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If you plan on attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, you might be a little unsure of how you should map out your day. It can be a little intimidating figuring out how to best experience the largest ballooning event in the world, with over 700 balloons launching over the 78-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. I finally had the opportunity to attend the event in 2011 and, through research and advice from others, my time there went very smooth. So I thought I’d share my timeline for a day at the Balloon Fiesta with you!
4:15am – Rise & Shine!
Getting up this early may sound rough, but trust me…it will all be worth it. The first thing you need to do after waking up is check the weather report. The conditions for a balloon launch have to be near perfect, so unfortunately a lot of the events run the risk of being cancelled. You can find updates and cancellations on the Balloon Fiesta website, on Twitter, or on any local news station.
Once you confirm the morning events are still taking place, quickly get ready, making sure to dress in layers as it can be very chilly with temperatures in the 40° range. Try to be on 25 North out of Albuquerque by 4:45am, so you can avoid as much traffic as possible going into Balloon Fiesta Park. From my experience, it was best to take the Alameda Exit (#233), and then San Mateo Boulevard to the Park entrance. You should be parked and out of your car by no later than 5:30, if all goes well. Keep in mind: parking is $15 and general admission is $10.
5:45am – Dawn Patrol & Morning Glow
Remember when I said getting up early would be worth it? Well, this is when that statement starts to become a reality. Just picture a dozen balloons in a choreographed inflation and launch to music in total darkness, where the glow from the balloon’s burners paints a brilliant tapestry of color against the black sky. I have to admit that the sound of the inflating balloons and bright glow of the burners is pretty spectacular to see for the first time, especially since you can be standing right amongst the balloons. The other pilots are thankful for this early morning launch because it gives them a good indication of the wind speeds and directions.
7:00am – Mass Ascension
Mass Ascension is the reason why you’re here! Around this time, crews will begin preparing the balloons for launch. One of the coolest aspects of the Balloon Fiesta is the fact that it’s one of the only balloon events where you are actually able to walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots. It’s quite an experience to be surrounded by hundreds of balloons as they inflate before your eyes and lift off into the sky. There are two waves of launches, led by a single balloon flying the American flag to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner. There are three ways to experience Mass Ascension: wander amongst the balloons in the launch field, view all 700+ balloons from a hill at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park, or bring a lawn chair and watch the festivities from the edge of the field. If you can only be there for one day, my recommendation is to start by viewing from the hill and then make your way down to the launch field.
10:00am – Wander & Explore
Most of the balloons have launched and are now floating over the Albuquerque landscape, so this would be a good time to check out the merchandise tents or grab one of the popular breakfast burritos from the food concessions that are lined up along “Main Street”.
Two other options for you to consider:
1) The Balloon Discovery Center at the north end of Main Street, where you can learn all about the sport of ballooning. Hours are 6:00am-11:00am & 3:30pm – 7:00pm.
2) The Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum at the south end of the park. Admission is $4.
If neither of these interest you, then head back to explore Albuquerque! You’ll have quite a spectacle as you drive south on the highway, as many of the balloons are still floating or beginning to descend all around you.
4:00pm – Evening Session
Begin to head back to Balloon Fiesta Park to make sure you’re parked and on time for the Balloon Glow. You should have some time before the Glow begins, so grab some dinner at one of the food vendors along Main Street – where you have options of BBQ, Mexican, turkey legs, and the standard hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza.
5:45pm – Balloon Glow
The Mass Ascension is an incredible sight to behold, but the Balloon Glow might be the best event at the Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds of balloons inflate and, at the end of a countdown, all of the pilots ignite their burners at the same time. It really is a breath-taking view to see the entire field flickering with the color of the balloons! For this event, you must claim a spot at the top of the hill! Get up there early because all of the best viewing spots fill up very quickly.
8:00pm – AfterGlow Fireworks Show
A lot of people try to beat the traffic by leaving right before the fireworks show. Seeming like a good idea, I followed their lead…but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t manage to avoid the traffic and what I viewed from my car was one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen. I can’t stress enough: stay for the fireworks!
So there you have it, a day at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
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