To fulfill a bucket list wish and celebrate my birthday at the end of the year, I floated over my hometown and watched the sunrise from a hot air balloon. It was breathtaking! But it took not one, not two, but three tries to get up in the air! Here’s my story and some helpful tips for hot air balloon rides.
On my first morning out, I got up a dark thirty in the morning, filled up my travel coffee mug, and drove down to the meetup point for our ballon adventure. The weather had been kind of iffy all week and a cold front had blanketed the city in fog. Bundled up and hugging my coffee, I waited while our balloon pilots kept checking the weather and calling some of their cohorts around the city to see if any of the take-off and landing fields were clear and if the weather forecast of 30% chance of fog really meant that Orlando was 100% covered in it.
In a hot air balloon, there are no instruments, so the pilots rely on their sight. That makes fog kind of a big deal. Just in case it cleared in time, which unpredictable weather is apt to do, we gathered up in a van and drove to a nearby field with the balloons ready in an attached trailer. It was particularly cold that day in Orlando — the upper 30s — so we sat toasty warm inside the heated van and waited. I could tell by the look on the pilots faces that they were giving us false hope — we would not be flying that day.
The company was gracious enough to get us all rescheduled for later in the week, but unfortunately being out in the chilly weather made me come down with a terrible cough and nasty head cold. I missed the second flight.
As they always say, third time is always a charm. The weather had warmed up a bit, I had recovered from my cold, and the skies were crisp and clear as a winter’s day. You could see every star in the sky that morning and there was a lot of excitement in the air as the balloon pilots sent weather balloons up as a test. The way they’d send messages back and forth to each other on their talkies and cell phones made it feel like we were hopping into an adventurous episode of storm chasers, only instead of tornados, we were chasing wind direction.
The hunt was over — the pilots had received a message with the location of the best spot to launch. There were nearly twenty of us piling into their vans loaded up with the largest balloon baskets in the world. We drove out to an empty field off of I-4 and I could tell that this was now an exciting race to get there before every balloonist in the area found this perfect spot too.
When we arrived, the field was already crowded with vans, baskets, and parachute material like a giant garden full of colorful nylon. But it made for a spectacular sight at sunrise when all the balloons started to float away one-by-one.
The peaceful stillness of the morning, the occasional roar of a powerful flame filling the balloon with hot air, and watching the city float by beneath us — it was breathtaking.
I learned a few things that day that I wish I had known before I had gone. So, here are some tips to make the most of your hot air balloon flight:
- First and foremost, schedule your flight at the beginning of your vacation. Learn from my experience described above. You never know what the weather is going to do, so scheduling in the beginning of your trip gives you time to reschedule if you need to.
- Bring sunglasses. This sounds silly, I know, but since you’ll meet up when it’s dark, it’s easy to forget (I did!). As soon as the sun rises, you’ll be wanting those tinted shades.
- Dress in layers. The time of year and city you fly in will determine how many layers, but no matter the season, you’ll want some long sleeves as the temperature changes when you go up and down in different wind pockets. There’s no need for a hat, though, as the heat from the fire filling the balloon will warm your head.
- Tether your belongings to your body in case you accidentally drop them. This means sunglasses, cameras, and phones.
- Set two alarms. You will have to get up early to meet your pilot and get flying before the weather becomes unpredictable during the day. It’s worth waking up early for, but you might need that extra alarm so you don’t miss it.
- Plan a fun breakfast or coffee afterwards to celebrate your flight! If it’s chilly out, it’s a great way to warm up. Plus, it’s quite an exciting adventure and you’ll have pictures and stories to share.
- Wear shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty and pants that you can move around in. You’ll likely launch and land the balloon in the middle of a field, such as a cow pasture, so put on some athletic shoes that you don’t mind getting messy. Also, wear comfortable pants as you’ll have to climb up into the basket. It’s fairly easy since there are typically foot holes to step into like a ladder, but you’ll need to be nimble.
If you’re in Orlando and interested in flying in a hot air balloon, I highly recommend it. Not only will you get to see the area from a totally different perspective, but you’ll also have the opportunity to ride in one of the largest baskets in the world. Check out the Orlando Balloon Rides for more information.
This post was created in 2015 as part of my collaboration with Viator. However, The Travel Bite maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel and food are entirely my own.