Tag: hot air balloon ride

The Stone Cold Truth About Hot Air Balloon Rides

hot air balloon ride

 

 

Greetings, fly guys and fly girls!

If you ever considered going on a hot air balloon ride, but don’t know what you’re getting into, then you’ve come to the right spot.  Last summer, my daughter and I took flight in a hot air balloon, compliments of my friends at the US Hot Air Balloon Team. Boy, let me tell me you, the experience was something else! And as a certified balloonatic (OK, not really), I figured that gives me enough credibility (this is probably wrong, too)  to debunk myths and spit hot truths about  hot air balloon rides.

 

 

YOU CAN’T GO ON A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE ANYTIME OF THE DAY

 

Ever notice that you’ve never looked up in sky during lunchtime in the summer, and seen a hot air balloon floating by? Me neither, but there is a reason for that.  A hot air balloon ride is very susceptible to weather, and can only fly in the most stable of  conditions. For scientific and technical reasons beyond my pay grade, this happens to be before dawn or occasionally at dusk.

For J and I, this meant taking a 45 minute long Uber ride at 4:30AM from our hotel to the heart of Amish country in Pennsylvania, Bird In Hand. We had to arrive by 5:30AM, at the US Hot Air Balloon Team’s headquarters. If you’ve ever wanted to wake roosters up, instead of vice versa, I highly recommend taking an early morning hot air balloon flight. Also, to give you an idea of the high volatility/subjectivity of ballooning, ours was a shared flight, with two long-time friends, and an older couple. This was the older couple’s sixth attempt at trying to take a hot air balloon ride, as every other time that they tried, it ended up being cancelled because of the weather. Talk about your hardcore balloonatics!

 

 

THE CHASE

Unlike an airplane, hot air balloons do not need an airport to depart from. After we arrived at the headquarters, we were then transported via white van to the launch point, which was just an open field. The van’s driver and navigator also doubled as set up and take down crew. Most interesting, though, is that the van was a chase vehicle. While in the air, the van followed the balloon around, until it landed.  Watching this lonely white vehicle on the empty roads from high in the sky,  kind of made me feel like a journalist in a chopper following OJ Simpson’s Bronco. Kind of.

 

 

up,  up, and…..in?

 

At the launch point, we watched the crew setup the hot air balloon, which was much larger in person (like, small building-sized) and inflate it. I then realized that the basket, which was also larger in person (the size of a small car, and about chest level high) didn’t have a door. So how the heck do you get in it, you ask?

The answer is….not delicately.

The older couple weren’t especially agile, for lack of a better term, especially the wife. They thought that the basket would be on its side, and that they would get in, sit on the bottom, and wait for the inflated balloon to  pull it upright.  This wasn’t the case, though.  The crew are there to assist, but for the most part, you’re on your own, to enter the basket. In the couple’s case, the crew gently helped lift the wife up, and over, the edge of it. In the husband’s case, he climbed in on his own, with some struggle. In J’s case, I gave her a boost and dropped her in, since the basket was too high for her to climb  on her own. In my case, I tried to clear the edge by leaping over it, like how this guy jumped over the wrestling ropes. Spoiler alert: my leap was U-G-L-Y, and I ain’t got no alibi:

 

 

 

 

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

 

Once you’re in, there is nowhere to go but up. For real, when in flight, the hot air balloon experience is as breathtaking as you probably imagined it to be. Our US Hot Air Balloon ride was over miles of farmland in Amish country.  Picturesque views of the Pennsylvania landscape stretched as far as the eye could see.  The world seems so different when you’re gliding through the sky, thousands of feet in the air. Surprisingly, it was very quiet. Besides the chit chat of those on board, the only sound was the hissing of the burners. At one point, we could hear dogs barking below!

 

hot air balloon ride experience

 

BE PREPARED FOR A CRASH LANDING

 

Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t just land on a runway. In our case, the pilots pointed out a spot in an open field that looked land-able, called down to the chase vehicle to see if it was OK or not, and after receiving affirmation, started the descent. They actually missed the spot, then had to re-ascend, and get the chase vehicle to confirm another location.

Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t have wheels, to roll into a gentle landing. They literally just crash into the ground. Now depending on how skilled your pilot is, the crash landing varies in gentleness. In our case, it knocked me off of my feet (word to Stevie Wonder!), because I didn’t have time to brace myself, and J  went tumbling into the side of the basket.

