Characters In Flight — Grand Opening

Characters In Flight – Grand Opening

A new attraction opened today (April 12, 2009) at the Downtown Disney Westside. “Characters In Flight” (operated by Aerophile) is a tethered helium filled balloon that takes guests 400 feet above Disney World for a breathtaking view of the property. Prices are $16 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-9.



The balloon holds from 1-30 guests. Wind speed determines the capacity – the higher the wind, the fewer the riders. Capacity is determined as follows:

0-3 MPH – 20-30 guests
3-12 MPH – 10-20 guests
12-22 MPH – 10 guests maximum
22+ MPH – 0 guests

Each ride is approximately ten minutes in length. It takes two minutes for both the ascent and descent and then five minutes at the top. Each voyage carries an FAA certified hot-air balloon pilot.

Your adventure begins in the queue. Here, a ground-crew member will answer all sorts of questions as you watch other passengers float into the sky.



While waiting, I asked what would happen if the tether broke and the balloon was set free. After going into a lengthy explanation as to why this is virtually impossible, I pressed him for an answer. I was told that the balloon has a safety valve that kicks in at 1000 feet and releases helium until the balloon is in a “floating” state. Your pilot, who is already in communication with the authorities, would then start a controlled descent. But once again, the ground-crew member assured me that the cable was not going to break.




When I rode this morning, the winds were brisk and the capacity was limited to a maximum of ten guests. My ride only had seven passengers. In reality, this worked to my advantage — the fewer the people, the more room to move about the gondola and get pictures. Thirty people would be crowded.

If you run into windy weather while visiting, here is the refund policy:

“The ticket is valid only for the date of purchase and all refunds for unused tickets due to inclement weather must be refunded on date of purchase.”

For those of you who have ridden in a hot-air balloon, you’ll be in for a treat. Many people don’t realize that in order to keep a hot-air balloon aloft requires a constant supply of heated air. Because of this, the pilot must constantly turn the burner on and off – which is VERY noisy. Since this is a helium filled balloon, the entire trip is extremely quiet.

I also asked what would happen in the case of a hurricane. I was told that these balloons, when secured properly to the ground, can withstand a Category One hurricane. But if it was determined that Disney World was in the direct path of one of these storms, no matter what category, it would be deflated.

The gondola is circular in shape. A solid “wall” surrounds you up to your waist. Above that is netting, large enough to easily fit your camera lens through.



Just before takeoff, everyone is asked to hold on to a hand railing. As the balloon begins to rise and grab the gondola, it is somewhat jerky. After that, it’s smooth sailing. Even on a windy day (like today), it’s very peaceful and movement is hardly noticed.

Once we reached our maximum height, we were encouraged to move around, take pictures, and ask questions. My pilot, Todd, was somewhat of a comedian and kept us entertained with silly jokes. It added to the fun.

At landing time, we were once again asked to hold onto the hand rails as touchdown can be bumpy.

Upon landing, Todd highly recommended coming back for a nighttime ride as the experience is completely different. I asked if they planned to have special “fireworks” flights. The answer is no. There are too many variables to consider like capacity, weather, and the length of the queue at that time. If you want to see the fireworks while aloft, it will simply be the luck of the draw.


Here are a few facts about the balloon:

Volume: 210,000 cubic feet
Diameter: 72 feet
Circumference: 240 feet
Height: 105 feet

This next picture is looking into the middle of the gondola and the tether and pulley.


Below you can see the balloon’s platform and our shadow on the water.



Downtown Disney







Orlando World Center Marriott


Team Disney Building


Saratoga Springs


Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower – Magic Kingdom in background


Tower of Terror


Swan & Dolphin Resorts


Expedition: Everest and the Tree of Life


Spaceship Earth


Epcot’s Future World


When viewing these pictures, please keep in mind that I have an 18-200mm zoom lens. This enabled me to get some close-up pictures that a simple point-and-shoot camera could not. Also, I edited these pictures on the computer once I got home.


Hi everyone. Since the posting of this blog, I have received a number of questions. I have tried to answer most of them in the comments section, but not everyone is seeing them, so I’m amending my blog.

