And today that confidence proved correct. Polercoaster— with its supporting tower officially named The Skyscraper—is coming to International Drive (at its junction with Sand Lake Road), with ground-breaking in 2015 and a grand opening expected in 2016.
So what is The Skyscraper? It’s a pure hair-raising thrill-fest, that’s what it is. Chief operations officer Joshua Wallack put it into technical terms during a media conference on 5 June: “This is such a proud day for me and my father and it is very exciting to confirm we are building this 570 foot vertical roller-coaster, which will be the tallest in the world.
“With the Orlando Eye just a few blocks away, it will give International Drive two highly iconic structures and a real 21st Century appeal. It also adds a completely indoor entertainment, dining and shopping complex called SKYPLEX, with 40ft-high ceilings, plus fountains and arcades to make it very inviting.”
Orlando knows coasters, from the beastly Incredible Hulk Coaster and the near-miss thrills of Dragon Challenge at Islands of Adventure to the twists and turns of Kraken and the flying coaster Manta at SeaWorld, plus the sky-high mega-coaster SheiKra over on the coast at Busch Gardens. But how does a vertical coaster work and what does it look like?
Wallack described it: “The track for Skyscraper itself not only comes down the main tower but will whip around the retail outlets and down alongside I-Drive. Not only will it be the world’s tallest coaster but it will also be the most exciting, taking you upside-down 50 storeys high! It will last a good three minutes on 5,200ft of track and reach a top speed of 65mph.”
It is thrillingly obvious how riders will get down, but how will they reach the 570 foot launch pad (that’s 55 storeys high, for us mathematically-impaired riders) in the first place? “On the second floor, you will be able to take the 55-storey glass elevator to the observation deck,” Wallack said, “and then above that will be the restaurant, lounge and nightclub with great views and our own fireworks show. From the top, you will be able to see the Space Coast and, on a clear day, all the way to the Gulf Coast.” He joked about being able to see New York on an ultra-clear day, and from the look of the artist rendering, we aren’t so sure it isn’t true!
Still not sure how high 570 feet/55 stories is? The helicopter in this picture shows you just how tall the tower will be!
“We also want to have high-end but not expensive retail,” Wallack continued. “Something that is different to what you see in the malls right now. We want it to be supportive of the other businesses nearby so that everyone sees a spike in sales and we all grow our business together.”
Long-established I-Drive restaurants and attractions are among the businesses that may benefit from this new entertainment complex, as is the upcoming I-Drive 360, with the Orlando Eye observation wheel, Madame Tussauds, and the Sea Life aquarium, as well as a host of new restaurants that are cropping up along ‘tourist central’.
The Skyscraper is a first-of-its-kind ride and is being developed by Orlando-based US Thrill Rides. The company’s president, Michael Kitchen, added: “It’s a very long, very exciting three minutes coming down with loops and inversions and direction changes. It’s not a free-fall ride. It’s a full roller coaster. In fact, it’s a super coaster.” He went on to say it features all the other thrilling mayhem of a great coaster experience, but in a very small footprint.
US Thrill Rides is already well-known on I-Drive for the Skycoaster at Fun Spot and the iFly-Orlando indoor skydiving attraction (formerly called SkyVenture; are you seeing the pattern?), so they’re old hands at identifying serious thrill-seekers’ needs and filling them in high style. “Not only will The Skyscraper coaster be the world’s tallest,” Kitchen said, “we believe it will be the most thrilling. There will be incredible heart-pounding inside and outside loops, dives, spirals and inversions like the world has never seen.” Referencing the concept art again, it made our hearts beat a little bit faster just thinking about it.
Joshua’s father and company co-owner David Wallack has also been involved with International Drive attractions since 1991, and was instrumental in bringing the new Mango’s Tropical Café (which is due to open in the autumn) to I-Drive. Mango’s Tropical Café is based on Mango’s nightclub on South Beach, a sizzling-hot night-time spot that is an institution in Miami.
“We are bringing great fun and excitement to International Drive,” David said, “and are especially pleased to be bringing a nightlife component which hasn’t been here before. This will completely transform this empty site over the next two years and become a new all-round centre for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.” Mangos will feature food, drinks, live bands, shows and dancing (think Rio Carnival-style, with a degree of exposed skin that is possibly not ideal for bashful guests or with younger children).
Prices for the Skyscraper have not been announced yet, but the Wallacks believe it will be around $20 for an all-day rides ticket, with 1-ride and 2-ride tickets also available. Each ride vehicle will have two rows of four stadium-style seats, for a capacity of 1,000 riders per hour. There will be a height requirement of approximately 4ft tall, but those under that height can still experience the glass elevator ride to the 55-storey high observation tower, which will be a thrill in itself. There will also be a tower-top restaurant and lounge with nightly music and dancing.
Worried about parking on I-Drive? Don’t be. There will be a 1,500-car parking structure, with access from both I-Drive and Sand Lake Road, and an exit onto Carrier Drive. If you’re staying on I-Drive, talks are underway toward the possibility of a pedestrian bridge across Sand Lake Road, linking to the I-Shops and I-Drive 360 with the Orlando Eye.
It all adds up to the most ambitiously thrilling project we have seen in a long time, but it might take braver hearts than ours to actually ride it!