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My slant on Chicago’s new ‘Tilt!’ attraction

TiltFrom the Saturday, May 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

I have a confession to make: My viewpoint on Chicago’s newest tourist attraction is slanted.

But then again, it really couldn’t be any other way considering how Tilt! (yes, with an exclamation point), located high atop the John Hancock Center, leaves you looking down from a 30-degree angle through glass panels at the cityscape below.

And after that unique experience, here’s my slant on Tilt!: The view is great, the experience is OK, and the engineering is amazing.

On Monday, my wife and I popped by John Hancock Center (875 N. Michigan Ave.) to take the elevator ride up to the former John Hancock Observatory, which recently was rebranded as 360 Chicago and will soon be renovated to include new retail and audio-video elements.

The purpose of our trip was to experience Tilt!, which opened last weekend to great fanfare with camera crews from the BBC even stopping by. We wanted to see if the new sky-high attraction designed to compete with The Ledge at Willis Tower lived up to its billing.

A 26-foot-wide steel-and-glass structure on the 94th floor of the south side of John Hancock, Tilt! is operated by hydraulics that tip a section of wall outward, causing patrons to hover 1,000 feet over the city. A truly remarkable technological feat that leaves you wondering how they even built it, the attraction features several layers of reinforced, tempered, shatter-resistant glass panels and allows up to eight guest to step inside. Facing the windows while gripping metal bars on either side, you feel as if you’ve just stepped into the highest ride at Great America.

Three hydraulic actuators then extend to rotate the windows 20 degrees beyond the face of the building, allowing a truly unique view of Chestnut Street far below, Water Tower Place just across the way, and the actual historic Water Tower and Michigan Avenue sprawling beyond that.

After a pause, the hydraulics then extend the windows to 30 degrees, offering an even more unique view of downtown and reminding me of the scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” during which Ferris, Cameron and Sloane press their foreheads against the glass at the Sears Tower SkyDeck and peer down at the traffic and people zipping about far below.

The view from Tilt! is indeed impressive. But then, in little more than a minute, it’s abruptly over, and you walk out sort of wondering where your $5 just went. That’s on top of the $18 for adults ($12 for children ages 3-11) that it costs just to visit 360 Chicago. Tickets can be purchased either online or on-site.

I’ve long believed that John Hancock offers the best views in Chicago, better even than the taller Willis Tower thanks to Hancock’s proximity to the Magnificent Mile and the lakefront. However, when comparing Tilt! to Willis Tower’ marquee attraction, I have to give the edge to The Ledge, four enclosed glass boxes that stick out about four feet from the 103rd floor Willis Skydeck, allowing you to look between your shoes at the street 1,353 feet below.

The primary reason is because there’s no time limit on The Ledge, and no extra fee. You can stand out there as long as you’d like (or at least as long as is polite) enabling to get your full fill of the vertigo-inducing experience. The Tilt!, however, leaves you with just a taste, but not enough of an appetite that you want to shell out five more bucks to do it again.

At least, that was my view. But you still might want to visit Tilt! in order to get your own angle on things.