Orlando is a city with a lot be proud of! From its kind, hospitable people to its mind-blowingly cool destinations, to an indefatigable, can-do community, there are abundant reasons for great civic pride. For almost five years, The Wheel at ICON Park has stood as a symbol of all our city has to offer. In today’s installment of Wheel Works, we are excited to celebrate Orlando’s hometown wheel and tell the untold story behind our 400 ft. birthday boy!
A Wheel of Fortune
It’s hard to imagine the Orlando skyline without The Wheel’s glowing presence, but there was a time when this spinning star was nothing more than an idea struggling to roll off the drawing board and into the Central Florida sky! Back in 2008, talk of a “Great Orlando Wheel” started circulating through the City Beautiful. Planned as the centerpiece of an International Drive entertainment destination concept called “I-Walk Orlando,” it was touted as an “architectural wonder” that would assume an iconic place alongside world landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, by the time the Great Orlando Wheel’s 2010 opening date rolled around, the planners had decided to put the project on hold. Shortly thereafter the land was sold off, but the seeds of enthusiasm for a sky-scraping observation wheel had been sown in the community.
A year later, another team of dreamers of took up the torch to bring a towering wheel to Central Florida. This revived effort brought in some of the expert minds behind the world-famous London Eye to help make Orlando’s very own rotating wonder a reality. Planned on the same site as the “Great Orlando Wheel,” this new attraction was intended to rise 425 ft. into the air and would be the first observation wheel in the world to employ “ski-life capsule design.” In 2012, after over a year of refining plan, Orange County gave Orlando’s new wheel the thumbs up for construction. At last, the City Beautiful would have its icon!
Shortly after Orlando rang in the new year of 2013, construction teams set to work erecting the tallest ride in town. Built by renowned attractions engineers at Intamin, the new wheel took over two years to complete. Truckloads full of parts were emptied out across what is now ICON Park’s parking lot. Different sections were pieced together like a Lego kit before massive cranes hoisted them into place. The final bolt was driven into place on February 6, 2015. Befitting the exciting conclusion of this massive construction effort, the final bolt was solid gold (keep your open for it the next time you board Capsule 23).
At the end of the construction, the new observation wheel stood 400 ft. in height (25 ft. shorter than originally planned, but all the handsomer, in our opinion). Constructed of solid steel, it weighed over 3 million pounds and can carry over 1200 riders an hour aboard its 30 capsules. Spinning at a leisurely one-half-miles-per-hour, it took 22 minutes for the big guy to complete one rotation. Built to withstand electrical storms, hurricane-force winds, and LOTS of rain, this marvel of engineering was prepared for anything the Central Florida weather could dish out. After numerous trial runs testing rider capacity with capsules full of water barrels, Orlando’s newest ticket was ready for take-off!
On April 29, 2015, the 400 ft. observation wheel debuted with all the pomp and spectacle due fifth largest attraction of its kind in the entire world. To commemorate this banner occasion, world-famous daredevil Nik Wallenda walked across the spinning outer rim WITHOUT a harness. New media from around the world gathered to cover the King of the High-Wire as he set the record for the greatest distanced walked across the top of an observation wheel, a record that still stands today!
Over its proud five years turning beneath the Florida sun, this one-of-a-kind wonder has been a part of some pretty incredible Orlando milestones. From hosting celebrities to throwing some of the hottest parties in town, he has become an ambassador of local hospitality and symbol of pride for Central Florida. In April 2019, after claiming fame under several different monikers over the years, Orlando’s star attraction finally received a name worthy of singular footprint in the community – The Wheel. Simple and plaintive, it represents the unpretentious spirit of family and friendship shared across the city of Orlando. At just five-years-old, he’s probably one of the most accomplished toddlers out there (yeah, we’re proud parents.). We can’t wait to see where The Wheel takes us in the next five years. Without a doubt, he’s on a roll!
Wheel Works at Home: Bringing it Home
Speaking of “rolling,” it’s time to roll ahead in the construction of your very own wheel! You’re a few steps away from completion! To get your tabletop attraction in working order, you’ll need:
- Popsicle Sticks
- Paper Clips
- Construction Paper
- Glue/Glue Stick
- Ruler/Tape Measure
Connecting Your Wheels
Step 26: Cut off the curved ends of the popsicle stick. Take a ruler and measure the halfway mark of the stick. Cut it in half.
