A hot air balloon ride; it's on most bucket list travelers to-do list if it isn't already on their to-done list. Seeing those beautiful dots of colors in the sky at festivals or while visiting small towns is something many people dream of being on the inside looking out instead of the reverse.
I recently crossed this off my own bucket list with the help of Park City Balloon Adventures in Park City Utah and there is nothing I can compare it to. The feeling of gentle speed as you ascend through the sky is actually not felt at all. Only your eyes feel the movement, if you didn't look around you wouldn't know you were moving.
Except for the periodic whoosh of the burner, accompanied with your fellow rider's whispers of delight, ballooning is a tranquil and silent affair. You won't here a deafening engine of a plane even if one flies below your (as it did in our case). I imagine this peaceful silence is what attracts many people to it time and time again. And lets not forget the view.
It's 360 degrees of spectacular!
While I imagine that every company has different policies and instructions. Here's a few things we did in preparation for our experience.
How we chose a company for our Hot Air Balloon Ride:
Choosing a company can be a little overwhelming. Most of us want to get the best for our money, but don't want to overspend. Do your homework and don't be afraid to ask questions. I used the reviews on TripAdvisor.com and Yelp.com as my guideline. I'd suggest your read through as many of both the good and bad reviews as you can.
You might also attend some of your local Balloon Festivals if they have them in the area you live in. Festivals are fun, informative. If you live near Park City they are currently gearing up for their annual Autumn Aloft Festival September 16-18, 2016.
What to Expect when Taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride:
1. The Early Bird Gets the Balloon: The mild temperatures and cooler air in the early morning make this the safest time for ballooning. In some cases you will be picked up when it's still dark. The stunning sunrise was well worth the alarm clock.
2. Pilot Instructions: Your balloon pilot who will go over all the safety rules and what you can expect before, during, and after the flight. Our pilot, Tom, assigned our spots in the Basket Baskets to distribute the weight evenly. Baskets range in size from 10 to 16 people. Unless you are a large group you will likely be with other riders.
3. Watching the balloons inflate: When you get to your departure point, you’ll find a lot of activity as workers prepare the balloons for inflation. For safety reasons companies team up and meet at the same locations. Once the pilots engage the burners to heat the air, it takes about 30 minutes for the balloons to fill and rise above the baskets. It's exciting to watch.
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4. Kids on Balloon Rides:
While there isn't a legal age limit for taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride the company you choose will likely have their own age restrictions. In our group of 3 balloons there were several school aged children. Our pilot told us that some kids (and adults) can get nervous of the heights. They'll usually have the child (or adult) look out the peep holes made for getting in and out of the basket to calm themselves.
He also said the teenagers are known to get bored on the ride as it's not "thrilling" enough for them. Our 8 year old granddaughter loved the experience, but you'll want to evaluate the personality of the kids you plan to take for cost vs. enjoyment.
5. Balloon Rides for the Handicapped:
Not all balloons are equipped to handle handicapped persons as getting in the basket requires you to climb over the top. However, there are some balloons specifically designed for individuals in wheelchairs where the baskets open completely allowing for wheelchair accessibility. Our pilot said they have been able to accommodate most handicapped individuals including the elderly with a chair for sitting on. The staff is able to assist in lifting the disabled person into the basket. You'll want to make arrangements with the company you choose.
7. Balloon Piloting by App.:
Here's a bit of trivia that may interest you. During our balloon ride one of the passengers was confused as to why the pilot was continually looking at his phone. When asked, our pilot Tom, answered smiling that there were a lot of Pokemon in the sky. Actually, if you notice your pilot looking at their iPad or phone, chances are they are looking at a pilots app. tracks flights, weather, can communicate with those on the ground and more. That's an app. I never thought of.
8. Champagne Toast and Prayer: In keeping with a tradition that started when balloons first took flight all the way back in the late 1700's and were made of taffeta that was coated with a kind of varnish concoction created by a Frenchman that manufactured glue for wallpaper. The balloons used an open campfire style flame filled with wood.
The French countryside, most commonly housing peasants and farmers that had little contact with the events of the city, would often respond to a ballon overhead with fear and skepticism. The sight of a balloon falling from the sky prompted fear especially when they saw the pilot’s face covered in black soot and ash from the fire that kept the balloon aloft.
To avoid being attacked by the people they surprised, hot air balloon pilots began to carry Champagne from the King with them as a way to let skeptical onlookers know they were human and to give them thanks for the safe landing in their field.
Champagne and the Balloonist Prayer are an after flight worldwide tradition to this day.
The Balloonist’s Prayer:
“The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
We have flown so high and so well that God
has joined you in laughter and set you gently
back into the loving arms of mother Earth.
Our hot air balloon experience with Park City Balloon Adventures was everything we had hoped it would be and more and was well worth the money. On our adventure, we learned a lot, met new friends and enjoyed something new.
Bucket list checkmark.