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The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Finally, the time has come, friends! The dates for the 2022 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta have been released so it is finally time to revisit this huge bucket list item!

I have been trying to go to the Balloon Fiesta ever since I was a flight attendant, but was always too late to plan a trip. So let’s rewind and jump into some general info for those that may not know what the Balloon Fiesta exactly is.

Image being up close and personal with massive, colorful hot air balloons as they lift and engulf the sky. First things first, you have to get yourself to Albuquerque, New Mexico between the dates of October 1-9 of 2022. I would suggest booking hotels and car reservations as early as possible as everything will sell out early in the year. However, tickets for the event don’t open up until April 1st. There are plenty of hotels around the area. We stayed in the University/Midtown area about 15 minutes away from the Fiesta, and encountered no problems with the commute. If you are driving from the Colorado areas (such as myself), it is roughly a 7 hour drive from Boulder, and 6 1/2 hours from Denver. If you are flying into New Mexico, then make sure you are flying into Albuquerque International Sunport.

The fiesta runs for 9 days and has two sessions- morning and evening. There are different types of tickets from fancy concierge, to Club, to general admission. Honestly, I was completely content with general admission ($15 a session). It says that you need individual tickets per session, but we stayed inside the grounds the whole day and only needed one ticket per person. Do with this info what you will.

The Morning Session

Here is the schedule for the day’s events.

The first event of the morning session begins at 6AM, but don’t let that fool you. We arrived to the parking lot at about 3:30AM and there was already a line to enter the grounds. I thought that getting there early meant we could find a prime spot to view the ascent, but quickly realized that you are on your feet the whole time. Still, I would highly suggest arriving early just to make parking and the security process easier. You will have to go through security so be careful with any adult beverages you do try and bring in. Water bottles seemed to be fine though. We took ours full and are glad we did so we didn’t need to keep purchasing water.

Tip: Since it is very early, I would suggest bringing layers of warm clothes you can pack away throughout the day. Albuquerque mornings can get pretty cold! I even brought those small heat warmers which were so helpful as we waited for things to take off.

Per my very cheesy Instagram post, “I was not prepared for Mass Ascension at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I had just closed my eyes to take a little nap, the sky was still dark, and I was tired after a 2:30AM “wake up” after a sleepless night (few hours). But when I opened my eyes, suddenly the environment seemed much more electric…Photos and words will never truly describe the chaotic, slight sensory-overload, thrilling, beautiful, magical moment that was mass ascension, but I hope everyone gets to witness it one day.” Lifeofmaryreyes

In the morning, you will wait around as people get settled. People bring their own chairs or blankets to comfortably wait on. It will be dark, but there will be a lot of movement. And suddenly, you’ll hear the first balloon burner begin. And once things take off…wow…I felt so alive. You walk on the field right next to hundreds of hot air balloons as they expand and lift off all around you. It was a constant, “Wow! Look over there!” and “Look at that one!” Enjoy this time.

The Afternoon Break

After the morning ascension, things will begin to die down a little. The hot air balloons in the sky will start to seem small and distant in the sky. People will either head towards the concession stands or towards the exits. You can choose to stay on the grounds for the whole afternoon break. We did so we wouldn’t struggle with parking for the evening session. There are a couple different events that can tide you over for awhile: wood carving exhibition and a small Van Expo (last year at least), but heads up that most things shut down during this time. Food stalls and souvenir shops don’t stay open during this break…and worse…there is no alcohol stations open during the break either.

When we go again this year, we will probably be leaving for the afternoon break. It was just too hot outside and there was no shaded or air conditioned rooms to hide in during this time. To get good parking again, however, we’ll just have to return a little earlier than normal. But at least we won’t melt for all those hours.

The Evening Session

The biggest difference between the two sessions is that the hot air balloons do not lift off during the evening session. They do, however, glow! As the sun begins to set (6PM), balloons light up and perform a magical, illuminating performance. It was really a blast to witness the balloons light up in rhythm. The aeronauts would listen to one another and blast their burners in response. It really was magical!

So now that we’ve covered the day, let’s dive into what we learned from our 2021 experience attending the Balloon Fiesta. I share this so that you can go prepared since we were apparently not (whoops).

  1. The grounds are not very organized. There are two bathroom areas and the lines can get extremely, horribly long. The lines for the porta potties also seemed to intertwine with some of the food stall lines, which just got confusing and messy.
  2. Speaking of food…there are so many food stalls. Picture a carnival, but bigger. The lines during the lunch rush (right after the first ascent) will be ridiculously long. If you can hold out and bring a snack with you, that will save you a lot of time and frustration.
  3. If you partake in the adult beverages…there’s none really. They have a couple of outdoor seating “bar” areas open through the sessions, but they are so small and the lines are, you guessed it, extremely long. Other than that, they do not sell any alcohol at other concession stands.
  4. I would say this event is family/child friendly, but not stroller friendly due to the grass and mud on the field. Kids under the age of 12 do get in for free though!
  5. Weekends are more popular (as usual). I’d like to go to a weekday event this year and see if I can get more photos without so many people in them.
  6. As I mentioned, souvenir shops do not stay open all day. They do close during the mid session break to restock. So if the item you like is sold out during the morning session, just try later on. Also, there is a huge rush period after the first ascent so if you’d like to avoid that go earlier.
  7. I almost forgot to mention the special shaped hot air balloons! You will see so many different, wonderful shapes from this huge cow, to Yoda, to penguins, Smoky the Bear…etc!
  8. Kevin’s tip: Don’t feel rushed! Which I was a little guilty of at times! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how much there is to see, but take a step back and look at the big picture! You have plenty of time!

Well, this has certainly gotten me more excited for 2022’s Balloon Fiesta. Don’t forget, tickets go on sale April 1st. Concierge and Club tickets sale out very quickly- just a heads up! If anyone has any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them. And of course, you can find me on Instagram (click the post below!)

See you then, friends!

Until next time,

Mary A.

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