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  • Carrie Cochran

New to BalloonFest? Here's Everything You Need to Know to be Carried Away...

Hello travelers!

In this week's blog post, I want to fill you in on the details from the 2019 annual Carolina BalloonFest! It was such an enchanting event, and I'm so excited to share a piece of that adventure with you all. . .

When I was a little girl, someone gave me a puzzle that pictured a flawless blue sky filled with a rainbow array of hot air balloons. Every time I put it together, I wanted to be there. It looked so magical!

Well, this past weekend, I finally turned that little girl's imagination into a happy memory. And I'm pretty sure I saw the exact same puzzle for sale in one of the craft booths, so it must be a classic!

Friday, October 18, 2019, marked the opening day of this year's Carolina BalloonFest--and what a beautiful day it was! The drive down to Statesville boasted a gorgeous fall display of reds, oranges, yellows, and those last stubborn greens holding out against the invading cold weather. But the actual afternoon was a lovely 68 degrees with only a few clouds taking space in the baby blue heavens. It was the perfect setting for a fall festival like this.

I chose to go to the BalloonFest on Friday for a couple of different reasons. The main one being that the website forewarned that Saturday was likely to sell out and be very crowded. Sunday would probably be a similar story. But secondly, Friday was only half the price for a solid half-day of fun, so I opted for the $10 ticket and 5 hours of festivities (that's about my max anyways)!

In the end, I couldn't have been happier with my choice. By the time evening rolled around, the festival still boasted a large crowd that made all the lines from tethered balloon rides to the free shuttle rather long. I can't imagine what the Saturday and Sunday crowds must have faced, and I was happy we chose a day that allowed us to do everything we wanted.

But without further ado, I'll get into the details:

What the Marketplace & Artisan Village had to Offer

One of the first things my friend Sarah and I did was walk through the marketplace and artisan village. Long lines of booths, tents, and trailers set along an L-shape path displayed everything from hot air balloon-themed jewelry to Indian blankets.

Several local businesses were present as well, offering free totes, chances to win prizes from Plinko-style games, and sunglasses, among other things.

Many of the items for sale were handmade, which added to the unique flair of the festival as a whole. The overwhelming theme was hot air balloons, but I also saw gorgeous blown-glass pendants in various flower and animal shapes, delicious-smelling body scrubs and lotions, baby sweaters, and a variety of knitted winter apparel.

One of my favorite booths featured little hot air balloons made from fabric and stuffing, meant to hang in a child or baby's room. You could purchase tiny stuffed animal "riders" to fit in the baskets as well. It was such a cute concept!

Another booth showcased beautiful hot air balloon wind chimes with brightly-polished bases and a variety of pretty stones set in the sides.

I was very impressed with the variety of items available and the craftsmanship. However, I will say things tended to run a little on the high end price-wise, but that's expected considering the items were handmade.

A Full Line-up of Musical and Aerial Entertainment

Friday's entertainment lineup included four musical presentations that took place on the Main Stage. Several rows of hay bales created a half-moon around the stage where guests could relax and listen to the performances as they waited for the balloons and ate. However, the music was loud enough that we could also enjoy it throughout the festival grounds as we explored.

Saturday and Sunday's entertainment included a second stage and a much larger variety of performers, as well as a magic show, an aerialist performance, and a skydiving exhibition.

Another big event held both Saturday and Sunday mornings was the Balloon Competition! In this competition, the balloon pilots flew through a series of events where they tried to drop markers out of the hot air balloons and onto designated targets below.

We obviously didn't get to enjoy quite a variety of events on Friday afternoon, but we stayed busy enough that we wouldn't have had much time to experience any additional shows that day.

The Hot Air Balloons that Carried Me Away

Obviously, the focal point of the BalloonFest is the gorgeous balloons that fill the sky. Every day of the festival included a Mass Ascension Launch from 4 to 5:30 pm, and Friday and Saturday also included a Balloon Glow from 6:30 to 7:30 pm.

We arrived a few minutes late to the festival, so I was afraid we would miss the Mass Ascension, but weather delayed the launch until much closer to 5:30 pm.

Initially, my main concern was just seeing the balloons in the air, but Sarah and I accidentally discovered the launching ground, and I was fascinated by the launch process!

At first, the launching ground was just full of trucks and vans. However, it quickly transformed into a world of growing color everywhere we turned.

The hot air balloons have to be stretched out fully before they can be inflated, and long ropes crisscross the area where workers steady the balloon as it fills with air.

It was captivating to watch each long, flat line of fabric rise into a giant, beautiful balloon. And they popped up so quickly! I could turn my back for a minute and have three new ones rising up out of the ground when I turned around.

