• Tuesday , 21 November 2017

Up, Up and Away at the QuickCheck NJ Festival of Ballooning

Not all hot air balloons are created equal; a smiley face grabs spectator attention.

Not all hot air balloons are created equal; a smiley face grabs spectator attention.

by Elspeth Misiaszek

Whether you’ve always loved watching these colorful globes float along wind drifts in the sky, or simply envied the romanticized concept of getting carried up, up & away from movies like The Great Oz, the QuickCheck NJ Festival of Ballooning gives you up close and personal access to 100s of  gorgeously colorful hot air balloons.

Nestled off the main drag at the Solberg Airport in Whitehouse Station, NJ, only one dirt road leads visitors between the parking areas. Arrive early to beat the crowds and get a parking space closer to the festivities.

Arrive early to beat the parking rush and find a quiet space on the field.

Arrive early to beat the parking rush and find a quiet space on the field.

Like many festivals, you’ll find a variety of goods for sale. Take an hour to browse through Turkish lamps, jewelry stands, or themed t-shirt tents. Buy the kids hot air balloon souvenirs or take them for a ride on the carousel.

Food vendors are equally varied in their offerings. A soba noodle stand is right down the lane from Greek gyros. Standard fair food including french fries, pizza or funnel cakes are also available.

A PNC sponsored balloon takes flight.

A PNC sponsored balloon takes flight.

What you might not expect, however, is the impressive offering of free samples from the vendors onsite. Coca-Cola, PNC Bank, Wise Snacks, Advil, and Progressive Insurance all join the ranks to give consumers a free taste of their products. (Squatch jerky offered a free T-shirt for checking in on Instagram.)

Munch on chili lime flavored chips while you sip the new half-sweet Snapple ice tea. Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, and M&Ms will fill your sample bag in no time. After you get your fill of sponsored snacking, it’s finally time to hit the field for the ballooning festivities.

A magical ascension, photos can't do it justice.

A magical ascension, photos can’t do it justice.

Consider bringing a family picnic with you for dinner. At the very least, due to the time frame of the balloon release, you’ll want to bring your own blankets and chairs. Adult beverages including wine coolers and a few selections of beer are available for $7 to $9 per drink from a select tent.

Scheduled for 6pm on the itinerary, balloons actually began taking flight closer to 7:30pm, so don’t worry if you’re running a little late from work on a Friday. And this is where the magic happens.

Panda bear balloon takes center stage.

Panda bear balloon takes center stage.

For almost an hour, waves of creative, colorful globes rise magically into the sky, each leaving a trail of swirly heads behind them. From any vantage point on the field, everyone has a great view of the carefully timed launch.

The incredible ascension occurs for about an hour with opportunities to see several extremely creative hot air balloons. A panda bear, Yoda, Darth Vader, tropical fish, and an American flag all took flight. Perhaps the most unique was a dinosaur busting out of his egg.

The setting sun offers a spectacular backdrop to the final balloon launches.

The setting sun offers a spectacular backdrop to the final balloon launches.

If you’re looking for a low-cost family activity, taking the time to attend the NJ Festival of Ballooning is certainly worth the road trip to Whitehouse Station, NJ.

Make a half day of the adventure, or, if you can only come for one hour, watch the mass ascension. There is perhaps nothing more magical than watching these massive balloons drift into the sky amidst the backdrop of the setting sun.

The QuickCheck NJ Festival of Ballooning runs for three days, from Friday to Sunday on the last weekend of July. Admission is $20 per adult. Early birds may purchase tickets for as low as $17 ($7 for children ages 4 to 12) from all 140 QuickCheck locations from Memorial Day onward. Hot air balloon rides are available for an additional fee. Check the website for details on the 2016 event.

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