Going on a hot air balloon ride is amazing, awe-inspiring, thrilling, epic, and magical, just for starters. It is something we wholeheartedly recommend. No wonder it is on so many people’s bucket lists.
There are however numerous things that we learned and some that we found quite surprising during our experience. Some of them sure increased the excitement of our excursion! We are going to share these things with you so that you will be well prepared and ready for the ride of a lifetime!
1. Your Launch Date And Time May Be Adjusted
Like so many things related to hot air ballooning, your launch is subject to the weather. Hot air balloon pilots take weather seriously. Be prepared to have your flight delayed, if the weather isn’t ideal and it is raining or storming, foggy, or wind conditions are unfavorable.
Friends invited Kevin and I to use extra tickets originally bought for others who could not make the new date so this worked out in our favor. Book a flight for early in your trip and with awareness of the weather forecast if you have traveled for your experience. Be flexible and able to adjust if your dates change.
2. You Might Be Conscripted To Be Part Of The Hot Air Balloon Crew
I’ve since read that as few as two experienced personnel can launch a hot air balloon. However, the fact that we only had two greet us when we showed up for our flight surprised me. I’m not sure if they intended from the start to involve the passengers so thoroughly in launching the balloon, or if it only became necessary because the winds seemed to be stronger that day.
Either way, with a short briefing and instructions we became part of the crew. Three of us stayed near the basket to take turns holding open the bottom of the hot air balloon so that the air from the fans and later also the burners would fill and inflate it. We had front row spots to looking inside the balloon, hearing the burners, feeling the hot air, and seeing the balloon inflate larger and larger.
The rest of the passengers were across the field at the top of the balloon with the other actual crew member. They were holding the line to the top of the balloon. As the balloon inflated it was their job to hold it steady. Such an immersive experience seems neat so far right? But then…
3. You May Have To Run And Jump To Get Into The Basket
Wait what?! So I still laugh almost uncontrollably every time I think of this scenario. The pilot had already directed the few of us that had helped hold open the balloon to crawl into the basket. At that point it was on its side and we had an easy go of it. We leisurely sat inside taking pictures. The other half of our crew had no such leisure.
As they were holding the line and steadying the top of the balloon, the other actual crew member was directing the group and readying them to run forward as the balloon inflated sufficiently to start rising up. If they didn’t, it would lift them up instead. At some point they were told to drop the rope and run, not walk, to the basket. As they dashed across the field those of us in the basket only had to shift slightly as the basket was lifted right side up by the inflating balloon.
The balloon was basically ready to go as soon as it was inflated and upright. The pilot had fire in the burners and fire in his voice when he told everyone:
Get into the basket!
I’ve seen pictures of other hot air balloon experiences where people are provided a nice step stool to aid them in gingerly climbing into the basket. I hope that’s your experience. Not us. The basket does have foot holes that can be used to climb in that you could use if you were quick enough. If not, you got a helpful shove from the first mate ensuring you didn’t miss your flight.
We came away with an epic story, but I hope yours is much tamer. The main takeaways are:
- Ask ahead of time how much involvement may be expected from you so you can decide on the best outfitter to go with based on your own preferences
- Follow your crew’s instructions
- Stay near the balloon as it is being prepped in case you are directed to climb in and go for an immediate launch
4. Launching The Hot Air Balloon May Be Exciting
Once we were all inside the basket, we were told to crouch down and hold on. When they release the lines anchoring the hot air balloon they want to make sure no one could get hit in the off chance it whips back. Crouching was also the most secure and stable way for us to leave the ground.
Depending on the wind things could get a bit turbulent. Stay calm, even if your pilot does yell:
Luckily, our pilot was experienced and knew the wind was pushing our balloon and basket around so once we were in position and the lines were free he really laid on the burners. We rocketed skyward a lot faster than we expected. We were surprised by that though because we really didn’t feel the speed, only noticed how high up we were already when we were allowed to stand.
5. You May Fly Shorter, Longer Or Further Than Expected Due To Conditions
Weather can affect hot air balloon rides before launch, but also during the flight. If the weather turns, your flight may have to end prematurely. On the other hand, if winds are stronger, and they generally are higher up than what you feel on the ground, you might go further faster. This might mean you reach your destination sooner, but then again there are times that the situation doesn’t allow you to land where the pilot originally planned and you may fly longer. Which brings us to our next point.
