What’s on your bucket list? Although it has been several years since I have updated my list, I know that taking a hot air balloon ride with my family has been a high priority. And there was no better time to check this wish off my list than over my birthday. I received a referral from a friend for a company called Rainbow Ryders, who operate out of Scottsdale, Albuquerque, and Colorado Springs. She told me that they have one of the newer fleets in the business, a fact that was important to me. So one Sunday morning this January, I set my alarm for 5 am, and with a wee bit of a headache from reveling the night before, woke up a couple of very grumpy teenagers. We all piled into our family Trukster and headed to North Scottsdale for the ride. I loved every minute, even the grumpy teenager part, and would like to pass on these six tips should you ever choose to embark on the hot air balloon ride experience. Enjoy! xoM
Be flexible. Hot air balloon rides are weather dependent, so have a couple of dates when looking to book a ride. If your balloon flight is delayed or cancelled, Rainbow Ryders will notify you with options for rescheduling, or will refund the flight. When booking a ride on vacation, think about booking on the front end of the trip in case the ride is cancelled due to weather. Regarding time of year, I feel the ideal time in Phoenix for a hot air balloon ride would be October through June. The three months of July, August, and September are brutally hot, plus you have to consider the monsoon rains and dust storms.
Be ready to get up early. Winds are most stable in the early mornings or the evenings. We decided on an early morning flight, and therefore had to set the alarm for 5 a.m. Pro tip: set an extra alarm so you don’t oversleep! This gave us time to arrive at the Rainbow Ryders headquarters by check-in at 6 am. Once checked-in, we were assigned a captain and crew, and rode in a van to the launch sight. By the time the balloons were inflated, the sun was starting to rise. The hot air balloon experience itself was a little over 45 minutes long, and, in total, we were gone from our house for 3 1/2 hours.
Ask lots of questions prior to booking. I must admit I skipped this step, so was a bit surprised to learn that we would be riding in a basket that fit 18 people. Yes, you heard me right, 18 people. This particular balloon and basket is the largest in the Rainbow Ryders fleet, so typically each basket holds closer to 12 people. In my mind, I had pictured us alone in a basket with the captain. As the ride got underway, I paid less attention to the fact that there were other people on the ride with us. For those of you who may have concerns because of COVID, you will be happy to learn that the basket had several compartments for each group of people, and each compartment was sectioned off by vinyl partitions. This leads me to my next point…
Safety is Rainbow Ryders’ #1 concern. Yes, you will be in a wicker basket that is attached to a massive nylon sack inflated by super hot air projected by a propane burner. Nonetheless, the NTSB rates hot air balloon rides as one of the safest forms of flight. Advances in technology, including propane tanks, ripstop nylon, and modern meteorology, have made hot air balloon riding more safe. Prior to your ride, you will be asked to sign a waiver, releasing the company of liability should anything go wrong, and that list may have you running for the hills. Accidents are a matter of public record, so you can always research the company you will be riding with for past incidences. And to reiterate my previous point, ask lots of questions.
Tether your belongings to your body. You will want to bring sunglasses and a camera, whether it is on your phone or not. Be sure to have some sort of strap or cord so you don’t drop them. Layer up in the winter months as you can always leave things in the van. It is actually not cold on the ride because of the propane burner. Tall people may want to wear a hat…you can really feel the heat on your head!
Plan a fun breakfast afterwards. You will be hungry and want to warm up (or cool down) and exchange pictures and stories from your hot air balloon experience. Need some ideas? Check out The Scout Guide’s nominees for the best breakfast and brunch in the valley for inspiration. Rainbow Ryders did offer complementary champagne and orange juice after the ride, which was a fun way to cap off the morning. Pro tip: you know that bottle of champagne you have been saving for a special occasion? Bring it along!
Important to know: Due to insurance, Rainbow Ryders does not allow pregnant women or children under the age of 5 on their balloon rides.
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com. I was not compensated for the hot air balloon ride. All opinions are my own.