It’s a toss-up whether the Villages Balloon Festival is more enjoyable from the ground or the air. From below, you can see hundreds of colorful shapes painting pictures in the sunny sky. From above, cradled inside a gently hovering hot-air balloon, you can see miles of gorgeous Florida landscape.
What Is the Villages Balloon Festival?
The Villages Balloon Festival is quickly becoming one of the world’s best-known gatherings of balloon enthusiasts. This annual event takes place at the Villages Polo Club in Central Florida.
The festival site is about 20 miles south of Ocala and 60 miles northwest of Orlando. It’s just east of Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike.
When Does the Villages Balloon Festival Take Place?
Excellent weather is one of the important keys to launching a world-class balloon festival. That’s why organizers plan it for early in the year after winter has passed and before the hurricane season sets in.
The dates for the 2023 Villages Balloon Festival are February 3 and 4.
How Much Does It Cost to Attend the Villages Balloon Festival?
No matter how much careful planning goes into it, the weather conditions will always be somewhat uncertain. To avoid having to give last-minute refunds, they don’t offer advance ticket sales.
Admission is cash only on the day of the event. The cost is $25 for those who are 12 and older. Children 11 and under get in free.
Paying at the gate allows you to view the balloons and enjoy the festival’s other activities. There’s no seating, so be sure and bring comfy chairs or a blanket to spread out on the grounds.
Once the parking lot fills up, the festival has reached its capacity. They don’t allow walk-in traffic and, for safety reasons, you can’t park along the road just to view the balloons.
In addition, outside food and drinks are prohibited. The only animals allowed in are service animals.
Can You Ride in a Hot Air Balloon at the Festival?
Expert pilots are in control of the balloons, but festival visitors can take to the air, too.
Tethered balloon rides are one of the most popular features at the festival. They are extremely safe and give even novice participants a feel for the sport.
These are low-altitude balloon rides, usually 40 feet off the ground or less. Rather than flying freely, the balloons remain connected to the ground by weights, ropes, and cables.
These tethered rides do cost extra and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
What Happens at the Villages Balloon Festival?
Visiting the balloon festival means keeping your eyes on the skies, but there are plenty of attractions on the ground, too. Here’s a little bit of what you can expect when you attend.
Balloons take to the air off and on starting in the morning, engaging in various competitions throughout the day. The breathtaking Balloon Glow happens at sunset and serves as a fitting end to each day’s events. That’s when all of the balloons take to the air, filling the skies with unforgettable blazes of color.
Younger visitors to the festival will probably flock to this area in particular. The Fun Zone is where kids of all ages can run wild and play together.
There are slides, inflatable toys, and more traditional games like corn hole, checkers, and table tennis. There’s usually a caricature artist on hand, along with face painters.
Arts and crafts vendors are always a mainstay at outdoor events like these in Central Florida. Expect to find a variety of artistic creations for sale, including visual art, handmade jewelry, and boutique-style clothing. It’s always fun to check out what’s inside every outdoor booth on what they call Vendor Row.
Want something to munch on? Follow the tantalizing aromas to the aptly named area called “Fly Me to the Food.” That’s where you’ll find a variety of sweet and savory snacks and lunch options
In past years, the offerings have included specialty donuts and smoothies, panini sandwiches, gourmet hot dogs, and tangy barbecue.
Bottoms Up Boulevard
This is the name of the beer garden area, located at the south end of the festival grounds. Enjoy a nice selection of beers and wines and chill with other festival-goers underneath the balloon-filled skies.
There’s also a full-service bar under the main pavilion. Remember that you must be at least 21 to buy or consume alcohol.
If you’re a nomad searching for community, check out the Open Roads Van Life Festival.
How Can You Get Involved With the Villages Balloon Festival?
It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to help this community event get off the ground year after year. If you’re so inclined, there are a few different ways you can help.
Maybe you’d like to lend a hand as one of the festival staff. Depending on your range of skills, you could help out with parking, taking tickets, or supervising the Fun Zone. You may be better suited for checking credentials at the VIP tent or helping to inflate the balloons.
Shifts are four hours, and you have to be at least 18. Experience isn’t required, but you may need to attend a training session.
Many area businesses appreciate the exposure they get by partnering with the festival as official sponsors. The companies have included car dealerships, hotels, health care providers, and many more.
Their brands have a physical presence at the event itself, on the festival’s website, and in other marketing materials.
Be a Vendor
The festival’s success depends greatly on the quality of the vendors that set up booths. That may mean you.
Do you have a business to promote? Are you involved in creating arts and crafts or food and beverages? This could be a perfect match.
Is the Villages Balloon Festival Worth Attending?
Even if you have little interest in high-flying hot-air balloons, the Villages Balloon Festival pretty much has something for everyone. There’s a sense of community here, a carnival midway atmosphere, and even live music performers.
If you’re in the area, attending this friendly weekend event is certainly worth your time. You’ll no doubt learn more about the ups and downs and ins and outs of ballooning. It’s also a wonderful way to experience the beautiful weather Central Florida enjoys most of the year.
If you do decide to visit, don’t get in a hurry. You’ll want to make sure you’re comfortably in place for the magnificent main event, the Balloon Glow, which happens at nightfall.
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