This was considered a good landing.

 

 

So….crash, and dash?

 

Once on the ground, you don’t just leave the balloon, and take off in the chase vehicle. Everything needs to be packed up, too. One of the dudes in the crew was jacked (re: very muscular), and he had the job of doing most of the heavy lifting (fun fact: a deflated hot air balloon still weighs a lot).  I tried to help where I could, as well, though. We happened to be in an Amish family’s farm, so they all came out, too see what all the commotion was. I’m sure the scene was quite the culture shock to them! Once the van was loaded up, we headed back to the headquarters, where we celebrated our save travels with the traditional balloonist champagne toast. J had orange juice, by the way, so stop wagging your fingers, people.

 

 

ARE HOT AIR BALLOONS SAFE?

 

Aww, the proverbial elephant in the room, err, post.  Are hot air balloons safe?

The answer is….I think so? I mean, it is a pretty outdated mode of transportation.  When you’re planning a trip on Google Maps, a balloon is never an option for the fastest way there. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment now, based on skills and techniques developed over centuries of balloon aviation.

Whereas, for example, people a long time ago stopped riding those bikes with the giant wheels, because of how dangerous they were, ballooning remains a popular past time today. If they weren’t suitable, they wouldn’t still be a “thing”, right? The accident rates online seem to support hot air balloons as being fairly safe, too.

J couldn’t peak over the edge unless I lifted her up, so there was no concern of the basket rocking, if that’s what you’re thinking (or at least that’s what I was thinking, after watching that episode of Family Matters recently, where Steve Urkel and Carl go up in a hot air balloon, and that’s what happens to Carl). The basket’s floor was sturdy, too. So, to me, as someone who is pretty cautious, somewhat afraid of heights, and flying with a child, I didn’t feel like we were in any real danger….except during the landing, as mentioned.

All in all, hot air balloon rides, while not for everyone, are a really cool experience.  I’d recommend them anyone looking to book a flight with their kids, if they’re up for it.

Until the next one, you balloonatics,  peace!

 

are hot air balloons safe

 

 

 

Disclaimer: we received a complimentary flight from US Hot Air Balloon Team while on a press trip in Hershey, PA. All opinions expressed are mine, as always.

 

Your Guide To Summer Fun In Hershey PA

 

things to do near Hershey PA

On our last visit to Hershey and  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,  we had a nice time hanging out in the area. Afterwards,  we realized that there was a lot more around the Sweetest Place On Earth  which we didn’t get to experience.  There were so many things to do near Hershey PA, in fact, that we just had to make the fifteen hour round trip drive (don’t worry, with bickering small kids, it felt like twenty hours. Wait, what?) and go back again this summer!

 

Now, before we can talk about things to do near Hershey, PA,  I need to mention THE attraction to do in Hershey – Hersheypark.  I won’t go too deep here  (note: you can check out this piece, where I discuss it extensively), but in terms of family fun, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to this park.  If you aren’t into amusement parks, though, you can still have a memorable time in the area.

 

For example, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is situated about 35 miles outside of Hershey.  The park is home to animals,  birds and reptiles from all over the world.  There are zoo exhibits, a petting zoo,  fishing, a reptile /exotics building, and my kids’ favorite,  a safari tour! The tour is pretty wild. It has a Jurassic Park-vibe to it, as we got into a roofless “cruiser”, and then headed off into the yonder.  As we drove through the open woodlands, we saw scores (500 approx., according to the website) of animals roaming about freely, some of whom weren’t shy about coming up, or in, to our cruiser!

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

You could easily spend half a day at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, without the kids being bored. Concessions are available throughout the park, but you’re allowed to bring your own food, too.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Just don’t give your food away in the petting zoo.

 

Another fun thing to do near Hershey in the summer is hit up everything that Adventure Sports In Hershey has to offer. Located four miles south of Hershey, this entertainment park features stuff like bumper boats, go-karts, batting cages, an escape room and an arcade. While not ideal for little kids (since they are too small/not age appropriate to go on most of the attractions), it was still a fun way to spend a few hours, with the family. For example, B and J were both too short to ride the go-karts on their own, so they had to roll with an adult. This meant that I had to get behind the wheel, to predictably mediocre results.

 

It’s not as if little two year old KJ was bored, by the way. He loved pretending to play games in the arcade, and flexed some serious short game skills on Adventure Sports in Hershey’s beautiful mini-golf course!

