During 29 years of drifting through the Florida skies, Orlando Balloon Rides had already amassed an impressive fleet of gargantuan flying inflatables when a new balloon arrived. The product of an ambitious factory in Spain, the newcomer holds more than 400,000 cubic feet of hot air and stands as tall as an 11-story building. Four times the size of the average hot air inflatable, it's among the most massive hot air balloons currently flown in the United States.
Now reigning as a popular vessel for the company's sunrise tours, the mammoth balloon can fly away with a basket of 24 passengers as it commands the skies, dwarfing most clouds and giving the Goodyear Blimp an identity crisis. From any of Orlando Balloon Rides' baskets, passengers take in high-altitude views of Walt Disney World and the city's skyline, sights visitors rarely get to see from above. Each of the company's hot air balloons is piloted by an FAA-certified pilot who also serves as a knowledgeable narrator of the scenery below.
You could say that Orlando Balloon Rides' crew of FAA-certified pilots is impressive, but that would probably be an understatement. One has flown across the English Channel three times, another trained stunt pilots for the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, and a third manned a balloon up to the stratosphere. It's a good thing they're so talented?and have an unblemished safety record among them?as they fly one of the largest balloons in the Western Hemisphere.
The 11-story, 425,000-cubic-foot behemoth can carry up to 24 people in its 1,600-pound basket, which is made of aircraft-grade steel and basket-grade wicker. Or put more simply, an average balloon can fit inside this balloon. Whether choosing to ride in this or a traditional-size balloon, passengers are treated to expansive views of orange groves, swampland, Orange County mansions, and sometimes, a certain magical kingdom on the horizon's distance, which actually isn't a mirage. After any flight, a champagne toast contributes to what USA Today called a "spectacular sunrise adventure" and one of Orlando's 10 most romantic attractions.
In 1993, two 25-year-old engineers, Matthieu Gobbi and Jerome Giacomoni, pursued mankind’s dream to evolve into kites when they reinvented the tethered gas balloon, which enables faster rides than the typical gas balloon. With several models to choose from, their balloons have established themselves as attractions in more than 60 places around the world, including Paris, Berlin, and Angkor Wat Temple. Renowned amusement parks, such as the Walt Disney World® Resort and Disneyland Paris® Resort, use Aerophile’s innovative balloons to introduce their visitors to the clouds. With enough space to seat up to 29 passengers, the tethered aircrafts climb up to 400 feet into the sky with the help of up to 210,000 cubic feet of helium, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding attractions and landscape.
In more than 100 locations around the country, ThrillZown's staff facilitates adrenaline-filled excursions full of extreme water, air, and land adventures. Under the supervision of experts, brave souls defy gravity as they skydive, hang-glide, bungee jump, or play films of apples falling off trees in reverse. On land, crews harness the power of horses, stock cars, and snowmobiles; in the water, groups navigate whitewater rapids or explore aquatic depths as they scuba dive or surf.
On June 1, as the early-morning sunlight bathes Formosa Gardens in a pale late-spring light, strange shapes will begin to billow up from the nearby landscape. They belong to more than 25 hot air balloons, which will take to the skies to mark the beginning of the Kissimmee Blue Skies Adventure Race at Formosa Gardens. As the balloons observe from on high, runners will navigate 3.5 miles of rodeo-themed obstacles. During the cowboy-inspired race, feet will slap muddy trails and clamber over bronco hurdles, as racers meet challenges ranging from a wagon trail to a feeding troth on their quests to finish first. Medals and T-shirts proclaim victory for each participant who sails over the finish line.
Sunrise Ballon Flights' inflatables take adventurous passengers on flights that start low enough to steal toupees and soar up to heights of 3,000 feet. The balloons are borne aloft by the winds of the moment, so no two journeys are exactly the same. Riders can see Disney World or cruise over wetlands bustling with wild turkeys and deer.
Wherever the winds take the balloon, it's in professional hands. Sunrise Ballon Flights has maintained a perfect safety record since it was founded in 2002, thanks to full-time career pilots who regularly attend FAA safety seminars. Many of these pilots carry commercial ratings in other aircraft, too, such as helicopters and airplanes.