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Google calls the Orlando Eye “an observation wheel for sweeping views.” The rest of us call it a jaw-dropping Ferris Wheel. You might not choose to ride it every weekend, but it’s a fun thing to do once in a while, especially if you have guests in town. (There is a difference between an observation wheel and a Ferris wheel; more on that below.)
About This Wheel
Coca-Cola’s Orlando Eye is 400 feet tall—the highest observation wheel on the entire U.S. east coast. There’s no swinging at those heights in an open car where you can drop gum or iPhones over the side. The Eye features enclosed, air-conditioned cars that keep you—and your stuff—safely and comfortably secure for the ride.
A few fun facts about the Eye: each car or capsule weighs 6,600 pounds (which, in case you didn’t know, is the weight of the average Indian elephant); the whole Eye weighs 3 million pounds; it was designed by a Swiss firm that also manufactured the wheel; the capsules were assembled in Hungary; all the glass for the capsules came from Turkey.
It opened for its first passenger ride in April 2015.
Observation vs Ferris
People seem to fall into two camps: those who like Ferris wheel rides and those whose stomachs drop at the thought. Usually the latter dislike Ferris wheels because the gondolas or carriages are free-swinging and open. This is where observation wheels are different. Their carriages are enclosed capsules designed carefully to maintain stability throughout the ride.
There are a couple of other differences between a Ferris wheel and an observation wheel. An A-frame supports the latter, and this provides a 360-degree view that is free of obstruction. Towers on either side of the axles are what support a Ferris wheel, and the towers and support pieces can sometimes get in the way of a passenger’s view.
Pick the Orlando Eye observation wheel if you want a stable, 360-degree view in the security of your own enclosed capsule. Pick a Ferris wheel if you want the what-if-this-thing-collapses-when-I’m-at-the-top carnival adrenaline experience.
By the way, Ferris wheels get their name from George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., who designed and built the first Ferris wheel (264 feet high) for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Similar wheels have gone by his name every since, and they’re usually the linchpin of amusement rides at state fairs across the U.S.
Currently, the tallest observation wheel in the world is in Las Vegas (550 feet). New York’s wheel will take the title when it opens, and Dubai will supplant New York as title-holder when its 689-foot Eye—located on a man-made island—opens.
Orlando Eye Details
Location: 8401 International Drive, Suite 100, Orlando, FL 32819.
Hours: Sun-Thurs 10 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 10 am-12 am. Tickets: $25 (kids, $20).
Special rate tickets available: combination, annual pass, Florida resident, group.
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