May 30, 2018

Ferris wheel adds new dimension to Waterside District

The skyline along the Norfolk waterfront took on a different look in May when the Waterside District installed SkyStar, a 137-foot-high Ferris wheel. “This is a great way for guests to have a new experience and to enhance the waterfront,” says Mike Ferger, Waterside’s district operator.

Similar to the Capital Wheel at Maryland’s National Harbor, SkyStar has 36 enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas. As the wheel turns, the gondolas rise to a height equivalent to 15 stories above the ground. “It does four rotations in a 12- to 15-minute rate,” Ferger says, noting the wheel is temporary and will be removed in September.

SkyStar, which has more than 1 million LED lights, offers impressive views of the Elizabeth River. “It’s a great place to see the tall ships at Harborfest or the Fourth of July fireworks,” Ferger says.

A ride costs $15 each for adults and $12 for children. There are discounts for the military and seniors.

Each gondola holds six passengers, but groups can be assured they “won’t be paired with other groups,” Ferger says. “You only sit with the people in your group. If it’s just two of you, it will only be the two of you in the gondola.”

Safety is top of mind, he adds. “SkyStar is inspected every day, and we have five to six managers on site. Someone is monitoring crowd control 24 hours a day.”

Each gondola is equipped with an emergency button so passengers can get in touch with the wheel operator. “We can communicate with each gondola if there is an emergency,” Ferger says.

The ride will be shut down if lightning is detected within three miles of the site or if there are wind gusts of 20 mph or more. 

Ferger believes the ride will bring more people to Waterside. The entertainment area includes a variety of food and drink options such as Blue Moon Taphouse, Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, Rappahannock Oyster Co. and Carolina Cupcakery. During the summer, Waterside will offer performances on two stages along the Elizabeth River on Friday nights.

“The District is booming. It’s exciting to see,” Ferger says. “It’s been a success for us and we want to improve on that.”

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