Soaring above Wine Country: Hot Air Balloon Ride in Napa
I remember when I was a kid, I was so fascinated with the sky that I would climb trees as high as I could, arms outstretched, pretending I could fly. As I got older, the fascination remained but since I can no longer climb trees, I set my sights on riding a hot air balloon instead. For my birthday this year, my husband, James and I did exactly just that. Since James was hesitant about the whole thing (something to do with 3,300 feet, I’m not really sure lol), I took it upon myself to search for a reputable company that will put his mind at ease. After all, it wouldn’t be fun if I just went by myself. Turns out I didn’t have to look far because I found one right away! Napa Valley Aloft in Yountville is a family owned hot air balloon company that has been flying since the 1970s. Knowing they have a lot of experience under their belt made it easier for us to book with them.
From downtown Napa, it took us 20 minutes to get to V Marketplace in Yountville, our meeting location. Check in was quick and simple. After signing our waivers, we helped ourselves to some coffee and pastries available at the lobby area. After 15 minutes or so, some of the employees held a safety briefing before we were separated into 3 groups.
Photo from V Marketplace Facebook page
If weather permitting, they can conveniently take off right at the parking lot of V Marketplace. But on foggy mornings, they may have to launch outside of Napa Valley because of low visibility making flying unsafe. They have two exclusive launch options located in Pope Valley (30 minute shuttle ride) and Paradisa Valley (1 hour shuttle ride). Thankfully, the skies were kind to us and gave us great weather despite a couple of showers the day before. The crew were friendly and spoke with us for a bit while the pilot prepared for the flight. One of the crew members told me that our pilot that day was one of the owners, Jay Kimball. He opened the balloon ride company back in the day and eventually turned it over to his sons to run the business.
Inside the basket are three separate sections that were spacious enough for us and two families. While we waited for the crew to finish with their pre-flight preparations, we chatted with the people in our flight. I think one of the perks of traveling is meeting new people and sharing stories. This time, we were blessed to meet the Truong family from Southern California.
After a few minutes we were ready to take off! I was a bit scared at first but after awhile I got used to it and didn’t mind the altitude. James surprisingly took it well too. As we rose above the valley floor, most of us found ourselves oohing and ahhing at the beautiful panoramic views of the valley. Our views included the majestic Mt. St Helena, the Mayacamas Mt. Range and the Vaca Range. At one point we also had a glimpse of the San Francisco skyline.
The flight was steady and easy despite varying altitudes. Even when at one point we were as high as 3,200 feet not once did I feel fearful for my life. Our pilot definitely knew what he was doing because the entire flight I felt like we were just gliding. It didn’t hurt that the weather was cooperative too. The morning haze mixed with rays of sunshine were strikingly beautiful. It comforted me and made my mind feel like I was in a distant, unknown place. If they had a bed up there, I would’ve probably fallen asleep. That’s how soothing the flight was. While I continued to stare intently into the wide open space, James was preoccupied with taking photos and videos for our trip. (Check out the video below)
Our flight took longer (1 hour and 10 minutes) than the rest of the other groups, which we really liked. But unfortunately, it had to end somehow. After we descended with ease, the crew readily packed up the balloons while the rest of us were shuttled back to V Marketplace where we were greeted with a champagne breakfast at the Pacific Blues Cafe, thanks to Napa Valley Aloft. We were joined by the Truong family and our pilot/owner Jay Kimball who shared stories about his travels and his business. The whole experience was a blast and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll go on a hot air balloon ride but I’m glad my first ride was with Napa Valley Aloft.
Things to know before your flight:
- Make sure you book flights in advance to reserve your spot. They recommend booking 1-2 weeks prior but sometimes they are able to accommodate late minute reservations. But do call beforehand.
- Meeting times may vary but most flights take off between 6:00 am-6:50 am. Ours was at 6:30 am. Make sure you arrive 20-30 minutes before your flight to give ample time to sign waivers and for safety briefing.
- Don’t forget to call for weather decision 1 hour prior to check in the morning of your flight since it’s an activity contingent to weather. Weather #: (707) 935-9880.
- Since flights are early in the morning, breakfast joints may not be open yet but don’t worry because included in your package are hot beverages and pastries.
- Make sure you wear appropriate clothing. Casual clothing – preferably in layers so you can adjust according to the temperature as the morning progresses. Most people I’ve seen wore closed-toed shoes, hats and sunglasses. As for women, make sure you wear pants because getting to the basket requires climbing in and out of it.
- If you forget any of these, don’t fret. They send 1-2 emails to remind you of the date, time, address and some additional flight info.
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Have you been on a hot air balloon ride? Was it fun or scary?
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Napa Valley Aloft
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Phone No’s: 855.944-4408, 707.944-4400
Check out their Facebook page: Napa Valley Aloft
Thank you Napa Valley Aloft for helping me fulfill this bucket list dream of mine!
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