t wear your headset the whole tour and they turn off by themselves when you set them down. If at anytime you have issues with your headset during the tour, you just raise your hand. There were several staff members on board to assist. I did not have any issues with my headsets or notice anyone else having issues during our lower Manhattan tour.
Downtown NYC Tour Introduction
Before the bus started moving, our tour guide Alex introduced himself and then played a short virtual reality video for us. It was an original song about the history of New York starting from the ice age. It was fun to watch and look around to see what else you could see. I kept thinking it would be funny to also watch everyone wearing their headsets and watching the video. I also couldn’t tell if the bus was moving or not, but when the video ended and we took off our headsets we were still in the starting spot.
Downtown Tour Highlights
Of course, you will see most of the main points of interest downtown including the World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Castle Clinton, City Hall, and more on the Downtown Experience tour. What makes it different from other tours is that it is the virtual reality videos which were both fun and informative.
My favorite virtual reality video was the one about the World Trade Center. You get to go in a helicopter around the building. I loved that I could look all different directions to get different views and it felt like I was in a helicopter. It also takes you inside the One World Observatory.
Some of the other virtual reality videos were more historical. It was fun to go back in time and be in the middle of the inauguration of George Washington (well a reenactment of it), see New Yorkers reactions to the Stock Market crash, and also see what it was like for Irish immigrants traveling to NY in boats. There were a few times during the downtown bus tour when our guide mentioned how important immigrants have been to NYC. I thought back to our visit to the NYC Tenement Museum.
In addition to the virtual reality experiences, there were some songs and videos to go along with them. As we were approaching the World Trade Center, they played a video about September 11th. I was so into the video it took me awhile to realize that the accompanying rap music was being performed live right outside the bus. A man dressed in a suit carrying a briefcase was rapping right in front of us. I thought that was a nice touch! If you have time, you should also visit the 911 Memorial and Museum.
What I Learned From the Downtown Experience
I definitely learned several things about NY and its history. Given I lived in the city for 13 years, that is saying something. I can’t give away all their secrets but I had no idea P.T Barnum played a role in the history of the city. Plus, I learned some interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge and Castle Clinton. Of course, with all the hype around Hamilton the Broadway show, our tour guide pointed out a few Alexander Hamilton connections that I didn’t know about. Also, I thought it was fascinating that there is a church to honor the first American born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. I am going to have to read a little more about her life.
Wrapping Up the Virtual Reality Tour
After 90 minutes the Downtown Experience came to an end, but we didn’t leave empty handed! They gave us each our own cardboard virtual reality headsets that will work with our phones. You are instructed to download the Timelooper app, within the Timelooper app you can download some virtual reality videos. You need to download the videos while you are still in the area, otherwise, the app will tell you that you are out of range. The Timelooper app has a few other virtual reality videos that you can purchase and it looks like more will be coming soon.
The instructions to fold the cardboard virtual reality headset are on the inside of the box it came in. I tried it and was pretty impressed considering it was just cardboard and my phone!
Please note the bus will drop you off at Pier 16, which is about a block from where you started at 200 Water Street.
My Downtown Experience Review
I enjoyed the Downtown Experience. It was different from any other New York tour that I have done. I thought they had a nice mix of tour, music, video, and virtual reality to hold everyone’s interest. Our guide, Alex, did a great job sharing interesting information. I bought my camera along because I wanted to be able to share my experience with my readers. Honestly, it is not easy to take good pictures on a moving bus and it’s probably better to just relax and enjoy the experience.
Even though I had lived in NYC for 13 years, I learned a few things from the Downtown Experience! This is one of the few tourist attractions in NYC that is good for a wide variety of ages. Kids will love the virtual reality aspects and adults will too. Plus I think even NYC history buffs will learn a thing or two!
The Downtown Experience Logistics
The bus will pick you up at 200 Water Street right in front of the Starbucks. There was scaffolding covering the Starbucks sign when I went. The instructions said to be at the meeting spot 15 minutes before the tour is scheduled to begin. Five minutes later the bus arrived and they asked that we form a line along the curb. They checked our tickets and after a few minutes, we were able to board the bus.
I recommend getting your Downtown Experience tickets in advance. If you have a sightseeing pass like the NY Pass it is included (Click here to get more information on the NY Pass) or you can purchase them separately online. Currently (as of 3/22/18), you can use the Downtown Experience discount code SAVE15 to save $15 per ticket. You can also get a combo ticket which includes all three tours (The Downtown Experience, The Ride, and The Tour) along with a Hornblower cruise. You don’t need to print your ticket but you should save it to your phone because they will ask to see it.
Have you ever done a virtual reality tour in NYC or somewhere else? I would love to hear about your experience.
Experts Tips for the Downtown Experience:
- If you plan on doing much sightseeing when you are in NYC, you may want to consider purchasing the NY Pass. It gets you into over 100 attractions in NYC for one price. The Downtown Experience is included in the NY Pass. Click here to get more information on the NY Pass or other NY sightseeing passes.
- Don’t worry about taking pictures during the tour, instead just enjoy the experience.
- Both kids and adults will enjoy the Downtown Experience.
- The bus drops you off at Pier 16, which is about a block from where you started at 200 Water Street.
- If you are prone to motion sickness, the Ride or the Tour may be better options for you.
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Disclosure: We were given complimentary tickets for the Downtown Experience so that we could share our experience with our readers. As always, opinions expressed here are my own.
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