Q. Can you make reservations?
A. Since weather conditions are a major factor in the rides capacity, it would be impossible to offer reserved times for this attraction. Because of this, “Characters In Flight” is operated on a “first come, first flies” basis. Just show up, buy your ticket, then wait in line.

Q. Are wheelchairs allowed onboard?
A. ECVs that guests rent (like the ones Disney rents) are too large to fit in the gondola, that is why they are requested to transfer to a wheel chair. Guests in their own private wheelchair (electric or manual) may or may not fit without a transfer. This will be addressed on a case by case basis.

Q. Can guest seated in a wheelchair see?
A. Yes, guests in a wheel chair can see fine.

Q. Are there age and height restrictions.
A. At this time, I do not know, but I am trying to find out and will post it here when I learn more.

Q. What are the hours of operation?
A. The posted hours are Sunday thru Thursday 10:30am – 11pm, and Friday and Saturday, 10:30am – 12midnight.

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78 Replies to “Characters In Flight — Grand Opening”

  1. Hi Jack. You are such a master at capturing the essence of a Disney Experience! I especially enjoyed the photos, and returned to ithem often.

  2. The pictures are awesome. I will bring my camera with the extra lens just for this purpose. I have to wait until late November to do it, but seems like so worth the wait. Thank You for the pix and a new and exciting flight.
    Ginny-New Jersey

  3. Hi Jack,

    I just found this on the Downtown Disney website regarding Characters in Flight and the policy if the weather gets bad and you cannot “fly”:

    “The ticket is valid only for the date of purchase and all refunds for unused tickets due to inclement weather must be refunded on date of purchase.”

    Thought the readers would want to see this!! Thanks for all of the great info!

  4. We will be there in 14 days and we can’t wait. Just showed the photos to two of the children (7 &9) and asked if they wanted to go on a balloon ride…YES! the are so excited, I might be just a little as well;) thanks for sharing your experience and photos

  5. Do they refund your money if the wind picks up while you are standing in line? Can you come back the next day with your ticket and stand in line again? I can’t wait to try it in June!

    Jack’s Response:

    Sorry, but I don’t have an answer to your question. I have not been back to Characters In Flight since I rode it and I didn’t have any problems.

    Reader? Anyone try for a refund when trying to ride?
    Or returned at another time?

  6. Rode on this on the 15th, the second day it was open. I can echo that it was an awesome experience. I do recommend a high powered lens for your camera. This experience was delayed while the ride was “closed” to take some Disney “big-wigs” up causing us to have to wait for over an hour. When I expressed my frustration at this, I was told that this was the president of the company and he could go up whenever he wanted. I agreed and expressed frustration that he would come during operating hours and inconvenience paying guests. A couple of very professional CM were left to deal with those of us waiting. Kudos to them and Boos to the boss!

    Jack’s Respose: I’m glad you “eventually” enjoyed your Characters In Flight experience. I’m sorry you were delayed, but I hope once you were airborne you were able to put aside your frustration for the duration of your flight. This experience is too much fun to let something get in the way of your delight.

  7. Jack, How much does it cost to ride the hot air balloon in downtown disney? Your pics are great!

    Jack’s Answer: Prices are $16 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-9.

  8. Am I missing something? Sixteen dollars for a ten-minute ride to nowhere to see the same view that’s available from the top of Summit Plummet in Blizzard Beach? I love Disney as much as anyone, but this sounds like a “No thanks, I’ll pass.” Sort of like the new American Idol Exoerience at the Studios.

  9. Your pirctures where great..We will down at Disney in June; do we need reservations?
    Where do we call?

    Jack’s Answer: Since weather conditions are a major factor in the rides capacity, it would be impossible to offer reserved times for this attraction. Because of this, “Characters In Flight” is operated on a “first come, first flies” basis. Just show up, buy your ticket, then wait in line.

  10. Was wondering if person in a wheelchair would be able to ride the balloon. It looks amazing! I would love to do something like that on my next trip, which is this Dec 2009. Bringing my little girl her first trip she will be 17 months, is there any restrictions for this ride.