But the real fun did start when the balloons began to rise. A lone blue balloon took to the skies several minutes before the next balloon, named "Breaking Wind," joined it up above. After that, the balloons started rising in twos and threes. Before we knew it, the sky was full of these miniature rainbows floating above us.

The whole launching process took about an hour, so we finally settled down on the hillside to watch them float off into the distance and observe the special shape balloons inflating below.

The Special Shape balloons never took off while we were there, but they were certainly fun to watch--particularly at night! They had a koala, a cheetah, and a penguin set up on Friday, and they all lit up beautifully during the Balloon Glow.

A Tethered Ride at Sunset Provided an Incredible View

View from the Tethered Balloon

After the mass ascension, lines opened up for tethered balloon rides! Optimally, I would have liked to experience a full hot air balloon journey, but those were $250 a person. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my $10 tethered ride, which coincided beautifully with the last strains of sunset and the beginnings of the Balloon Glow!

We did wait in line for about 40 minutes for the tethered ride, but we also transferred lines mid-way through to a "prettier" balloon when it was set up. They eventually had three tethered balloons ready to accommodate guests, and that made the lines much more manageable.

The tethered ride lasted about 5 minutes and ascended 50 feet off the ground. It still gave me that slight stomach-drop feeling as the balloon rose freely and drifted a bit. And at night, I couldn't see the field, so the distance felt larger.

The Balloon Glow Lit Up the Night

As I mentioned, the Balloon Glow started while we were in the air, and, wow!--it was so pretty! The balloons that had drifted off earlier returned to the festival grounds in their deflated state and set up all over again as dusk fell. They reinflated but stayed on the ground to maximize the effect of the Balloon Glow.

The announcer had the pilots turn on their flames on a countdown so that the entire launching ground lit up with the light cast through the balloons' colorful material. Some of the balloons light up more noticeably than others, but the fire really brought the brightness out on the lighter-colored balloons.

They did this around ten times, and it was the most incredible way to finish off the evening!

Fun at The Kid Zone

Back by the launching grounds, the BalloonFest had a nice variety of activities in their KidZone. The magic shows took place here on Saturday and Sunday, as well as "The Interactive Theatre of Jef." In addition to the shows, there was also a rock wall and a fun lineup of inflatable games and bounce-houses for free.

On top of that, kids could hop on a bungee-jumping system or walk around inside a hot air balloon top for a small fee.

Walk-In Hot Air Balloon

The Food that had My Stomach Growling

One of my favorite parts of any festival/carnival event is the food! I know it's all terrible for me and fried in grease, but I love a jumbo turkey-leg and ribbon fries! I was certainly not disappointed with the lineup of food at BalloonFest.

Food trucks and booths had everything from barbecue to gyros, plus fried Oreos, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and bloomin'-onions.

Sarah and I held out until after our tethered ride to eat, but it was hard. The smell of fries and turkey legs wafting over the fairgrounds were almost too hard to resist! When we finally gave in, I was very pleased with the mass of food we received, and it was definitely enough to share!

I liked that there was food present for just about every taste preference, albeit a little on the pricey side.

Parking & the Shuttles

In what I think was a lovely gesture to budget-conscious attendees, the Carolina BalloonFest offered options for both paid and free parking. I appreciated that and opted to take advantage of the free off-site parking and shuttle.

Sarah and I originally planned to arrive at the free festival parking a little before 3 p.m. to ensure that we'd maximize our time on site. The festival started at 3 p.m, so we figured it would work out just right. What we didn't anticipate was the masses of people choosing to attend on Friday afternoon.

While the BalloonFest takes place in Statesville, the free parking is actually over in Troutman. Theoretically, it's only 15 minutes away. However, traffic caused us to arrive about 30 minutes after we planned, and then the shuttle over to the BalloonFest took 40 minutes.

But, I still believe this was a better choice than on-site parking. When we arrived at the festival, the line for on-site parking extended well off into the distance, while the bus took an early turn and dropped us off right at the gate. I'm sure we would have waited just as long to park at the festival and dropped $10 to do so.

I was happy about this again at the end of the night. Although we had to wait about 30 minutes to get on the shuttle, we still did not have to fight the masses trying to exit the main parking lot, and it was relaxing to just sit for a few minutes before the drive home, which was much shorter than the first trip.

I would love to attend the Carolina BalloonFest again in the future, as well as the one in Albuquerque. It was such a fun event, and so different from anything I've experienced before!

BAs I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is an annual event and will return to Statesville, North Carolina October 16-18 of 2020! I've linked the website to BalloonFest here in case you want to check it out as well and put it on your calendar for next year!

As always, thanks so much for reading, and I hope I've inspired your wanderlust!

If you liked this post, please drop a like or comment below and share it with someone you think would enjoy the BalloonFest as well! And don't forget to join my mailing list (under sign up at the top) so you never miss an adventure.

Happy travels!

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