I woke up before the alarm even went off. At just passed 4:00 AM I think my nerves were playing tricks on me. I lay in my bed, eyes wide open in anticipation of the call from Orlando Balloon Rides. Will this excursion be a go or would I be going back to sleep? At that moment I couldn’t sleep at all. The thoughts were whirling through my head reminding me of my fear of heights. There are building windows that I can’t stand in front off because they are too high. My epic failure at the CN Tower glass floor as I stood paralyzed watching all the little kids jumping up and down on it, as I willed my body to take just one foot forward unsuccessfully. Part of me was hoping the weather would ruin our plans, and the other was bracing myself for the experience. At 4:30 AM on the dot came to the soft knock on my door, “We’re a go!”
Orlando Balloon Rides
It was pitch black outside when we arrived at the Orlando Balloon Rides head office in Kissimmee Florida. Sheepishly we walked in and were handed the dreaded “Passenger Liability Waiver” form. I always hate filling out these forms it exacerbates all the fears I have about committing to these types of activities. But I was not going to back down! I have always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon and today was the day! I signed the forms and hit the bathroom – our last chance for many hours!
Outside there was a row of vans, and I saw the massive basket for the first time! This was happening! I was about to go on my very first hot air balloon ride. I sensed the others around me had the same nervous energy as we loaded up the vans. It was a quiet drive out to the field, except for the sounds of the other drivers talking over their wi-fi radios.
When we arrived at the field, the sun was beginning to rise, and a light fog drifted around us. We were all divided up into two groups and given a brief safety demo. The crew made a few jokes about not getting sucked into the giant fans that would be used to blow air into the balloons, and we all nervously laughed at their jokes.
I was one of two volunteers (yup I volunteered) to stand in front of the large fans and hold the opening of the balloon in place. In a matter of moments, the hot air balloon started to inflate with the cold air. Laying on the ground, the balloons began to take shape.
Before the fires were to push hot air in the balloon, we were all told to walk inside it. Inside, my nerves and excitement mixed as I looked around in amazement. After some quick photos, we made our way toward the large baskets.
It was a bit of an awkward step up and into the deep baskets, but we all went into our small space. The basket divided into four passenger compartments with 4 of us in each compartment. In the centre of the basket the 2-man crew and all the fuel canisters that we’d need to keep us in the air during our flight.
I jumped at the sound of the fire shooting from the burners. Eventually, the basket started making its way up off the ground, and before I knew it we were up in the air! We waved goodbye to the crew as we began making our way up into the sky.
As we got higher and higher, my fear diminished, and I started to feel a calm take over me. The floating up higher and higher was exciting, breathtaking and beautiful. I had my camera in my hand, and I couldn’t stop taking photos as the sun rose and all the other balloons from other vendors in the area started to rise at the same time.
From the sky, we saw some of Kissimmee Florida’s iconic landmarks, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, the fantastic world-class resorts, and many vacation homes and communities that have popped up in the city. The balloon started dropping in altitude, and we found ourselves waving at people taking a morning dip in their pools.
“If you lean over you’ll get a great reflection shot coming up in three…two…one! I leaned over to see the balloon reflect in the water below. Not only was I not afraid, but I was leaning over the edge to get shots? How was this even possible? The girl who can’t stand on a balcony or a glass floor was hanging over the side of a hot air balloon?
We dropped lower and lower, and soon the basket was hitting the treetops. Was this all part of the ride? There was more nervous laughter as we felt the bottom of the bucket brush against the treetops.
“Let’s see if we can’t spot some gators!” Our balloon ride captain was in total control as we skimmed the waters of a lagoon. There were no gators due to the extreme heat, and I half wished one would pop out and take a snap at the basket.
Then the loud sound of the burners (which I had quickly grown used to) fired up above me again, and we were making our way up just missing another set of houses and trees on the other side of the lagoon.
Getting ready for balloon landing.
Before landing, we were told to bend our knees and brace for impact. The balloon started making its way into a large field where other balloons had already landed, and we all hung onto the sides of the basket and braced for the landing. To my surprise, we glided across the grass effortlessly to a perfect stop. No bumping, no tipping, nothing scary about it at all.
A crew came to the sides of the basket and held us down as we climbed out and watched the giant balloon fall gently to the ground as it deflated effortlessly.
Helping the tidy crew up.
But our work was about to begin! We had to help the crew kick the balloon in a rolling motion until it was a long massive snake in the ground.
Then the fun task of lifting the balloon into the large holding bag. Half the team was in charge of holding the bag open and making sure the balloon made its way inside as the other half did a seven dwarves type hi-ho-hi-ho chain carrying the pieces of the balloon over the bag and dropping it inside, then going back for more until the entire balloon was safely put away.
As a reward for making quick work of the balloon, we were treated to a little champagne and Florida Orange Juice to end the fantastic morning. An absolute dream experience with Orlando Balloon Rides and I’m so happy I squashed my fears and took part!
All the fear and anxiety I felt about this experience was gone, and all that was left was the pure thrill and joy that drives me to keep travelling and trying new things! This is one of those moments that I will never forget, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to share it with the team at Orlando Balloon Rides they were super professional and made me feel comfortable throughout the experience.
Orlando Balloon Rides Tips
- Make sure you pack closed toe shoes if you are planning to take part in a hot air balloon ride. It helps when walking through the wet field and when inside the balloon basket.
- Plan when booking your balloon ride as weather can put a damper on your plans. If you plan it in the first few days of your trip, you have time to reschedule it later on if weather cancels your tour.
- Don’t let your fear of heights keep you from doing this.The height of the balloon basket diminishes those height anxiety issues considerably.
For more information on what to expect from your ride and how to prepare for it visit the Orlando Balloon Rides main website here.
Balloon Rides in Canada
I was euphoric to learn that the Orlando Balloon Rides also has locations in Canada! Sundance Balloon Rides operate in select cities out of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.