I-Drive attraction will be an Eye opener. Orlando Eye will be ready for visitors by next spring, as will Sea Life Aquarium

By Peter Covino

A&E Editor

You won’t be able to see the Orlando Eye from downtown Kissimmee when the 400-foot tall attraction opens sometime next year, but you just might be able to see downtown Kissimmee from atop the giant observation wheel.

The off-again, on-again project, is most definitely on as media and invited guests got an inside look this week at what will be literally, the biggest project ever to come to Central Florida.

Of course, you don’t need to be an invited guest to see what is happening off of International Drive, at what was once the location of the Mercado shopping attraction.

The Orlando Eye is already taking shape and can readily be seen as you drive down International Drive and other streets in the area — and it is still only half of the total size of the project, which will be 18-stories high upon completion.

The Merlin Entertainments project will also include the Sea Life Aquarium and Madam Tussauds, the famous wax museum from London.

The entire project will be known collectively as I-Drive 360.

But it is the Orlando Eye that will forever change the landscape along International Drive, according to tourism officials who were at the project update.

Here is a breakdown from Merlin on just how impressive the Orlando Eye will be when it is completed next spring.

•The Orlando Eye is the tallest observational wheel on the North American East Coast.

•It will weigh about 3 million pounds, which is roughly the weight of 300 school buses, when complete.

•The wheel hub  alone  will weigh more than a Boeing 737 at more than 180,000 pounds.

•It  will takes more than 150 forty-foot trailers to ship all of the wheel components.

Once in operation, guests on board  one of the 30  air-conditioned “capsules” will be able to see as far away as the Kennedy Space Center, on a clear day.

Each capsule will hold 15 people for the 20-minute experience.

An Orlando Eye ticket will also include a pre-flight 3D film that includes special in-theater effects.

Anyone driving along International Drive will be able to see the structure as it continues to grow skyward. By June, it should have that “ferris wheel” shape, said project manager James Paulding, and probably by about October, the Eye should look like it is operational, but there will still be weeks of work ahead before it is ready for its public opening.

The massive hub unit is expected to arrive in Jacksonville  from Europe (via an ocean freighter) in late May. It  will be transported  the rest of the way via the interstate.

“What a great day for Orlando,” and Central Florida, said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who also was on hand for the Orlando Eye project update.

The Orlando area had a record-breaking 59 million visitors last year, making it the No. 1 family destination in the United States, she said. The Orlando Eye project will just add to the demand.

In addition, Merlin Entertainments also gave more details about Sea Life Orlando and Madame Tussauds.

This will be the seventh Sea World Life aquarium in the U.S. The Orlando version will take guests on a journey from the wetlands and swamps of Florida to the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.

The 25,000 square-foot attraction will include more than 5,000 sea creatures including sharks, sea turtles, seahorses, jellyfish and rays.

The company promises a mixture of education and conservation as well as fun.

And Madame Tusseauds, which has been in operation for more than 200 years,  will feature various themed rooms of wax figures. Each wax figure takes three to four months to make at a cost of about $300,000 and requires a team of about 20 artists.

In addition to the three main attractions,  I-Drive 360 will include restaurants and shopping.