The BIG SHARE: TOP 6 things we learned from our first year at the Balloon Fiesta!
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
We learned a TON after attending our first Balloon Fiesta and it's share time!
Please note that every year of the Fiesta is slightly different but this is what we learned from our experience at the 50th Balloon Fiesta in 2022.
photo from www. BalloonFiesta.com
1) PLAN YOUR LODGING EARLY
The biggest question you should ask is where will you be staying for the Fiesta? Hotel, campground, RV lot on the grounds? Things book FAST starting at the beginning of January. We recommend talking with your group and creating a first, second and third preference going into the booking season, because your available choices can change fast! For more details about RVing at the Fiesta, check out our blog, A whole LOT about RVing at the Balloon Fiesta!
Book as soon as you can because the best lodging deals will disappear early and you may only be left with subpar and expensive options if you wait until last minute.
2) Do NOT get all your Fiesta entry tickets at the same time! or too early!
Unlike your lodging, wait on Fiesta tickets. We know that sounds odd, especially since you should book lodging ASAP, but hear us out. So you plan on attending 3 days of the Fiesta and you have 4 people in your party so you do some quick math. Each day has two session, so 2 sessions x 4 people x 3 days = 24 tickets. Right? Wrong! Get your entry Tickets last minute! Tickets cannot be refunded but if an event is canceled after you use it then the ticket can be reused. This was the policy in place for 2022, that may change in future years. Events at the balloon festival get canceled all the time due to bad weather or other issues. The 50th year had the most canceled events in the Fiesta history. Contrary to rumor, tickets used on canceled sessions can be used as a raincheck ticket for a future session.
Tickets can be purchased online. From our experience we had to account for twenty minutes for online processing before tickets arrived in our email, meaning don't walk to the gate and then buy your tickets! Ticket booths are also available right outside the entrance, leading up to the Fiesta. Note they have a card only and cash only booth, so make sure you are in the right line for what kind of payment you are using. We enjoyed purchasing online to avoid waiting at a booth, but note if purchasing online, have your tickets cued up on your electronic device for scanning upon entering the park. They will want to scan your online ticket directly after you pass through security. There is a list of things you can and cannot bring into the park, see what is allowed in the Fiesta park here.
3) BALLOON FIESTA LIVE!
A local from Albuquerque turned us onto Balloon Fiesta Live which is a LIVE broadcast of events from the Fiesta on YouTube. Honestly we wish more people around the world knew about this because that means you can watch broadcasts of the Fiesta no matter where you are in the world. 2022 marks the 6th year for the Live broadcast; If we knew about this we would have been tuning in for years! It's like coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade but the Balloon Fiesta and its completely FREE! This really is a gamechanger!
While we highly recommend the app for Balloon Fiesta, which is wonderful and pretty good about sending alerts, we got faster updates by tuning into the LIVE broadcast so we could be aware of changes in the flag watch. Green, yellow and red flags are important and have different meanings. If it was a yellow flag that often meant things were put on pause due to weather and wind conditions and would be revaluated shortly. Listening and watching the LIVE broadcast helped us stay up to date on pilot briefings and updates. Red flags meant do not bother attending that session, it is canceled.
BALLOON FIESTA LIVE also had great insider history, interviews, camera angles, and explanations that would be hard to come by otherwise. The camera footage and explanations of the competitions was superb and even better is that all the coverage is archived. Which means you can rewatch events or catch something from a previous session or year you missed. We often put the archived "LIVE" episodes on between sessions and were able to catch things we missed. We cannot say how much we LOVE Balloon Fiesta LIVE, we are subscribed! It is a hidden gem that more people should be watching and talking about!
The Balloon Museum is located right next to the Fiesta grounds at 9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is open normal hours during the Fiesta, which is Tuesdays–Sunday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Notice: like most museums it is closed on Mondays. It is a great place to visit between morning and evening sessions. The exhibitions for 2022 were superb! They had exhibitions about the Balloon Fiesta history, the science of hot air balloons, art exhibitions which included posters and original cells of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner by artist Chuck Jones and a great interactive section for kids and big kids!
Admission prices to the museum are separate from the Fiesta admission tickets but are very reasonably priced and well worth it! Balloon Museum Admission for an Adult is $6, a New Mexico resident is $5, a senior (65+) is $4, Youth ages 6-17 are $3 each, and children 5 and under are free.
The museum provides a great view or the Fiesta field and even the architecture of the museum is fun, it is inspired by the shape of a partially inflated hot air balloon.
Once the Fiesta starts transportation in and out can be difficult, especially leading into a morning or evening session. Understandably, balloon chase crews and emergency vehicles have priority. So don't think you'll be able to run out for a quick bite to eat or coffee and just pop back into the Fiesta. Once you are there be prepared to stay for the entire session. Sidenote: While we did not do this, we saw a few people lounging on the grounds between sessions. We are guessing they were trying to save some money because if you don't leave the premises, then they do not charge you a second session entry fee. Interesting idea, however, note that everything on the grounds shuts down during the middle of the day so you'd want to bring what you need to be self sustaining and then you can can lounge on the launch field until the next session.
There are a lot of transportation options for the Fiesta: simply walking, catching a ride on a cart, biking, hopping on a bus and for those coming from outside the festival grounds you could take your own vehicle and pay for parking or take a park and ride.
Walking: If you are in one of the RV lots, you are already so close to the Fiesta so walking is a great option! We mainly walked and while the mileage can add up going back and forth, it honestly doesn't feel like that far of a walk when you are walking among all those buzzing with fiesta excitement.
