Having learned my lesson in the morning, I was determined not to live through that hell again, so I left my airbnb at 2:45pm. The park was to open again at 3pm, and the night show was to start at 6pm. I pulled into a spot at approx. 3:05pm. Easy peasy. Not only that, but I got a spot right in front of the gate, AND I didn’t have to pay the $15 parking fee, even though it is mentioned on every site I’ve seen that you have to pay the fee each time you enter the park. Bonus of getting there super early, I guess!
The down side to getting there super early: getting there super early. There was basically nothing to do for 3 hours, which I felt more acutely flying solo. I checked out the artisans tent, which was basically just a lot of Native American jewelry. There was one stand that looked cool, with these cool baskets made out of recycled plastic, but then I heard the guy tell someone they were $119 each! Um, they weren’t that cool. (But I am.)
After that I went to one of the very few food stands that was open and got myself a green chili cheeseburger. It was delicious. I found a seat at an empty picnic table and ate my burger, while jealously watching all the Balloon Fiesta savvy attendees tranquilly napping on the blankets they brought, under umbrellas or tents they brought. A blanket. So simple. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I was completely exhausted, but wasn’t about to lay on the semi-wet grass in my clothes – I knew how cold it was that morning, and I wasn’t about to deal with that cold at night, in wet clothes.
After about an hour of that, I saw someone with ice cream and spent an insane $5 for a soft serve cup that would have cost me 79 cents at QuikTrip. I’m not gonna lie though, it was so hot, it was worth it.
I decided to sit on my jacket in the grass and people watch for the last hour before the show started. Or so I thought. 5:45 rolled around and I was starting to get concerned that I didn’t see a single balloon getting set up.
Then 6 rolled around.
Finally one balloon started setting up.
Then 6:45 rolled around.
I, once again, was not happy. What a big waste of a day this had been. Just sooooo much waiting! (These kids below were making great use of their waiting time.)
At 7:15 the first balloon started lighting up, and soon a few others started inflating. By 7:30, the show finally got going.
I wanted to be mad. How could they be so late? What a hellish ordeal I’d been through that day just to see some balloons. But then it started. Slowly at first. Just a “whoosh” here, and a “whoosh” there, but soon the twilight was filled with “whooshes” all around, and balloons would simultaneously light up like light bulbs. It. Was. Magical.
At first I was just completely overwhelmed. I had no idea where to look, so I just kept twirling in slow circles. I had never in my life seen or heard anything like this. The balloonists (is that what they’re called?!?) would start to keep time with each other and they’d all go off in rapid succession for 30 seconds, then it would go dark and silent until a few would start up every here and there again.
I finally started to walk around, in and out of the balloons so I could see the display from different angles and perspectives, and I was just in complete awe. I think I teared up at least 3 times just pondering the majesty of my surroundings, and the fact that I was there. I made it. And in that moment, it was all worth it.
After the twilight glow there was a fireworks show. It was probably the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen, but it still paled in comparison to twilight glow. There is just nothing, anywhere else on earth, that can compare to that experience.
That all said, yes, I would now recommend making the trip to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta, but only following these tips:
-Go to the night glow!!! This was way cooler than the more talked about mass ascension. This only happens on weekend nights of the event though, so make sure you go on a weekend.
-Take plenty of cash for food – it is expensive and most places are cash only. There is an ATM there, but there are lines, it’s a weird bank, etc.
-Wear layers!! I wish someone had mentioned this to me. I was a dummy and wore a tank top with a jacket in the morning, and was so regretting it. It was in the 40s in the morning, but got up to high 80s during the day, so you are in a whole range of temperatures to be prepared for.
-Bring a blanket and/or chair. Be one of the people non-prepared people like me are jealous of, sleeping soundly under the sun because you will be especially tired from the next tip…
-Plan on getting to the park at 4am. Don’t plan on leaving at 4, plan on being there at 4. I firmly believe that if I would have been even just 15-20 minutes earlier I could have avoided my whole morning traffic fiasco.
-Unless you’re buying the VIP tickets (see next tip), buy your tickets at 7-Eleven. Online and at the gate, tickets are $10 per session. At 7-Eleven they are only $8. Nowhere mentioned this, it was a lucky happenstance that I discovered this.
-If you are seriously thinking of going to this event, I think for the morning session, VIP is the way to go. I wanted to do this, but apparently they sell out way (months) in advance, so prepare early! The VIP ticket is $100 for one session, but includes entry and parking, plus private bathrooms, all-you-can-eat buffet, and unlimited open bar! I would recommend this just to avoid the insane amounts of people, and you have your own VIP parking section that would have been much easier to get to than what I dealt with. Would only recommend this for a morning session though because for the night session you absolutely MUST walk around in all the balloons.
-Start planning your hotel/airbnb/camping stays months in advance – things book early!
If you have any other questions about the event, send me a message on the contact page; I’d be happy to help!