The Great Wheel in Seattle is a wonderful destination, and on a clear day the view is spectacular. The wheel extends 40 feet beyond the end of Pier 57 over Elliott Bay. Our party of six filled one of the 42 gondolas, and our 20-minute ride consisted of three full revolutions of the great wheel.The day was particularly beautiful with Puget Sound sparkling, and we could see as far as Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. Our view of Seattle’s waterfront and the city’s skyscrapers was fun, too. We enjoyed identifying the many buildings, including the Smith Tower, which is recognizable by its pyramid top and has stood for 100 years. Now dwarfed by other buildings, it was once the tallest on the West Coast.
This latest Seattle icon was built in less than a year and opened to the public in 2012. The wheel, manufactured in Europe and the United States, was assembled right at the end of Pier 57. Standing 175 feet tall, the Seattle Great Wheel weighs 280,300 pounds. Its foundation consists of 550 tons of concrete.
The enclosed gondolas are climate-controlled, allowing all-year operation, no matter the weather. From inside, passengers have a 360-degree view.
At night, the great wheel of Seattle is lit up with white gondola lights. On special occasions, such as the evenings of University of Washington or Seattle Seahawks home football games, or on holiday evenings, the wheel features an LED light show.The Seattle Great Wheel is the third Ferris wheel in North America with this design, following Niagara SkyWheel in Canada, also 175 feet high, and the 187-foot Myrtle Beach SkyWheel in South Carolina. The Seattle Great Wheel is the only one of the three to be built over water. There are several taller wheels with a different design elsewhere, including the London Eye at 440 feet, and the High Roller in Las Vegas at 550 feet.
The first Ferris wheel was built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was hugely popular and today Ferris wheels are major attractions at state and county fairs, large and small.
The Seattle Great Wheel operates daily. For hours, prices and other information, visit seattlegreatwheel.com or call (206) 623-8607.
Mary E. Trimble is a writer who lives in Camano Island, Washington.