Neal Gilstrap of Atlanta slid into the temperature-controlled gondola on the SkyWheel on Friday ready to be the first to take a spin on downtown Myrtle Beachs newest attraction.
This has come a long way since the Ferris wheel with lap bars across you, he said as the gondolas doors closed.
Minutes later, wows and whoas filled the gondola as it climbed to its 187-foot peak, swayed a bit, then continued around three more times - with the thrill-seekers pointing out landmarks such as the Pavilion site, the boardwalk and even where one rider had parked his truck.
Wow. Its awesome, said Gilstrap, who took the SkyWheels inaugural trip Friday morning with his wife and daughter.
Gilstrap was among the hundred-plus - including locals, tourists who drove to town just for the opening and others who stumbled upon the event - who gathered in downtown Myrtle Beach near Mr. Joe White Avenue on Friday morning to christen the $12 million SkyWheel and Jimmy Buffetts LandShark Bar & Grill, both of which debuted after officials ceremoniously cut the ribbon and popped the tops of LandShark beer cans during a 10 a.m. ceremony.
Some came hours early determined to be among the first to ride, others just wanted to witness the big opening - snapping photos to capture the moment - but had no intention of riding it.
We wanted to see it. We want to be where the action is, said Bob Morris of Myrtle Beach, who said the attraction was a long time coming. They needed something different.
Officials say the attraction - debuting a year after the mile-long boardwalk in the same area - will be a key to bringing downtown Myrtle Beach back, giving it an iconic feature to compete with other tourist hubs in town. Downtown has struggled to find its place since The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park shut down in 2006, and some locals and tourists said the SkyWheel while it cant replace the Pavilion will bring back some of that amusement feel.
Its going to be huge, Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace said. Its the beginning of like a whole new era, rebirth of the whole area.
Officials touted what the ride could do for business and heralded the 150 jobs the ride and restaurant created.
Riders, though, were all about soaking up that birds eye view. The first 100 folks in line got to ride for free. A ride on the SkyWheel, which lasts about 12 minutes, costs $12 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 11.
It was unbelievable, said Tony Rossi, who moved to Surfside Beach with his wife Lori about two weeks ago. Its worth whatever they charge. What a great experience.
Mark and Misty Mills left their house in Belmont, N.C., near Charlotte, about 2 a.m. to get to Myrtle Beach in time to get in line. The repeat visitors to Myrtle Beach, who were in town last month, came just to ride the SkyWheel, and planned to leave by about 7 p.m. Friday. So was the ride worth the four-and-a-half-hour trip, one way?
Every bit of it. It was well worth it, said Misty Mills, adding that she was a bit startled when the ride started swaying when stopped at the peak. The view was spectacular.
But the debut didnt go off without glitches.
Misty Mills said she would have liked to have some music in the gondola, some beachy tunes to help set the tone. Music is supposed to play in the gondolas - a mix of rock hits - but wasnt working, officials said. Some riders said speakers in their gondolas repeated a line over and over saying the ride was ready to start, while others said the same song played repeatedly. Other gondolas didnt have any recorded instructions or music, as they should.
And some of the gates for passengers to pass through to get in the gondolas wouldnt open. The kinks were being worked out Friday, officials said.
Crews had scrambled until the last-minute getting the attraction ready, and officials had to shut the ride down from noon to 5 p.m. Friday to tweak the neon lights on the wheels spokes, which will offer a nightly light show. Some of the lights werent lighting Thursday night, as crews tested the ride using water-filled barrels in the gondolas as weight.
On Friday, as LandShark servers gave mini hot dogs and other samples to waiting riders, workers scurried around pouring concrete for sidewalks, watering freshly laid sod and tinkering with other pieces of the attraction.
They were still doing construction yesterday, David Busker, president of Koch Development, which brought the attraction to Myrtle Beach along with Pacific Development, said Friday. There are still a few things, finishing touches.
Stacie Smith, who is from California but owns a condo in Myrtle Beach, was more excited about the LandShark Bar & Grill - and its oceanfront deck - than the SkyWheel, which she said she wasnt planning to ride.
No, never, she said after taking photos of the ride before the ribbon cutting ceremony. I dont think Ill ever get on that thing. Looks kind of scary...Im thrilled to see some oceanfront dining. Ive always wondered why there wasnt more oceanfront dining.
Liz Authier of Surfside Beach wont get on the ride until Sunday, when she will be the first to get married on the SkyWheel.
"He just threw it out there thinking it would be funny," Authier said. "And I said yeah...We said, 'What the heck, let's do it.'"
The pair, who met on Match.com in October, had planned to get married, but couldn't come up with a place they both liked. They nixed the usual places: church, beach, a little chapel.
"We didn't want anything like formal or really big," Authier said. "It's different. I just wanted to do something different, not run of the mill."
About 400 people had taken a ride on the SkyWheel by about noon Friday, SkyWheel officials said, including Terry Smith of Myrtle Beach, who was the first rider to step into a gondola.
Its awesome, he said while looking over the ocean as the wheel slowly moved. My family is going to be, like...aw, howd you get the chance to do this?
Here's what you need to know:
WHERE | The $12 million attraction is on the oceanfront beside Plyler Park in Myrtle Beach.
RIDE COST | $12 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 11, free for children ages 2 and younger
THE RIDE | Lasts about 12 minutes and goes around three times
REGULAR HOURS | Opens at 10 a.m. daily, will close about 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.