World's Coolest Ferris Wheels
For ambitious cities, a soaring Ferris wheel has become the latest status symbol. The Las Vegas Strip is buzzing with construction on the High Roller wheel, which will set a new height record in late 2013. That is, until New York or Dubai catch up: both have unveiled plans for flashy waterfront Ferris wheels. They’re betting on the kind of success seen in Singapore and in London, where 3.5 million people line up annually for their turns on the London Eye.
Some of these cool recent versions put a high-tech spin on the Ferris wheel concept. Santa Monica’s Pacific Wheel, for instance, uses a solar-powered design and glows in neon by night, while Tokyo’s Big O Wheel is an engineering marvel that operates without a center axel. Instead, a roller coaster zooms through the wheel’s hollow center.
Still, we’re drawn to Ferris wheels new and historic for much the same reason: the sheer pleasure of going along for the ride and gazing at spectacular views far below. The rides can recall childhood memories and even kindle romance. In the film Before Sunrise, the lead couple shares a first kiss on a charming 19th-century Ferris wheel high above Vienna.
The very first wheel debuted just a few years prior to Vienna’s in June 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair—and it also grew out of a competitive urge. George Washington Gale Ferris wanted to create a landmark as noteworthy as the iron tower Gustave Eiffel debuted at the Paris World’s Fair.
“No one had ever built such a gigantic wheel. No structure ever had been subjected to the unique stresses that would come to bear upon and within the wheel once in motion,“ explains Erik Larson, whose book The Devil in the White City captures the intrigue that surrounded the Chicago World’s Fair.
Fast-forward 110 years, and Ferris wheels continue to surprise and delight us.
Europe’s largest Ferris wheel delivers an unobstructed 360-degree view of London. The wheel was built in celebration of the millennium and has become the world’s most famous. More than 3 million tourists annually take a slow spin inside one of the giant glass observation spheres high above the Thames. Each sphere holds up to 28 people. You can ditch the crowds by booking a private capsule in advance. londoneye.com
Wonder Wheel, Brooklyn, NY
Thrill-seekers have lined up every summer since 1920 for their turn to climb inside one of the 24 rocking carriages of this Coney Island landmark. In an eccentric twist, some of the carriages slide toward the center axel and then back to the rim as the wheel turns. It’s one of four old-timey rides at Dino’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park; West Coasters can find a smaller replica of the wheel at Disneyland’s California Adventure Park. wonderwheel.com
Big O, Tokyo
When the first Ferris wheel was built in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1893, the center axel was the largest and heaviest part. About a hundred years later, engineers managed to build a wheel that doesn’t even need one. Within Tokyo Dome City theme park, the Big O was the first wheel without a center axel. To show it off, the park’s Thunder Dolphin roller coaster zooms through the wheel’s hollow center at speeds around 80 mph. tokyo-dome.co.jp
At 541 feet tall, the Singapore Flyer tops all other wheels by 16 feet—for now, at least. Each car holds up to 28 passengers and takes 30 minutes to complete a full rotation—ample opportunity for soaking up views of the marina, city skyline, and distant Indonesian islands. It also happens to be feng shui approved. In August 2008, feng shui masters recommended the wheel turn in the opposite direction; it now spins clockwise. singaporeflyer.com
Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, Chicago
The first Ferris wheel was torn down shortly after the World’s Fair in 1893, but its spirit lives on in this smaller replica on the site of the original. Although this Ferris wheel is nearly half the size and can carry only 240 people (compared to the 2,160 people carried by the original), it is one of the Navy Pier’s most popular year-round attractions. navypier.com
Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna
This 19th-century Ferris wheel came out of World War II damaged but not defeated; it still spins with 15 of its 30 original carriages. Towering over Prater amusement park, Wiener Riesenrad was the world’s tallest for 65 years, holding the record title longer than any other Ferris wheel in history. Its old-time charm has led to appearances in films like The Third Man and Before Sunrise, in which the couple shares a first kiss while riding high above the city. wienerriesenrad.com
Pacific Wheel, Santa Monica, CA
Introducing the only entirely solar-powered Ferris wheel in the world. The original was sold on eBay in 2008 and replaced with an identical wheel sporting the same solar-powered design and waterfront location. Nightfall brings a fantastic LED light show made possible by 160,000 energy-efficient LED lights that cover the wheel. pacpark.com
Tianjin Eye, China
The 390-foot Tianjin Eye has the strange claim to fame of straddling a bridge that carries car traffic and pedestrians across the Hai River. This massive electric-powered wheel completes one rotation every 30 minutes, impervious to the traffic below.
Roue de Paris
After debuting in Paris for the world millennium celebrations, the wheel has traveled to England, Bangkok, Amsterdam, and Belgium. It is the world’s largest transportable Ferris wheel, standing 200 feet tall. Because of its unique design, the wheel can be built in 72 hours and deconstructed in only 60 hours. As of spring 2013, it is en route to its next location. rouedeparis.com
The Star Wheel
Leave it to an artist bound for Utah’s Burning Man Festival to develop a mobile, human-powered Ferris wheel. The creation of kinetic sculptor Paul Cesewski debuted there in 2005, with three people seated on bicycles in the center axel and pedaling to operate the wheel. As they pedal, the wheel is also propelled forward and begins to rotate. Cesewski continues to take the Star Wheel and his other creations to festivals around the world. paulsrides.com
Cosmo Clock 21, Yokohama, Japan
After their Ferris wheel lost the title of world’s tallest in 1997, the owners bounced back by modifying it with the world’s largest clock. A digital clock now marks the time from the center axel of this 369-foot Ferris wheel at the Cosmo World theme park in Yokohama. Its 60 carriages hold a total of 480 people. senyo.co.jp
Texas Star, Dallas
Texas takes pride in its supersized tastes, so it’s no surprise that the state introduced America’s largest Ferris wheel in 1985. You’ve got only one opportunity to take the 212-foot Texas Star for a spin each year—when it appears at the Texas State Fair. fairpark.org
Zhengzhou Ferris Wheel, China
Tourists make their way to this Ferris wheel in Zhengzhou’s Century Amusement Park for a photo op of the center axel—shaped like a star, rather than the standard cobweb design. It is one of four 390-foot Ferris wheels in China, all tied for second tallest after the 520-foot Star of Nanchang. Come at night and see the star shine with colored lights.
The High Roller, Las Vegas
The Strip’s newest attraction can quite literally lift your spirits after an unlucky night at the casino. At 550 feet tall, it will set a new world record for tallest Ferris wheel when it opens in spring 2014 (until another city calls its bluff). The High Roller is the flashiest element of Linq, a new 300,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex by Caesars. thelinq.com