Up Up and Away!
Here’s a quick rundown of my experience on the Alabama Gulf Coast with Taking Off Hot Air Balloon Company! So first off, let me tell you some of the things that I was concerned about before flying. Is it too cold to fly today? Is it too windy? Can I fall out? Will it be rough? These are all valid questions and were all quickly answered by my capable and experienced pilot, Tommy Rachel. (Yes, they are all pilots and trained extensively to fly.) This assurance from a seasoned pilot is something you want to research before flying. Complete trust in your pilot was a definite prerequisite for me!
To answer my questions, when you’re flying, you’re are moving with the breeze (the windier, the faster you move) and you are directly beneath an open fire heat (if it’s cool, you’ll be comfortable). Your pilot won’t take you up if the weather isn’t suitable for a flight. This could mean that you need to be adaptable and open to rescheduling should the weather not be in your favor. (It’s for your safety!) You would really have to work to fall out (the sides of the basket are taller than you would think). And lastly, the ride is smooth as a hot knife through butter. (Remember you are moving with the wind so that turbulence you experience in a plane just doesn’t happen!)
The day of your flight, you’ll be greeted by Tommy and his amazing ground team. Jump in the car with the team and they will drive you while he checks the winds and finds the perfect place to take off. Let me tell you, if you thought you were going to get to waltz into an awaiting basket attached to a full hot air balloon, you are wrong. This is the case for most ballooning experiences and is a good thing! You will be assisting the team as they prepare the balloon, fill it with air and get it standing up. You’ll then get to climb in for a ride of a lifetime!
As soon as the balloon is off the ground, the sound of cars or people on the ground or any background noise you are accustomed to just slowly drifts away and all you have is silence with the occasional flare of the fire above you. There is no other experience like it I’ve found. Your pilot will then point out interesting areas as you fly overhead. You’ll see cars and people (and sometimes animals) below that look no bigger than an ant on the ground. This is an experience that surpasses words. You need to experience it for yourself.
When it comes to landing, this is the part that was exhilarating for me! Your pilot will spot the best place to land and get all passengers in the best position for touchdown. You may land standing up or he may intentionally lay the balloon over. (This is completely safe and not rough, from my experience.) At this point, you can’t believe what you’ve just experience! It’s incredible!
Now, if you want this experience OR would like to see something pretty incredible, you don’t want to miss the 15th annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival just north of the beautiful sugar-white sand beaches of the Alabama coast. You’ll be able to see balloons fly at dawn and dusk all weekend beginning the evening of May 2nd through May 4th. This is an unbelievable experience where you’ll see more balloons flying and even up close that you’d be able to at any other given time. Also, if you are interested in taking a flight and aren’t quite convinced, you can take a tethered ride at the festival (weather permitting). This would be a great test before fully committing to a flight of your own. You don’t want to miss everything in store at the balloon festival! Mark your calendars for the first weekend in May!