    Jack’s Answer:

    ECVs that guests rent (like the ones Disney rents) are too large to fit in the gondola, that is why they are requested to transfer to a wheel chair. Guests in their own private wheelchair (electric or manual) may or may not fit without a transfer. This will be addressed on a case by case basis.

    At the moment, I do not know if there is an age or height restriction, but I’m trying to find out. I will update the end of my blog with this answer when I get more information.

  11. thanks jack!! I am so excited to do this while down in disney in 28 days!! woohoo!!
    I was excited before seeing these pctures! Now this is a must do!!!

  12. Thank you for sharing this with us. You were very concise, informative and patient when asked the same questions numerous times. It is always nice to have some information ahead of time before going on something new so you know how to make the best use of your time. Your a great guy!

  13. Great review and pictures. We missed the opening by a week. I was hoping it was open for our trip but, just something to look forward to next trip!!

  14. My husband & I tried to ride Characters in Flight on Easter Sunday, but the winds proved too strong. We waited in line for over an hour while they read weather reports & sent the captain up, but to no avail. Thanks to Jack, however, for taking pictures of the view we missed. We’ll try again next trip.

  15. Hey Jack,
    GREAT SHOTS !!!!! Thanks so much I really enjoy your pictures. Your articles are great I look forward to them each week. I’m a Disney fanatic also. We visit every year and have withdrawals for the rest of the year. We cry when we leave and are planning our next years trip as soon as we get home. Keep up the great work you do and Thank you again,

  16. Great job Jack and fantastic photos. Looks like a lot of fun. Will have to try that in a couple of weeks, when I come down.

    I can see the clubs of Pleasure Island are still standing. Nothing has been done with them yet, by the pictures. Probably just one thing at a time.

  17. Thanks for all the great pictures. We are going in May and hope to go for a ride.
    I did a hot air over Disney, few yers ago, and it was great.

  18. Thanks Jack, Were going to be there next week, and cant wait to try it. Im afraid of heights, but bound and determined to try it with maybe Daughter, Son In Law, and 2 grandkids.
    The pix were Awesome.

  19. How do I get more information on this ride. I see we can’t make reservations but, is there some way of getting in contact with someone? My husband and I will be in town next month to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary and he actually proposed to me in a hot air balloon ride. I thought this would make a really special surprise for my husband. Especially if we could get a evening ride. -M.L.

    Jack’s Answer: Between my blog and my many answers to questions above, I’ve told you just about everything I know about the Characters In Flight attraction. I don’t have a direct number for them (they’re operated by Aerophile), so you’re best bet would be to contact Walt Disney World General Information (407) 824-4321.

    Evening rides are definitely available!

    I want to reiterate, this is a different experience than a hot-air balloon. And if someone has their heart set on experiencing a hot-air balloon, this might not satisfy their need.

    Good luck and happy anniversary in advance!

  20. I did this at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego, if you get the chance-do it. The views are so amazing, I can only imagine the view of my favorite place in the world!!

  21. I can’t wait to do this in May (and maybe June as well)! I also think it will be great fun to watch the balloon from the balcony of our room at Saratoga Springs when we stay there again. Thanks for the info!

  22. Thanks Jack

    The photos are amazing. I didn’t realize you can see all of the parks. I’ll be their the first week of June and hope to take a ride.

  23. Oh wow! I have to do that! Great pictures. I have the same lens and a Nikon D70 so that is what I would take as well.

  24. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right? 😉 Looks great! Hope to “fly” w/my characters in September!

  25. Do you think someone in a wheelchair will be able to see over the edge?

    Jack’s Answer: I’m guessing that the solid wall that encircles the gondola is about 3 feet in height. I believe an adult in a wheelchair could see over the side if they leaned and stretched. I think a child would have a difficult time.

  26. I am so bummed….we were at typhoon lagoon April 12 and saw this flying and wanted to do it Monday April 13 but the winds were too strong and it didn’t go up….now we’re back in Ohio until next year.
    Robin M.

  27. Your ride looked awesome Jack! We wanted to take this ride/flight in Disneyland Paris in 2007 but it was waaaaaayyyy tooo windy!! We now have this attraction in our nearby seaside town of Torquay(UK)but the sights don’t quite match up!
    Keep up the great work Jack although your blogs make me pine for a vacation!

