Every year Justin and I load up Christopher and Joshua really, really, really early on the first Saturday of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and take them to go see the balloons. In the five years (or so) that we've been doing this, we've learned a few lessons, tips, and tricks that I want to share with y'all today.
1.) You have to get up EARLY to get to the park early. I'm not talking rolling out of bed at 6:00 a.m. or so, I'm talking 2:30 a.m. Since we live in Los Lunas (about an hour's drive from the park), we generally leave our house at about 3:00, so getting up that extra half hour early gives us time to dress and load up the car.
2.) It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but you want to get to the park at around 4:00 a.m. This is when you get the best parking, can easily get in the gate, and have time to get food and relax before things start to happen. And yes, the food vendors will be opening up that early.
3.) Along with the theme of expediency, buy your tickets online the night before and either have them sent to your phone or print them out. The ticket takers are there early, but the ticket offices often don't open up until 4:30 or so, and by then, there's a line. With pre-purchased tickets, you can skip the ticket line and cruise right into the park.
4.) Along with buying your tickets the night before, prepare everything you're gonna take with you the night before and load as much as possible into the car. This helps in getting out the door faster. Here are some items that we love to bring with us:
An extra blanket for each kiddo for the car ride
Hat, gloves, and scarf for each person
Camera, with extra batteries and memory cards!!!
Cash- not all vendors have credit card readers; $50.00 should do it
Thermos of Hot Chocolate
Snacks- granola bars, cereal bars, trail mix
5.) Dress in layers! Your lightest layer on the bottom, to your heaviest on top. You will shed layers as the morning progresses. We usually start with a t-shirt and jeans for the adults, with a light sweater, sweatshirt, and heavy coat. The kiddos wear long-underwear, sweat pants and t-shirt, sweatshirt, and heavy coat.
6.) Take as little as humanly possible with you into the park. You will be moving and walking A LOT, and you don't want to carry all that stuff with you.
7.) Talk to other people! Other visitors, pilots, chase crew members, everyone! You will get so much more out of your visit if you do this.
8.) Stay out of the way of the Launch Officials (aka: Zebras). These are the people that are dressed in various black-and-white striped clothing items. They often look like disheveled NFL referees. These are the people responsible for telling the pilots where to set up, when to set up, and when to launch.
9.) Collect as many cards as you can! Pilots and a few select chase crew members have trading cards that feature their balloons. These are free to those who ask for them, and they're a great souvenir! Insider hint: there is also 1 Zebra with their trading cards- but only one!
That's about all I've got! It is an absolute blast to go to this event- almost magical even. The hot air balloons are graceful and colorful, and a beautiful sight to see. There isn't a bad seat in the house, either!