By the time my bride and I reached our 23rd wedding anniversary, we had pretty much run out of ideas for cool and novel ways to celebrate our marriage. My wife had read somewhere that an appropriate gift for this milestone was air.
The cynic in me wondered if she was wanting some space. The thrifter in me was relieved by the notion that air wouldn’t cost me much. Thankfully, my wife had a great idea for how to give each other air to celebrate our anniversary: a hot air balloon adventure.
My rating for Arizona Balloon Safaris: 5 stars (out of 5)
Keep reading to find out how they earned my 5-star rating.
After doing a little research, we settled on Arizona Balloon Safaris as the company that would take us up, up and away for our first ballooning experience. Our decision to go with this particular outfit was a no-brainer based on their online reviews, and was reinforced every step of the way. Their prices were good and their reputation was stellar, according to web-based references we found. Arizona Balloon Safari is a locally-owned company and the pilot/owner (Randy) is confidently capable with 40 years of ballooning experience.
Our 4-hour balloon safari itinerary:
- 4:45 a.m. – Meet in parking lot of grocery store in Cave Creek
- 5 a.m. – Board a passenger van and head off to the intended launch site about 5 miles away
- 5:15 a.m. – Balloon pilot releases a small, illuminated test balloon to check wind direction and speed
- 5:30 a.m. – A second test balloon is launched to confirm there has been no change in wind patterns
- 5:35 a.m. – Unload from passenger van in adjacent open desert while the Safari team members rigged up the balloon. (We got to help.)
- 6:45 a.m. – Preflight pictures and lift off
- 8:00 a.m. – Desert landing with traditional balloonist’s ceremony and prayer
- 8:15 a.m. – Sit-down champagne breakfast
- 8:45 a.m. – Presentation of Certificates de Ascension en Machine Aerostatique to each passenger
- 9:00 a.m. – Board van and head back to reality where we left our vehicle
We found nearly every aspect of the adventure enjoyable. The check-in process was flawless. Our shuttle driver was prompt, efficient and courteous. We were made aware of what was happening at every step in the process and why. Our pilot (Randy) was a seasoned pro who kept the adventure lively with humorous stories and interesting tidbits about the balloon, his experiences and the landscape beneath us.
Randy’s sense of humor came alive as he was instructing us passengers on how to prepare for landing. Just after he got our attention with the words “The #1 thing to remember when we land,” he pulled a handle that propelled a long, loud burst of flame up into the balloon’s envelope.
Of course, we couldn’t hear a word he said during that time and I have a feeling he was just mouthing jibberish at that point. Nevertheless, we all caught on and stroked his ego with a courteous round of laughter in hopes he would return us safely to the earth. He did.
Video: A sample of the Arizona Balloon Safaris experience
Once we were back on the ground, the chase crew helped us out of the basket and quickly prepared the balloon to be tucked back into the trailer. Randy led us through a ceremonial champagne toast and traditional prayer of gratitude for a successful voyage. We were then escorted to the makeshift dining area where we were presented with quiche from a renowned Phoenix chef.
Encouraged by our laughter on the flight, Randy decided to try out another amusing line: “The sausage was prepared by a world famous chef – Jimmy Dean.”
Once the laughter died down, Randy and the gang showed off some cool souvenir items in the “gift shop,” which consisted of a few dozen items spread out on a carpet runner, that we could take home as a means to remember our Arizona Balloon Safari experience.
Tips to help get the most out of your hot air balloon experience:
- Dress in comfortable, casual clothing. Bring a jacket and gloves in colder months.
- Closed toe shoes are recommended since the balloon launches and lands in desert terrain.
- A hat can keep the heat from the balloon burners off your head.
- Sunglasses are essential in the bright Arizona sunshine.
- Remember your camera and extra batteries.
- Skip breakfast and coffee until after the balloon ride. (Why? See below.)
Probably the biggest surprise I didn’t plan for was the lack of access to facilities. My wife and I thought it was a good idea to grab coffee for our half-hour drive to the 5 a.m. meeting spot so we would be awake and alert for the experience. One of the first things we were told when we checked in was, “If you have to go to the bathroom, go now because we won’t have access to a restroom for the next four hours.”
Doh! In addition to my large coffee, I had also swigged down a 20 oz bottle of water as part of the “stay hydrated” routine we Arizonans are conditioned to. Thankfully, there was a healthy stand of mesquite trees near the launch site where I could relieve myself just before lift off. Next time I’ll avoid coffee and water altogether until after the flight.
We were back on the ground and prepping to eat breakfast in the desert shortly after 8 a.m. so it’s not necessary to eat before the flight either. As a back up, it wouldn’t hurt to bring an energy bar but that’s personal choice. They do offer free water as an in-flight refreshment.
All things considered, I would not hesitate to give Arizona Balloon Safaris a 5-star rating on a 5-star scale. Granted, this was our first time ever flying in a hot air balloon, but I really can’t think of any balloon adventure company could provide a better experience than what they provided. I would strongly recommend them to anyone considering a balloon adventure in the Arizona skies.
Want to book a tour with Arizona Balloon Safaris?
Note: No payment, commission or other incentive has been offered for this objective review.