balloonrideMy daughter is 14 and already has a bucket list. Right at the top is taking a ride in a hot air balloon. Sadly, she missed her chance during our recent trip to southern California because it was too windy the day we were scheduled to ride.

Much to her chagrin, I can now cross that entry off of my bucket list. I got a ride in a hot air balloon during a press trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, courtesy of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. My daughter has promised to forgive me for taking a hot air balloon ride without her since I promised to be sure she gets a ride one of these days.

Best for Tweens and Teens

Don’t rush to get young kids on board a hot air balloon. That’s because they have to be taller than 4.5 feet to see over the side of the balloon basket. And if you can’t see over the side, what’s the point of taking a hot air balloon ride?

balloonridepilotOf course, the downside of waiting until you’re traveling with tweens or teens is that you’ll have to get a teenager out of bed before dawn to make the ride. The balloons fly at sunrise because that’s when winds and thermal activities are calmest–an important consideration when you’re flying in a contraption that has only a minimal steering ability.

Don’t tell Tess, but the experience was nothing short of amazing. The operator, Rainbow Ryders, is the largest hot air balloon company in Albuquerque, the self-proclaimed balloon capital of the world. Rainbow Ryders has been flying people at the crack of dawn for 27 years and has 14 different balloons that take varying numbers of passengers. We rode in a 10-passenger basket with Chief Pilot Brooke Owen.

Inside a Hot Air Balloon

Inside the balloon basket, it was close quarters and one of the passengers was a woman with a fear of heights who wasn’t even sure she wanted to ride. But Owen went easy on us—flying close to the ground for the first 20 minutes or so to let everyone get comfortable with the idea of riding in a hot air balloon. By the time he started climbing higher, she was peering over the side with the rest of us.

Here’s what you might not know about hot air ballooning if you’ve never been in one: It’s hot. The pilot fires the burners every few minutes to keep the air inside the balloon warm, which keeps the balloon aloft. By the end of our one-hour ride, I felt as though my neck had been roasted.

But it is quiet and peaceful during those few minutes between burner blasts and the view from above is breathtaking.

International Balloon Museum

balloonmuseumIf you go, consider a visit to the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum first. It has displays that will give you and your kids an understanding of why a balloon can fly, a look at the history of ballooning in the world and, that kid must-have, a flight simulator. Plan to spend about an hour. It won’t take long, but it’s worth the time.

If you go to Albuquerque, consider going the first week of October to see the spectacle known as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Visit the Web site for a chance to volunteer to work on one of the 500-plus individually owned balloons during the fest. Many owners reward their volunteers with a free ride.

If you have to pay for a balloon ride, be forewarned: Rainbow Ryders is the only company allowed to take paying passengers from the festival grounds and the cost of a ride ticket more than doubles during Balloon Fiesta to a whopping $375 per person.

Read more about family travel to affordable Albuquerque.