Bikes: Bicycles are also a great option and there is a free bike valet just outside the Fiesta gates. Your bike will be stored behind a fence in an open air forum and you will be handed a ticket to redeem your bike later, just like a parking valet or a coat check. Do not lose you ticket and note that bikes not picked up upon the bike valet closing for the day will be put in reclaim storage. The bike valet is a great option but be advised the line can get very long, especially in the evening while the valets are hunting to match tickets to bikes in the dark.
Carts: No personal ATV's or Golf carts are allowed in the RV lots or on the Fiesta grounds. Shuttle Carts for those in need are moving down the sidewalks from Alameda Blvd to the Fiesta gate. You will see carts used by the Fiesta staff and other commercial groups. There are complimentary carts that will transport you from the corner of Alameda to the Fiesta gate but it can be a little confusing where to stand to catch a cart. If you see and empty cart you can chat with the driver and ask. We caught many rides by just inquiringly with a friendly demeanor. We also had more luck catching a ride back from the festival at the end of a session to Alameda than at the start of a session.
Vehicles: Paid parking is an option at the Fiesta but be prepared to wait in a long line to enter the parking lot and then walk to the field. Note that the parking lots are dirt and gravel and can get really muddy when it rains. Parking lots are located on the north and south ends of the park and it is $20 for each session. Each parking lot is color-coded and the gates are numbered. Cash only.
Park and Ride: The Fiesta offers park and ride bus options at various locations throughout Albuquerque. Please go to https://balloonfiesta.com/Park-Ride for times and up to date locations. Print your tickets!
Purchase prices: (A 10% service charge will be added at time of purchase) • Adults: (13-61) $22 • Seniors: (62+) $20 • Children: (6-12) $10 • Children: (5 and under) FREE
Purchases made after midnight for morning sessions on the day of, or afternoon for evening sessions on the day of: (A 10% service charge will be added at the time of purchase) • Adults: (13-61) $25 • Seniors: (62+) $25 • Children: (6-12) $12 • Children: (5 and under) FREE
Note that admission to Balloon Fiesta Park is included with your Park and Ride Ticket and that tickets are non-refundable. However they note,
In case of a weathered-out session, retain your ticket as a raincheck for admission. You may present your used/scanned ticket for admission at the Balloon Fiesta Park admission gates. In order to use Park & Ride for another session, you will need to go online to purchase a Bus Only ticket to board the bus.
Buses from RV lots:
From about an hour before to an hour after each session there are buses that circle the RV lots. This is a free service and a great way to get to and from the RV lots. There are designated pick up points in the lots but as we were told (and experienced) if you hail the bus they will stop and pick you up. These bus drivers are super friendly and while tipping is not expected, we highly encourage it. We had a wonderful experience during a particular weather scare where being the last ones on the bus, the driver drove us directly back to our RV, she was so kind.
6) SWAG everywhere!
There is no shortage of swag/memorabilia to be purchased at the Fiesta. They have vendor carts rolling around with souvenirs that will make your kids scream, I want! If you are looking for a different kind of souvenir that won't break, you have a few options. There is an official vendor tent where you can find all of this years pins, patches , t-shirts, ect. There is also another vendor tent just for collector pins. It's really fun to browse this tent since they usually have pins that come from the entire run of the Fiesta, dating back to the first year. Even the museum store has pins and patches. We got our official 5Oth Fiesta patch at the museum store where the line was MUCH shorter!
There is even an artist tent which contains
handmade artwork by a select number of juried artists allowed to show at the Fiesta. Unlike most things on the Fiesta grounds, the artists tent stays open while the vendor tents close between sessions. We loved visiting with the artists and even purchased a couple of pieces to go in our permanent collection from the very talented Inkchievous. We fell in love with his happy monster series!
We also really enjoyed seeing the Fiesta quilt and meeting the quilters. Each year the quilters make a handmade quilt with a new design and theme to raffle off at the Fiesta. A book of raffle tickets cost $20 and contains 10 chances to win. If you buy quilt raffle tickets you did not need to be present to win. Over 30 quilters worked on the 50th Fiesta quilt. The balloons featured in the interior box on the quilt are the original 13 balloons that started were in the very first Fiesta!
It was beautifully detailed with lots of hidden images, including a roadrunner, but you had to be really close to see that!
There is also free swag, most of the pilots and crews hand out trading cards of the balloons. There are 650 balloons so you can collect quite a lot of trading cards as a fun and free memento! These trading cards are like baseball cards and usually contain a picture of the balloon with its name and its pilots name. We found it easier to get cards and talk to pilots on days where the pilots inflated but didn't launch.
Getting on a Balloon Chase Crew
One of our favorite and unexpected things we did at the Fiesta was to join a chase crew. Ideally, you can go on the Fiesta website and sign up to be on a balloon chase crew. We thought we missed that sign up window, but it turns out that there was a volunteer tent and some balloons still needed more people to help. So we found the tent and signed up to crew the following day. As a member of the chase crew we got a free volunteer pass for the morning session and spent that whole session helping. We inflated the balloon, chased it, and helped the pilot put the balloon away. It was so much fun!
We even got to ride in the basket, while it was in the truck, hitching a ride back to the field! You can buy various balloon pins at the Fiesta but when you are on a chase crew it is a customary to be given a pin for the balloon you crewed, because you earned it!
We earned two pins this year, one for being on the chase crew for Sonny Boy and another for assisting a pilot in landing and packing his balloon. We are so proud of the pins that we earned!
FAQ for Balloon Fiesta- HERE
For More on the Balloon Fiesta:
Please note these additional blogs and video contain information about our experience at the 50th Balloon Fiesta in 2022, note every year of the Fiesta is slightly different.