Pictured above: Overlooking Union Station from the Wheel. Photo by Erin Achenbach.
By Gloria Lloyd
The much-anticipated St. Louis Wheel, the 200-foot Ferris wheel next to Union Station, will open to the public for the first rides Monday.
The first ceremonial rides happened Tuesday, with Mayor Lyda Krewson catching the first spin around a gondola on the Wheel, followed closely by Fredbird, Louie the Blues mascot and the Billiken, the St. Louis University mascot.
The emcee of the preview event, KTRS radio host Guy Phillips, joked that the Wheel would be a “revolution” in St. Louis. Owner Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) is adding the giant as part of the $187 million family entertainment complex under construction at St. Louis Union Station, including the St. Louis Aquarium slated to open by the end of the year.
The owners expect the Wheel to be a hit, attracting 750,000 annual passengers.
Here are the top 10 things to know about the opening of the Wheel.
1. It’s actually not a Ferris wheel.
The Wheel is officially called an “observation wheel” because it has gondolas for riders, instead of open-air seats like a Ferris wheel. But the Wheel is appropriate for St. Louis, since the first Ferris wheel was debuted at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
2. What’s the view like?
Surprisingly good. To see specifics, visit our gallery below. The view from 200 feet over St. Louis includes the downtown and Clayton skylines, along with views to Illinois and right now, lots of green in Forest Park.
The Arch is partially blocked by buildings in between it and the Wheel, but you can definitely see it.
The wheel also has a perfect aerial view of the future slated site of the new Major League Soccer stadium set to be built nearby.
3. How high is 200 feet? Is it sturdy?
The Wheel is 50 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty and higher than the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago.
The Wheel itself weighs 320 tons. The 42 climate-controlled gondolas were built in Switzerland, weigh 1,800 pounds, measure 6 feet long by 5 feet across by 5 feet high, and can hold up to eight people or 1,380 pounds.
4. When is it open?
The St. Louis Wheel will be open every day of the year from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. with later hours on selected Enterprise Center event dates. Then hours will extend to 11 p.m., along with the Soda Fountain.
The Wheel is open year-round, and gondolas will be climate-controlled at 72 degrees year-round.
5. How much does it cost?
$15 adults; $10 children. During the 2019 holiday season, guests on Union Station’s Polar Express Train Ride can show their ticket to ride the Wheel for the children’s price.
6. What else is there to see?
The aquarium, which is still under construction, will be a top attraction. The Wheel is just blocks from the Enterprise Center.
Directly surrounding the St. Louis Wheel, guests can enjoy the new Carousel at St. Louis Union Station. The classic merry-go-round will feature 30 whimsical animals and two themed chariots. The 36-foot-wide carousel is manufactured by Chance Rides of Wichita, Kansas. It will open in conjunction with the St. Louis Wheel and will be open seasonally.
An 18-hole mini-golf course also will open near the Wheel as part of the new entertainment complex.
The Soda Fountain at Union Station, a modern take on a retro-style diner, also will open Sept. 30. Soda Fountain will feature over-the-top “Freak Shakes,” burgers, hot dogs and other classic diner foods along with bulk candies. It is in the same building that once housed the Hard Rock Cafe, which closed to make way for the ice-cream parlor.
7. The lights are beautiful! Tell me about the lights.
The lights on the Wheel — already St. Louisans’ favorite Instagram attraction — can change based on holidays or whimsy.
There are 1.6 million LED lights on the Wheel that at night “will illuminate the Wheel and dazzle with different colors and patterns,” Phillips promised.
8. Can I follow the Wheel on social media?
You sure can. Its Twitter account is @stlouiswheel.
9. How long is the ride?
12 to 15 minutes. One rotation takes two minutes. Guests will experience approximately three rotations, plus loading and unloading during a ride.
That’s longer than the mayor got on her kickoff ride: She only went around once.
10. Can I propose to someone on the Wheel?
You sure can, and plenty of St. Louisans will do just that. The owners planned ahead by adding a VIP gondola with four leather bucket seats and a glass floor. It can be booked for special rides.