Step 27: Glue the flat sides of the severed stick together.
Step 28: Repeat Step 26 and Step 27 three more times, giving you 4 reinforced sticks.
Step 29: After the glue dries, color the reinforced sticks.
Step 30: Place one of your wheels with the cardboard hub facing down. Lay one of the reinforced sticks lengthwise from the center of your wheel’s hub along one of the spokes. Mark where it falls on the stick with a pencil.
Step 31: Repeat Step 30, marking ONLY every other spoke. After this step, you should have marked four spokes. None of the marked spokes should neighbor one another.
Step 32: Glue the ends of the reinforced sticks perpendicularly to the marks on the spokes. Hold until the glue dries.
Step 33: Glue the upward end of the reinforced sticks. Then, adhere them to the spokes of your other wheel. Be sure that spokes are aligned and that the cardboard hub is facing toward you. Now, the two sides of your wheels should be connected!
Step 34: Straighten out a paper clip and insert it through the holes punctured at the ends of the spokes. Be sure to wrap the ends of the paper clip around the spokes.
Step 35: Repeat Step 34 until every set of parallel spokes are linked by paperclips.
Building the Base
Step 36: Cut the curved ends off of two new popsicle sticks.
Step 37: Take another new popsicle stick and cut it in half. Set one half aside for later.
Step 38: Take the other end the popsicle stick and mark a cutting guideline for the curved edge with a pencil. Then, use a ruler or tape measure to find the halfway point from the end guideline. Mark it with a pencil. Each half should measure about an inch in width.
Step 39: Cut along the two guidelines. Discard the curved end, but keep the two halves nearby.
Step 40: Color all of the stick segments you cut from Step 36 to Step 39.
Step 41: Glue one lengthwise end of the half of the popsicle stick about midway down the flat side of the stick segment you cut in Step 36. Be sure to keep the half-stick about a half inch away from the ends of the other segment. Use a ruler or tape measure to help.
Step 42: Take the other stick segment you cut in Step 36 and glue it parallel to the first on the other side of the half-stick.
Step 43: Glue the two small segments you cut in Step 39 to the ends of the structure, completing one base for your Ferris wheel.
Step 44: Repeat Step 36 through Step 43, giving you two bases.
Step 45: Glue the legs of one of your Ferris wheels towers on the inner ends of the bases.
Step 46: Once the glue has dried on the first tower, glue the second tower into place.
Step 47: After both of the towers are securely upright, hold the complete wheel structure between them. Take a pencil and slip it between the two horizontal sticks at the top of the tower. Run it through the holes at the two hubs of the wheel out through the horizontal sticks at the top of the opposing tower. Give the pencil a turn to spin your wheel!
Crafting the Cabins
Step 48: Outline a rectangle that measures 2 ¾ in. X 2 ¼ in. on a sheet of cardstock. Next, measure 5/8ths inches in from the top and sides of the rectangle and ½ inches in from the bottom. Draw a dotted line to mark your measurements. Then, draw cutting guidelines out from the 4 intersections of the dotted lines out to the perimeter of the rectangle.
49: Cut out your rectangle and cut along the guidelines you drew. DO NOT cut all the way across the dotted line.
Step 50: Fold the top and bottom flaps of the rectangle up and in. Then, fold the side flaps up and over the ends of the top and bottom flaps.
Step 51: Glue the side flaps to the top and bottomflaps.
Step 52: Use a thumbtack to puncture a small hole in each side of the cabin.
Step 53: Run the end of a paperclip through each of the hole’s in the sides of the cabin.
Step 54: Hitch your cabin to your Ferris wheel by looping its two paperclips around the straightened paperclip between the wheel’s spokes.
AND FINALLY… Step 55: Repeat Step 48 through Step 54 until you have eight separate cabins, one for each spoke. Then, take your wheel out for a celebratory spin!
CONGRATULATIONS to all the wheel wizards out there who have been building along at home! We can’t wait to see your revolving wonders in action. Be sure to share your finished spinners on social media at #iconwheelworks. Your ingenuity just might earn you worldwide (or at least, citywide) acclaim as a feature in the exciting conclusion of our Wheel Works series.
Join us next time for the thrilling conclusion of Wheel Works with ICON Park as we explore the high-flying future of Ferris wheels. You won’t want to miss it!