Here’s another guest post by Anu Menon, this time about the experience of taking a hot air balloon ride. Her earlier guest post here. The post is informative and exciting enough to make you go for a ride. Do read and share your thoughts- Shrinidhi
3 weeks back I was having a chat with a friend who mentioned that he was going hot air ballooning just before he logged off. I’ve been fascinated with anything involving flight(bungee jumping, twin engine flying, sky diving, para sailing, hot air ballooning, air ships) and so I happened to mention it to my (R)oomie.
Two days later I receive this very romantic email in French from my (R)oomie inviting me to join him for a Hot air balloon ride on 9/11. I accepted and what ensued was a postponement because of the sudden decision to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi which happened to fall on the same day. The best thing about the tickets was that it allowed for a free postponement for up to 2 years as long as you called in 72 hours before the scheduled date.
More about the Hot Air Balloon ride trip:
Temecula is about 2 hours driving distance (no traffic) from where we live (Los Angeles). In order to make sure we reached on time we started at 3 in the morning and ended up reaching an hour earlier. We spent the one hour we had, gazing at the stars and making sure we were at the right place. At exactly 6:15 the guys from magical adventures arrived and made a note of our names and started making arrangements to blow the balloon. A very powerful fan was blown to fill air and slowly but surely the balloon took shape. Once we got the signal we took our positions and hopped into the basket.
Hot air balloon trips are usually scheduled early in the morning and late in the evening time. You are charged depending on the type of ride you prefer – shared or private. Given the amount they were charging for the private ride we decided to go with ‘the more the number, the merrier’. California has hot air balloons in different parts depending on the type of surface they cover – water or land. Though water seemed to be the thing to do we chose land because it meant we would have a chance to pluck at some dried clementine midway during the ride.
Our balloon –the Big Bird was divided into 4 compartments which could hold 4 each plus a spot for the pilot. So a full balloon would carry 16+1 medium sized Homo sapiens. If you happen to weigh more than 250 lbs. you get to pay $50 extra. This is the biggest balloon with Magical Adventures. Our Pilot was Michael who has been piloting hot air balloons for about 20 years now. He was asked questions like ‘How does he know where we would end up after an hour?’, ‘Can you change the direction of a hot air balloon?’, ‘What happens if you bump into another balloon?’ The answers to which were simple enough, ‘practice makes perfect, it was all the experience’, ‘Nope’, ‘What say, we try bumping into one now’.
Most people think it’s cold on a hot air balloon but there’s no catch there. A hot air balloon is what it claims to be ‘HOT’. So the best clothing to be worn is layered. It’s always handy to carry a sweater to take off when you get on the flight when you fly in the morning and to put on if you are flying in the evening.
Hot air balloons can go up to heights of 5000 ft. but the most commonly covered heights are anything between 500 and 1500 ft. If you are travelling more than 2-3 hours to reach the takeoff point it is advisable to call and confirm that the flight is on. Sometimes if the weather is unfavorable the ride may be cancelled and rescheduled. Shared balloon rides usually cost around $150 per person. Weekends are slightly more expensive compared to weekdays. The Temecula county covers many wineries and so is famous for wine tasting. There were about 7 other balloons sharing the sky with us that morning.
The entire ride takes about 3and1/2 hours which includes inflating the balloon, an hour in the sky and deflating the balloon, a ride back to your car and a partially paid for breakfast.
The thing that makes it move – hot air!!!
It was customary that when you land on any winery you bring your own bottle of champagne and offer it to the winery owner. So keeping up with tradition, as the ride came to an end and the balloon is all wrapped up and ready for the next set of adventure seekers, our pilot takes out some champagne and fruit juice and says a little Balloonist prayer:
‘The Winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well that God
Has joined you in laughter, and set you gently
Back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.’
Is it worth it? I would say YES – but for a once in a lifetime activity. Would I pay the same amount for another balloon ride in the near future – NO. If someone were taking me on free rides, I’d still do it maybe once a year but not more often. I enjoy thrill and speed a lot more. This is a quite calm sail across the skies and land with a bump kinda ride.
On successful completion of a hot air balloon ride, every passenger is awarded with a Flight Certificate.
Hot air balloon rides are also a wonderful way to gift your loved ones. Many couples treat themselves to a hot air balloon ride on anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, engagements, graduations, retirements and festivals. Pictures of our ride here.
For any questions and feedback please reach me at anu_m(at) mota-blogs (dot) com
Update: Read Mridula D's experience account of Hot Air balloon ride in Jaipur, Rajastan
Also read: Anu Menon's Blog *