Thank goodness local Seattle businessman Hal Griffith took it upon himself to build Seattle a ferris wheel, because I was running out of creative tourist things to do when my friends come to town. The Seattle Great Wheel opened after much anticipation in July of 2012 and I’m pretty sure that no one was more excited about it than me. I was SO excited that I woke up at 7am so I could be among the first people to ride it on the first full day of operation, and was dismayed when we were turned away because they were still preforming maintenance. It took me a few weeks to get over my disappointment, but overall it was worth the wait because it’s delightful and probably safer than it was on day one.
The Seattle Great Wheel is located on Pier 57 on the Seattle Waterfront and features views of Elliott Bay (the Wheel actually juts out about 40 feet over the water!) and a great view of the Seattle skyline, including the port cranes, stadiums and the Space Needle. Parking is scarce, but once they get rid of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, you can expect this to improve.
I suggest purchasing your tickets online before you go. There are essentially two lines that you have to wait in on a busy day – the line to buy tickets and the line to ride the wheel. If you buy online and print at home, you can skip the ticket-purchase line and get in the one to ride the wheel. I’ve seen the ticket purchase line extend all the way to the street.
DAY OR NIGHT?
I’d suggest that you take your ride on The Wheel during the day. I say this having just taken my second ride at night. Since I wasn’t looking out at the beautiful blue water and couldn’t see the Olympic mountains, we really only got half of a view and that was of the city lights. Sure, there were a couple of ferry boats ferrying across the water but no real sense of where they were headed.
The gondolas are enclosed so it’s worth it to ride even on a rainy day, and a portion of the waiting area is covered. The gondolas fit up-to-eight people and you may be seated with strangers for your ride. Don’t complain about that – instead think about just how long you’d have to wait if they seated each individual party! There IS a special VIP gondola with a glass bottom and it’s $25/per person to ride.
Each ride lasts about 20 minutes, allowing for 4-5 full revolutions. I was satisfied with the length of the ride – it’s just enough time to take photos and enjoy the view. Any more time and I might have started to feel a bit claustrophobic – though the gondolas ARE air conditioned which is great.
The Seattle Great Wheel is one of the best ways to enjoy a fantastic view of the Emerald City and a welcome addition to the waterfront, which is only going to get better in the next few years!