The Great Wheel was great! But make no mistake, it isn't a roller coaster, it is a ferris wheel, which is synonymous for easygoing. Make sure your kids know this ahead of time.
My 5-year-old son and I met our visiting Norwegian friends at the ferry terminal and walked the short distance to Pier 57 Monday morning. It was day four of the wheel in operation and already a line had formed, but we were hoping to make it on the 11 a.m. boarding. Although the construction minutiae below the wheel is rapidly being wrapped up, there was still quite a bit of work going on and we were told that the wheel wouldn't open that day until noon. Fortunately, the question of what to do while standing in line with five children under 12 years of age for an hour was easy to answer, since Pier 57 houses a merry-go-round and an arcade. Phew! We dodged a bullet on that one.
With several car race, frog jump and Pac Man games and a spin around on colorful horses under our belts, we hopped back into line and got a pleasant surprise. The Great Wheel staff was polling the assembled crowd to see who had already purchased tickets online. We had fortuitously done this and were plucked out of the crowd and taken to the front. When boarding began, we got the second gondola.
The Great Wheel loading and unloading platforms are tiered so that up to six gondolas can be filled or emptied simultaneously. The Wheel is then turned so that the next six gondolas loaded are on the opposite side and so on and so forth. This keeps everything balanced and the Wheel doesn't spin off into Puget Sound (fyi – it wouldn't actually do this). Each gondola (with the exception of the VIP gondola) has an eight-person capacity with two bench seats facing each other, a tinted glass surround and air vents. There is an emergency button on the ceiling and what looks like a speaker, but no music or announcements were played while we were on our ride. Our group felt that a little Pandora would have definitely enhanced the experience. The VIP gondola has four leather Captains chairs and a glass bottom so you can see the water under your feet.
We made three full revolutions while loading (with lots of stopping and starting, of course) and three more continuous revolutions once the Wheel was full. The whole ride took about 40 minutes from the time we entered our gondola. The views were fantastic. You can watch the ferries, check out the activity at the Port of Seattle, admire the stadiums and Smith Tower, play hide-and-seek with the Space Needle, which is partially hidden during the ride and, when the weather cooperates, gaze out at an unparalleled view of the Olympic Mountain Range. Overall, the 5 to 40-something crowd in our gondola was very pleased with the experience and looking forward to coming back, especially when the viaduct starts coming down. It will be the perfect way to watch that construction action.
The very first Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. It seems fitting that our Wheel was opened this summer during the celebration of the Seattle World's Fair's 50th Anniversary. What an amazing addition and landmark for the waterfront and the city of Seattle.
Erika Lee Bigelow lives in Seattle with three kids and is, therefore, constantly going in circles.