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4 years old
Great Wheel now icon on Seattle Waterfront
It’s just been there four years, but it’s safe 1 to say that the Seattle Great Wheel has joined the ranks of the Space Needle, Pike Place Market and other longtime attractions as an icon for the Emerald City.

What, you haven’t heard of the Seattle Great Wheel? Picture a Ferris wheel that seems humongous by carnival standards and that has gondolas instead of bench seats. Now put that Ferris wheel out on a pier in Elliott Bay where it extends a good 40 feet beyond the pier and reaches high enough to guarantee picture-postcard views of the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier and the Seattle skyline.

Opened in June, 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel 1 has proven popular with tourists and locals alike. Seattle businessman Hal Griffith had wanted a Ferris wheel in Seattle for more than 30 years before he finally got permission to build the wheel on his own pier.

It’s the largest observation wheel on the west coast and stands 175 feet in the air. There are 42 fully-enclosed gondolas, each seating up to eight adults. Because all the gondolas are enclosed, the wheel operates in all kinds of weather except winds that exceed 55 miles per hour.

On our recent stay in downtown Seattle, we took the VIP ride on the wheel – a special gondola that is first-come, first-served that has leather seats, a sound system and a glass bottom. While the regular gondolas might mix and match families to include up to eight riders in a gondola, the VIP gondola is just four seats and only our family members were in the gondola.

Of course, you pay a bit extra for the VIP gondola – it’s $50 instead of $13 per person, but you also get photos, a tee-shirt and other goodies included with your VIP ride. Prices on the regular gondolas, by the way, go all the way down to $8.50 for kids.

The verdict on our ride? It was a unique and fun experience and the 20-minute ride was just about the right length of time to be separated from Earth. The gondolas are stable as can be so even those who don’t like heights probably will feel perfectly comfortable inside the gondola. The Seattle Great Wheel was just one of the fun things we did during our recent downtown Seattle stay. Visiting Seattle for a quick weekend getaway, we got just a big enough dose of the Big City before returning to our home in quieter and much more rural North Central Washington. We were Seattle residents for many years and return to Seattle frequently for special events – and just for fun.

 1To us, the city seems to have gotten a lot busier since we lived there in the 80’s and 90’s. Traffic’s more congested and construction projects in the Seattle Center area keep you guessing about the best routes to use through the city. For us, the answer was to settle into an elegant room at the Hotel 1000 and use public transportation to get to where we wanted to go.

The Hotel 1000 is just a couple of blocks up from the heart of the Seattle Waterfront, so we found it a convenient base of operations as we explored both the Waterfront and the Seattle Center. The Center is about 1.5 miles away from the hotel, but just a few blocks toward the center we hopped the Monorail for an easy ride directly to the Seattle Center.

Our room at the Hotel 1000 had an excellent view of Safeco Field and points to the south from downtown, as well as partial views of Elliott Bay. There are several historical and ornate office buildings in the area that just contribute to the atmosphere of staying in this historic part of Seattle. The room itself was nicely decorated, stylish in its use of colors and fabrics. The king size bed was in the center of a spacious room of browns and tans featuring joined windows across most of one side of the room with a sitting chair and ottoman to one end, a large flat-screen TV to the other and, in between, an oversized desk. The bath area had both a shower and a deep tub, with city views directly from the tub. A powered privacy curtain could be dropped over the window and, uniquely, the tub had no faucet – water poured directly from the ceiling.

The easiest way to describe our room at the Hotel 1000 is to imagine the ultra-modern, tasteful room interiors you might see in an upscale magazine and that’s what you have at the Hotel 1000. Chic, upscale, tasteful – that pretty much says it all.

This trip, we went back to the Seattle Aquarium after many years away from it and found it entertaining as ever. Whether it’s the dome room where you can look above and beside you at Northwest fish and sea life, or the various habitats set up to observe sea otters, sea lions and other creatures, the aquarium is always worth a couple hours to explore and marvel at the amazing variety of fish on Planet Earth. The  1Seattle Aquarium does an effective job of separating out the types of fish and geographic locations where they are found so that you come away with a mini-education in marine biology.

As mentioned, we visited the Seattle Center this trip and we always marvel at how timeless the Monorail is – to imagine they built the system in 1962 and that it still operates today feeling almost as modern as many airport shuttles that were much more expensive to build and that have incorporated much later technology. Speeding above the Seattle streets from Westlake Center to Seattle Center never gets old.

At the Seattle Center, we enjoyed the festive atmosphere that makes this really a cultural hub for the city and attracts thousands of visitors every single day. There is always something new to do or eat at the center, but on this trip we stopped in at the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum to get our music fix for the trip.

The building itself is quite unique and incorporates a modern free-flowing design by Frank O. Gehry. It’s 140,000 square feet altogether and, inside, you find exhibits that highlight certain artists such as Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix as well as many areas devoted to explaining how musical instruments and sound systems work. The Sky Church is another highlight – it’s one of the largest indoor LED screens in the world and is an amazing place to watch an on-screen live rock and roll concert.

 1We especially enjoyed the guitar room that followed the evolution of guitars from the late 1800’s to today, showing examples of the best and most famous guitars developed over the period. The exhibit explains what sets each guitar apart and why they are favored by professional musicians.

The EMP also features temporary exhibits such as the current exhibit on Star Wars costumes – the actual costumes used in the filming of the movies. It’s an amazing, elaborate collection and will impress anyone who has seen any of the Star Wars movies.

On other recent trips we’ve stopped off at such Seattle Waterfront attractions as the Underground Tour – well worth a visit – and the many shops and attractions on the piers along the waterfront area. On this trip we did return to an old favorite – Ivar’s fish bar, which is open again following construction down on the waterfront. For years we’ve enjoyed a meal of fish and chips out on their deck while we feed the seabirds with our excess French fries and, for us, visiting Ivar’s was another piece of Seattle nostalgia that will keep us coming back to renew our ties with the Emerald City.

For more information on the Seattle Great Wheel, please go to www.seattlegreatwheel.com or phone (206) 623-8607. For more information on the Seattle Aquarium, please go to www.seattleaquarium.org or phone (206) 386-4300. For more information on the EMP Museum, please go to www.empmuseum.org or phone (206) 770-2700. For more information on Hotel 1000, please go to www.hotel1000seattle.com or phone (206) 957-1000.
PHOTOS: From top: Seattle Waterfront and Great Wheel; ferry and seabirds at Ivars; Hotel 1000; Seattle Aquarium
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos by Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
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