Get the Funk Outta Here: Carolina BalloonFest

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Even after all the trips and flights I’ve taken in my life, I still want the window seat, and I still look out the window in pure awe. At the risk of looking like a newbie flier (heaven forbid), I just cannot help taking the occasional picture. But it never fails that the picture doesn’t do it justice anyways. Maybe it’s the cold meds I’m on right now, but how can we img_8032not look at this beautiful, amazing, world and not gasp sometimes?  It can affirm or maybe even make you question everything you know and believe all at the same time. Regardless of beliefs on how this universe and all of us came to be, can we all agree what a beautiful world this truly is!?  (But Lord help the jerk who tries to take my window seat; I’m here for the scenery, not the opportunity to give you a lap dance should I need to use the lav. Namaste and Amen. 🙏🏼) This was a pic from this morning. Again, the pictures never do it justice but the sun had lit up the clouds in a stunning array of colors over our beautiful state of WV as we departed.

I know travel doesn’t entice everyone, and there are many influencing factors such as cost, anxiety, fear of unknown, in a funk, etc. But some of our own most memorable trips have been mini-adventures that haven’t required much money, setting foot on an airplane, or going anywhere remotely glamorous or getting crazy. And there are some folks who fear flying or are just afraid or paranoid to travel in general. I get it. Sometimes the news does not paint the most beautiful picture that would entice one to travel, but we have to do it anyways. We have to get out of that bubble. We just have to expose ourselves and our kids to all the awesomeness that is out there.

So I shall say it as nicely as possible: Get the funk outta here. See what this amazing world, or your state or region have to offer. Go off the beaten path and try new things. Even if it turns out to be a flop of an experience, at least you gave it a shot. Eat a weird food (i.e. Canadian Poutine), hike some lakeside paths, kayak a local lake as smooth as glass before the fog even lifts and embrace the total silence, snorkel somewhere with water that is clear for miles, or scoop your first born out of a dolphin tank in the Bahamas (ok that last one I don’t recommend, but you get my drift). Watch for local or regional events that spark your interest, and just go for it. As the cliche says, life is too short.

The very same happened to me recently. Facebook “suggested” (in the creepy way it knows everything) that I would be interested in an event coming up in North Carolina. Creeper Facebook was RIGHT! So we loaded up the family truckster and embarked on a quick little turnaround trip to the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville, NC. It was everything we hoped for and more, not to mention budget-friendly and easy. (A few years back, some of my best buds and I took a hot air balloon ride in Napa, CA, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve done, and I wanted my family to experience that as well, but perhaps closer to the ground and without having to fly cross-country.) After a quick MapQuest to see how far away it was – about 4 hours from Huntington, WV, and a little hotel research, we decided this could be a fun and unique little weekend trip for all of us to experience.

Knowing that the balloons would not fly in any kind of inclement weather, we waited until a handful of days out to purchase our tickets while watching the forecast for that area. Adults were $20 each; kids under 12 free admission. We also sprung for VIP parking (another $20), and I would have paid double for it, maybe even triple. If you take only one nugget away from this post, let it be that VIP parking is the way to go. Otherwise, there after shuttles and lines and waits involved. The weather ending up looking pretty good in the days leading up to the event, so tickets were booked! They warn you ahead to take cash, and that was wise advice as only a couple vendors took cards, and ATM’s were hit or miss. Cell service is also splotchy (the event takes place in a massive field near the Statesville airport).

The festival was basically a fair/bazaar on steroids, but the balloons made it just magical. As I’ve said, pictures just don’t do it justice, so do yourself and favor and check it out personally next year! The balloons fly in the mornings and evenings, so we were sure to get there early to see the morning ascension. It’s a 3-day long festival, and we made it to Saturday/Sunday. We originally booked a Hampton Inn, but got “walked” (hotel-speak for “bumped”), but it worked out hugely in our favor. We were moved around the corner to a newer Hilton Garden Inn, and our whole stay was paid for. Breakfasts too. Woo hooooooo!

They had Kid Zone with several inflatables for kids, mostly free. Some things charged extra (i.e. Bungee jumping trampoline thing and balloon animals). There were tons of food selections (not free, but very yummy), and GREAT live music! We loved the bagpiping, didgerigdoo-playing group from Scotland called Albannach. We stayed to watch them twice! Adults: fear not…. there is a wine and beer garden. $20 got you unlimited sampling from some of my favorite NC area wineries and breweries.

And then there are actual hot-air balloon rides. Jeremy and the kids did the tethered ride. If I was gonna put all my eggs in one basket, literally, they were only going up about 40 feet. It cost $10 for adults and $5 friends for kids. And for shorter kiddos, like Leo, they had a peep hole to look out of toward the bottom of the basket, so no need to lift over the edge of the balloon so he can see (whew!). The kids were enthralled, and now we are 4/4 as a family for having ridden in a hot-air balloon, and it was close and affordable and FUN! You can also do an actual balloon ride (untethered and floating around in the sky), but those were about $250 and you had to make separate arrangements with the pilots.

Major takeaways/advice:

  • Take cash
  • Take sunblock
  • VIP Parking = MUST!!!
  • Take chairs and a blanket (maybe even a wagon for kiddos) so you can get comfortable.
  • Check the weather before you commit! Without the balloons it would have still been fun, but the balloons were the main attraction and kinda the main reason we made the trip.
  • Get there EARLY! You do NOT want to miss the balloon races and games. Awesome!
  • And if you want to take a tethered balloon ride, get in line for it FIRST thing.

They do offer a VIP Experience, but it ran $300 for our family, and even after scoping it out this year, I’m not 100% sure that juice is worth the squeeze. Hmmmmm…. we’ll see. They had a tent and food and beverages, and they also provided “upgraded” port-a-potties. I need to know more about this; seems steep. And to me, a port-a-potty is a port-a-potty. Not too many ways to upgrade that experience in my book.

The Carolina BalloonFest is always the 3rd weekend in October, so mark your calendars and watch the weather! Maybe next year, we will see some familiar faces! It was certainly a highlight of the fall for our family, and overall just the perfect “festival” for a family. We definitely want to go back.  At the end of Saturday evening, they did what is called an “All-Burn” and a “Twinkle-Burn” with the balloons where they all light up together or twinkle, respectively, in the middle of the vast field. This spectacle alone was definitely worth sticking around through the evening hours. To see dozens of massive and colorful hot-air balloons lighting up right in front of you was an amazing sight to see, but again, the pictures just don’t do it justice, so I guess you’ll have to go check it out for yourself!

 

 

 

 

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