Another Family Travel Adventure with Kids.
Darren, Kaitlyn and I went hot air ballooning and we had a WONDERFUL time. All of us would definitely go again. And we all agreed that we wouldn’t recommend it for young children (I’ll get to that in a bit).
The Hot Air Ballooning Experience
We went first thing in the morning — the driver picked us up before sunrise and took us out to the meeting area. We had to switch meeting spots a few times as they looked for the best place to launch from that day (they switch locations depending on the weather/wind conditions so it’s important to expect some wandering about first thing in the morning).
The morning flights are more predictable than sunset ones because the winds are gentler, but they still reserve the right to cancel if conditions require them to. Although this can be disappointing, it’s super important to remember – if you can’t afford to “waste” a morning of your vacation time then hot air ballooning might not be for you (I actually found it interesting driving around to the locations and discussing the factors that they had to consider – I like learning how things work so a cancellation wouldn’t have fazed me terribly much).
Our daughter Kaitlyn, age 17, was instructed by the pilot on how to help blow up the hot air balloon while Darren jogged from one end to the other snapping photos of her, the other balloons in the area taking flight and even the inside of our balloon while it was being blown up. He loved every minute of it *laugh*.
Some of the ladies sharing the balloon with us were nervous about getting into the basket so they lay down inside the basket before it tipped upright. This looked strangely difficult to me and I opted to just clamber in on my own – while I’m not terribly athletic, I am 6 feet tall so I figured I could manage and I did.
At this point it was about 2 hours since we’d left the hotel (just to give you an idea of how long it might take you to start flying).
Once inside the basket, we were given instructions on how to land (bend those knees!) and then we were up, up and away.
Yikes! My brain was roasted. I was expecting this so brought along a baseball cap but it was still hot when the burner was on. The pilot actually offered caps to the group who mostly said, “no thanks” – if offered a baseball cap, say yes and put it on. One lady with a synthetic jacket on actually had it melt a little bit.
News flash – hot air balloons are powered by, well… HOT AIR!
Oddly, the closer one stood to the pilot the cooler it was (something about heat radiating) so the people who tried to “get away” from the heat actually ended up boiling more. Being the “mom with a hat” I stood on the outside (hottest part) and positioned Kaitlyn closest to the pilot (coolest area). Darren was beside Kaitlyn as I have greater faith in his ability to transform into Superman in case of emergency than I do my own – yeah, I know… wishful thinking, but it always makes me feel better that dad’s close by to rescue her if things start to go wrong.
Once up in the air, the heater doesn’t have to run as much and you don’t get a boiled brain.
And suddenly you realize – man, it’s calm. Quiet – but was that a dog I heard barking from one of the yards down there? Wow – have I ever been somewhere this peaceful? And you look at the faces of your loved ones and see the same expression of wonder – eyes meet, get a bit misty – big smiles. Wow, just freakin’ wow.
So this is what all the fuss is about.
After about 45 minutes of cruising over the Sonoran Desert we began to descend. The time spent in the air depends on the winds and the landing areas available. It took about 10 minutes to descend which made our overall trip about an hour long.
Our landing was a jolt, but was about as good as the landings get according to our pilot. If you had bad knees, it might be a struggle though you do have the sides of the basket and the tightly packed passengers to help brace you.
I found getting out of the basket a little harder than getting in — likely because it was a little squishy so was harder to maneuver – ladies, if you’ve ever wanted to “accidentally” kick your husband in the face, here’s your chance. Two bucket list items for the price of one (just kidding, honey!).
If you’re wondering whether you can manage entering/exiting the basket, here’s a test. Climb up on a kitchen chair and jump off (you can hold someone’s hand). That’s about the level of difficulty.
After our flight we had a fairly nice breakfast. Honestly, the meal was a little anti-climactic but I think they do it for themselves more than their guests (it gave us something to be busy with while they were putting the balloon away).
They also gave us a cute certificate for our memory box.
Not for Children
The precise age depends on the child and not everyone would agree, but I did not feel this was a suitable activity for young children and here’s why:
- Early morning – if you have a child or a teen that is cranky in the mornings you should reconsider!
- There are no bathrooms available – this is likely less of an issue for boys than girls, but it’s still something to be aware of.
- There is a lot of waiting before the experience starts – lots of patience will be needed including the time when you’re driving around looking for the launch location.
- It might not happen. After an hour of driving around looking for a launch site with the right conditions, the pilot may decide to cancel for safety reasons. This is responsible of them and you will not be charged. However, you and your children will be disappointed (of course) and you really need to judge beforehand whether you and they are up to dealing with it – you don’t want to ruin an entire vacation because one activity didn’t work out.
