Ferris wheels were once the center of the town fair. Now they are key parts of major metropolitan skylines.
But none can top the heights of the Ain Dubai — meaning "Dubai Eye" in Arabic — which is scheduled to open on Oct. 21. With a height of 820 feet, it will be the tallest observation wheel in the world, towering 270 feet above Las Vegas' High Roller observation wheel, which will fall to second place.
The attraction is the centerpiece of Bluewaters Island, an artificial island near the Dubai Marina that opened in 2018.
Double the size of the London Eye
"The record-breaking Ain Dubai eclipses the 165-meter Singapore Flyer and is almost double the size of the London Eye," said Ronald Drake, the attraction's general manager.
The structure has 48 enclosed cabins, some of which can fit up to 40 passengers. In total, 1,750 people can ride at the same time, according to the attraction, however, capacity is currently limited due to the global pandemic. As of now, up to 10 people can ride in each cabin, said Drake.
Each cabin is larger than two double-decker buses strapped side by side, according to Ain Dubai. Three types of cabins are available: "observational" cabins are for basic rides, "social experiences" include lounge access and a drink, and "private" cabins which can be customized for dinner parties, business meetings and other events.
Each ride lasts 38 minutes and gives a bird's-eye view of Dubai's coast and city skyline.
Ferris vs. observation wheel
The first "ferris wheel" was introduced in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. Measuring 250 feet tall, the wheel was designed by a 33-year-old American civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., whose goal was to create a structure that could rival Paris' Eiffel Tower, according to the magazine.
Since then, ferris wheels have more than tripled in size. Now the term "observation wheel" is used to distinguish larger, more sophisticated ferris wheels, according to the Observation Wheel Directory, a website that bills itself as a "guide to the world's largest ferris wheels."
The opening of Ain Dubai continues Dubai's efforts to position itself as a global tourist attraction.
"The focus on tourism has been one of the main diversification strategies of UAE and Dubai in particular," according to Usman Khalid, assistant professor in economics at United Arab Emirates University. "Covid-19-induced oil volatility has made it evident that UAE needs to diversify away from oil and strengthen its other sectors."
Unlike other parts of the UAE, Dubai does not produce much oil. Today, less than 1% of Dubai's GDP comes from oil, according to the World Economic Forum. In 2018, tourism made up 11.5% of the emirate's gross domestic product, according to the World Trade & Tourism Council.
The emirate is also setting itself apart as an adventure tourism destination with new attractions for thrill-seekers. In July 2021, it launched the 200-foot Deep Dive Dubai — the world's deepest diving pool. In recent years, Dubai has also welcomed the world's longest urban zipline, the XLine, and an Emirates A380 flight simulator at the Dubai Mall.
Alongside adventure and luxury tourism, Dubai has also amped up cultural tourism, according to Khalid. It is hosting the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, which will feature art, cuisine and technology from more than 190 countries. The event starts on Oct. 1 and ends on March 31.