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One of the city’s signature seasonal parks has returned to Eakins Oval at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This year’s installation is called The Oval XP — to emphasize its bigger presence post-pandemic — and touts the slogan “Philadelphia’s largest outdoor urban oasis.” Also big: the Ferris wheel, which joins the beer garden and activities on the Ben Franklin Parkway for the first time.
Called “The Grand Wheel,” the ride is 108 feet tall, about the same height as an 8-story apartment building. It’s promoted as offering “never-before-seen views of Philadelphia,” including aerial vistas of the Art Museum, Parkway, and Center City skyline.
Press releases even identified it as the largest mobile Ferris wheel in the world. Some news coverage has dubiously repeated the claim — but it doesn’t seem to be true.
The record is currently boasted by two other wheels, both of which are taller than Philly’s: the Star of Puebla in Mexico, which some cite as 262 feet tall, or the Munich Sky-Hi in Germany, which touts 260 feet and made a splash a couple years back when an Austrian athlete moved it by hand. Neither of those is nearly as tall as some stationary Ferris wheels. At a whopping 820 feet, the Ain Dubai wheel in the United Arab Emirates is considered the current biggest overall. The very first Ferris wheel had a diameter of 250 feet when it was set up in Chicago in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition.
So where did city officials and event coordinators get the idea that The Oval XP was the largest of the mobiles?
It’s not some conspiracy to get more people to visit, officials say. The inaccurate claim appears to be the result of some last-minute changes that never made their way into a press release.
According to Parks & Rec spokesperson Maita Soukup, the original plan did include bringing a different wheel. But “after some additional logistics planning, it was determined that the current 100+ foot attraction was a better fit for the Oval experience,” she told Billy Penn.
Philly’s ride has received some other complaints on social media. Patrons have called its price — $12 per person — expensive and prohibitive, especially in a city where a quarter of residents and more than a third of children live below the federal poverty line. Combined with a two-rider policy set by the operator, critics note, a single ride can run a couple $24 or a small family $48.
Soukup also noted that, in addition to being set based on the operator’s specifications, the fee “underwrites the ongoing free summer programming at the Oval.”
Basically, she seems to be saying that while the double-digit fare might seem expensive, it keeps the rest of the Oval’s programming affordable. Even so, there has been criticism of this year’s set up — specifically, the barrier constructed to separate the wheel from the rest of the park — which some see as a frustrating result of the privatization and commercialization of park spaces.
Whether or not you decide to ride the tall-but-not-tallest mobile Ferris wheel, there’s other stuff to do on any given evening at the park, which is open 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 2 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Various free concerts and film festivals are scheduled throughout the summer, and there are activities to do all season long. Kids can visit the Imagination Space, which has everything from mini-golf to interactive games to music lessons, all designed for attendees aged 12 and under. Adults can visit what event organizers claim is Philadelphia’s largest beer garden, sampling the 24 taps on MilkBoy’s menu, and take in the 33,000 square foot ground mural by local artist Calo Rosa.