Going on a hot air balloon ride is often a top bucket list experience. A gentle breeze is the pilot and amazing views are sure to follow. It is an experience that won’t soon be forgotten. Opportunities to go on a ride may be closer than you think. Here is how we went about going on our first hot air balloon ride.
When you decide that you want to go on your first hot air balloon ride, you have to do your research. We did just that and determined that we would go on our first flight with Balloons Over New England. Your next step is to decide which of 3 locations you want to depart from: Kennebunk, ME, Massachusetts, or Quechee, VT. There are a few considerations when choosing a launch site. If you want to depart in Maine, you need to be flexible. Due to the proximity to the ocean they use 8 different launch sites and do not decide on the location until just before flight time based on the wind speed and direction. In Massachusetts, they also have multiple launch sites for the same reasons. When we called to make our reservation, we asked for their recommendation. Their suggestion was Quechee. So we agreed and figured we’d turn it into a long weekend getaway.
When you’re driving to the launch site, don’t look for a giant balloon to decide you’re going in the right direction. You will be an active participant in erecting the balloon.
It takes about 30 minutes to blow the balloon up. You can feel the excitement and there is serious anticipation as you see the balloon slowly rise. This is initially done by fans and when it is halfway full with the cold air, they begin to use propane burners so that the balloon begins to rise over the basket. The pilot warns you that when the balloon is completely upright, you need to pile into the basket fairly quickly. When everyone is in, they begin to pull on the cord that starts the burner. After a few long pulls, we’re off the ground.
When you’re high up over the trees, it’s truly amazing how quiet it is up there. The only sound you hear is when the pilot puts the burner on. This is very loud and very hot. In the air, you’re at the mercy of the wind. You have no idea when the ride is going to end or where you’re going to finish.
The balloon is followed by spotters who are in constant communication with the pilot. They help to find the best place to land. If there is an open field in the distance and the wind is cooperating, you can bet this is where you’ll land. The pilot encourages you to bend your knees, get low in the basket and brace for impact. Our landing was actually quite smooth and we landed all safe and sound.
Once you have landed, champagne is typically involved. The tradition started back when the pilot would present the landowner, on whose property you make your final landing, with a ceremonial bottle of champagne. This tradition is believed to have started with the first balloonists in France. The first hot air balloons were filled with not just hot air but smoke, due to a slight mistake by scientists of that era who believed the lift was due to the smoke rather than the heat. Thus, early balloons landing in peasants’ farm fields were attacked with stones and clubs and pitchforks, since they were obviously aliens from another planet (ha!). Early French pilots found that the peasants could be easily distracted if the balloons’ occupants offered them a glass of champagne. Hence, the tradition of having a bottle of champagne at the end of the ride.
Once you land, riders can help get the ballon deflated before you get shuttled back to the launch site.
Don’t let a fear of heights stop you from experiencing an amazing opportunity to see the world from a different angle.
“Once you have flown, you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Prices for Balloons Over New England
$275 per person for the 1st Class Champagne Adventure