The WRAL Balloon Festival in Zebulon, NC

If it flies, it will probably get my attention.  When I was at Sun n’ Fun earlier this year, they were scheduled for a balloon launch early one morning.  I’d never seen a hot air balloon up close and I wanted to photograph them.  The pictures I’ve seen are so beautiful, so I thought it would be amazing to get a chance to see them.  I got up early and got my camera ready and never saw a balloon.

What I found to photo instead.

What I found to photo instead.

I decided at that point, to find out if there were any balloon activities near me in Charlotte when I returned.  Coincidentally, a local magazine was in the mail when we returned from Florida and on the last pages are North Carolina events for the month, and there was a balloon fest advertised.  I quickly looked up the link and started making plans to attend.  There were two listed, one in Raleigh and one in Zebulon.  I chose Zebulon, because it was in the middle of nowhere at a plantation.  It sounded like the perfect location for my first balloon event.

I learned a little about ballooning and their dependence on weather, just like flying planes.  They were scheduled for balloon racing and activities early Saturday morning.  Upon arrival, we were told that the winds were too high and they would not be doing any ballooning till probably about three in the afternoon.  So, we left and returned promptly at three.


We got there early and set up on the front near where it looked like they would be setting up the balloons on a hilltop.  An array of North Carolina foods and beverages were available on the grounds.  It looked like we pulled up to an old farm plantation.  It had a large pond with a beautiful gazebo over the water. We brought chairs and a quilt so that we could be comfortable hanging out for a bit.


I couldn’t believe how much work went into setting up a balloon.  It took two to three people to unload the baskets.  The fabric of the balloon was then pulled by at least two people to a distance about the length of the balloon while dragging it to lay it out flat.  It was then connected to the basket while on it’s side, and several people helped open it up and a large fan was blown to get air into it.  Once it got started good, the heat was blown into the balloon. Watching it rise was amazing.  It definitely takes team work to get these beauties into the air.

The first balloon was filled and they played the National Anthem.  We all stood up, covered our hearts with our hands and sang along as the flag was raised overhead by the balloon.  What a beautiful site it was to see.


One by one, balloons all over the field started popping up in an array of beautiful colors.  The loud swishing of the gas heating the balloons to fill them was everywhere.


I’ve never seen such vivid colors displayed on such a large backdrop.  It was incredible to see it come alive.



They began blowing up the balloons around six in the evening.  They tethered several to begin giving excited and anxiously waiting guests, rides in a hot air balloon.

I had thought seriously about giving it a go the days leading up to the event.  Why not?  The line started at three in the afternoon for rides and by six you couldn’t tell where the line ended.  Who knew so many people would be interested in balloon flying? I chose to sit and watch the activities rather than wait in the really long line in the very hot sun for three to four hours. Maybe another time I’ll go.

Many people waited for a limited amount of available rides, but the ones that were patient, were rewarded with an adventure.  I saw glowing faces and excited customers taking lots of pictures as they looked like they truly enjoyed that little glimpse of balloon flying.

There was a lady celebrating her 99th birthday, riding for the first time.  A World War II veteran taking his first ride.  Families and friends gathered around the balloons and one by one, they worked their way into the baskets and joy was spread.




The red balloon above is a very special balloon, not that they aren’t all special, but this one, it’s specially designed with a door.  The others you have to have a ladder or steps to pull yourself into the basket.  Not this balloon basket, it opens like a door and has a ramp.  It took the WWII veteran and his wife up.  It took the birthday girl up.  It took a handicapped young man in a wheelchair up.  How marvelous to be able to provide special people an opportunity to experience something for the first time by giving them access they wouldn’t normally have available.  I was overwhelmed watching the very special people that rode in this wonderful balloon for what is probably a once in a lifetime event.  I was privileged to  see it all.

Me and Jason enjoying the view.

Me and Jason enjoying the view.

An FAA rule for balloons is that they have to be on the ground by 8:30pm, so rides ended promptly to comply.

As it began to get dark, more balloons popped up deeper in the field, until there were twenty beautiful balloons a glow in all.  They were scheduled for a night glow presentation next.  Not only have I not see balloons in person, I’ve never seen a night glow and I had no idea what to expect.



What transpired was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The announcer would have them all glow at once for a few seconds and other times, he’d have them glow intermittently.  It was beautiful to see, and I did my best to try and capture what we were seeing.




It was a long, hot day that turned into a beautiful cool evening with an incredible show by the balloon pilots.  I enjoyed this so much that I can’t wait to see another.

Be sure and check out events near where you live, it’s worth experiencing even if you don’t go up.  It was an amazing day, and an adventure we won’t soon forget.


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