No, my title is not too good to be true. If you’ve always wanted to take a hot-air balloon ride, and if you just happen to be in Orange County, head over to the Great Park Balloon. It was awesome.
The park is a former Marine Corp base and you can see the remnants of the airport there. The visitor’s center is housed in a hanger. Head there first to sign a waiver. Next they give you a coaster pager (just like the ones they hand out in restaurants) that buzzes you when it’s your turn. To pass the time, you can take a ride on a carousel–it’s also free if you get a hand-stamp from the visitor’s center–or you can simply watch other people go up in the sky.
Since I went a few days after Halloween, the balloon was an orange-pumpkin theme. After a fairly long wait (about an hour), the ride itself is short. But it’s smooth. You don’t get strapped in, but you just hold onto the netted sides of the balloon as it leaves the ground. It probably took about 15 minutes total from lift off to landing. After the take off, it’s a very smooth ascent. You can take pictures thought the nets (be sure not to drop your camera) and walk around the balloon so you can get a complete picture all the way around it.
The view was good. The area we looked over was flat so you could see for miles. It was a great way to cap off a wonderful week-and-a-half. And it was free. 🙂
Travel Tip: You’ll want to call ahead of time to make sure the balloon is working since they sometimes have to suspend operations due to wind or low visibility. As of this writing, the balloon is also closed from Monday to Wednesday, so check the schedule before you leave. The park is also not recognized by GPS yet. It’s located in Irvine, and you can get there by finding the intersection where Sand Canyon Ave and and Marine Way meet. Turn onto Marine Way and follow the signs to reach your destination.