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…]
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.
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.