Yesterday I was able to cross another item off my bucket list as I soared above Kissimmee in a hot air balloon.
Saturday morning, I arrived at Formosa Gardens Park at 5 am in anticipation of my flight at the Kissimmee Blue Skies festival. Unfortunately, the launch was postponed until Sunday morning due to wind, but the park was decorated with colorful balloons!
People of all ages enjoyed the kaleidoscope of colors and fun balloon shapes tethering on the horizon! It was spectacular and made my desire to fly even greater. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and the balloons had to be taken down but I was thankful for the opportunity to spend time watching the process, chatting with the balloon pilots and taking photos.
Here’s a photo collage of a small sport balloon being inflated. I was amazed how the balloon went from flat to floating in just a matter of minutes! It only took a few people to prepare this particular balloon.
Some of the special edition balloons took much longer to set-up since they required more air. To put it into perspective, a small sport balloon weighs around 200 lbs while the Space Shuttle balloon weighs a whopping 1,000 lbs! Also, the bigger the balloon, the more people it requires to prepare. I was able to get my hands dirty and help out, too!
Sunday morning, I woke early and made the drive back to Kissimmee for another chance to fly. Before leaving my house, I checked the weather and noticed winds should max out around 5 mph so I thought we’d be OK for launch (I overheard one of the pilots on Saturday mention they do not fly when it is 7 mph or higher). While driving in, I noticed moisture on my windshield so I knew the chances of a balloon launch were fading. Regardless, I kept driving and remained hopeful.
Upon arrival and check-in (after grabbing a much needed cup of coffee), I signed waivers and received my boarding pass. I was teamed with an adorable mom and daughter duo and assigned pilot Pat Schmitt from Orlando Balloon Adventures.
We jumped in the van, signed yet another waiver and was taken to the launch site. As we arrived, we saw other balloons already being inflated. Some of the balloons were enormous, I couldn’t believe how many people fit inside the basket (I’m guessing 15 – 20)! Personally, I was thankful to be in a smaller balloon.
We were one of the last groups to arrive but our balloon inflation process went fast! Our mom and daughter team jumped in to help while I captured the moments. Here’s a video of them holding the balloon opening as a fan blows air inside.
This video shows our balloon on its side almost filled with air, then it flips upright.
Afterwards, we all jumped inside our basket and eagerly awaited launch. I kept praying the launch wasn’t going to be cancelled (it was foggy and a bit breezy).
A few seconds later, our pilot seized the moment and we were floating! I’m thankful we left when we did, because after we launched the decision was made to cancel the event due to weather conditions. We may not have flown as high as usual and the view was a little hazy, but it was still an incredible 45 minute experience.
Here are actual photos of our balloon flying (a special thanks to my friend Noemi and @RIDizney on Twitter for sharing these great photos)!
I would take another hot air balloon ride in a heartbeat! It was smooth, relaxing and simply amazing. Actually, it made me think of the quote…”Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away“!
Lastly, I will leave you with a few things I learned about hot air balloons from chatting with pilots AND from my experience.
- In Florida, hot air balloons ONLY launch at sunrise because the weather conditions are most favorable at that time.
- Dressing in layers is smart. I was expecting to be cold during flight but it is actually quite warm inside the basket from the flames. I’m thankful I wore layers so I could remove my light jacket.
- Getting in and out of the balloon can be challenging, make sure you wear appropriate shoes.
- Having a cross-body bag is helpful! I was able to keep all my belongings safely attached to me. Also, be careful holding cameras and/or smart phones, having a strap to secure equipment is a good idea.
- Listen to your pilot’s instructions. Pat gave us an overview of the balloon and basket prior to launch and explained what was safe to touch (and hold onto).
- Point out power lines to your pilot. You do not want to hit those (enough said).
- My balloon pilot has never landed in the same spot twice. The wind basically dictates the route and then the pilot will locate a safe spot to land. Don’t worry, the pilot is in constant contact with his crew inside the transport van so they can be there to assist with the landing (directing traffic if necessary, putting away the equipment, etc.).
- You never know what you’ll see while in the air. We had a glimpse of Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom when we took off, but the most memorable sight was a man in a bath towel taking photos of our balloon. We were thinking “now that’s not something you see everyday” which was most likely what he was thinking about our balloon landing in his neighborhood!
I couldn’t just let your mind wonder about towel man, I’m thankful he tied that knot tight!
Thanks to Experience Kissimmee for this amazing opportunity, I had a wonderful weekend. I am still on cloud 9 over my hot air balloon adventure. I highly encourage you to follow them on Facebook and Twitter so you know of upcoming events and local happenings!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary hot air balloon ride in exchange for event promotion and sharing my experiences. All opinions are my own.