Downtown Disney debuts balloon attraction

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 (


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



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 see

On 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


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 see

Both 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 bring

While 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.


Gin Blossoms is the band for Thursday's Velvet Sessions at Universal's Hard Rock Hotel. Details at


What do you wish would happen at Orlando's theme parks? We're making a list. Send suggestions to


Dewayne Bevil can be reached at 407-420-5477 or