At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the highest Ferris Wheel in the world. That’s 245 feet taller than the statue of liberty and 400 feet taller than the former wheel on Chicago’s Navy Pier. The thirty-minute round trip was my favorite time spent on a recent trip to Las Vegas. From within spherical pods with 360-degrees of windows, the ride offers spectacular views of the Strip and surrounding valley.
Pro tip: ride the wheel at dusk. Pay the day rate, but see the sunset and the famous Vegas lights in the course of the half hour. Bring your kid or a child-like attitude for priceless inquiry of the majestic view and the mechanics of the great wheel.
Before this year, I hadn’t paid much attention giant wheels, but I’ve spent the last twelve months trying to figure out how to put a 200-foot wheel on Navy Pier. Unlike the High Roller which is built on grade (with piles extending down 60 feet), the wheel at Navy Pier is on the roof of a parking garage, on a pier about a mile off the historic coast of Lake Michigan. The support for our wheel has to thread the existing structure and bear on cast concrete shafts in the seabed (a.k.a. caissons or drilled piers) and tension piles anchored to bedrock 120 feet below water level. An amusement wheel the size of the original Ferris Wheel, let alone the High Roller, wouldn’t have been possible.
The Ferris Wheel is eponymous for George Washingon Gale Ferris. His 265-foot wheel debuted at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower as a technological wonder. Ferris’ wheel featured cars capable of carrying 60 people; that’s 50 percent more than that the High Roller! Much like the Coliseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower, it’s incredible to me that these first-of-a-kind structures set the standard for decades (if not centuries) to come.
Ferris’ bicycle wheel – axle, spokes, and reinforced rim – is still very much used in the designs today. Arup provided a custom design for the High Roller, as they had done for the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer before. The new Navy Pier wheel will be the third or fourth in the DW line of giant wheels by Dutch Wheels, a division of Vekoma, one of the largest roller coaster manufacturers in the world. The DW60 (so named for it’s 60-meter diameter) is engineered for easy erection and reliable operation. Unlike the high roller, the DW60 can be erected without temporary shoring. Three large cranes will perform a choreographed series of lifts to set the main legs and axle. Then a winch will rotate completed portions of the spindles and rim so that most erection takes place as close to ground as possible.
The experience offered by the High Roller and soon the new Navy Pier DW60 far surpasses your prior street carnival experiences. This new generation of giant wheels offers smooth transport in a fully enclosed car. In Las Vegas, high roller’s can ride in the bar car and partake of unlimited drinks for a fixed fee. In Chicago, one car will be outfitted with a glass bottom and a built-in ice chest for chilled champagne.
However, you shouldn’t need any liquid courage to ride the High Roller or the new Navy Pier wheel. Rest assured that the ride is smooth and reliable … and the maximum design load is under wind speeds well above the limit set for taking on riders. The DW60 also has a host of smart features to keep the wheel in prime operating conditions. These are amazing machines.
In my opinion, the best view from the top is back at the amazing structure.