The Wheel at ICON Park in Orlando
By Gary McKechnie
Considering Orlando is a city where theme parks race to be the first to unveil new technology, it’s fitting that the attraction with the highest profile is, well, “revolutionary.”
An entertainment and engineering breakthrough in 1893, it still has the magic to delight guests today.
On A Roll
While the casual passerby would see The Wheel as a Ferris Wheel, the new nomenclature refers to it as an “observation wheel.” The distinction? While a Ferris Wheel may have visual obstructions and uses twin towers to support the axle, an observation wheel utilizes an A-frame support and offers an unobstructed view.
Additionally, The Wheel doesn’t feature freely-swinging cars, but stabilized, fully enclosed, air-conditioned capsules to provide a smooth ride to the summit and back. Still, both wheels share the same basic composition such as hubs, bearings, spindles, and spokes.
Terminology aside, the experience of taking a spin on The Wheel, which is the focal point of the ICON Park entertainment complex of restaurants, clubs, shops and attractions such as the SEA LIFE Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, is similar to those offered on other wheels around the world.
But in many ways it’s a whole lot better.
For one, Orlando is about as flat as a sheet of paper, which adds extra prominence to The Wheel – as if it needed it. Stand beneath it and you’ll be looking up at the tallest wheel on America’s East Coast. At 400 feet, it’s the sixth-tallest observation wheel in the world. (By comparison, Ferris’s 1893 model reached its peak at 264 feet.)
Height is only part of its appeal, since The Wheel's sheer size and mechanics have the power to impress any guest. There are 30 wheelchair-accessible capsules that weigh about as much as an Indian elephant – nearly 7,000 pounds each. Add their combined tonnage to the weight of parts, pieces, beams, cables, spans, spokes, and spindles and the entire machine tips the scales at roughly three million pounds. If you’d like to know what that looks like, picture 300 school buses or 20 space shuttles (minus fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters).
Heavy, man, heavy.
A View from the Top
Visible for miles, it’s easy to reach The Wheel on International Drive. In the daytime its gleaming white spokes and gondolas shine in the sun; at night it becomes a color wheel with pinks, purples, teals, blues, whites, oranges, blacks, and reds that can be programmed to commemorate national holidays, important world events, and charitable causes. With advanced notice, guests can request to become a “lighting partner” and select the colors to recognize a special cause.
Day or night, physics are always at work as a motor spins the wheel to its highest point after which gravity takes over and lowers it back to the ground. Not only do physics affect The wheel, gravity plays a role on each passenger. As you approach the top of the wheel, its rotation, weight, and acceleration reduce the effect of gravity to just .5 g’s. But after you reach the top and begin the descent those factors increase your weight to 1.5 g’s (see: F2=m(g+a). These physical sensations combine with visual sensations to add new meaning to the word sightseeing.
After you enter the 15-passenger capsule, you begin the 23-minute round trip as ever-elevating views reveal nearby sights such as the surrounding hotels and attractions of International Drive. Along the way, keep an eye peeled for other points of interest further afield,such as SeaWorld nearly two miles west. Universal Orlando with its twin parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, as well as hotels and its water park, Volcano Bay -- are easily seen two miles northward.
As The Wheel takes you higher, the outline of downtown Orlando is clearly visible; a distinct concentration of skyscrapers and buildings nine miles east. Iconic outlines at the Walt Disney World Resort including Space Mountain, Spaceship Earth, and the Contemporary Resort can be seen seven miles away. On a clear day you may even see the Atlantic Ocean, 48 miles distant. Time it right and you may find yourself watching the launch of a rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.
Some guests enhance their experience with customized round trips since the ICON Orlando offers group discounts and specialty rides.
The ICON Orlando observation wheel is a great addition to an Orlando vacation.
Head on over and take ‘er for a spin.
When you go…
8375 International Drive