Tickets to visit the statue's crown, a climb of 354 steps from the pedestal, sold out long ago. But visitors who could only enter the lower part of Lady Liberty weren't disappointed.
"This is the most patriotic thing you can do," said Mark Eades of Johnson City, Tenn., who was visiting with his wife, Linda. The couple last visited the Statue of Liberty 15 years ago with their daughters, who were 8 and 10 years old at the time.
That visit came before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hurricane Sandy, and a 2011 upgrade put the statue off limits at various times.
The statue was closed to the public after the 2001 attacks until 2004. Even then, the crown remained closed until July 2009. The crown was closed again in 2011 for upgrades to the security system and reopened in October 2012. A day later, Sandy swept in, once again closing one of the nation's biggest tourist draws.
About $59 million was budgeted to repair Liberty Island, on which the statue sits, and neighboring Ellis Island after Sandy, which killed 44 people in New York City. Ellis Island remains closed, but in March, officials vowed that the Statue of Liberty would reopen on Independence Day though its surrounding infrastructure had been a near total loss from storm damage.
They attributed the quick repairs to an aggressive work schedule.
The Eadeses said they hadn't planned on visiting the island but decided at the last minute to get in line at 7:30 a.m. for the first ferry. Asked what she remembered from her visit 15 years ago, Linda Eades replied: "I remember just feeling in awe of her."
It's a feeling that clearly swept over the crowd on the boat as it drew closer to the looming statue, whose golden torch shone in the morning sun.
"It's stunning," said Bev Viger of Vancouver, Canada, who was with her granddaughter, Makaela Viger, and a friend, Danielle Williams. Williams had snagged them three tickets to climb to the crown, a long, hot trudge of more than 350 steps on a narrow, winding staircase.
The three agreed it was worth it.
"It's spectacular, and it's the New York icon," said Williams. "And what better day to visit?"