True confession: The first time I spied the Characters in Flight attraction peeking over the top of the Downtown Disney skyline, my hard, been-there-ridden-that heart skipped a little.
And my internal soundtrack went into endless loop: Would you like to fly in my beautiful balloon?
There's a romantic appeal to the helium balloon (not a hot-air balloon, mind you). It makes your heart, well, soar for a bit. Or maybe it causes a pile-up on Buena Vista Drive — it's that unexpected. You might also see it as you zip along I-4.
The attraction — operated by Aerophile, who runs a similar deal at Disneyland Paris called PanoraMagique — is a 10-minute round trip, about four of those minutes at the maximum height of 400 feet.
It's tethered, of course. Otherwise, we're looking at a much longer trip and far fewer passengers per hour. The winds already are working against that. The stiffer the breeze, the fewer folks go up at a time in its gondola. At 23 mph, Character in Flight is grounded.
What you'll seeOn the way up, the first thing I noticed was people lined up to go up. Our pilot called them "earthlings." All smile and wave amid helium hysteria.
Next, you might focus on the Downtown Disney landscaping, restaurant roofs and watercraft on Village Lake. Across the way, guests are using the Saratoga Springs pool.
It's very Google Earth — Live!
Farther up, the guide pointed out all four Disney parks, although the Contemporary resort blocks our view of Cinderella Castle.
Farther into the distance, there's downtown Orlando, the convention center and the international airport. No one mentions competing theme parks.
On a very clear day, the pilot says, you can see the shuttle launch pad.
What you won't seeBoth times I waited for Characters in Flight, a guest passing by asked "Are there characters up there?" You know, Mickey Mouse in flight.
Um, no. Don't be so literal. Don't you want to be looking at the vista below, not a furry?
Besides, even a Tinkerbell would be one more body taking up limited space.
Also, you won't see jumpers. Netting keeps folks from tipping over the side.
What to bringWhile looking toward the coast, I remembered that I forgot my binoculars. Don't make that mistake.
And pack your patience, gang. The winds pick up suddenly and rides stop just as suddenly. Keep repeating "It's for my safety, it's for my safety." It is. Plus, the loading is efficient but not high-speed. Take a deep breath. We're carefree and sailing along in our beautiful, our beautiful balloon.
We're not full of hot air: Sentinel photographer Joe Burbank has captured the Characters in Flight balloon from dozens of angles. See his online photo gallery. OrlandoSentinel.com
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Day heats up, wind picks up Central Florida winds are fickle. It may be foolhardy to try to predict the pattern, but as we waited for gusts to die down and the balloon to lift back up, I wondered, "When is the breeziest time of day for us?" "On a normal, typical average day when you don't have storms, it's going to be in the afternoon," says Amy Sweezey, a meteorologist at WESH-Channel 2. "One of the main causes of wind is the sun heating the Earth. The land — the peninsula — heats hotter than the water, the ocean. That's why we get our sea breezes here too," Sweezey says. "So generally when you get the hottest part of the day, when the land can heat up the most and you get the biggest temperature difference between the air over the land and air over the water, that's when you get the winds that blow the strongest. Bottom line: "That generally happens in the afternoon," she says.
See for yourself Characters in Flight What: Tethered helium-balloon that can elevate more than 20 passengers — weather permitting Where: Downtown Disney, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando When: 10:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays; 10:30 a.m.-midnight, Fridays and Saturdays Cost: $16 general, $10 ages 3-9. Call: 407-824-4321 Online:disneyworld.com/ charactersinflight