  28. Is this ride handicap accessible? I have a child is a mototized chair. We are going in July.

    Jack’s Answer:

    The simple answer to your question is the ride is wheelchair accessible.

    However, a sign on the ticket window shows that a guest must transfer from an ECV to a wheelchair. I’m sure this is done because of space limitations as the gondola is VERY narrow.

    In your particular case, I guess it will depend on how large your child’s motorized chair is or if he/she can transfer to a wheelchair.

  29. Wow! Great pictures! My daughter and I are going to WDW in October, I can’t wait to go on the Characters in Flight.

    Thanks a bunch.

  30. Jack – I loved the photos. Curious on the Team Disney photo. What is this building used for? The parking lot looked empty so I wasn’t sure.

    Jack’s Answer: The Team Disney building is an office building for Disney personnel. The picture was taken on a Sunday when most workers have the day off.

  31. Thanks for the great photos and information. I am going to be at disney in two weeks and cannot wait to try this out!

  32. Hmmm, I think I finally found my Disney retirement job! (I am a hot air balloon pilot and appreciated your plug for the sport, it is a great experience for those who have never tried it!) Great pics, looking forward to giving it a shot when I am there in May and really looking forward to chatting with the pilots there!

  33. Jack another great job!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Im going to try and get my wife on with me this July.The view looks awesome from that high up.


  34. I am interested in the balloon ride for a trip in December.
    How do I make reservations?
    I would like to ride at night.

    Jack’s Answer: There are no reservations. You simply show up at the ticket booth and buy your ticket — then stand in line.

    Night rides are available and I’m hoping to go back and try this soon. However, you cannot reserve a special “fireworks” flight. It’s simply the luck of your timing.

  35. Great work Jack! I cannot wait to ride when my Family and I go in May.

    Were you able to walk around the entire circumference of the gondola during flight?

    Jack’s Answer: When I rode, there were only seven passengers and we were encouraged to move all the way around the gondola. But it’s possible for 30 people to ride. If this were the case, I’m sure you’d be “allowed” to move about, but the practicality of it may prove more challenging.

  36. Awesome ! Thanks for the info. I cannot wait to go over and ride. I am pencilling this one in for my May trip.

  37. We are going in 5 days (YIPPIE!!!!). We are taking our 2 year old. I would like to do this with her, but is she free or just not allowed?


    Jack’s Comment: The signage outside the ticket booth mentions nothing about children under three. Sorry I can’t answer your question.

  38. Does it operate in the rain?

    Jack’s Answer: I don’t know.

    But I do know that safety is their number one concern.

    If the rain is accompanied with wind or thunderstorms, the balloon will not fly. But if it’s just a light rain, I have no idea.

    Sorry I couldn’t provide you with a more succinct answer.

  39. A little confused here. Based on the name I thought this attraction is supposed to include meeting costumed characters. Am I wrong?

    Jack’s Answer: There are no real characters associated with this ride.

  40. Hi Jack,
    Looks like a great attraction. Thanks for the awesome photos. Maybe someone else has already commented on this, but doesn’t the name, “Characters in Flight,” make you think there will be characters accompanying you on the flight? I wonder if they might re-tool the name if enough people ask about that.

    Jack’s Answer: The balloon itself is adorned with a number of Disney characters that can fly, like Aladdin, Mary Poppins, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and more. That’s what the name is all about.

  41. Jack you have sold me on this attraction. My family and I will be in WDW in June 09. I will definately try to get to Downtown Disney for this ride minus the husband 🙂 He has a slight fear of heights (hehe). But my soon to be 8 year old will be more that happy to float with mom.

  42. WOW!!!!
    Those are some great pictures…

    I am no camera whiz, but I am curious what type of range a standard camera would have.

    Guess I’ll just have to find out!

  43. Great pictures can’t wait to go.
    Are you allowed to walk around up there or do you stand basicly where you are? If you can’t does it spin so you can get pictures from all over Disney?

    Jack’s Answer: The wind might cause a slight spin, but not much.

    We were encouraged to walk around, but there were only seven of us. If the gondola was filled to capacity, 30 guests, it would be more difficult to move about. There isn’t any rule prohibiting you from changing places, but the more people riding, the more difficult it will be.

