View to a Thrill – hot-air balloon rides, parasail, Ferris Wheel

High-flying adventures await in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and surrounding communities on the Alabama Gulf Coast. From Ferris wheel rides to hot-air balloon trips to sky-kissing parasail journeys, many ways to get a new perspective of the Alabama Gulf Coast are available. That new perspective can give visitors a new appreciation of the beauty, majesty and serenity of the Gulf of Mexico and her stately ivory coastline. Hovering heavenward is the only way to fly!

One if by land, two if by sea. If Paul Revere’s famous signal system were being used to denote ways to enjoy the Alabama Gulf Coast, it would need another option: Three if by air.

A bird’s-eye view of any area reveals the enormity of its beauty, the scope of its charms. But flying high above the Alabama Gulf Coast can help even the most ardent fan of the region appreciate how truly spectacular the ivory sands and azur waters are.

One way to gain a overview of the area is to take a ride on an invention that is a tribute to American design and ingenuity. The Ferris wheel, named for inventor George Ferris, carries its passengers skyward and back as they ride in cars attached to giant steel circles. Ferris created the design for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and it was an answer to the French Eiffel Tower.

The Ferris wheel at The Wharf, like its ancestor, is designed to make a statement. At 112 feet tall and bedecked with lights, it is visible from throughout the area, beckoning riders and admirers. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in the Southeast, sporting twenty-four gondolas capable of squiring one-hundred-forty people for a skyward journey. One of the gondolas is handicap-accessible, making it the perfect way for any visitor to experience the sense of freedom that flight can bring.

While the Ferris wheel at The Wharf is open both days and nights, arguments can be made in favor of rides at particular hours. In the daytime, the bright sunlight allows views of trees, wildlife and the surrounding countryside, which includes the famed Intercoastal Waterway of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Riders can see boats of all sizes making their way up and down the waterway, all the while enjoying the breeze that provides a bit of a break from the heat. In the evening, though, sun gives way to starry vistas, cool winds and a bit of romance. The best bet? Take a daytime ride, then come back for an evening circuit.

If being more than 100 feet off the ground seems too tame, perhaps it is time to move from one type of gondola to another — the kind attached to a hot-air balloon. While hot-air balloons are more than 200 years older than the first Ferris wheel (and were invented by the French), the modern hot-air balloon and the technology that makes it safe and accessible for passengers still is shy of its 50th birthday (but was developed in the United States).

To get a taste of ballooning, some might opt for a tethered ride. This allows passengers to board the gondola, then ascend a few hundred feet off the ground as the pilot, or aeronaut, controls the heated air released into the balloon. The balloon can move vertically, but has little room for horizontal travel and returns to the same landing spot.

In an untethered flight, the pilot and ground crew meet up with passengers at a predetermined takeoff spot. But the landing zone is determined by the wind currents. The ground crew will follow the balloon’s flight path and help the pilot secure a safe landing site. Passengers, meanwhile, can enjoy seeing bays, rivers, islands, inlets and, of course, the majestic Gulf of Mexico.

If your objective is the ultimate aerial perspective, parasailing is the only way to fly. After a boat ride away from the shore, parasailers are fitted with a harness, then attached to a parasail. When the wind catches the sail, the passenger is lifted away from the boat and into the air to fly as high as 800 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. The trip allows one some time to appreciate the serenity of flight as well as the proximity of wildlife, as fish can be spotted through the clear Gulf waters. All too soon, however, the descent begins and the ride comes to an end.

Any vacation to the Alabama Gulf Coast is memorable. But to magnify that experience, take it to new heights. Let your imagination soar, and then follow through by visiting the Ferris wheel at The Wharf, finding a pilot to take you on a hot-air balloon adventure or hooking up with a captain who can take you parasailing away from it all.
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