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Riding the wheels, imagining a New Year’s revolution

My group couldn’t wait for the chance to fly on the tallest observation wheel in the world.

The doors opened and about 15 of us climbed in as the capsule moved continuously along the boarding platform.

Within minutes, we began seeing the sights of the city.

Sheldon Adelson’s beautiful hotel. The glimmering lights of the city coming out after sunset.

And all those boats offshore.

No, this wasn’t the High Roller, the tourist attraction that is breathing new life into the heart of the Strip.

This was in 2011, when the Singapore Flyer, a 541-foot observation wheel on Singapore’s southern shore, was still recognized as the tallest on the planet. Las Vegas’ High Roller now claims that status after Guinness World Records officially certified a 549-foot mark earlier this month.

The Singapore Flyer operates pretty much the same way as the High Roller — a 30-minute, single-rotation ride in a glassed capsule. In Singapore, the star attractions to see nearby are Las Vegas Sands’ Marina Bay Sands, an astonishing three-tower, 2,651-room resort and casino topped by a three-acre park; Singapore’s downtown financial district filled with towering skyscrapers; and ships that continuously steam into and out of port.

If you have sharp eyes, you can also pick out Singapore’s merlion, an iconic statue that is half lion, half mermaid; and Sentosa Island, home of Singapore’s other casino, the Resorts World Sentosa, whose owner, the Genting Group, will take up residence on the Strip in 2016.

With the ride open, the Linq marketing team is spreading the word that customers can fly. Because the High Roller doesn’t operate like a conventional Ferris wheel and movement is subtle, it’s hard to tell from a distance that it’s running. It’s only when you get fairly close to the wheel that one realizes it’s in constant motion.

As beautiful as Singapore is, the High Roller seems to have the Singapore Flyer beat and not just by height. To the west, there’s Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston on the horizon. To the east, Frenchman Mountain rises above the city.

And, in the middle one-third of the ride, each capsule climbs above the Strip hotels to offer views up and down Lass Vegas Boulevard. (Early and late in the ride, people in our capsule were snickering about the roof repairs that appeared necessary at the closest resorts.)

While the Las Vegas version has better vistas, the Flyer can offer a few tips to the Roller to make it better.

It seems the biggest criticism the public has for the High Roller is its price.

The ride opened with tiered pricing, $25 before 6 p.m. and $35 after.

Jon Gray, vice president and general manager of the Linq, the retail center at the base of the High Roller, said the ride’s price was developed after researching tourist attractions across the valley and at other big wheels in other locations.

“We looked extensively at pricing sensitivity models with comps on the Eiffel Tower (at Paris Las Vegas), the Stratosphere Tower, shows around town and cover charges in clubs,” Gray said. “We also looked at other wheels around the world. We even looked at the Empire State Building.”

High Roller tickets can be purchased at the attraction’s gift shop, at kiosks at the Linq and online.

Most other wheels have online sales and at least two, the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer, offer a discount to those buying online.

Day-of-flight tickets are 19.95 pounds, or $33.50, with online tickets at 17.96 pounds ($30.16). The London Eye sells a day-and-night pass that offers two rides, one in the daylight and one at night, for $44.83 or $40.35 online. It also offers tickets for a family of four for $114.03 or $91.23 online.

The Singapore Flyer sells ride tickets for 33 Singapore dollars or $26.34 ($23.71 online).

The Melbourne Star in Australia sells tickets for 32 Australian dollars or $29.86, and an “encore package” of two rides for $37.32. A family of four can ride for $76.51.

The High Roller has a Nevada discount, but it’s beneficial only to families. Under a current promotion, Nevada residents who buy a day or night ticket can get a ticket free for children 12 and younger.

Because the ride is brand-new, Gray and his team are looking at several options it can apply to create a more enjoyable ride.

Riders now hear “Lucas,” a narrator who offers trivia quizzes and other white noise during the 30-minute orbit. After a few minutes of that, my capsule mates ignored the soundtrack, although they did seem to enjoy the pie-chart graphic that showed how far into the trip we were at any given time.

Gray didn’t share specifics about what’s ahead, but he shared that each of the High Roller’s 28 capsules can have individual audio and video tracks piped inside. That means a capsule could be set up for a party atmosphere or a quiet, romantic ride accompanied with classical music. A capsule also could be set up for a wedding ceremony.

Other wheels around the world have special ride promotions. The London Eye offers wine and champagne tastings that offer two revolutions on the wheel. In Singapore, the Flyer has rides with a high tea service.

Gray said the feedback he receives is overwhelmingly positive.

“People say, ‘I don’t even feel like I’m in Vegas right now,’ ” he said. “And I was surprised at how incredible the experience is during the day and how much you see. We geared to take advantage of the night because all the lights are incredible.”

Gray said most people are shocked at how large the cabins are and that even those who are claustrophobic or fear heights have enjoyed the experience once coaxed to try it.

Although it’s still months away, Gray and his team are starting to think about doing something special on New Year’s Eve. Assuming that Las Vegas has its annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display as planned, riders of the High Roller will have the best seat in the house. Gray figures there’s a nice window of times that will feature optimum views of fireworks going off all around the wheel.

If three-quarters of the capsules are near the ride’s apex during the fireworks display, more than 800 people could get a great view of the celebration.

But who will get those prime spots? And how much will they cost?

It’s a great problem to solve.

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