The “Characters In Flight” balloon at Disney Springs has been renamed to reflect the new look that was unveiled this past January. [Read more…]
The Characters in Flight tethered helium balloon ride at Downtown Disney was removed for a thorough inspection last Friday night after an incident involving a similar balloon in Hong Kong. [Read more…]
Orlando Balloons Rides added another balloon to its fleet today. But it’s not just another hot air balloon. This balloon is 11 stories high when fully inflated and carries up to 24 passengers. It’s the largest hot air balloon in the U.S. [Read more…]
In our current Spring issue, we have a story and photo spread about seeing Orlando from above by helicopter. We also have written about the Characters in Flight tethered balloon ride at Downtown Disney. Now a new option has opened up with Old Town Balloon Ride.
Lynn and Dave Rigby opened the new attraction in Old Town, the small shopping and attractions complex on U.S. 192, just a couple of weeks ago. The balloon is very noticeable when up but you may not have seen it yet since they’re grounded when the winds get too strong.
The balloon itself is very similar to the Characters in Flight one. Both are filled with helium and are tethered by cable to a motor on the ground. But that’s about where the similarities end. While the balloon at Disney lifts a large circular platform holding up to 30 guests. The Old Town Balloon ride lifts a basket which holds up to five people (or 900 total pounds). This gives the Old Town Balloon more of an intimate feel, like a true hot air balloon ride.
Because the basket is small, the staff doesn’t ride up with you, but a walkie-talkie is provided in the basket so you can contact the staff below. The ride lasts eight to 10 minutes, but if they’re not busy they may let you float a while longer.
The balloon takes you about 300 feet in the air. The views are fantastic from that altitude. Different times of the day also bring different views – from bright sunlight, to sunset, to seeing the lights of the night. They’re also offering morning sunrise rides by reservation. Besides the U.S. 192 area, you’ll see views of Disney and downtown Orlando in the distance.
Owner Dave Rigby has been a pilot for 20 years and all of the staff took part in training from the aerostat balloon manufacturer. If the worst should happen and the balloon is somehow released from its tether, once it reaches 1,000 feet a release value will let the helium leak out, bringing you slowly to the ground. The owners are always monitoring the wind from multiple locations. They won’t operate the balloon if the wind gusts get above 18 miles per hour. They typically like to only go up with the winds are at seven or eight miles per hour.
Right now the balloon is a solid off-white color but owner Lynn Rigby said they’re still deciding on a final design.
The rides are $15 per adult and $10 for children. They operate from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day. The balloon is lit from the inside at night. Old Town Balloon Ride can be reached at 321-284-7506.
Since 2002, Universal Studios has partnered with Macy’s to bring elements of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to Orlando during the holiday season. In addition to shipping down memorable floats featured in the annual New York parade, Macy’s brings several of the giganic balloons that have made the parade so popular over the decades.
But guests visiting Universal Studios have a chance to do much more than simply watch the parade pass by. Each day, park guests have the opportunity to actually become “balloon handlers,” helping to guide inflated characters through Universal’s streets. On Dec. 15, I (along with Orlando Attractions Magazine editor Matt Roseboom) had a chance to take part in leading Universal’s and Macy’s newest balloon, Big Man Santa, around the parade route to see what the balloon handling experience is all about.
Before I give you my impressions, here’s a summary video featuring interviews with Universal show director Michael Aiello and design director for Macy’s Parade Studio Jerry Ospa as well as a look inside the backlot building where they park the inflated balloons and a bit of balloon handler training… and a glimpse at myself and Matt as balloon handlers:
In short, being a balloon handler is a lot of fun. The “training” process begins as guests are each given a jumpsuit, gloves, and a Santa hat. Jumpsuits come in a variety of colors, depending on the balloon.
As you saw in the video above, we were assigned to Universal’s newest balloon, Big Man Santa, which apparently requires black jumpsuits. While they’re not the best color for dealing with Florida’s sun (yes, it’s hot even in December here), we lucked out with enough cloud cover to keep us cool. The padded gloves were even welcome as holding onto the “bone” (as they call it) attached to the balloon’s string would be horribly uncomfortable without them. And, of course, the Santa hat adds a little festive style to the otherwise bland costume.
I finally got a chance to go up in the Characters in Flight balloon at Downtown Disney at night. I’d been up twice before during the day and got some great pictures, but I wanted to see the view at night. It was a particularly neat time to go, not just because it was dark outside, but because I had just finished watching the movie “Up” in 3D at the theater near by. (The movie was great.)
The top photo is looking up at the balloon from the que area. That’s the moon in the corner of the picture. [Read more…]
The balloon, operated by Aerophile, takes up to thirty guests 400 feet in the air for around five minutes, providing 360-degree views of all of Walt Disney World and the surrounding Orlando area.
One of the most-discussed aspects of Characters in Flight so far has been the fact that medium-to-high winds (which often feel like nothing more than a nice breeze) can ground the balloon for an unspecified amount of time. Until a couple of days ago, the attraction seemed to be closed more than it was open. Even on its official opening day, invited media were unable to ride due to the winds.
However, the winds have calmed down over the last couple of days and by 1 p.m. yesterday, Aerophile had already taken over 300 guests up into the skies above Walt Disney World.
But Orlando certainly has its fair share of windy days, so to help you figure out if a trip to Downtown Disney to take a ride on Characters of Flight is a good choice, we’ve included a handy wind watcher on our new Characters in Flight guide. The wind speed and direction are gathered from a meter located at the Reedy Creek fire station, just down the road from Downtown Disney, so you can get the most accurate wind information possible before venturing out.
So how far can you see when you’re 400 feet in the air? You can easily spot Spaceship Earth at Epcot, the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Contemporary Resort, Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, and even downtown Orlando in the distance – normally a 30-40 minute drive away from Walt Disney World.
For a better idea, check out this panoramic photo shot by Orlando Attractions Magazine photographer Matt Roseboom while up in the balloon. Be sure to click on the image below to open a larger version in our photo gallery.
In attendance at the Characters in Flight grand opening were vice president of Downtown Disney Kevin Lansberry, general manager of Aerophile Erik Garcia, vice president of operating partners Keith Bradford, and 2009 Walt Disney World ambassador Vanessa Rosas.
To hear what they had to say about the new high-flying attraction at the ribbon-cuttong ceremony as well as learn a few interesting facts about the balloon and see the sights from 400 feet in the air, watch this video:
You can also download a copy of this video in our Video section, in both standard- and 720p high-definition.
For more great Characters in Flight pictures, visit our photo gallery here. And if you know anyone who is going to attempt to take a ride, be sure to send them to our Characters in Flight guide first to check the wind speed.
The Characters in Flight tethered hot air balloon ride has been running off and on for guests the past few days. It’s been windy so the balloon has been down more than up since it opened. But when it’s up, you can see it from miles away. I’ve seen it while driving down Apopka-Vineland Road and from Epcot’s parking lot.
I just noticed these LEGO-like building block sets in Once Upon A Toy. I’ve heard LEGO is going to be doing some Disney sets soon. I hope they include some large sets of popular theme park attractions that look better than these.