An altered skyline looms large in Maryland, bringing joy and wonder to most and flat-out terror to the acrophobic. The 16-story Capital Wheel opens Friday at National Harbor, and for $15 you can take a climate-controlled, 15-minute spin around the city’s new giant observation wheel. (Don’t call it a Ferris wheel. Ferris wheels have open chairs and are put together by carnies; this wheel has enclosed capsules and was assembled by engineers.) As they rise above the Potomac, riders on a clear day will be able to see at least as far as Arlington Cemetery; on a cloudy day they’ll still be able to see the Tanger Outlets right behind National Harbor and laugh at people stuck on the Wilson Bridge. In an area that is somewhat lacking in skyscrapers and rather strict about what you can fly where, the wheel offers D.C. residents a rare chance to soar.
Round Figures: The Wheel, by the Numbers
— The $15 million permanent fixture is 180 feet tall above the water, with a diameter of 165 feet . If you remember your geometry, you know that if the wheel were a pie and you sliced it into eight slices, you’d have eight really big pieces of pie.
— Each of the 42 climate-controlled gondolas can hold eight people. That includes the four-person VIP gondola, which for $50 per person delivers upgrades including leather bucket seats, a DVD player and wine chillers. The wine is especially handy for the acrophobic because this gondola, unlike the others, has glass floors. The wheel is also available for private parties. Best wedding reception ever.
— There are 1.6 million LED lights that are programmable and have a spectrum of 16.7 million colors. 4.2 million of which people will identify as “blue.”
— Projections suggest that 600,000 to 800,000 people will ride the wheel each year; at least 10,000 are expected to moon the city.
— The wheel turns at 1.5 rotations per minute , making it slightly faster than rush-hour traffic at the I-270 split.
— Of the eight people who can fit in each capsule, at least two will spend the entire ride taking selfies and one will spend the entire ride freaking out.
How does the Capital Wheel stack up against the London Eye? Click here to find out.
Capital Wheel, 165 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Md.; opens Fri., daily, 10 a.m.-11 p.m., $15 (adult), $11.25 (child 3-11) and free for children 2 or younger; 877-628-5427.