Navy Pier is Illinois’ most popular tourist attraction and over the last few year's it’s undergone a makeover for its 100th birthday. The redevelopment plan has not been without its controversies but this weekend will be about celebration as the Pier officially unveils some of its most anticipated attractions for the kick-off of the summer season.
WBEZ’s Monica Eng joins us to talk about some of them. Here's her story:
After more than two years of construction, Navy Pier is unveiling some of its long-awaited “Centennial” attractions this weekend.
They include the new Polk Bros Fountain and Plaza at the entrance to the pier but also the new $26.5 million Centennial Wheel -- financed through private funds, Pier officials say.
The new wheel ranks among the six tallest in the U.S. and stands 48 feet taller than the old one, which found a new home in Branson, Mo., according to pier officials.
And while it’s attracted its share of controversy, the Centennial Wheel also brings its share of improvements. New enclosed gondolas with padded seats and climate controls offer a lot more comfort than the old open cabins with metal benches and a terrifying tendency to sway in the wind. Pier officials say the new gondolas have been designed to withstand gusts up to 115 miles per hour.
Each Centennial car seats 8 people and features little TVs showing videos of fun facts about the pier. The smooth ride lasts about 15 minutes with three revolutions -- although a chunk of that time can be spent loading other passengers depending on the point in the loading process at which you board.
The large windows -- even the sliding doors on each side of the cars are windows -- offer stunning views of the lakefront and city.
But these upgrades come at a cost. Regular ticket prices have almost doubled to $15 for an adult ticket -- from the old $8. And if you want to skip the line that cost goes up to $25.
Those who want an even swankier -- some might say scarier -- experience, can reserve a glass-bottomed VIP gondola. It seats just four people at $50 a ticket.
“It’s ideal for proposals and engagements,” says Navy Pier spokeswoman Payal Patel. “We actually have our first engagement happening this Saturday on the VIP gondola.”
Those thinking of doing the same should keep in mind that if they want their proposal to be in private the 15-minute ride will end up costing $200.
As one friend noted, if you want a proposal with a view, you might be better off going to the top of the John Hancock for free and spending your money on drinks.
The Centennial Wheel opens Friday at noon. Tickets can be reserved here on the Navy Pier website.