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Moving Experiences - Balloon Rides

Up, up, and away in a beautiful balloon. It’s a great way to start the day and, if floating along on a big bubble of hot air appeals to you, that’s when you’ll have to go — at dawn. The weather’s capricious in Orlando and at dawn the winds are at their calmest. A number of companies offer ballooning experiences in the Orlando area, and they all operate in much the same fashion, providing much the same experience.

Typically, you make your “weather-permitting” reservation by phone; your flight is confirmed (or called off) the night before. Then it’s up with the birds to meet at a central location in the predawn twilight for a ride to the launch site, which will be determined by the prevailing weather conditions.

Most balloon operators let their passengers experience the fun (or is it the hard work?) of unloading and inflating the balloon. When the balloon is fully inflated, you soar aloft on a 45-minute to one-hour flight to points unknown. Of course, the pilot has a pretty good idea of where he’d like to put down, but the winds have a way of altering plans. After landing, once the balloon is packed away, a champagne toast is offered. With photographs and certificates, the passengers are inducted into the confraternity of ballooning. Some excursions include breakfast. The whole experience takes anywhere from three to four hours.

The balloons — or more properly the baskets that hang beneath the balloons — hold anywhere from two to 20 people, with six- to eight-passenger baskets being the most common. Usually, then, you will be riding with other people. If a couple wants a balloon to themselves (a frequent request), the price goes up. A few balloon operators try to float over Disney World whenever the winds cooperate, but it’s hard to guarantee. The Disney folks are (understandably) less than happy about balloons landing on their property, so pilots must plan with care. Typically, your flight will be over the less-populated fringes of the metro area.

Hot-air ballooning is not cheap (most operators accept credit cards). Figure on about $175 to $200 per adult, about $100 per child (based on age or weight), plus tax, for the brief flight and the attendant hoopla. Some operators offer kids-fly-free promotions. Special packages, such as a wedding flight, can cost upwards of $1,000. Hot air balloon operators, I have discovered, are a prickly lot, who are reluctant to provide pricing information, citing frequent fluctuations in fuel and other operating costs. So use the listing below as a starting point for your own comparison shopping.

Reservations must typically be guaranteed with a credit card and there are cancellation penalties. Many of the outfits listed below offer Internet discounts.

Despite the cost, for those looking for a very special way to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary, the ballooning experience is not quite like any other. As one brochure puts it, “the ballooning adventure will last three to four hours, the memories will last a lifetime!”

A Hot Air Balloon Ride
(407) 897-5432

Post-flight festivities include a “special balloonists prayer,” a certificate of ascension, a commemorative pin and a “sparkling beverage” toast. Helping the crew inflate the balloon is optional.

Aerostat Adventures

(877) 495-RIDE

Specializing in couples-only flights, this operator offers flights near Mt. Dora and Eustis, north of Orlando, as well as flights in the Disney area. Post-flight there is a “champagne brunch.”

Blue Water Balloons
P.O. Box 560572, Orlando 32856
(800) 586-1884; (407) 894-5040

Sunrise champagne flights in the Disney area are the draw here and special “couples only” flights are offered. Free hotel pickup in the Orlando area is included in the price and owner Don Edwards limits capacity to four passengers per balloon.

Bob’s Balloon Charters
732 Ensenada Drive, Orlando 32825
(877) 824-4606; (407) 466-6380

Bob Wilamoski’s two balloons and 100-plus takeoff and landing sites let you soar pretty much anywhere in the Orlando area; they say they’ll even take off from your home if conditions are favorable. Another draw is that you can crawl around inside the balloon while it’s being prepared.

Fantasy of Flight
P.O. Box 1200, Polk City 33868
(863) 984-3500

This roadside attraction reviewed in Chapter 11 now offers balloon rides. You must book at least 48 hours in advance. Fantasy of Flight is about 50 miles west of Orlando off Exit 44 from I-4.

Magic Sunrise Ballooning
(866) 606-RIDE (7433)

Offers the standard range of flights and amenities and the least expensive wedding package I’ve seen.

Orange Blossom Balloons
P.O. Box 22908, Lake Buena Vista 32830
(407) 239-7677

There are 25 launch sites scattered around the Orlando area. All flights include a champagne toast and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet served after the flight. Orange Blossom also offers wedding packages.

Orlando Balloon Rides
PO Box 560572 Orlando, FL 32856
(407) 894-5040

Features the largest balloon in Orlando, carrying 24 passengers.

Painted Horizons Hot Air Balloon Tours
7741 Hyacinth Drive, Orlando 32835
(866) 578-3031, (407) 578-3031

Couples-only flights are available only on weekends. Flights end with champagne, cheese, pastries, and crackers. I’m told the couples-only flights book up fast.

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