- The basket edges are high (yay, we won’t fall out) so young children won’t be able to see over the edge. They can peek out the little ladder holes in the side, but that would be quite stuffy for them and, frankly, not very fun. If you are going with kids, email the balloon company and ask how high the sides are before booking.
- It’s boring *chuckle* — “peaceful, quiet, amazingly incredible” actually sort of translates to “boring” from a child’s point of view – especially if they’re stuck peeking at the view through little holes in the side of the basket. The awe-inspiring wow-factor of being 1000 feet up in the air with no sound or breeze requires a little life experience to appreciate.
- It’s a fairly expensive activity – I don’t think it’s good value for money for young children (but I think it’s amazing value for money for some teens, including my daughter, and for adults).
- It’s crowded (or even more expensive if you book a more exclusive experience). We were squished into little buckets with 3 or 4 people per section (12 people altogether in the basket). We weren’t uncomfortable since our family of 3 had one little bucket to ourselves, but we didn’t have any “personal space” to fidget around in.
- It’s uncomfortably hot at times. When the burner is on to make the balloon rise, it’s surprisingly hot (like being bbq’ed). Wearing a baseball cap helped but I was still surprised by how much my head got roasted.
So my advice is to save something for your kids’ bucket lists and just let them watch the balloons from the ground until they’re old enough to appreciate it!
Leanne’s Strange Personality Traits: I have a passion for budgets
If you’ve been visiting my kids’ crafts website for any length of time, you know that I’m… well, cheap. I’m an accountant by training although I’m a stay at home mom now, so cheerfully caring for the family budget is one of my favorite things to do (no really, I LOVE budgeting – both making them and sticking to them – think of the favorite game you play and that’s what the household budget is for me.)
Anyways, this budget-minded nature of mine is one of those things about me that’s helpful to know when you’re reading my advice – I don’t mind spending money when I travel and I give myself a generous budget to work with, but every dollar I spend here is something less I have to spend over there – we never travel with an “endless funds” mentality. If you aren’t the same you might want to take some of what I say with a grain of salt!
In the case of hot air ballooning, if I were travelling with younger children I wouldn’t go. It’s an expensive outing that I don’t think the children would enjoy enough to warrant the price nor would it become a “lifelong memory” like it would for older children and adults.
For travel with the kids, I would purchase disposable cameras for them, pack a morning picnic and go WATCH the balloons taking off – let them snap away with their cameras. In a perfect scenario, I would do this at one of the big hot air balloon festivals like they have in Gatineau, Quebec or Albuquerque, New Mexico or Catalonia, Spain.
Leanne’s Strange Personality Traits: Sometimes, I get frustrated with my kids
OK… maybe that isn’t so strange. Though I do sometimes think it would be good if we admitted it more to each other – sadly, it’s something that can be so filled with parenting shame that we just keep it to ourselves.
So, yep. I’m saying it. I get frustrated with my kids.
I realized at an early point in my mothering that them being “wasteful” is a huge anger-trigger for me and I learned (mostly) not to set us all up for failure. If I spent a bunch of time and money buying craft supplies, I tended to be frustrated with the girls if they didn’t take the craft “seriously” – which is sort of funny, really… play time/creative time isn’t really supposed to be “serious”, is it? So I started to reduce the time and money I spent so that I had the ability to just let them have fun and be creative or to ignore it altogether because all they really wanted to do that day was play in the sandbox.
Surprisingly, I found this parenting lesson worked well for me when we traveled too – we started to spend more of our travel adventures pulling into playgrounds or strolling along boardwalks and less paying for organized events. And it worked (for us anyways). A stop at the coffee shop for muffins and coffee/juice followed by 45 minutes sharing our coffee while watching the girls run around a park or clamber on the monkey bars became a standard vacation “activity”. We did it in a playground as close to our home as Banff, AB and in a park as far away as Copenhagen, Denmark. Surprisingly, the playground is a shockingly great way to meet “real people” and experience the culture – guess what, we all seem to love our kids … and coffee.
Anyways, I know that an activity like hot air ballooning with young children would trigger all those negative buttons for me. I would be tired because of the early morning pick-up. Stressed about the cost. Stressed about the safety of the kids. Nervous about my own safety. The minute one of the girls got bored or said “are we done yet” or complained that they couldn’t see — I would snap while floating quietly above the landscape below. Even if I controlled my frustration (anger or tears… I’m never sure which it will be), it would ruin my experience – and Darren, being the clued-in husband that he is, would end up spending his time trying to make sure everyone was calm and happy from that point forward instead of just enjoying it all himself. If we’d done it when our kids were young, instead of “holy WOW!!”, we would end the trip with, “thank goodness that’s over – let’s go to the pool”.
Better to wait until they’re old enough to see over the edge of the basket and appreciate the stillness that is the really amazing part of hot air ballooning.