Take That, Eiffel Tower!
When George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. created the first (and only “official”) Ferris wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, it was America’s response to the, then new, Eiffel Tower. Who knew that today this hallmark in American history would spread around the globe and remain a favorite amusement to people of all ages and nationalities? Keep reading to see how far observation wheels have come in the 125 years since the world has known them.
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Las Vegas, Nevada
Make way for the High Roller, the tallest Ferris wheel on Earth. True to the city where it lives, there’s always a good time awaiting passengers onboard. This 550-foot, mountainous wheel is decked out with eight flat-screen TVs and iPod docks within its 32 capsules. At any one time, this appropriately named observation wheel can hold up to 1,120 people! Be sure to see it at night and during the holidays when 2,000 LED lights put on a show that sticks out even on the illuminated Vegas strip.
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The giant shopping complex, Tokyo Dome City in Japan, is home to one of the most famously unique Ferris wheels in the world, Big O. This soaring wheel stands close to 200 feet tall, and its centerless diameter measures a couple of hundred feet across, too! Just to show off, the longest and fastest roller coaster in Japan, the Thunder Dolphin, passes through the middle of Big O. Riders get two thrills in one during this 15-minute, climate-controlled ride. Tip: Book the car with a karaoke machine. It’ll be worth the wait.
Pasay City, Philippines
If you should ever find yourself in the Philippines, mosey on over to the Mall of Asia (MOA). An attraction in itself, you’ll probably need multiple days to peruse the mall, but the MOA Eye can be a way to literally see the entire mall without the time commitment. Visitors lose their breath once aboard one of the 36 air-conditioned gondolas. The view of Manila Bay and the sight of thousands of people turned small specks in the distance is an experience riders won’t soon forget.
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Seattle Great Wheel
Opened in June 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel is kind of a big deal. Though it’s a newer landmark in town, it has quickly grown to become a favorite for tourists and locals alike. One of only three Ferris wheels ever built over water, the Seattle Great Wheel extends gondolas full of passengers 42 feet into Elliott Bay, providing a gorgeous eye-full of the city’s skyline. If you’re feeling fancy, an upgraded VIP ticket scores you a glass-bottom gondola and an in-car drink to go with the sights.
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The Singapore Flyer was the tallest observation wheel in the world before the High Roller was built in Las Vegas in 2014. Still, this whomping wheel remains impressively in a league of its own, offering spacious pill-like capsules that can fit 28 people within each. If you’re looking for an extra special experience, not including the 360 degree view of Marina Bay, opt for the dining experience, which comes with two full rotations (approximately one hour) in a private capsule, complete with in-flight service.
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The massive Tianjin Eye (aka, Tientsin Eye) is one of only a handful of giant observation wheels in China. It sits over the Yongle Bridge, suspended over water. At night, the wheel’s bright neon lights reflect on the waterfront of the Hai River as passengers in the 48 capsules wave to commuters passing on the bridge underneath them. Experience this version of interactive people watching while rotating more than 390 feet into the sky.
Santa Monica, California
The Pacific Wheel is the centerpiece of the Santa Monica coastline in California, especially when the attached LED lights—more than 170,000 of them—are illuminated. Reaching up 85 feet into the heavens, the wheel that stands now is actually second generation. The original wheel, built in 1996, was the first to use solar power to operate. Although the structure of the current wheel is a new one, it uses the same solar panels from its predecessor, proving that sustainable energy can even power our amusement.
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One of the most well-known Ferris wheels in the world sits more than 440 feet tall over the South Bank of the River Thames in London, England. The London Eye is an easily recognizable part of the city’s skyline and one of the first places visitors turn to when in town. Not only does this attraction offer 32 roomy capsules, allowing up to 25 people to freely walk around within each one, private capsules are also available. Some have even said their vows while riding in this legendary observation wheel.
Proud to proclaim itself the “only giant observation wheel in the southern hemisphere,” the Melbourne Star in Australia (formerly the Southern Star) is a steel wonder. Designed with seven central spokes to represent the seven-pointed star in the Australian flag. Nightly light shows add pizzazz to evenings, as onlookers feast their eyes on this spinning star that measures over 390 feet tall. (Since it’s in the southern hemisphere, we wonder if it spins in the opposite direction of the northern hemisphere Ferris wheels.)
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The Wiener Riesenrad was built in 1897, not long after the first Ferris wheel was born, making this one of the oldest operating observation wheels left. It was supposed to be demolished in 1916, but a lack of funds to tear down the attraction saved it from demise. After being burned down and rebuilt in the mid 1940s, Wiener Riesenrad still survives and is better than ever. At more than 200 feet tall, the wheel is trimmed with unique, antique-style cabins that passengers have the option of renting privately and even being served breakfast, brunch and dinner!
We know by now that a winning location for the best Ferris wheels seems to be near a body of water, and Centennial Wheel in Chicago, Illinois, holds up to that standard. Rising almost 200 feet above ground with a welcoming view of the Chi-town skyline and calming sight of Lake Michigan, Centennial Wheel is a tourist attraction as well as a place for local residents to enjoy their city. The current wheel replaced the 1995 structure and has 42 climate-controlled gondolas for year-round comfort, making any season a good time to visit.
Eye of Emirates
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Visit Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to find a very visible Ferris wheel, the Eye of Emirates, proudly poking out 200 feet tall from the cityscape. Located between a lagoon and a canal, this wheel has premium waterfront views and an unmatched scope of Sharjah in its 42 cool capsules, a nice treat from the mean heat. Since the land around it is so flat, passengers are able to see all the way to Dubai.
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As with many of the family-friendly attractions in Orlando, Florida, ICON Orlando doesn’t disappoint. The 400-foot observation wheel opened in 2015 but has already had multiple name changes since then, including Coca-Cola Orlando Eye. The wheel is known for its smooth ride, gliding gondolas over the city with full panoramic views. Fit the entire family inside just one of the 30 capsules, with enough space for 15 people in each.
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Coney Island, New York
An official New York City landmark, the Wonder Wheel is so iconic, it deserves a mention in any conversation about Ferris wheels. Opened on Memorial Day in 1920, Wonder Wheel has been the focal point of Coney Island for generations. Reaching 150 feet high, this wheel has a stellar reputation for amusement and safety. (The only time it ever shut down was during the Great NYC Blackout of 1977.) We’re sure it’ll ease the minds of some adults who are otherwise wary of carnival rides!
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