It’s one thing to ride in a hot air balloon. But, it’s quite another to be wholly surrounded by hundreds of colorful balloons as they ascend in unison to fill the sky at daybreak. That’s a lesson I learned firsthand when my family and I attended the 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We experienced such awe and amazement when we looked up and saw nothing but hot air balloons all around. When talking about bucket list items, attending this event at least once should definitely be on your list.
2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. It has been held annually since 1972 and draws crowds from all over. This year more than 550 balloons and 94 special shape balloons from 23 countries were registered. I had no idea what to expect at the event so maybe this mini-FAQ will help you on your next visit. Before I go into detail, here is a quick tip guide for easy reference.
- Plan to attend more than one day if possible.
- Dress in layers since it gets chilly before sunrise and after sundown.
- Families will love the Special Shape Rodeo sessions. Don’t forget to collect the trading cards.
- Arrive as early as possible to avoid traffic. If staying in a local hotel, try to hit the road by 4:30 am.
- Buy souvenirs right away for better selection and shorter lines.
- Take tons of photos and video.
- Try to relax and take it all in.
Is one day enough?
If it there is good weather and you enjoy the event, possibly. BUT, we would have liked an extra day or two to get different views, shop, visit the hot air balloon museum, see a mass ascension, and to experience an evening program with fireworks. Also, hot air balloons can only inflate and fly if weather conditions are ideal. If it’s too windy or rainy, the whole thing is a no-go. There happened to be perfect weather the day we were there but, from what we heard, much of the program got rained out the last two years.
Which day of the Balloon Fiesta should we attend?
The most popular events are the Mass Ascension launches. That’s when almost all the registered balloons take off from the main field at the same time. Those happen on Saturdays and Sundays with a mini-one on Wednesdays. That said, the weekend events are crazy busy and crowded. Due to our tight travel schedule, the only time we could attend was on a Friday morning when they had the Special Shape Rodeo. After reading so much about Mass Ascension, I was afraid that the Special Shape Rodeo was going to be a let-down. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all! In fact, I think we enjoyed this WAY more than we expected.
What is the Special Shape Rodeo?
The Special Shape Rodeo takes place in the morning session on Thursday and Friday with a special focus on, well, the special shaped balloons. When we were there, hundreds of balloons (both standard and special shapes) took off from the main field and from nearby launch sites. I’m not sure how this compared to Mass Ascension but, from our perspective, it was pretty breathtaking. The best part, though, was finding all the uniquely shaped balloons.
We saw a tourist penguin, armadillo, British palace guard, masked thief and police officer, Tom and Jerry, motorcycle, zebra, affectionate bees, and so much more. Each and everyone put a smile on our faces and we couldn’t stop taking photos of them. See a few of them here. (FYI, slideshow includes 24 photos so don’t miss any of them!)
Plus, you can get trading cards of each of them. That’s right. Kids can go to each special shape balloon crew and ask for a free collectible trading card. Sadly, we only found out about this when the session was almost over and most of the cards had already been given away. We did score one card and it happened to be my daughter’s favorite balloon, Spyderpig!
Are Gondola Club tickets worth it?
General tickets are only $10 per session (morning or evening) but there are a couple of upgrades. Since Nissan was hosting our trip, they booked Gondola Club tickets for us. These tickets are much more expensive ($100/adult, $50/child). But, if you can afford it, the Gondola Club is a stress-free way to see the event.
Along with admission, these tickets give you access to a special parking lot, shuttle to the Gondola Club and Main Street (where the booths are), hot buffet meal, open bar, collector lapel pin, souvenir gift, table and chairs, dedicated bathrooms, a stocked merchandise booth, and a fantastic view. They could even accommodate those with food allergies! It was such a relaxing and enjoyable way to see the balloons. We did walk down to the field to get a different vantage point. There were tons of people and it was tough to get around. Oh, you should know that the tickets are non-refundable even if the balloons can’t fly that day.
We had a pretty amazing southwest road trip but the 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was a major highlight. Words, photos, and video can’t quite describe what it’s like to actually be there while all those balloons fly overhead. If we ever get to visit again, I’d love to attend two or three days and to take more time to explore the surrounding area. I hope you’re able to go one day too!
More stories from our Nissan #RogueTrip coming soon!
My family and I were invited on an all-expense paid road trip by Nissan with a loaned vehicle for review purposes. All opinions are my own.