Adventure Sports in Hershey. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Adventure Sports in Hershey. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Get them chips with the dip, young fella!

 

 

Adventure Sports in Hershey is also home to a Turkey Hill ice cream parlour. Along those lines, another fun thing to do near Hershey, PA with the family is to learn more about Turkey Hill and their offerings.  Located about 20 miles outside of Hershey,  The Turkey Hill Experience is not an ice cream and tea factory like we thought, but a way cooler indoor attraction!  It’s full of interactive exhibits and stations (re: so lots of opportunity for kids to play and run around) all centred on how Turkey Hill’s ice cream and tea is made.  Yes, there are sampling stations around, to try them out.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Not a real sampling station.

 

As an add-on option, you can also take part in one of their Taste Labs, where you follow the steps that Turkey Hill uses, to create (and eat!) your own ice cream, and in Tea Discovery, where you learn about (and drink!)  tea.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I’ll admit to not being familiar with Turkey Hill and their products before (around us, anyway, they aren’t readily seen in stores). This place is basically a big advertisement for them, which is pretty clever, and effective,  in terms of brand awareness, and goodwill.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Coincidentally, they have an exhibit where you can make your own big Turkey Hill advertisement.

 

Now, on our last trip to Hershey/Harrisburg, we went to the lowest of the lows, on our Echo Caverns cave adventure. As such, it would only make sense to experience the highest of the highs this time around, which is what J and I did, when we went on a hot air balloon ride!  The United States Hot Air Balloon Team are a premier ballooning company, with multiple locations. Our ride took place in Lancaster, PA,  about 33 miles outside of Hershey, and smack dab in Amish country.  Fun fact #1 – hot air balloon rides are VERY weather dependent, and for safety reasons, can only take place either super early in the morning, or early in the evening. Fun fact #2 – we chose the morning flight, and were there so early, that even the roosters next door weren’t awake.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I’ll tell you what, man. When you say to people that you’re going on a hot air balloon ride, they think you’re crazy, or awesome. I’ll own up to being in the former category. Heights aren’t exactly my jam.  However, the staff, and pilots at the  United States Hot Air Balloon Team are pros, and their calm attitudes made me feel better. Plus, once you’re up there, it’s such a breathtaking, serene experience that you can’t help but soak it all in and appreciate it. I know some people might question bringing a little child on a hot air balloon ride. The United States Hot Air Balloon Team did assure me that they take children on flights ‘all of the time’. As well, the basket that we were in was almost as tall as J. She had to sit down, and look out of peep holes, to see out, as opposed to trying to look over the edge. Again, I’m slightly acrophobic, and I tend to be more overprotective, when it comes to J. I at no point felt that we were in any imminent danger while we were on our hour long hot air balloon ride, for what it’s worth.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

The face of someone who is totally not scared to be 2000+ feet in the sky.

 

Zip lining, on the other hand, now that was a scary rush!

Roundtop Mountain Resort is a ski hill that is open year round, and offers a summer activities area called Roundtop Mountain Adventures. Located in Lewisberry, near Hershey PA, among the many fun things to do here is zip lining.  K, B and yours truly took a whirl down the 700′ long “Dual Zip Lines”. J was too small for these, but, luckily,  Roundtop Mountain Adventures has “Tree House Zips”, which are 100′ long lines, and more little kid appropriate (ages five and up).  I think she went on this six times, so, suffice to say, it was a hit!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Wheeeeeeee!

 

We received “Adventure Package” passes for the day. These give you unlimited access to all of the attractions in Roundtop Mountain Adventures. I’d recommend this as the way to go, if you and your family do make the trip. It’s enough to easily fill up most of a day. Besides zip lining,  the kids enjoyed the 600′ downhill super water slides .and the OGO balls.  I was digging their bumper boats, as it was an opportunity to smash into B and J, and squirt them in the face with water (but I say that as a loving dad)!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

If ya don’t know what an OGO ball is, now ya know.

Little KJ was too small for that stuff, but he did enjoy the Woods Playground, which is full of things to climb, ride and play on. It’s surprisingly challenging in some parts.  I did have to navigate my way high up at one point, to rescue J, when she got lost.  Conversely, when I got lost in the nearby Cedar Maze, no one came to rescue me.

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

We gotta stop entrusting KJ with maps, to find the way.

