The Eye is open! And if it was possible, it might actually wink.
May 4 was a big day for Orlando as Merlin Entertainments’ tourism trifecta opened its doors to the public, though it was the towering, 400-foot Orlando Eye – a new I-4 icon amid the city’s sprawl-scape – that set the stage. Days earlier, daredevil Nik Wallenda rolled the cantilevered observation wheel into living rooms across the nation as he set a record walking atop what the Today Show’s Matt Lauer quipped was the world’s most dangerous treadmill.
Orlando's newest icon, the 400-foot Orlando Eye, has 30 capsules that hold up to 15 passengers each — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Inside each air-conditioned capsule, however, the conditions are decidedly low-risk (safe for all ages, in fact!) though depending on the rider’s tolerance for heights, wholly capable of inspiring an adrenaline rush.
Indeed, the complex housing the Eye – and its Merlin sister venues, Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Orlando – is well-named. I-Drive 360 offers Eye riders just that – unparalleled views that sweep over the skyline, theme parks, lakes, woodlands and on a clear day, all the way to Cape Canaveral on the state’s Atlantic coast. A 4D pre-flight show gives guests a taste of what’s in store before they take the 30-minute circuit, but even the best in high-tech cinema isn’t quite the same as being up there yourself.
Those interested in a bit of an upgrade can go VIP, adding a glass of champagne and a private host to their experience. High rollers with an entourage (capsules hold up to 15 passengers each) or perhaps those with a lofty marriage proposal in mind can get a capsule all to themselves for prices starting at $300.
Single attraction tickets run $25 onsite; book online in advance and you’ll enjoy a discount. Acrophobics need not apply on the Eye, but no worries. There’s plenty more to see on terra firma.
Incredibly life-like: Samuel L. Jackson's Tussauds figure appears poised to speak — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Madame Tussaud is a name that needs no introduction and visitors to her newly minted outpost in Orlando, particularly those who have never seen these works in person, will likely be astounded. The realism – freckles, fine lines and features like lashes and eyebrows placed hair-by-hair – is quite unbelievable.
Unlike other museums, Tussaud’s is hands-on and – in the age of the ubiquitous personal device – well set up for selfies with celebs both current and classic from fields far and wide. Albert Einstein to Andy Warhol, J. Lo to Jackie Chan, Samuel L. Jackson to Selena Gomez, visitors will “meet” notables from all walks, from history through to the present in themed environments.
For interactions of a more animated nature, SEA LIFE Orlando offers up face time with sharks, seahorses, sea turtles, stingrays and more than 5,000 other creatures from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans along with representatives from other regions including Florida’s own unique wetlands.
Colorful and immersive exhibits – including a 360-degree Ocean Tunnel – draw visitors into the underwater realm with interactive hands-on educational tools that explain the importance of our oceans’ preservation.
A young guest learns more about sharks via SEA LIFE's high-tech, interactive features — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“We have a ton of education opportunities,” says SEA LIFE Curator Steve Blair, a self-proclaimed “shark guy.”
“We will have behind-the-scenes tours, visitors can do a short guided tour, a longer one that’s more comprehensive.” Such extras, he says, will continue to develop.
“The whole pathway through SEA LIFE Orlando is themed on “breed, rescue, protect,” globally as well as locally, and educating the public about what they can do to protect the oceans – recycle, reuse – and to learn more about animals locally, in the Everglades water habitats, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.”
SEA LIFE required a special permit to acquire this goliath grouper, a protected Florida species — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Onsite adult tickets run $25 for a single attraction, $39 for two, $49 for all three. Add in admission to LEGOLAND and you get all four for $99. As adult-priced, single-day tickets to LEGOLAND start at $74 online, it’s a package well worth consideration.