Theme Park Ranger
June 19, 2009
Nowhere are there more daydreams about air travel than on a congested highway. So where better to put signage that touts helicopter rides "from $20" than Interstate 4?
Air Florida Helicopter Charters, based on International Drive, backs up to I-4 and tempts passers-by with choppers taking flight. The company offers nine aerial tours of Central Florida landmarks. The longer the trip, the higher the price.
Careful readers of that not-so-fine-print will realize the from part of "from $20" is key. That price is for ages 12 and younger on the shortest tour — a three-minute spree over the SeaWorld Orlando and Orange County Convention Center areas. That trip is $25 for adults.
I upgraded to the $45 tour, which tosses in more International Drive scenery and a Universal Orlando approach. Flight time: seven minutes.
After a short safety briefing, we were escorted to the landing pad. We were told we didn't have to duck the rotating blades, but that was the inclination. We were buckled in and given headphones to communicate with the pilot. The seating was roomier than expected, not cramped.
Our first leg ran along and above I-4. It was easy to feel superior to the groundlings. In the distance we could see Spaceship Earth — a.k.a., the Epcot ball — at no additional charge. We curved around SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica. It was like a living, breathing park map — interesting to see those parks in relationship to one another.
The pilot indicated points of interest without sounding Chamber of Commerce-y. You might want more guidance, but he has important flying to do. As we moved north, he said we were going 120 mph at 800 feet. And usually you can see downtown Orlando, but it was too hazy. (No-duh note: Go on clear day.)
After breezing by the Universal parks, we returned to home base via the I-Drive in the sky. Here was the most unlikely sight: I-Drive looking serene.
Things are looking 'Up'Full disclosure: I got choked up during Up, the latest Disney- Pixar animated film, which has done more than $187 million in box office thus far. Going in, I knew there were emotional spots, but I wasn't expecting them so early. Sneaky!
Thankfully, No tears were shed during my recent visit to see the Up characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios. They are stationed daily in the Magic of Disney Animation building, I saw only Carl (the aging homeowner voiced by Ed Asner) and Dug (the squirrel-oriented dog), but a cast member assured me that young Russell also makes appearances. Kevin the bird is built into the backdrop, which increases the value of the photo opportunity.
Carl's costuming is excellent, detailed down to the hearing aid, wedding ring and soda cap medal. Dug is playful, does the doggie hands bit and "licks" kids.
My only disappointment: Dug can't talk. Wouldn't it be cool if you pushed a button on his collar and he said "Squirrel!" like in the movie? If Mickey can blink, a boy can dream.
See for yourselfAir Florida Helicopter Charters
What: Flights above International Drive, theme parks, downtown Orlando, Windermere, Lake Apopka and more.
Where: 8990 International Drive, Orlando.
When: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
Cost: From $20 to $355 per person.
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