Up, up and away! The butterflies never came as we gently lifted into the air. Waving goodbye to our ground crew, the scene before us got smaller and simultaneously opened up to bigger views of the sky and ground. It was just after sunrise and the soft dawn light and puffy clouds provided the perfect backdrop as more balloons followed behind us.
The beauty of a mass hot air balloon ascension is undeniable and totally accessible. *Every year, the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival brings balloonists from all over to the small town of Foley, Alabama, just minutes from the beautiful coastal city of Gulf Shores. Entry to the festival is free, and the entertainment includes an interactive hot air balloon display, a hot air balloon glow and mass ascension, tethered rides, live music, a frisbee dog show, kids zone, arts and crafts village, retail marketplace, antique tractor display and more. The festival always takes place on Father’s Day weekend, so keep that in mind when thinking about a unique gift for dad. Daredevils can schedule a tethered ride, which usually cost $15-$20 per person.
*Update: As of August 2014, the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival has been permanently canceled by event organizers.
10 Things I Learned From My Hot Air Balloon Experience
- Hot air ballooning is one of the earliest forms of flight, and it is actually very safe. Leave the butterflies at home!
- During tethered rides, if a large balloon had just one tie-down, it could lift up an entire van.
- You can’t just take off and touch down anywhere. Landowner relations are an important part of determining your launch site and landing place.
- Direction is determined with a mylar balloon. To find our launch site, we drove into the wind, away from our predetermined landing spot.
- You don’t turn in a hot air balloon. You rotate.
- Your job is to help watch for power lines, even if the pilot says otherwise. Beyond that, just lean back and enjoy!
- Ballooning is a very expensive hobby. By supporting a pilot with your business, you help keep the art of ballooning alive and well.
- Because of their massive size, shape balloons are a dying art. One shape balloon can cost up to $200K for just the balloon itself and can weigh up to 1400 pounds.
- Larger balloon generally have a smoother landing due to their weight. It helps if you soften your knees.
- Hot air ballooning is fun — really, really fun!
If you would like to schedule an untethered ride in a hot air balloon with one of our local pilots, be sure to contact them in advance. Winds must be less than 5 mph to fly, so balloonists are very restricted in terms of when they can go up. Typically, your flight will be scheduled at dawn, because the winds can die down to almost 0 mph around that time. Ready to check something off your bucket list? Here are some local balloon pilots and their contact information.
Balloon: Let’s Get High
Pilot: Captain Ellis Calvert
Location: Orange Beach, AL
Balloon: Hope Floats
Pilot: Tommy Rachel
Location: Magnolia Springs, AL
Contact: 251-970-FLYU (3598)
If you are travelling to the area, we highly recommend you stay near the coast! Meyer Vacation Rentals has one of the largest selections of condos and beach houses in the area, and the search feature has a variety of different filters to make your search easy. How does that sound? A beach getaway and a magical hot air balloon ride. Share in life’s wonderful experiences with your friends and family.
I’d like to send a special thank you to Pilot Tom Warren and crew of American Balloons (Land O’ Lakes, FL) for the fantastic, fun and thoroughly safe experience, as well as Pilot Tommy Rachel for all of his hard work organizing the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival and finally Meyer Vacation Rentals for being a sponsor of this local event and helping to keep ballooning alive and well on the Gulf Coast.