UP, UP and AWAY!
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Last month as we headed home from Napa, we chanced upon these big hot air balloons hovering the grass fields a few miles from our hotel. What a beautiful sight! Must be nice to be riding a hot air balloon early in the morning to see the sun rise, the vineyards, the mountains and the whole area of the Napa Valley Region. I asked my kids if they were interested. They said "Yes!"
There are three different vendors offering hot air balloon rides in Napa. I chose Balloons Above the Valley and I sure made the right decision. The staff were amazing! They were courteous, knowledgeable, hospitable and most of importantly during this time, valued safety--- safety not only in riding the hot air balloons but COVID-19 pandemic ready, with safety protocols in place making guests feel comfortable in order to enjoy the adventure that awaits riding hot air balloons.
We met at the Model Bakery in Downtown Napa at 545 AM. A light breakfast of pastries and coffee was served, and guests were given ample time to use the restrooms before heading out to the launch site. Apparently, launch sites vary on a daily basis, depending on where it is safe to fly hot air balloons, considering the weather and how the air and wind behave. Our pilot Chad decided to launch at Winter City, California which was about a 30 minutes ride from Downtown Napa. Each group of guests was assigned a specific shuttle and driver, to and from the launch site.
The fact that our driver did not engage much during the ride to the launch site was much appreciated. She likely knew it was too early for a conversation and let us take a nap during the drive. As we approached the launch site, she gently shouted "Good morning," and gave us a bit of history of Winter City. Did you know that most of the walnuts and almonds in California come from this city?
We arrived at the launch site and 2 hot air balloons were readied for the passengers. Our hot air balloon with our pilot Chad was ready to take passengers aboard and so we hopped into the basket! If you plan on riding a hot air balloon, be advised there is no door to open to enter the basket but small square slots you can step on to hop into the basket.
Chad gave us some information about the propane, how hot it can get whenever he needs to fire up the balloon. He jokingly mentioned he used to have lots of hair, prior to piloting hot air balloons!
Surprisingly, it was the smoothest flight. I personally did not even feel the balloon taking off the ground. And once up in the air, it was so quiet and peaceful I may actually have taken a very short nap. The view down below was amazing! Vineyards, nurseries, orchards, cattle and other animals, creeks and canals. Plus of course, the beautiful sunrise smiling on us as we flew in the air.
Landing is the most crucial part in hot air balloon rides. We were briefed and practiced being in a brace position before take off, simply by slightly bending our knees, pressing our backs to the backrest of our compartment basket and holding tightly onto the ropes in front us. Our landing was uneventful. Thank God!
We landed in a field of dry grass, where our shuttles were waiting. After a number of pictures were taken our driver took us back to Downtown Napa where complimentary pictures of us, taken pre-flight were waiting. Chad, who took videos and photos of the group with his GoPro camera while we were in the air enjoying our ride, shared these to us via AirDrop from his iPhone.
All in all, it was an enjoyable ride which the kids and I will not mind doing again.