Is a hot air balloon ride on your bucket list?
I jumped at the chance to ride in a hot air balloon when I visited Gallup, New Mexico last fall. I helped set up the balloon and then gently floated over red rock canyons, with panoramic views of the American Southwest. It was just as thrilling as I hoped it would be.
After my ride, I asked expert Bill Lee all my questions about ballooning. If you've ever considered booking a hot air balloon ride for your family, you'll find answers here!
Bill is the CEO of the Gallup, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce. He is also an experienced balloon pilot and owner X-Treme Lee Fun Balloon Adventures.
Here's my hot air balloon Q&A with Bill Lee.
Why should families consider a hot air balloon ride?
It really is the most fantastic form of flight. I have been fortunate to fly in everything from fighter jets, stunt planes, and I have even wing walked on a Steerman Bi-plane… Nothing compares to feeling you get during a hot air balloon flight. Peaceful, floating, and 360 degree views.
Many have it listed a hot air balloon ride as Bucket List item. Just remember there is a lot of room in the bucket.
Each day brings changes in the weather and conditions. While there can be some similarity, each and every flight in a balloon is different and offers an unique and unforgettable experience.
What should families expect from a balloon ride?
This is not a dress-up occasion. Be prepared in most cases to have a hands on experience. You will be involved from start to finish, and it becomes a learning experience.
Don't be afraid of asking the pilot and crew questions. The assembly of the balloon at the launch site – the flight itself – and the landing and pack-up of the equipment is all part of the fun.
Balloon rides can vary in altitude. Because balloon pilots use the wind to steer, we are searching for different winds at different altitudes to take us where we would like to go. This means most balloon flights are anywhere from a few feet to 1,500 or 2,000 feet off the ground.
What are your favorite hot air balloon destinations?
I'm most familiar with the U.S Southwest. Gallup, Albuquerque and Phoenix are popular ballooning destinations. There are many wonderful places to fly throughout the United States.
What should families look for when shopping for a balloon ride?
Some companies don't allow for the full experience, helping with the set-up, pack-up etc. If that's something you want, ask the company.
Check out the company you are booking your flight with, including their safety record. How long have they been flying?
Some companies, like mine, specialize in a more individualized experience. Others fly very large balloons that carry 12-16 people. It's a matter of preference.
Don't base everything on price. Consider where you want to fly and what type of experience you want for your family.
How old do kids need to be to ride in a hot air balloon?
Ballooning is generally recommended for children over the age of 6. Each balloon ride company will have their own policy. Balloon baskets can be 42 inches or taller, making it difficult for little ones to see over the edge.
I don't allow anyone who is pregnant to fly and I don't allow infants to be carried in a flight, even if they are secured in some sort of personal carrying device. Ballooning is a fair weather sport, but weather can change during a flight and some landings can get bumpy, so holding a child could become a safety issue.
If anyone in the family has any sort of chronic medical condition, bad knees, bad back, etc., check with a doctor before flying. Please let your pilot know of any health conditions.
What type of weather is best?
All balloon flights are weather dependent. The weather must be fair, with light winds – not only on the surface (what you feel) but also up above the surface. No rain or snow. Visibility must also good.
Balloon pilots know and study weather extensively. It can be difficult to call off a flight when the weather on the surface looks good, but there are many other factors that could come into play. Balloon pilots look at what weather may be like a few hours after take off, so that we have an idea of what kind of conditions we can expect for landing.
What should you wear?
Jeans and T-shirts. This is nothing to get fancy about. Ballooning is often done on cool/cold mornings and evenings. Dress in layers to make sure you stay comfortable.
Wear open toed shoes – light hikers are great, tennis shoes are okay. You could be walking through brush and getting a bit dirty.
A hat or ball cap is advisable. Don't forget the sunscreen!
What are your top safety tips?
Listen to the instructions of the pilot and his/her crew. They are experienced and can give you instruction and safety tips. Just like when you fly on an airline, your pilot should give you a safety briefing before launch.
Your eyes are just as important as the pilots, so if you see power lines, or obstacles that are closer than you feel is comfortable, speak up and let the pilot know. Always prepare for landings by having a good grip on the handles provided and springy bent knees.
How much does a typical hot air balloon ride cost?
It will depend from place to place. but generally speaking $250 to $350. Flying at a ballooning event/rally may be more expensive.
What are hot air balloon festivals like? Any tips for families?
There are many across the country to choose from. The biggest in the world is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta with well over 500 balloons participating.
The Red Rock Balloon Rally in Gallup will mark it's 39th year in 2018 and I feel it really caters to the family. There is no admission fee charged for any of the events. You will only pay a $5 parking fee. It has about 150 balloons in the scenic red rocks of Gallup. Not as big as some, and you won't find a huge vendor row like Albuquerque, but it's fun just the same.
There are lots of balloon rallies all over the country. I would seek one out that allows you to walk around all of the balloons as they get ready for launch or to glow. Make sure you ask pilots for their collectible balloon cards. They usually are free, pilots love to give them out and your children will have an amazing selection to fill a scrap book afterwards.
Thank you to Bill Lee for sharing his tips for taking a hot air balloon ride! Have more questions? You can ask Bill directly through his website at http://www.scenicballoonrides.com/.
Click the button below to see more fun things to do in Gallup, New Mexico with kids.
Disclosure: My hot air balloon ride was complimentary, as part of the TMS Family Travel conference. All opinions are my own.