Up, Up and Away to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival

Balloon fiesta
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

It’s up, up and away to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. More than 700 hot air balloons take to the sky over a nine day period every October in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to the festival website, it is the largest balloon event in the world! It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.

Where dreams take flight
Where dreams take flight

What happens at the Balloon Fiesta? : There are daily morning (7 am) and evening (6 pm) sessions. Attend both of these if you can.  At 6 am, there is a Dawn patrol show followed by a morning glow, where the balloons light up on the ground. Then all eyes turn to the sky for the mass ascension when hundreds of balloons in all shapes, sizes and colors take flight.

Pure joy!
Pure joy!

When should I get there? : If you go on the weekends, set your alarm for 4 am and be out the door by 4:30. We arrived with plenty of time for the 7 am mass ascension. Many of the people who left their hotels at 6 am were stuck in traffic by the time the balloons took off. The Fiesta coordinators encourage you to use public transportation- either the bus or the train. Take the train for fast service. We heard some people who said the bus lines lasted for more than 2 hours. Wow! When the morning glow finished, we returned to our hotel for a nap. The fiesta park is open between the morning and evening sessions, but no balloon events happen during that time. Around 4 pm, we came back for the nightly glow which starts at 6 pm.

Nightly Glow
Nightly Glow

That’s where the balloons stay on the ground and light up. I was surprised how close we were able to get to the balloons. The crews took the time to speak with us, answering all of my boys’ questions and handing out pins.

He was in awe.
He was in awe.

What to wear: Be sure to dress in layers. We needed our winter jackets before sunrise, but by mid morning, we felt comfortable in light jackets and t-shirts. Be prepared for wind. It can be too windy for balloons to lift off so be sure to check ahead of time. I followed the Balloon Fiesta on Twitter for the latest updates. One of our mass ascension’s was significantly delayed. We were thankful to have the VIP tent where we could enjoy hot drinks. You can also walk around the park grounds and buy fast food, drinks and souvenirs from vendors. My boys loved the mini hot air balloons. Many vendors sell these, so don’t be afraid to shop around. We found a variety of prices for the same item.

Mini hot air balloons
Mini hot air balloons

When to book: Now! People start booking a year in advance. You can buy tickets online. Tickets usually run about $8 for adults and children under 12 are free. We bid on and won on a VIP experience through a charity auction which was well worth it. You can pay extra and buy your own VIP experience online by joining the Gondola Club or Chaser’s club. For more information about planning your trip, visit the fiesta website.

Lift off!
Lift off!