My hometown has never looked better. Orlando is known as The City Beautiful and she sure holds true to that term of endearment when viewed from 400 feet in the air. The Orlando Eye is now open and it is the crowning jewel of the new I-Drive 360 complex. My family and I took part in the “First to Fly” weekend, and while I wish the experience lasted a tad longer, I walked away feeling content and pleased.
The I-Drive 360 complex occupies land that was once home to another shopping and dining destination known as the Mercado. This complex has been closed for quite some time; most visitors have no idea it ever existed. All of International Drive is experiencing a revitalization which is great news for everyone, though traffic can be a concern. We prefer to use Universal Boulevard since it parallels International Drive and most businesses have backside entrances from Universal Boulevard.
The arrival experience
The entrance to The Orlando Eye is part of a building that also houses Madame Tussaund’s and Sea Life Aquarium. The best value is to purchase a ticket to visit all three, however, our focus was just on the Eye. It has been an exciting process watching the Eye being built, rising above the attractions area and changing the Orlando skyline forever. I just couldn’t wait to board and see my city from above.
I’ve been in Orlando’s tallest building countless times, and anytime I am I try not to take for granted the views it affords. I’ve even glided through the air on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride (though the soft wind carried us over farm land mostly). Yet, the Orlando Eye offers a view, an experience that is wholly unique.
Once our tickets were scanned we opted to bypass the souvenir photo process and get in line for the “4-D Cinematic” experience. This pre-show is a fun added touch, though not incredibly awe-inspiring. It’s a pinch cheesy, with a sugary storyline, but it shows some of my absolute favorite parts of Florida. Ok, I admit it, there were a handful of scenes that made me beam with Florida Native pride.
Once the preshow concluded we all headed to the loading platform. I giggled gleefully at my first sight of the capsules up-close. The wheel turned slowly, smoothly, effortlessly. The attendants quickly grouped us based on party size, we filed behind the automatic gates, and then we had to hustle. The wheel does not stop, so when loading you are asked to do so quickly but safely. It took me by surprise that boarding takes places as the wheel is in motion, but alas all went well.
The capsule is air conditioned, with ample room, and a small bench in the middle. Since we were part of the “First to Fly” weekend, we were joined by a capsule guide. Our guide, John, was very friendly and professional. He showed us the tablet that will soon be placed in each capsule; the tablet allows guests to learn more about the sensational sights surrounding them.
Normally a capsule guide will not be riding with you. Instead guests will enjoy soothing music and narration. I rather enjoyed the music, it put me at ease and enhanced my enjoyment. By the time we reached the pinnacle, the 400 foot mark, my chest swelled with pride. Practically every part of Orlando that I love could be seen.
Our capsule contained about 14 people, all with the exception of my family, were visitors. I delighted in showing them different points of interest. I loved watching them realize how big and expansive the Orlando area is, but also how lush. Most people do not realize how many bodies of water are in Central Florida. Of course, Spaceship Earth, Hogwarts Castle, Downtown Orlando, SeaWorld, and the Orange County Convention Center are the stars of the show.
On our descent, John offered to take a family photo with each family’s camera. I am so grateful he did because we now have a new favorite family photo. Since there isn’t normally a guide riding along with you I recommend making nice with your fellow passengers and offer to take a family photo in exchange for them to do the same. The ride itself lasted about 20 minutes.
I will definitely ride again, and when I do I will not worry about taking as many photos and just enjoy the view in the moment. I’d love to experience the views earlier in the day before the afternoon clouds roll in (this is especially true for the Summer, so if you are visiting May-September the earlier in the day the better!). And of course, everyone wants the chance to ride in the evening hours in the hopes of catching some fireworks.
I am actually grateful for the development of the Orlando Eye. I come from a wondrous destination. This is my home and hopefully always will be.
Be sure to check-out the official website for information. There are also VIP experiences available for special occasions. Tickets can be purchased in advance, I recommend doing so. Have a great flight!