 

Speaking of matters which needed to be saved, my sorry attempt at throwing out the best first pitch ever clearly needed a lot of assistance. Regardless, the rest of the Harrisburg Senators minor baseball game that we checked out was cool.  FNB Field where they play is uniquely located on an island (City Island). The stadium is also family friendly. For an added price, there’s a speed pitch cage, along with a kids’ zone section, with many inflatables and activities in it.

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

I’ve mentioned before on here that the closest place to watch professional baseball for us is at the Rogers Centre, the complex where the Toronto Blue Jays play. It’s OK, but it just doesn’t beat the atmosphere and intimate experience of seeing a game in a ‘real’ ballpark.  The Harrisburg Senators also do a nice job with in-game entertainment to keep the vibe upbeat, and run numerous promotions during the season. Besides yours truly throwing out the first pitch, the other headliner (OK, OK, ONLY headliner) for our game was the Human Cannonball.  They also had a cheap craft beer special before the first pitch, which made me flattered when the server asked to see my ID when I ordered, but then confused me, when she wasn’t sure whether my Canadian driver’s license was acceptable or not (it was, so don’t worry, my fellow Canucks).

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

Just like it’s impossible to talk about family fun things to do in and near Hershey PA without mentioning Hersheypark, it’s also really hard to talk about the city without mentioning the industry upon which the city is built on – chocolate!  My family of choco-maniacs did have plenty of opportunities to indulge. For instance, we made a return visit to Hershey Chocolate World. We’ve done the Chocolate Making Tour before, but since little KJ is old enough to appreciate it more, we rode that again. I  still can’t believe that it’s free, as it’s a neat, well-done ride (with a tasty sample at the end, to boot)!

We hadn’t watched the 4D Chocolate Movie before, and wow, that show was trippy, yo! An animated chocolate bar interacted live with us, between the action.  We “helped” solve the mystery of the movie.  The bar even used people in the audience’s names, while talking on screen! Having never experienced digital animation like this before,  my easily amused brain was very impressed.

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Yes, I realize that this looks like a 90s kid band album cover.

 

As of this writing, the newest attraction at Hershey Chocolate World is Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a really lively, engaging theatrical performance. My kids were engaged throughout, and followed the chocolate sensory instructions dutifully. They don’t even follow instructions at home dutifully. This attraction also comes with a souvenir kit, as a bonus.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

The 4D Chocolate Movie and Hershey’s Unwrapped are both about 30 minutes long. On their own, the pricing is a tad on the high side, so I’d suggest bundling them up with one of the packages available, with other attractions, and making an outing out of going to Hershey Chocolate World, as opposed to going specifically for these only.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Don’t forget to check out the store there, too, for all of your hilariously oversized candy needs.

 

Not far from Hershey Chocolate World is another popular location, The Hershey Story Museum. The feeling that I got from visiting the city is that it is very proud of its history. The Hershey Story Museum showcases this in the Museum Experience, where you see how Milton Hershey went from a failed entrepreneur to chocolate kingpin and beyond.  My kids in particular liked the new, interactive kiosks, where they personalised a wooden coin at admissions, and used that at these kiosks to activate a little story about Mr. Hershey. Be sure not to miss the final one, too (no spoilers here).

 

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

The highlight of the museum was the Chocolate Lab, a hands on workshop where you learn about the chocolate making process, and get to partake in some pouring and decorating.  Our lab consisted of making customized “beach bars”. KJ was too young for this experience, so K stayed behind with him, while I rolled up my sleeves with B and J. Don’t worry, we shared the finished results.

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I called my beach bar the Tropic Like Its Hot.

Final note. For accommodations, we were hosted at the newest hotel in Hershey, Tru by Hilton Hershey Chocolate Avenue.   Located about five minutes away from Hersheypark, it’s very bright, casual, modern, and reasonably priced. TVs and foosball tables liven up the lobby. For the buffet breakfast, there isn’t a designated area. You just grab a seat and hang out. In terms of rooms, this hotel is big on efficiency. There’s lots of storage space (ie. racks), but the rooms are smallish.  We were on the go a lot during our trip, and were only really there at nights to sleep. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the room was a bit cramped for the five of us, when we were in it.  For other sized families, I can see this as not being a problem, however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There you have it.  Hopefully, this will help you enjoy the Hershey and Harrisburg PA area as much as we did. Until the next one, peace!

 

 

Note: My family was hosted by Visit Hershey and Harrisburg as part of a press trip, which included passes to many of the places mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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