  44. Fantastic pictures! It looks like a great experience. Are there any age/height requirements? I saw the prices and am assuming children under 3 are free, but are still able to go up in the balloon.

    Jack’s Answer: The sign at the ticket booth mentions nothing about a height requirement or anything about children under three.

  45. WOW! Fantastic images and yet another helpful article from Jack that assists in planning, as it answers the majority of questions likely to be asked. Also, you might have saved this Australian family a LOT of money (and time) as we were looking into a hot air balloon flight. Keep up the good work.

  46. The view from the basket down to the water gave me goosebumps! I cannot wait to go! I just hope my 4 year old DD doesn’t chicken out on me. Thanks Jack! Superb Job!

  47. Jack, those are some fantastic photos. I am hoping for a chance to do this in June when we are there. I was wondering what you were shooting with(camera, focal length, etc) and how much (if at all) the pictures are cropped (at least the close ups). Thanks for the info and the great pictures!

    Jack’s Answer: I use a 10 megapixel Nikon D80 camera with a Nikkor 18-200mm lens. I had the ISO set to 400 but everything was on automatic so I have no idea what any of the other settings were.

    Any of the close up pictures, like the Contemporary and Tower of Terror, were cropped significantly.

  48. Wow…these are great photos! I enjoyed seeing the familiar places from up high. It looks like you get a good feel for the Disney property while you are up in the balloon. Thanks for sharing, can’t wait to try it!

  49. We were at DTD on Friday night. There was a cast member standing at the hot air balloon who told us they would possibly make their maiden flight that night if the winds calmed down. I don’t think they went up that night

  50. Love the photos….especially love the “back side of Everest”…..guess now they will have to finish it as guests can see it from the balloon!

  51. Did you happen to notice if DVC members get a discount?

    Answer: To my knowledge, there are no discounts available to any guests. However, you might want to contact your DVC representative.

  52. So glad it finally opened!!! Fly down on Thursday and hope to do it!!! A dream is to do a hot air balloon ride but haven’t as of yet and last year went to Disneyland and San Diego Animal Park and the Animal Park has the same sort of ride but it was down for repairs when we were there. What time at night do they run to?


    The posted hours are Sunday thru Thursday 10:30am – 11pm, and Friday and Saturday, 10:30am – 12midnight.

  53. Awesome Pictures and Great views.. I would love to ride this balloon.. Maybe in August.. I can’t wait. That would be a once in a lifetime expierance I think….

  54. Wow! Those are some great pictures! it makes me sick just thinking about being that high in the air but it does look like a good novelity!
    Thanks for shairing your great pictures with us Jack!

  55. Great pictures! I can’t wait to ride. Do you just get in line after buying your ticket, or do they give you a time to come back? How does that work? Thanks!

    Jack’s Answer: Once you buy your ticket, you get in line. You do not have a “reservation” or “return time.”

    Each ride takes approximately 10 minutes. You can check the wind conditions and see how many people are being allowed on each ride. Then do a quick count of the people waiting to determine your wait time.

    I would suggest riding early in the morning before Downtown Disney gets busy.

  56. Super photos Jack!!!!!
    Me and my family are ready to try it already
    but will have to wait till May. Can’t wait!!!
    Thank You!!

  57. Great views! I like how you kept pressing for an answer about the tether breaking; that’s pretty funny. That would be a once in a lifetime ride if it did break hehe.

    Since they only let 7 people on for your flight, was there a huge line waiting?

    Jack’s Answer: There were probably only 20 people waiting when I got off. It wasn’t crowded at all. But this was at 10:30am. Downtown Disney doesn’t get busy until later in the day.

  58. WOW!!! What a treat! Thanks for taking the time to investigate per se and entertain us with some wonderful photos! Can’t wait to try out the new ride Thanksgiving week! Thanks Jack!

  59. It looks like fun!!!! Just wondering how long you are in the air for? We will have to try it out when we are there in May!!!

  60. Great job, Jack. The photos are fantastic. Now I don’t have to gather the courage to go up in the balloon myself. LOL. Linda Mac