Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
Up, Up And Away
As an early riser, even on holiday, I have often seen Hot Air Balloons floating serenely over the roof tops of the houses we have stayed in, and always wanted to give it try.
This March while in Florida I decided to surprise my husband with a trip in one for his birthday. This was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip.
I booked the flight online and emailed the company to let them know it was a surprise birthday present so that when they rang the day before to give me meet up details they didn't spoil the surprise. We left the villa phone number and there was a very cryptic message on the answer phone when we returned the night before the flight. I rang them straight back and got the directions to where we were to meet the next morning.
I knew it would be an early start as the balloons only fly before the sun is at full height in the sky. I told hubby we were going out early the next morning so better have an early night.
I set the alarm for 4.30am. We had to leave the house at 5.30 in order to reach the meeting place by 6am. We left home in thick fog and I wondered if we would even get off the ground. Arriving at the gas station early, we met another couple also waiting. Slowly, more and more people and trailers turned up and there was quite a gang by 6.30.
The pilots were all discussing the weather and finally decided we were good to go. After a quick restroom break (this really is your last chance for quite a few hours) we headed up Highway 27 and took a dirt track off the main road into a huge empty field.
There were to be 18 balloons taking off together and hopefully all landing together a few miles further down the 27. The pilots began unpacking the paraphernalia of balloon flight: the balloon itself, the basket which we would travel in, the burners which would propel us and then the biggest fans I had ever seen to inflate the balloons.
While the ladies in the group were left to chat and take photos, the men were asked to help by holding open the mouth of the balloons for the fans to help inflate them. Slowly one balloon after another began to take shape and lift skywards. The baskets were attached and finally the burners. As the balloons reached full inflation we all climbed into the basket. There were four passengers and the pilot in our basket and there isn't a lot of room for manoeuvre once we were all in. The burners kicked in and very slowly we began to rise off the ground. It was a very gentle rise and before long we were floating up. The early morning fog had lifted and the view of the ground below was spectacular.
I began snapping away with the camera and looking for landmarks. Our pilot pointed out Disney and explained that you are no longer allowed to fly directly over Disney, a pity, but didn't spoil the enjoyment one bit as the scenery below was wonderful. We drifted over the Green Swamp, at some points almost low enough to get your feet wet!!
Onwards we floated, there is no feeling like it, it was so calm and quiet, and all you could hear were birds singing. I must have taken nearly 100 photos in total.
We drifted past our landing site and on towards I-4, we had to rise to around 5000ft to pick up some wind and also to look for somewhere else suitable for a landing. The pilot was in radio contact with the other balloonists and also the following truck that would pick us up when we landed.
Having decided an orange grove ahead was suitable, the pilot started to release air from the balloon to aid our descent. We were told to hold on and bend our knees in preparation for the landing. We hit the tops of trees with the bottom of the basket to slow our speed and finally came down slap bang in the middle of the orange grove. The basket hit the ground, bounced off, hit the ground several more times and finally came to rest on its side with us all in a heap in the basket.
This was, for us, the most exhilarating part of the trip. We were all laughing and taking it in turns to photograph each other in heaps on the ground. There was no point during the flight when any of us felt threatened or worried. The calmness of the flight coupled with the thrill of the landing just made it all the more exciting.
Once on the ground our pilot radioed our position to the following truck that duly arrived within 10 minutes to take us to the original landing site to partake in our champagne breakfast.
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