Gliding above the treetops in a basket with blue sky above, spectacular scenery below, and little more than the wind and a pilot to guide you: a ride in a hot air balloon can be an exhilarating experience. Hot air balloon rides are gaining in popularity all over the world and there are a variety of companies that offer rides in just about every region of the country. There are many factors that affect the length of a hot air balloon ride, but on average, rides last around one hour and generally take place at the two most picturesque times of day: sunrise and before sunset.
Before You Go: Choose Your Ride
Companies offer a range of rides, themes can vary from romantic, couples-only rides (perfect for popping the question!) to location-themed rides that fly over places such as Napa Valley, the Las Vegas Strip, etc. The price of your ride generally depends on the type of ride you choose and the number of people involved. Couples-only rides tend to be on the expensive side, but they often include extras, such as champagne and a commemorative photo. A regular group ride is less romantic but also less expensive and most companies charge less per person as the number of people in the group approaches the maximum riders allowed.
Watch The Weather
For safety reasons, hot air balloon rides can’t take place during inclement weather or on days or times when it is too windy. Winds are calmest at sunrise or an hour or two before sunset, which is why rides are usually scheduled at these times. Because the weather will be the most important factor of your ride, there’s always a chance your ride may be cancelled. Most companies require you to call to confirm your ride the day before you’re scheduled to take off. If weather conditions aren’t favorable, they will reschedule you for another date.
There’s more to the ride than the actual flight, so plan on setting aside three to four hours for the entire experience. The temperature during your flight will be about the same up in the air as on the ground; many places recommend dressing in layers, similar to what you’d wear on a hike (long pants and sturdy shoes are highly recommended). Depending on the size of the balloon and basket (also called a gondola), rides can accommodate anywhere from two to upwards of ten or more people, including the pilot.
Once you arrive you’ll meet your pilot, who will explain in detail what to expect during your ride. You’ll then watch the assembly and inflation process, where the basket will be attached to the balloon and the balloon will be inflated (some companies encourage participation in this process, ask if you can help!). At a certain point, the pilot will start the balloon’s “engine” by lighting the burners, which will heat the air inside the balloon, ultimately causing it to rise. When the time’s right, the pilot will ask you to climb into the basket, and off you’ll go.