Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ride the London Eye


I spy with my little eye... something ginormous! That would be the London Eye, a giant sightseeing Ferris wheel-type contraption on the south bank of the River Thames in London, England. This machine looms over the river and offers a wonderful view of London by lifting its passengers 135 meters into the sky, slo-o-o-wly, then lowers them back down again. Passengers sit or stand comfortably inside the Eye's giant pods, which can hold up to 28 people. Distant photographs show the London Eye as being deceptively small - the wheel itself is huge and the pods spacious and restful.

The London Eye - a massive sight-seeing Ferris wheel along the Thames River

I had the pleasure of riding the London Eye during my European tour with my junior high Travel Club students in April of 2010. This was a side trip that we had organized as a club; it wasn’t part of the package offered by Explorica, our tour company. This meant we had to navigate our way through the London Underground on our own, and make our way to the London Eye unassisted. We were successful in touring the subway on our own, however, a fact that made us very proud! We arrived at the London Eye in the early evening, in time to see the city in the daylight and get some great photographs from atop the wheel. By the time we got off the ride, it was dusk, and the sky was ablaze with orange and pink clouds, the lights of the London Eye glittering like falling stars. It was very picturesque.

The London Eye twinkling in the twilight

You could not purchase group tickets in advance, so as group leader, I went into the London Eye building and bought a group package while my students photographed the wheel (they were overwhelmed by its immensity). It was a bit pricey, but considering the amount of time you get to spend on the machine and the spectacular views it offers, I believe the price was worth it, at least to try once in your lifetime. We had to stand in line to board, but it moved quickly, even with another school group in line ahead of us. The pods can hold a lot of people, so the line moves at a nice rate. Despite the pods being able to hold nearly 30 people, the technicians didn’t pack the pods full – they typically loaded 10 to 15 people per pod in order to ensure comfort. (I’m sure that at busier times it is much squishier and probably less enjoyable – we seemed to have lucked out by turning up at the London Eye just before dusk.) Our group was split into two pods, and up we went.

The size of a pod on the London Eye

At first, it feels as if the pods are moving excruciatingly slow. You see a great deal of the river bank and parking lot for the first while. Just as the students began to grumble, we seemed to reach a ‘new level’ and began to get a glimpse of the skyline and full river view. The cameras began to emerge yet again. Nearer to the top, none of the students were sitting on the benches, but were pressed against the glass, gazing at the city view of London, and taking pictures of themselves against the glass, the London vista at their backs. At the very top, we made faces at the other half of our group, as we were lined up side by side and could see one another clearly. On the way back down, the kids pressed themselves against the front of the pod, as there is a large camera set on the wheel geared to take group photographs of the pod passengers. These pictures can be bought in the London Eye building, but are, of course, a hefty price.

A fabulous view of Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings from the London Eye

When we were done with our London Eye experience, the kids were invited by the ride technicians to explore the inside of the building, where they were offering a “4-D London Eye” show. It was free with our tickets, so of course we had to try! The students and chaperons were handed 3-D glasses, and ushered into a theatre, where we watched a 3-D movie on the construction of the London Eye. The “4-D” element of the show consisted of getting sprayed with soapy bubbles and fake rain water. I personally thought it was a bit gross, but the kids loved it!

The view of London from the tippy-top of the London Eye

If you are a first-time traveler to London, this is one of the best ways to see some of the more famous sights ‘from above’. The London Eye offers a wonderful view of Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, the River Thames, and the city skyline. It is relaxing, enjoyable, and beautiful. Give it a try!

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