Theme Park Ranger
April 24, 2009
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.
Day heats up, wind picks upCentral 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 yourselfCharacters 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.
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