The Capital Wheel stopped as we reached the top of its rotation, and forty-two gondolas swung gently as passengers took in the sights from 175 feet high—well, not all passengers. Afraid of heights, I was muttering to myself to get a grip, only there were no armrests to pull up on to keep us in the air, and I knew Victoria would look unkindly on me if I grabbed hold of her Gerald seated next to me. I looked down at the tiny people and boats below, then over to the Washington, D.C. sights (the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Kennedy Center, Alexandria, etc.), grateful that I hadn’t had lunch beforehand. I was also grateful that I wasn’t in the VIP gondola, with its glass floor—I shudder even now just imagining it—but perhaps I could’ve watched something soothing on the DVD player (that and bucket seats are part of why the VIP gondola costs $50/person). At least the gondolas are heated or air-conditioned, whatever the season calls for, and enclosed as well, so I wasn’t distracted by an up-close and personal view of actual air. The ride lasted about fifteen relatively slow, stately minutes, no quick rotations, so by the time we tottered off, I was a seasoned old hand and, Gerald being still intact, Victoria remains a friend.
The $15 million Capital Wheel is the newest attraction at National Harbor, Prince George’s County’s largest economic development project, and since you can’t view the sights of downtown D.C. from the Old Post Office Tower now that Trump is renovating it, the Capital Wheel is the place to go to see many of those sights from on high. I’ve noted its height listed as 175 feet; the summer brochure from National Harbor lists it as 180 feet. If it’s 175, it’s a twin to the Seattle wheel, shorter than the Atlanta wheel (200), and far shorter than the London Eye (443). Since its opening over Memorial Day weekend, the Capital Wheel has attracted a steady stream of visitors and is predicted to attract close to a million annually. By the way, because it’s large and relatively fancy, it’s properly termed an Observation Wheel rather than a Ferris wheel, according to National Harbor developer Milt Peterson.
By showcasing the Capital Wheel, the developers of National Harbor are hoping to add to the list of reasons for people to visit what has been called a mini-city. Only eight years old, National Harbor is a cluster of retail shops (forty-five at last count), thirty restaurants, six hotels, townhouses, and office spaces, and to add to the retail excitement, Tanger Outlets opened there last November, offering eighty-five brands. The next step is the planned opening in 2016 of MGM’s casino.
Really, the only downside to visiting National Harbor is that getting there takes at least one and a half hours, and if traffic is a problem, obviously longer than that—but when it’s a gorgeous day, a trip there, a ride on the wheel, maybe a cup of Cuban coffee at Mayorga, a visit to the farmers’ market (weekends), a quick Water Taxi ride across to Old Town Alexandria to visit the Torpedo Factory or other sites—well, it all makes for a fine day. It can be as family-friendly and easy as you like, or as complicated as you can stand. In any case, there’s much to enjoy. I see new things every time I’m there, which is four trips and counting. I’m telling you, you haven’t lived until you see the Dragon Boat Regatta—all those people in Spandex!