Rise 35 stories above the city on Chicago’s new balloon attraction

Navy Pier, Chicago‘s biggest tourist trap, is offering visitors a new way to see the city. If riding the elevator to the top of the Sears Willis Tower or relaxing as a giant Ferris wheel slowly inches you skyward doesn’t satisfy your thirst for getting airborne, maybe this one will. A 120,000 cubic-foot helium balloon, called the AeroBalloon, promises to float you 350 feet above the ground.

The balloon’s gondola, which has a hole in the center through which passengers view the ground, can carry up to 18 people, which it will hold aloft for a ride of 8-10 minutes before returning to Earth. Kids must be at least 5 years old to ride and those under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. The rides are offered from 8am to 10pm Monday through Thursday and from 8am to midnight Friday to Sunday. The attraction will shut down for the season on October 31.

Tickets cost a hefty $25 for adults ($15 for kids 12 and under). $25 for 10 minutes? No thanks. I’ll take my view with a side of cocktail – at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center – where I can pay around $15 and linger as long as I want.

America from above – can you guess the view?

Skyscrapers and towers in The United States may have been overtaken in height by ambitious cities like Dubai, but the country is still home to some of the most awesome views you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Think you know your stuff? Take the quiz (posted after the jump) and prove it! Five towers, five photos – its up to you to guess where the photo was taken.

Gadling Take FIVE (Week of June 18 – June 24)

Heavens! The last weekend in July?! How can that be? Hopefully, those of you in the summer season are finding time to get out there, see the world–even if the world is not much further than the block next door and the weather is cooperating.

Here are five posts about new things in the travel scene.

  • Sean’s post on how e-mailing is getting easier in some parts of Africa due to a new fiber optic cable is good news for travelers and business people–and education.
  • In keeping up with the trend for more environmentally friendly, safe travel, Antarctic tourism is following suit. Kraig’s post tells how.
  • People are smiling more in Paris, according to Scott. It’s not that they have more to be happy about, it’s that they’ve been told to. Find out why.
  • As a Luddite, of sorts–so was Kurt Vonnegut, by the way, I’m befuddled by augmented reality. Jeremy has a handle on it though, so read his version. It’s a wild way to see the world is all I can say.
  • If you’re looking for Sears Tower in Chicago, you won’t find it anymore. You’ll find Willis Tower. As Katie points out Willis Tower is really the Sears Tower. There’s been a name change. It’s true; money can buy you a very very tall building.

Say goodbye to Chicago’s Sears Tower

It’s official. As of last week, the Sears Tower no longer exists. The famous skyscraper that dominates Chicago’s skyline is still there, it just has a new name. On July 16th, the building was renamed as the Willis Tower, for the Willis Group Holdings company that received the naming rights back in March.

The tower was previously named for Sears Roebuck & Co., which was headquartered there and was the original tenant after the building’s completion in 1973. Though the company hadn’t operated out of the tower since 1993, the name remained. When the Willis Group made arrangements to lease space in the building, they asked for and were granted the right to rename the it.

Just how much does it cost to name the tallest building in the US? Absolutely nothing. The Willis Group is paying for the leased space, which accounts for less than 4% of the building’s total area, but is not paying anything extra for the naming rights.

The sign on the building has already been changed, but for many Chicagoans, the transition from Sears to Willis is going to be a long one.

Sears Tower to open glass bottom box at 1300 feet

In July, the Sears Tower Skydeck will open “the ledge”, its newest attraction.

The “ledge” is a glass box extending 4.3 feet out over the edge of the 103rd floor, offering an unobstructed view of the city. Up to 5 guests at a time will be able to stand on the inch and a half thick glass.

I have a lot of faith in structural engineers, but I’m just not sure I’d feel entirely comfortable stepping out on this thing? Would you?