Ain Dubai, the world's largest observation wheel, review: Twice the size of the London Eye

It's not in Dubai's nature to beat a record by a few centimetres. Take, for instance, the world's tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, which is 150 metres higher than its closest rival, Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka 118. 

So when plans for the emirate's new observation wheel were signed off back in 2013, Dubai made sure that any pretenders to the throne would have to work hard to beat the new Ain Dubai, which soars 250 metres above the city. 

Ain Dubai (ain translates as 'eye' in Arabic) is just over 82 metres taller than its deposed rival, the 167-metre High Roller on the Strip in Las Vegas. The Vegas landmark held the title as the highest wheel for seven years until October, when the Dubai wheel officially opened. Ain Dubai also leaves the 135-metre London Eye in the shade, at nearly double the height of its British rival.

The observation wheel is the new jewel of Dubai's Bluewaters Island, a slice of reclaimed land covered in swanky cafes, ritzy shops, a Madame Tussauds waxworks and – further thumbing its nose at Vegas – it's very own Caesar's Palace hotel (the other, lavish Caesar's Palace is also on Las Vegas' neon-tastic Strip). 

Comprising 11,200 tonnes of steel, Ain Dubai soars slowly above it all. A single rotation of the wheel takes 38 minutes, at a pace kindly described as 'leisurely'. Each of the 48 glass cabins – happily, the floor is not glass – pause dramatically at the apex to look out over the emirate. The cabins measure 30 square metres apiece and can accommodate up to 40 people, though those numbers have been dramatically cut in this era of the pandemic, and there are just 13 masked passengers in our cabin; one positive (no pun intended) effect of COVID-19. 

Ten years ago, a view from here would have had a whole lot more desert in it. Today, my eye follows a never-ending skyline of skyscrapers, from the mini-Petronas towers of Dubai Internet City all the way around to the enormous rectangle that is the new Address Beach Resort, whose lobby frames the view of Ain Dubai. 

A flotilla of glamorous white pleasure craft coast the glistening waters of Dubai Marina below my feet, and I can see the busy boardwalks that line Jumeirah Beach Resort, a holiday-town-within-a-town, with a party vibe in its beach bars and kiosks selling snacks, sun hats and beaded necklaces. It is linked to the Bluewaters island via a pedestrian footbridge that is floodlit prettily at dusk. 

Pausing at the apex, we have a chance to see straight into the cabins either side of us. We smile and somebody waves. We take photos of them, they take photos of us. It's all very amicable. 

The cabin before us is the same as ours – an air-conditioned glass cabin with 360-degree views and a bench seat in the centre – but the cabin behind us is a Skybar, which I've dubbed the Bubble Bubble. For an extra 70 dirham ($A26) a head, you get two glasses of sparkling wine and some tunes on the rotation. 

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The Bubble Bubble isn't very busy in the late afternoon, but we can't jump ship mid-flight, so we must be content with our coffee, bought at the glitzy gift shop while we waited behind crowds of Russian tourists for our turn to board. 

As the wheel descends, the scenery changes to views of the bright blue waters of the Arabian Gulf and the reclaimed island of Palm Jumeirah, set in the shape of a vast, stylised palm. 

This town loves a VIP experience and the Ain obliges, with private cabins as well as VIP ticket lanes, a VIP lounge and even a VIP time of day: tickets booked at sunset incur a hefty loading, when basic tickets rise from 130 dirham to 180 dirham a person, while the Skybar tickets take a hike from 200 dirham to 350 dirham ($A130) for a sunset spin. 

Naturally, it's a case of exit via the gift shop, where a vast range of little fridge magnets, bar coasters and demi-tasse cups are emblazoned with the Ain Dubai logo. Despite their diminutive size, the little souvenirs serve to remind you that, in this town, bigger is definitely better. 

DETAILS

Ain Dubai is a 20-minute walk on beachfront boardwalks from the DMCC Metro station across the pedestrian bridge to Bluewaters Island and Ain Dubai. Taxis are plentiful, and rideshare apps include Uber and Careem. General tickets costs from 130 dirham ($A49) a person. The Skybar costs from 200 dirham ($A79) a person. Closed Mondays. 

See aindubai.com 

The writer was a guest of Ain Dubai

See also: Goodbye Melbourne Star, the attraction nobody asked for

See also: Dubai's mega resort is so fake, but so much fun

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