LAS VEGAS - Tourists began taking in the view Monday from a skyline-changing observation wheel that offers a unique overview of sparkling Las Vegas Strip resorts, wide skies and craggy brown mountains in the distance.
Van Kim, an airline call center employee from Phoenix, declared the experience "unanimously awesome."
Kim stood in line for six hours to be in the first gondola to complete the 30-minute ride on the 550-foot High Roller. Its height eclipses the 541-foot Singapore Flyer and the nearly 443-foot London Eye, and is expected to be the tallest in the world until planned Ferris-style wheels are completed in coming years in New York and Dubai.
"It's probably the best view of the Strip," said Kim, who made mental images on a sunny and blustery day of the iconic Bellagio fountain across Las Vegas Boulevard and the stunningly green Wynn Golf Club a short distance away.
Kim compared what he saw from his spherical pod with the panorama from an observation deck at the 1,148-foot Stratosphere tower, just 2 miles away. He said he liked the view better at the heart of the Strip.
"We didn't feel the wind at all," he added.
The Las Vegas wheel is part of $550 million restaurant, bar, retail and entertainment development built by casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. between its Flamingo, Harrah's and renamed Quad hotel-casinos. The Quad used to be the Imperial Palace.
The outdoor pedestrian mall - dubbed LINQ - is across the Strip from the company's flagship Caesars Palace resort. The walkway features beer bars, shops and a trendy "Cupcake ATM" at a Sprinkles sweets store, anchored by a Brooklyn Bowl venue offering concert, nightclub, bar, bowling alley and restaurant experiences.
It leads to the High Roller, resembling a big white bicycle wheel with spoke-like cables. It sits between two stations of the nearly decade-old Las Vegas monorail line, which runs 3.9 miles and connects several hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
From a distance, the motion of the wheel is nearly imperceptible. Its profile is unmistakable.
At night, it changes hues from blue to red to green to purple. Each of its 28 glass-enclosed and air-conditioned gondolas can hold up to 40 people. Tickets are $24.95 during the day and $34.95 at night, with front-of-the-line VIP passes selling for $59.95.
About 10,000 people, mostly Caesars employees, took preview rides in recent days before project chief David Codiga and a Caesars executive, Tariq Shaukat, broke champagne bottles Monday at a midday ceremony surrounded by elected officials and dignitaries who then rode the wheel.
Steve Sisolak, chairman of the seven-member Clark County Commission that governs the Strip, emerged afterward calling the view spectacular and the jobs boost provided by the two years of construction important.
"You can see the entire valley," Sisolak said. "This is going to be one of those things everyone who comes to Las Vegas is going to want to do."
Another developer's effort to build a 500-foot wheel called SkyVue near McCarran International Airport has proceeded slowly, leaving twin support spires marking the site across the Strip from the Mandalay Bay resort.
Officials with that company, Compass Investments, say it could open next year.