Have you ever been dragged by your significant other to go somewhere you didn’t want to go - only to be pleasantly surprised that you actually had fun? Well that’s what happened as we went to the 37th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
And in case you’re wondering QuickChek is a chain of convenience stores / gas stations. It’s kind of a big deal in NJ!
ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
According to their website http://www.balloonfestival.com/info/overview
The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning is the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America and is the premiere family entertainment attraction in New Jersey. It holds the dual distinction of being a recipient of The New Jersey Governor's Award for Best Special Event, as well as being designated, for the 6th time, as a Top 100 Festival in North America by the American Bus Association.
From twice daily mass ascensions of up to 100 special shape and sport hot air balloons, to headlining concerts, non-stop family entertainment, hundreds of crafters and vendors, great food, fireworks, a balloon glow, and more, the festival is jam-packed with stuff to do.
I don’t know about the “jam-packed with stuff to do” part unless you want to pig out and check out a bunch of marketing booths. I don’t want to call anyone out but let’s say someone in our party amassed tons of free snacks and marketing junk and it was a bit embarrassing - LOL.
The annual event takes place at the Solberg Airport in Readington NJ (which is about a little bit over an hour from Times Square in Manhattan). Parking is $10 and be prepared to walk!
Against my wife’s better judgement she decided to wear flip flops (sandals for the uninitiated). You’ll be doing most of your walking on grass so keep this in mind!
HOW MUCH ARE THE TICKETS?
Early bird $24, super saver $30 and at the gate $35. We actually got a deal via Groupon about a month ahead of time and got 2 tickets for $56 bucks.
WHAT GEAR DID I BRING?
Since many of you came to my site to learn about photography and perhaps get inspired I'm sure many of you are wondering what kit did I bring.
Well let’s first talk about what I didn’t bring. I would have LOVED to bring my drone but it wouldn’t be responsible to do so. Even though the AirMap app showed flying a drone in that area would have been (legally) ok. But the last thing I need is for my drone to have a technical difficulty only to have it crash into a balloon.
I figured if I saw at least a drone or two perhaps next year I’d consider it - but I didn’t see any in the air. I could however rationalize flying my drone by keeping it a safe distance and keeping it away from people and the balloons but in life it’s best to avoid any drama.
So to answer your question - for my camera, I had my trusty Canon 5d Mark iii. I didn’t feel like bringing several lenses (like an ultra-wide and medium telephoto) so I decided to just bring my 70-200mm lens to get tight shots.
BUZZ IN THE AIR
We arrived at 6am and I’d say around 6:30 the balloons started to take flight. There was a definite buzz in the air as you can feel the excitement and anticipation.
The best I can compare this experience it’s much like going to watch fireworks. The idea of it sounds boring but where you’re there it’s really tons of fun!
If you’d like to learn how to take photos of fireworks you can click on the image below.
I think having a sound system playing music definitely helped set the tone. There was also a narrator educating the crowd about the world of hot air ballooning. And speaking of music there were two songs that had me smiling.The first being “Up Up and Away” as it was beyond fitting - LOL!
The second being “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood. It boggles my mind how people go crazy for this song as I find it kind cringe worthy. But people love it and start sining out loud whenever it’s played.
If you don’t know the song I’m talking about you can check it out below. Just be warned - it’s the type of song that will cause an earworm (An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (IMI) is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing).
And in case you're wondering there were at least 2 patriotic balloons...
The following series of photos don’t need much of an explanation as they speak for themselves. If you want to get into the spirt play the “Up Up and Away” song in the background and check out my photos…
HOW MUCH ARE THE HOT AIR BALLON RIDES?
My wife had an absolute blast on the $20 tethered balloon ride. So much so that it looks like I’m going to have to treat her to a balloon ride next year.
But the real rides (if memory serves me) costs about $240 for the morning rides and $270 for the afternoon. And although it may sound like a lot - it is LOL! I say this because I was expecting for the rides to be well over an hour but in reality it was an hour - at best. Perhaps if they went a bit farther and lasted longer I’d say it’d be worth the money.
Plus in case you’re wondering it turns out that while you’re in the balloon it’s super loud and HOT HOT HOT!
WOULD I GO AGAIN?
I gauge places and events by asking myself “would I’d go again?”. And in this case I definitely would! As corny as it sounds balloon festivals are fun - at least if you like taking photos and if it’s close to home.It turns out that the largest hot air balloon festival in the world is in Albuquerque New Mexico. It’s a 9 day event and apparently there’s over 500 balloons each year!I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to attend - but if I were in the area I’d check it out.
HOT TIP (NO PUN INTENDED)
You don’t technically need to pay admission to enjoy the balloons. You can technically pay the $10 for parking and observe them from the parking lot with. But if you like carnival type food, shopping and getting a lot of free marketing stuff then definitely give it a shot!On a final note, here's a cellphone video I captured while at the festival...
🖥 [email protected]
I'm available in New York City, New Jersey, Boston and worldwide!