The Merlin Entertainments London Eye is an engineering marvel: 135m high, its immense wheel and 32 pods weigh over 2,100 tonnes, and can carry 1600 passengers per hour. It silently, gently carries people high above the River Thames, offering jaw-dropping views of London. So, to be clear, not only is the construction itself a thing of beauty and wonder, it offers an unrivalled experience to view our Capital, its varied architecture and history. It offers a chance to reconsider, appreciate and celebrate London for what it is, a brilliant city.
So why is it such a soulless corporate experience? Don’t get me wrong, the staff are all helpful and professional. The queuing system is tightly controlled for good reason. But despite the fact that The London Eye is one of the most amazing tourist attractions in the world, let alone the UK, it’s just so … uninspiring.
The online booking system is efficient, but having sweated over a specific ‘take-off’ time (can we get the kids up early?), we arrive to discover this is virtually irrelevant, and certainly doesn’t mean we don’t have to queue with all the ‘walk-ups’. The pods themselves are clean, but all identical and clinical. No themed decoration or personality? No commentary to enrich the experience, just the opportunity to buy a Viewing Guide.
And then the coup de grace – An Official Photo Memory of Your Flight. An engineering marvel with unique views of London that costs £15 per person for a 30 minute Flight, and you get an identikit experience with little or no personality. And the first thought of Merlin Entertainments is to flog you a digital print for £12 afterwards. If you delay, you’re deleted, erased from the record, as if you had never been. And apart from your credit card details and ticks in the opt-in boxes, you might as well not have been.
A few hundred yards down the South Bank we discovered the spotty trees.
Part of the Walking In My Mind exhibition, they are immediately eye-catching, playful, exciting. My daughters love them, I love them. They brighten your mood, lift your spirits. Beneath the trees is a small booth, part of The SouthBank’s efforts to engage the swarms of people who meander through ‘their patch’ every day. A lovely, smiling lady invites us to scribble whatever we want on a board, then have our picture taken. We get a website reference and a time to search for, and the next day we’re on Flickr. And it’s all free, just a bit of fun.
As you can see, Eleanor was really excited with this experience!
A word in the ear of Merlin Entertainments… stop looking up at your immense wheel, take a break from worrying about pod occupancy, and take a stroll along the river. Pause at the spotty trees, observe the smiling faces, and reflect for a moment. And stop taking your visitors for granted.