Orlando Sentinel: The giant observation wheel planned for International Drive is supposed to rival the world-famous London Eye. But will the view from an Orlando Eye rival the well-known panorama provided by its English counterpart?
Turns out you can see almost everything in Central Florida from 425 feet up in the air above I-Drive — from a tiny version of Spaceship Earth in Epcot to the downtown skyline to the OUC power plant partway to the Space Coast. But you can't see any of it particularly well.
The iconic images that visitors associate with Orlando — Walt Disney World's Cinderella Castle, for example, or Universal's roller coasters — are mere points on a flat horizon when viewed from high above the site chosen for the Orlando Eye, a vacant lot that once held the Mercado shopping-and-dining complex.
An Orlando Sentinel reporter and photographer took a helicopter flight recently to gauge the view from above the Mercado property on a blue-sky day. The trip revealed pleasant views of nearby lakes and a surprising amount of greenery. From the sky, the highways and main roads clogged with tourists day and night look a bit more picturesque. And there's a postcard-perfect view of the Orange County Convention Center's newer, North-South Building — the more striking north end that most tourists miss from International Drive.
But there are also lots of big, flat, dull rooftops and parking lots, such as the sprawling Lockheed Martin Corp. complex that predates the arrival of Disney and the development of a tourist corridor.
The Orlando Eye is part of a proposed retail-and-entertainment development, to be called "I-Walk Orlando," that is supposed to rise from the Mercado's ashes about a mile north of the convention center.
But seeing Orlando's key attractions from 425 feet above the heart of International Drive is a bit deflating, at least without the use of binoculars. The Epcot dome is recognizable but unimpressive at such a distance, and with just a slight haze on the horizon, the Magic Kingdom's castle is all but indistinguishable.
(Attractions operator) Merlin said it is in the early stages of planning the attraction and still has "a lot of work to do" on the final experience, including mapping the view. But the company said it expects the I-Walk location to be a great one for an Orlando Eye.
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