I spent $251+ gratuity for a hot air balloon ride for two via Groupon. Was it worth it?
A little backstory, it was October of 2016 and per usual I was looking on Groupon for an anniversary date in June of 2017 (I like planning ahead and love deals). I came across a popular posting for “Hot Air Balloon Ride for Two on a Weekday or Any Day from Sunrise Balloons (53% Off)“. Now this is how this site always gets me: how much I’ll save and how convincing the photo looks. I tricked myself into thinking that I was basically making money off of how much I saved (not true) plus I imagined myself holding a flute of champagne in one hand, while using my other hand to stuff my face with chocolate while my bf stares at me admiring my beauty (or most likely in horror). Notice how I kept “fantasizing”, now how did it actually all go down…
1. Making a Reservation. They only have their office open Monday-Friday 10:30AM-6PM. Not valid on Holidays. I highly suggest throwing out the idea that you want to book this on a certain day. The priority is ideal weather conditions. I researched on Yelp beforehand and most of the complaints they had on their page were due to customers getting cancellations last minute due to weather.
2. The Night Before your “flight”. You will get a text from this company for the balloon flight confirmation/update. They will mention check-in times, where to meet, where to park, proof of payment (ex: Groupon Voucher), and suggestion for gratuity (2 people= $50-60). Check-in times range from 5-5:30AM. Force yourself to sleep early, there is a reason why it’s called a sunrise balloon ride.
3. Getting There. For us, it takes around 1hr 5min to drive, so we sucked it up and just woke up extra early. We left late so I took the toll road (saving 30min but also spending $18). I would also suggest grabbing a bite to eat beforehand since you will be drinking a little and no one wants to hangout with a hangry person.
4. Checking In. Check- In was 5:15-5:25AM at Monte De Oro Winery. When we walked into the tasting room and were immediately greeted by two workers/photographers for the day. They asked for our Groupon voucher, gave us wavers to sign, weighed us (max weight is 280 lbs per person), and offered mimosas, coffee, small muffins, and apples. Apparently the chocolate was among these items but I didn’t see it and therefore never got my chocolate.
5. Taking Off. We waited around 30 min after checking in and then walked down to the parking lot where a team of workers were working around the basket on its side and filling the balloon with air. The two photographers were taking photos through-out this entire process. They allowed us to walk inside the balloon, let us ooh and aah, and take our Snapchat/Instagram games to the next level. Once we were done, we walked out and in about 5 minutes the balloon was filled and upright. Now this is where wearing pants and close toed shoes come into play, you have to use the hole in the basket and swing your body over and in. The basket is split into five sections, four that fit four tourists in each and one holds the “pilot” who controls the burner in the middle. No room for sitting. You and your plus 1 share the space with another couple.
6. Flying. We spent around 45min-1hr in the air, so use the restroom prior. We were given dixie cups and passed around a couple bottles of champagne. The pilot also offered cold water and beer. We continuously ascended/descended and turned 360 degrees. Each descent was intentional to either be photographed, shown the citrus trees, horses, or to relieve us from getting too hot. The passengers towards the outer side of the balloon got the semi uncomfortable heat of the propane burners (wear layers so you can remove in this instance). Overall the views are what you pay for and lucky for us the weather was ideal so you could see the neighboring wineries’ balloons.
7. Landing. After the flight, we are followed by a 4-Wheel drive chevy of some sorts. The pilot gets low enough to the ground to throw rope to 3-4 men who use the car to pull the balloon to a more ideal landing position. It was a very easy landing. You have to wait a couple minutes since everyone’s weight was keeping the balloon on the ground. We were given complimentary pins shaped like the hot air balloon. Once enough air is released you are able to get out. There was a party bus that brought us back to the winery. On the bus, you are given envelopes to put the gratuity in as well as a page that tells you how to access the photos that were taken and posted to their Facebook (reason for waver).
8. Leaving. Getting off the bus is pretty much it after that. You’ll be dreading the drive since you are tired of waking up so early and then standing for an hour in a cramped space, but overall a good experience to try once. This is a trip you would want to take with your significant other or another person of MAJOR importance. You will be spending a good chunk of change for an hour so take advantage of the free alc/food/photos.