January 2017 – As a birthday celebration, we booked a sunrise hot air balloon ride in Orlando.  We found a Groupon that gave us a great deal through Orlando Balloon Rides and scheduled the ride for Sunday morning.  Since it is a two and a half hour drive, we booked a hotel and drove down the day before the flight.  I was nervous about weather cancellations since parts of Florida had been unusually foggy in the days prior to our reservation.

Our reservation email told us to call the flight line the night before the scheduled flight to confirm the meeting time.  The flight line
told us that the weather should be clear but that there was some fog expected.  We were told to check back at 5am to be sure we would fly, but if we were able, meeting time would be at 6am.

Our 5am call confirmed that we were good to go, so we forced ourselves out of bed to get ready for the day.  We made the 25 minute drive from our Orlando Hotel to the building in Davenport where we were instructed to meet.  The check-in staff were extremely friendly and cheerful to be up so early in the morning.  We only had to wait about ten minutes before we were loaded into vans and driven to the launch field.  The field happened to be very close to the hotel we had left earlier; it would have been nice to sleep in a little more and just meet at the field.

We got out of the vans, and the employees went to work laying out the balloon and turning on fans.  There were about five balloons being launched at around the same time (most were other companies), and it was interesting to see the work that goes on to get the balloons ready.

After about twenty minutes of observing and picture taking, it was time to climb into the basket and get ready for launch.  This part would be tricky for those who are not in a fairly decent physical condition – you have to step into a couple of footholds in the side of the basket, throw your leg over the side, and hop in.  The basket was divided into several compartments which made it a little more private.  We had twelve people total in our basket.

Once we launched, we quickly gained altitude until we were around a thousand feet in the air.  The sun was just beginning to rise, and the city was just starting to wake up.  We could see Disney World, Universal Studios, and several swamps and forests.  It was an interesting perspective in which to see the city, as all our previous visits had been on the ground (or roller coaster).

Our flight time was around an hour, and all of the balloons followed approximately the same path to the landing field.  The sun was completely up and starting to warm us by the time our flight was over.  The landing appeared to be a bit tricky, with so many balloons landing at once in the same field.  Our pilot handled it like a champ, however, and we had just a couple of small jumps before being securely back on ground.  The staff quickly went to work taking the balloon off so that we could climb out of the basket.  We were then asked to help in the process of re-packaging the balloon.

After all was done, we were given champagne and orange juice (gatorade for the kids present).  The workers toasted to birthdays/anniversaries/newlyweds/divorcees/anything else they could think of to celebrate.  They said a traditional blessing that is said at the end of each flight, and we were taken back to the original meeting place.

All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours.  We were able to check off another bucket list item, enjoy a beautiful sunrise, and celebrate my husband’s birthday at the same time.