It’s a race to the top

The London Eye — a gigantic Ferris wheel that soars above the city — has dominated the London skyline for the past few years as the tallest observation wheel in the world. 

But the race is on for other contenders.

In fact, there's a new higher-in-the-sky landmark which opened just recently half a world away, in Singapore. And now it’s the tallest.

But wait, there’s another mega-giant observation wheel in the planning stages — Baghdad is calling for plans on one that would dwarf the others and hopefully will paint the Iraqi capital as a leisure-friendly city.

The craze in these observation wheels started in London with the millennium, when that city decided to mark the event with a structure that would take your breath away.


The Eye is composed of a series of some 20 air-conditioned compartments that hold 20 to 30 people each. Located on the banks of the River Thames, it reaches a height of about 450 feet over the British capital and gives you an eye-opening view of the city.

It has proved to be extremely popular.

In a city with hundreds or perhaps thousands of attractions, it has exceeded projections and now is London’s No. 1 draw. Constructed at a cost of more than $64 million, it has attracted more than 27 million visitors since it opened in January 2000.

We viewed its construction, which took seven years to complete, a few months before it opened, during our last London visit in 1999.

This past August we — along with about 60 others who were part of our Post-Bulletin-sponsored cruise of the British Isles — were able to ride on the Eye. It takes about 20 minutes or so to complete the ride and it was fantastic, with views of up to 25 miles away.

But the London Eye’s reign as the tallest observation wheel in the world is over.

Singapore reached greater heights in August with the Singapore Flyer and its 360-degree view over the city. From the Flyer, one can even see glimpses of nearby Malaysia and Indonesia. The Flyer peaks at 540 feet in the air and was constructed at a cost of $175 million.

But hold on: Iraq, according to the Associated Press, is calling on companies to submit designs to build a Ferris wheel, dubbed the Baghdad Eye, that will soar 650 feet in the air. There is no timeline or cost estimates attached to the project as of yet.


Tourism in Iraq is a tough sell, and the purpose of the project is "to attract a great number of customers who will be able to see the whole city," an official told the AP.

Seen and heard

• Almost as soon as news surfaced some time ago that Fidel Castro had resigned as president of Cuba, the cruise industry started buzzing about the possibility of being able to sail to the Caribbean’s largest island. A leisure travel analyst with UBS Investment Research said the "potential for Cuba to be opened to American tourism represents a significant opportunity for cruise operators."

• Tourism officials are mobilizing to create more demand for travel to Hawaii. Air traffic on U.S. carriers has been reduced significantly and the nation’s economic woes have resulted in a sharp downturn of visitors. Hawaii tourism officials are in the midst of a multimillion-dollar marketing push to attract more visitors.

• Last week’s Travel Scene indicated that Mesaba Airlines is no longer headquartered in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Mesaba continues to be headquartered in Eagan, Minn., a few miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached at (507) 285-7704 or by e-mail at

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