Wonder Wheel

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park at Coney Island
© Arthur Levine, 2007. Licensed to About.com.

The iconic Wonder Wheel stands as a testament to the Industrial Era and to a bygone era of Coney Island. But it continues to remain relevant and offers modern-day fun as well. Riders stand "on line" (as they say in New York City) to ride the Wonder Wheel as much for its panoramic views and unique swinging cars as they do for its sheer nostalgia. One of the earliest wheels, it inspired a slew of copy cats. Read about the world's tallest observation wheels.

Up-Front Info

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 4.5 for the swinging cars. 2 for the stationary cars.
    • The swinging cars can be quite unnerving. With its soaring height, even the stationary cars can make some riders a bit queasy.
  • Height: 150 feet (with a diameter of 140 feet)
  • Capacity: 144 passengers
  • Wonder Wheel Photo Gallery
  • Coney Island Overview

As with the other two icons that dominate Coney Island's skyline, the Cyclone roller coaster and the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel heralds Coney Island's glorious past. Opened in 1920, it is the oldest of the three.

Are You a Swinger?

While in line, riders can choose to enter the swinging cars or the stationary cars queue. The wait for the stationary cars is generally shorter. Each car has two benches and can accommodate four to six passengers. The eight stationary cabins, which sit at the outside of the wheel behave like typical Ferris wheel seats. As the wheel turns, the cabins pivot and remain level. The view of the amusements, the ocean, and the Manhattan skyline in the distance is incredible and well worth the price of admission.

The swinging cars, however, provide a distinctive and wild ride. They are located towards the center of the wheel and sit on curved tracks that extend out to the wheel's perimeter. The cabins remain fairly level for the first half of the ride's revolution. Just after the swinging cars pass the ride's apex, however, they drop down and soar towards the outer edge of the wheel. When they reach the end of the track, they swing upward and then rebound backwards. After a couple of to-and-fro movements, the cabins reach the bottom of the wheel and settle down for the next ascent.

Although passengers know that the cabins are on a track, the thrills are nonetheless potent as they are sent hurling down and seemingly to their doom off the edge of the wheel some 150 feet in the air. It is a giddy and odd sensation.

Other Wonders of the Wheel World

The Wonder Wheel is a New York City landmark and, like the Cyclone, is protected from the whims of developers.

There is a replica of the Wonder Wheel in Yokahama, Japan, apparently developed with the consent of the original wheel's owners. According to Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Disney folks wanted to create a Wonder Wheel clone at Disney's California Adventure. (The park's Paradise Pier is homage to classic seaside parks like Coney Island.) When negotiations broke down, the Mouseketeers went ahead and developed the attraction anyway. Disney doesn't call its ride the Wonder Wheel.