6. Where The Hot Air Balloon Lands Is Subject To Change
In our case, the pilot did begin his descent and approach on our original landing site. However, he assessed the situation and it wasn’t going to work out so he continued flying. We weren’t entirely privy to the reasons why, but that’s why he is the expert and we knew it was safer to travel on. So in the end we actually ended up with a much longer flight. Score!
So make sure that whatever your plans are after the hot air balloon flight that they are adjustable. If someone is planning on picking you up, let them know your exact return time is fluid.
7. Your Landing May Be Smooth, Or Not
Just like the launch, landing is another time when it can get exciting. The pilot will most likely explain how to assume the landing position. Again, he directed us to crouch down in the basket and to hold on. This is the smart thing to do just in case as touchdown has the potential to be quite bumpy as the basket slides and bounces to come to a stop. The pilot has to pick a landing spot at some point and then make it happen. This is another point in time where wind can play an unfavorable role. Don’t let me scare you though, we had an incredibly smooth landing!
8. You May Get To Help Packing Up The Hot Air Balloon
After everyone climbs out and the chase vehicle finds you, it is time to pack up the hot air balloon and basket. There is A LOT of air to get out of it. Our group again got hands on with pulling and pushing the balloon down, folding, rolling, and then lifting it into its container. Then we put some muscle into it and helped push the basket up a ramp and back onto the trailer.
After all of this we felt a sense of accomplishment and comradery with our fellow riders which was nicely capped off by a certificate and champagne toast. Hot air balloon experiences that offer a breakfast, final toast, or other refreshments are a nice touch.
9. Your Pilot Most Likely Has Some Incredible Stories
Once the general launching duties are complete and you are underway, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to the pilot. Make sure they aren’t busy and can safely talk, but if they can they probably have some interesting information to share. They can answer all your questions about hot air balloons, flights, the landscape and area you are flying over, and their past experiences.
Ours had some fascinating tales about long distance hot air balloon flights and high altitude flights with oxygen masks. He had also been in various competitions. If we hadn’t engaged him in conversation we might have missed these neat stories.
10. The Views Are Like Nothing You’ve Ever Experienced
No matter how many airplanes you’ve ridden in, no matter how many viewing towers you’ve climbed to the top of, seeing the views from inside the basket of a hot air balloon is something completely unique. The fact that you’re floating through the sky in the open air yet totally secure in the basket and able to soak it all in is a very different experience.
You can see out to the horizon and all the landscape in between. The busy world lies down below but seems so peaceful from up above. It’s a beautiful perspective. Take a look out in all directions. See what details you can identify in the view below. Your pilot may even take you down closer so you are practically skimming the tree tops like we did.
You are in for an even bigger treat if your flight is timed to catch the sunrise or the sunset. The effect the rising or setting sun has on the hues shading the landscape and the artistry in the sky will be sure to dazzle you!
11. You Will Feel Small And Yet Full Of Wonder At Once
The entire experience of riding in a hot air balloon is thrilling and magical. As large as the hot air balloon seemed on the ground and as many people as can fit in that basket you will feel small floating in the immensity of the world around you. If you’re anything like me you’ll also feel an amazing sense of awe and wonder at what God has created filling you almost to bursting. A hot air balloon ride will be a memorable experience for the rest of your life.
We came away from this experience craving more. I’m not sure if or when we will have the opportunity to do this again, but I sure hope so. I’d love to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This experience magnified to over 500 balloons in all colors and shapes would be even more incredible.
My hope is that you have gotten a sense of what a hot air balloon ride is like and are now prepared for what that might include. Even through some of the unexpected portions, it was so worth the entire experience!
I would wish the ability to go on a hot air balloon ride for everyone that has the dream to take such a flight. Even more so I wish you the kind of awe and wonder we experienced in the air on whatever adventure or path life takes you next!
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If you were wondering about the landscape in our pictures and where we were during our hot air balloon ride, it was Germany! If you’d like to read more about our travels there, check out the following posts: