Characters in Flight Balloon
The Characters in Flight balloon provides a 360 degree panoramic birds-eye view of the Walt Disney World Resort and downtown Orlando from the lakeside at Disney Springs, West Side close to The Landing.
From a height of 400 feet (120 metres) you can see up to 10 miles in every direction including many of the Walt Disney World Resort’s hotels and famous landmarks like the Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror at Disney’ Hollywood Studios and Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Total flight time is around 10 minutes from loading to unloading and you spend about 5 minutes at altitude.
Once everyone is onboard, the pilot releases the winch and the balloon slowly rises on a tether. To descend, the hydro-electric winch pulls the balloon back down to the landing pad.
The gondola is donut shaped and open to the elements but with railings and nets. It makes a perfect vehicle for photo opportunities.
It is also wheelchair accessible but Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs) and strollers are not allowed on board.
Because there are no hot gases or burners, the flight is silent with no vibration apart from the odd bump when the winch speed is changed, unlike a conventional hot-air balloon.
Hours of operation are from 8:30 am until midnight (weather permitting) so there is the opportunity to see Walt Disney World at night. You might even be airborne during one of the firework displays.
The balloon is also illuminated in the evenings making it even more spectacular after dark.
Like free-flight hot-air balloons, tethered-flight helium balloons still require good weather conditions before they can fly but they are not constrained by air temperatures so no early morning rise is necessary!
However if it is too windy or there is a threat of thunderstorms or rain, it is quite likely that the Characters of Flight balloon will be grounded. During light wind conditions, the balloon often still flies but with fewer passengers.
The Characters in Flight balloon is an Aéro30 and it is built and operated by Aérophile, headquartered in Paris.
It is the world’s largest tethered-flight helium balloon with a volume of 210,000 cubic feet (5,950 cubic metres), a diameter of 72 feet (22.5 metres) and a height of 105 feet (34 metres).
The gondola measures 19 feet (5.8 metres) in diameter and is capable of carrying up to 29 passengers plus a pilot depending upon wind strength. As the wind picks up so the operators reduce the number of passengers to maintain the correct strain on the tensioning cable.
Similar balloons can be found at Disneyland Paris, Ocean Park in Hong Kong and the Wild Animal Park in San Diego.
Characters in Flight Prices
Prices are $20 plus tax for adults and $15 plus tax for children (aged 3 to 8). Children under the age of 3 are admitted free. There is also an early-bird special price of $10 before 10:00 am.
Tickets can be bought online or at the ticket kiosk next to the balloon at Disney Springs.
There are no height restrictions but all children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
History of Characters in Flight
Characters in Flight first opened in the Spring of 2009 but following a non-fatal accident involving a similar balloon in Hong Kong in June 2012, the Characters in Flight operation was temporarily suspended whilst the balloon was inspected.
There had always been plans to replace the balloon with a revised model anyway in late 2012 but following the accident these plans were brought forward and Characters in Flight re-opened in October 2012 with a newer balloon featuring a different envelope design.
The original balloon featured Mary Poppins, Dumbo and Peter Pan but in 2012 it was updated with a red, yellow and blue colour scheme with images of Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Dumbo, Jasmine and Aladdin.
The balloon is updated every four years or so and in January 2016, the envelope was replaced again, this time with a water theme in shades of blue without any Disney character embellishments.
There is also a webcam that operates during normal hours so you can see the current status of the balloon at Downtown Disney.