SEATTLE – Visitors to Seattle's Space Needle are treated to a gorgeous view of this waterfront city when skies are clear and the sun is shining.
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But on a recent beautiful day, many in the crowd on the observation level of the Space Needle — one of Seattle's most popular tourist attractions — ignored the view of blue skies and puffy clouds over Elliott Bay.
Instead, they were mesmerized by virtual depictions of views and peeks into other Seattle tourist attractions that appeared on walls, screens and videos. The new high-tech experience at the Space Needle includes a virtual reality video that seems to take visitors all over Seattle to check out other tourist sites, while they ignore the real view that brought them there.
Anan Bishara, who was visiting from New York for his first visit to Seattle, jokingly said after a virtual look at the Pike Place Market that maybe he wouldn't even need to stop by Seattle's No. 1 tourist destination to see the real thing.
The fun begins before stepping on the elevator to the top of the Space Needle, a 605-foot (184-meter) spire built for the 1962 World's Fair. After downloading the new Space Needle app onto mobile phones, visitors can stop at "space spots" and take "augmented reality" pictures that bring the needle — and the clouds — into their photos.
Upstairs, after watching the real city flash by as they ride up the glass-clad elevator, the next distraction is a giant photo wall populated with historic pictures — think Elvis Presley at the Space Needle — as well as photos taken by regular visitors to Seattle.
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Tourists are then invited to find their home on a map on the photo wall and check in virtually. Many visitors take their own picture in front of the map. And some of them do this before they step outside on the observation deck to take a picture of Seattle for real.
It's time to start walking toward the view — the real view — but, wait, another new attraction catches their attention. And this one is seriously cool.
Using Microsoft's 3D Photosynth technology in its only location outside of the Internet, visitors to the Space Needle can make a quick visit to the Seattle Aquarium (for a view from inside a tank) or drop by the soccer stadium to watch a game from the sidelines as a goal is made.
Maybe you'd prefer a 360-degree tour of the view from outside the Space Needle? No need to step outside; just use the virtual reality kiosk to get a better view, no matter the weather.
When they do finally make it outside, they don't have to pull out their cell phones for a selfie, because the Space Needle has them covered with "sky-high selfies" — which, like all the high-tech treats here, are free. But most people seem to want to take their own selfies — even though they may not be shot from the perfect vantage point. When they finally make it outside, the observation deck with its stunning views of Seattle remains the main attraction at the Space Needle.
If You Go...
SPACE NEEDLE: 400 Broad St., Seattle; http://www.spaceneedle.com or 206-905-2100. Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Adults, $19-$26, seniors, $17 to $26, youth 4-12, $12-$16.