A GIANT Ferris wheel boasting enclosed pods and unrivalled views of Edinburgh at night is being shipped from Australia to provide the centrepiece for Edinburgh’s revamped Christmas festival starting next month.
An artist’s impression obtained exclusively by the Evening News shows the 42-metre-high London Eye-style wheel will be set up at a new site in Princes Street Gardens.
The towering structure will be flanked by European Christmas markets and the festival’s box office, with a new children’s zone including a Santa’s grotto, Christmas tree maze and train to form a specialised quarter just metres away.
The road on one side of St Andrew Square will be closed off to traffic to clear space for the 60m-tall Star Flyer, a high-speed fairground ride which will spin people around above the festive celebrations, as well as more markets.
The altered programme is the brainchild of London-based Underbelly and Edinburgh firm Unique Events, which were jointly awarded a long-term contract earlier this year to organise both the Capital’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations.
Business groups have predicted an influx in city centre Christmas parties this winter on the back of the changes, with the new Spiegeltent running in St Andrew Square expected to be a major attraction.
Up to six people will be able to sit down in each of the Big Wheel’s 36 pods. A commentary pointing out Edinburgh’s historical landmarks will run during the nine-minute ride to add to the experience. The wheel has been relocated from Sydney on Australia’s east coast and will offer better views than Edinburgh’s old version, which was only 30m high. The imposing wheel is still shorter than the Scott Monument, which stretches to 61.1 metres tall.
Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Our main reason for changing the wheel was that Edinburgh is the windy city, especially in Princes Street and especially at Christmas.
“If people are going to enjoy the views, they ought to be cosy and warm. The fact that it’s 42m high means you will also be able to see due north when you’re at the top of the wheel as well.”
The Star Flyer, being used here for the first time, will also give passengers 360-degree views over the city.
Mr Wood said: “When you’re on the Star Flyer, you’ll be above pretty much everything. You’ll be above the buildings on St Andrew Square, you’ll be higher than the Scott Monument itself. You won’t quite be as high as the Castle, but you’ll get the most amazing 360- degree view of the whole of Edinburgh. The city is a city of seven hills – you could almost call the Star Flyer an eighth hill.”
The traditional ice rink will be moved next to the Scott Monument, not St Andrew Square as had been mooted.
Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal billed the new attractions as a major crowd puller.
He said: “We’re very excited about the way the plans are all looking now. It definitely feels like it’s an upgrade in all areas. All the buzz that we’re getting is great, and the Scottish market stalls are all very reputable companies and high-quality products.
“The fact the Big Wheel is enclosed rather than open to the elements adds to the sense that it’s going to be a higher quality, with some really big attractions.
“The Spiegeltent at Christmas – actually having a big Christmas show in the city centre – is great.”
Mr Neal predicted more punters would book Christmas parties around the city centre over the festive period on the back of the strong festival offering.
He said: “Something completely new like the Spiegeltent means a lot of people might come in and have their Christmas party in the city centre where they can have a meal and a few drinks and then pick up the show as part of it. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Ticket prices for the Big Wheel will be twice as much as last year, with the cost rising from £4 to £8. The cost of other attractions from the Christmas tree maze to the Star Flyer and ice rink will range from £4-£10 for adults.
German glass engraver Peggy Jane Pauli, who had run a stall at the Christmas festival since 2000 but will be missing this year, had claimed earlier this week the event was becoming too “commercial” and was “losing its spirit” under the new management arrangements.
However, discounts for online bookings and the enclosed nature of the wheel’s pods have been billed by Mr Neal as value for money.
He said: “If you have a great experience you don’t mind spending a bit of money on it. From what I’m hearing and seeing, the quality of what’s on offer is very good, so I’m hoping that people – even if they have to spend a little bit more – will be thinking that they’ve had great value.”
Olympic cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy has been chosen to switch on the city’s Christmas lights as part of a huge new street carnival along George Street on November 24. Performances by circus troupe act Limbo! will be staged in the Paradiso Spiegeltent in St Andrew Square, representing one of the other big draws. The group is coming off a successful six-month run at Underbelly’s London Wonderground Festival.
The Christmas festival will officially run from November 22 to January 5.
Edinburgh festivals and events champion Councillor Steve Cardownie said: “Judging by the programme and these artist’s impressions, Underbelly have delivered something fresh and exciting for Edinburgh’s Christmas, proving that once again the Capital is the place to be at Christmas time.”
You say you want a revolution?
• Height: 135m
• Number of pods: 32
• Pod capacity: 25 people
• Location: South Bank of the River Thames
• Open date: March 2000
• Price: Adult £19.50, child (4-15 years) £12.30, child under four free
• Ride length: 30 minutes
• Extras: Samsung interactive capsule guides, entry to 4D cinema experience
• Height: 42m
• Number of pods: 36
• Pod capacity: Six people
• Location: Princes Street Gardens, opposite BHS department store
• Open date: November 2013
• Price: Adult £8, child £6
• Ride length: Nine minutes
• Extras: Commentary on historical landmarks