Have you ever wanted to ride in a hot air balloon? Does it rank pretty high on your bucket list? For me, my answer would be “no” and “no.” I mean, I wasn’t opposed to it but I also wasn’t that interested either. I always thought, “Yeah, that might be cool…” but it never went beyond a passing thought, especially when I considered how much it costs. As for Frans, he is afraid of heights. So, the idea of going up hundreds of feet and being suspended by only a thin piece of fabric and some hot air was not a happy one. But, after going on a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley, we are now believers.
8 Tips for Riding in a Hot Air Balloon
Before going on our first flight, we really didn’t know what to expect and we had several questions. Here are a few tidbits we picked up along the way which could help you have a better first-time hot air balloon ride.
1. Choose a reputable company with quality equipment and experienced pilots.
Now, since there are risks involved in ballooning, I wouldn’t suggest you fly with just anyone. Choose a reputable company with well-maintained quality equipment and experienced pilots. Our flight reservation was with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. This company has been going strong since 1980 and uses well-seasoned pilots. They also replace their equipment every year so everything is in tip-top flying condition. Check online ratings and look for personal recommendations (like this one 😉 ).
2. Be there on time and follow directions.
The hardest part about going on a hot air balloon ride was waking up! The air is usually calmer and less windy in the early morning so flights tend to take off before sunrise. Frans and I got up a little after 4:00 am and had to be on-site before 5:30 am. Anyone arriving 15 minutes after departure time is treated as a no-show with no refund. So, make sure you’re on time! Keep an eye on the weather too. If the conditions are less than ideal, the balloons can’t take off. The company will call you to reschedule if the weather isn’t cooperating. Keep in mind that this is for your and their safety.
We arrived at Domaine Chandon Winery in Yountville (our meeting spot) a few minutes early and light refreshments were waiting for us. Then, we received some basic instructions about what to expect on the flight, information about pilots and payment, and some housekeeping items (i.e. safety, what we could bring, how to know which balloon we were going to be in, etc). Then we made our way over to the shuttle vans.
3. Go for the corners if possible.
It was just a short ride to the huge open fields where the balloons were being set up. There were small footholds in the side of the basket so it was easy to climb in, well, relatively easy since I was wearing a maxi skirt that day. We rode in the largest of the company’s five balloons that day. The basket held twenty people and was divided into 4 passenger sections. The middle section was reserved for the pilot and the flight equipment.
If possible, try to get placed near the corner of the basket. You’ll get much better photos that way. Frans and I were further toward the middle and it was hard to get good selfies without other people in them.
4. Take tons of photos but be mindful of other passengers.
The flight itself, from take-off to landing, was unbelievably smooth. The views were breathtaking and, as the sun began to rise above the horizon, other balloons seemed to glow in the morning light. As we took it all in, our 45 minutes to 1 hour in the air went by in the blink of an eye. It’s so calm and peaceful up there!
We took a ton of photos and video, as did everyone else. But, it’s good to remember to be mindful of other passengers (not being too loud or intruding in their space) so they can enjoy the ride as much as you do. (Use the arrows to view more photos.)
5. Dress in layers and pack lightly.
In case you’re wondering what to wear and what to bring, most of that was outlined in our initial confirmation email. Passengers are not allowed to bring bags of any size (camera bags, purses, backpacks, etc.) in the balloon. But, cameras, light jackets, and hats are encouraged. It’s really only cold when you’re on the ground since the burners heat the basket up pretty quickly. Since it can get especially toasty near the flames, tall passengers or those who don’t have much hair on their head should bring a hat of some kind (Frans obviously falls into the former group).
6. Make sure everything is attached.
If you bring your phone and plan on using it to take photos or video, you might want to attach a strap or lanyard. I had a Lifeproof Fre case on my phone and used a wrist strap with an adjustable band (interchangeable with floating bands for underwater usage). That way I wasn’t nervous about dropping it hundreds of feet…
7. If you’re afraid of heights, don’t look straight down.
Our pilot, who had over 30 years of ballooning experience, talked us through the flight process. He told us how high we were flying, how the weather condition would affect our path, pointed out some landmarks across in the area, analyzed what other balloons were doing and why, and he answered any questions we had. Any nervousness melted away and we felt very safe the whole time. Even at 2000 feet above ground, the height wasn’t even that noticeable, unless you looked straight down. So, if you’re acrophobic like Frans, don’t do that and instead appreciate the landscape at eye level.
Our balloon led the pack as we headed to a designated landing spot. The “chase crew” (company trucks and staff) were already on the ground waiting for our arrival. Soon after we got out, the balloons were deflated and packed away. That meant we only had a few minutes to quickly snap a few photos before walking down to the shuttles.
8. Reflect on the experience.
Back at the winery, it was time to enjoy the included mimosa and champagne breakfast. Most everything was gluten free so Frans was able to enjoy the meal too. He just had to grab his food before everyone else so there was less risk of cross-contamination. Full and satisfied, Frans and I returned to our accommodations for the weekend and took a well-deserved nap. Then, later that day, we received an email with photos from our flight. What a way to top off our experience!
We had such a wonderful first hot air balloon ride! The flight was fantastic, the views were spectacular, and nothing quite compares with how surreal the whole thing was. As long as you go with a reputable company, arrive on time, follow directions, and are mindful of other passengers, you’ll have a relaxing and enjoyable flight! You should definitely try it if you ever get the chance.
I received two complimentary flights (one for Frans and one for me) in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.