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Orlando’s newest attraction is full of hot air

No, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore – or the Emerald City, for that matter.

The latest lure in Central Florida’s Land of Make-Believe is what’s being touted as the USA’s largest hot-air balloon: a 24-passenger behemoth that stands about 11 stories high, stretches 90 feet wide when fully inflated, and holds 24 passengers in a 1,600-pound basket.

The massive balloon, which started flying in mid-December, was custom-ordered from Spain and is the first of its kind in the USA, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The basket, or gondola, sports higher-than-average walls made of aircraft-grade stainless steel wrapped in wicker, and partitions that divide the standing space into what Orlando Balloon Rides’ CEO Jason Schulke calls “the Bentley of hot-air balloons.”

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Rides cost $175 per person for a four-hour experience that includes a champagne breakfast, inflation and packing time, and about an hour of flight time, depending on weather conditions. As for scenery, the Sentinel reported “an assortment of cars, dirt roads, mega-mansions, farms, orange groves, golf courses, swampland, barking dogs who hate balloons, a muddy motocross course, a horse and stable and friendly folks who waved and hollered ‘Hello!’ We could see Walt Disney World in the distance, but in a hot-air balloon, you must go where the wind takes you.”


Though discount coupons are available, for that kind of money I’d rather go up, up and away in a cozier balloon that wafts over more intriguing surroundings than orange groves and swampland. But CEO Schulke is optimistic:

“From my standpoint in my little world in Orlando, I can only lift so many people on an annual basis – 18,000 people, 20,000 if I’m pushing the envelope,” he told the Sentinel. “Even in the gloom and doom stories, they’re still projecting 50 million people will visit Central Florida.”

So, Orlando-bound readers, are you tempted? Or would you rather spend your extra vacation dollars on butter beer and mouse ears?

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