Monday, January 11, 2016


Niagara was one of the spots I visited last year, and one of the things that had me psyched was that they had put in a 175 foot tall skywheel since the last time I'd visited that area.  I've visited a lot of places over the years, and a lot of them had some kind of ride that was special.  But nowadays, everyone has a wheel, and lately the contest for the biggest one has been on.  I remember the days of going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio and riding their huge wheel.  I always ride the big wheel at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut.  But, why is it that this has become a thing around the world?  What's the deal with the Ferris Wheel?

Let's take a look back in time and see where it all started.  It all started in Chicago, Illinois.  His name was George Ferris, and he invented the wheel to celebrate Columbus.  I'm not joking.  Chicago had a Columbian Exhibition back in 1893, and it was to celebrate Columbus, not the country of Columbia.  Ferris wanted to build something that would be as amazing as Gustave Eiffel's tower in Paris.  It was called the Great Wheel, not the Ferris Wheel at that point; it was 264 feet tall and opened in the summer of 1893.  It really started something, because there have been Ferris Wheels around ever since.  The one in Chicago went away in the 1930's, but George Ferris' memory has not died.  Navy Pier, Chicago's urban amusement park now has the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel.  At 150 feet, it's not nearly the size of the original, but Chicago just wouldn't be the same without a Ferris Wheel.

Even though the original wheel is no longer, there are some amazingly old wheels around, and the oldest chimes in from Vienna, Austria.  The Wiener Riesenrad has been parked in the Prater Park in Vienna since 1897.  It stands 212 feet tall and is open all year round.  I know because I rode it in January once.  It's an amazing piece of history that's survived just about everything including a James Bond movie and WWII.  It's the old style like the Great Wheel of Chicago and is a living piece of the Ferris Wheel history.

The 150 foot tall Wonder Wheel joined us in 1920 at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.  I love this one, because the open cars slide around on the wheel while the wheel turns around.  New Yorkers do things their own way and the result is a true one of a kind.  No one else anywhere has a wheel quite like the Wonder Wheel.  Of course, if you like history, the world famous Cyclone Roller Coaster is at Coney Island as well.  Now, New York is at it again.  They are planning a world record breaker over on Staten Island that they hope to have open soon.  The planned New York Wheel would stand 630 feet tall and break all existing records.  Good luck New York.

Speaking of the one of a kind Ferris Wheel, Welcome to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.  This is a very forward thinking community in this former Soviet Republic.  A lot of buildings in this city are surreal looking and appear to come from the future or another planet.  The Alem Entertainment Center is an indoor facility for fun.  They have all kinds of rides and games in there and they have the world's largest enclosed Ferris Wheel.  Not only is it 190 feet tall, but it's enclosed in a wheel shaped building.  It should really stand out on the landscape, but like I said, the whole area is a little surreal looking.

The current world record holder for the tallest wheel goes to the brand new High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Like everything else in Vegas, it's huge, chiming in at 550 feet tall.  It hangs over the strip, so you can't miss it and glows in the dark like everything else in Vegas.  Already the owner of their own Eiffel Tower and Grand Canal as well as pyramids and the New York skyline, this one should fit right in.

Until very recently the Singapore Flyer was the world record holder at 541 feet tall.  Singapore is another place that likes to compete in the biggest and best contests.

Before Singapore there was the London Eye in the UK coming in at 443 feet tall.  The London Eye became a real world famous landmark because of it's exposure.  Not only is it huge and sitting on the Thames in Downtown London, but it was key in some huge celebrations like the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics.

But, what is it about the wheel?  Did George Ferris have any idea where his one time creation was really going?  I remember the days when we would all seek out the Hard Rock Cafes and buy a tee shirt to prove we'd been there.  They were all over the world, and it was like a scavenger hunt.  It was an added thing to our travels.  That's what these wheels have become in recent years.  It seems like everywhere you go, there they are.  It's really neat that the countries are competing with the size the way they used to with skyscrapers and long bridges.  But, just remember, you should ride them all if you can.  There are nearly 100 worldwide.  The Eurowheel is in Mirabilanda, Italy at 300 feet high.  The Changsha Ferris Wheel of Changsha, China is 394 feet tall.  The Great Smoky Mountain Skywheel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is 200 feet high.  The Star of Puebla in Puebla, Mexico is 262 feet tall.  The Paris Big Wheel is 200 feet high and portable.

You will find wheels in places that you never thought.  We know that the Asian countries have several.  Japan is full of them, but they also have popped up all over China and there are big ones in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines.  There are a few in Australia as well.  In Beijing, China there's supposed to be a world record breaker coming, but as of late it seems like a myth.  In Saudi Arabia they are building yet another whopper called the Jeddah Eye.  But, here's some that I found interesting.  In Georgia, one of those countries that you never hear much about in the tourism arena there is the Tbilisi Ferris Wheel at Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi.  This one is 262 feet high and has a great view of the surrounding mountains.  Moscow, Russia is home to the 240 foot tall Moscow 850.  There's the Mashhad Ferris Wheel in Mellat Park in Mashhad, Iran that comes in at 262 feet tall.  One of my favorites is the Baghdad Eye standing 180 feet tall over one of the most war ravaged cities in the modern era.  It's amazing where the wheels are.  People love Ferris Wheels.

So, whether you like the Eastern Style 200 foot tall wheel like the Asiatique Sky in Bangkok, Thailand, or you like something with a little more originality; Ferris Wheels are a great way to get a great view of the place you are already visiting.  I would say that it is one of the things that you should check out before going on your next trip.  You could check out the list of wheels on the web and find out if there is a wheel in the area.  You could also use that list as a check list for a modern day scavenger hunt.  See how many wheels you can ride.  George Ferris would approve.  Enjoy!

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