Every year, there is a weekend in September that is filled with hot air and lots of color. The Plano Balloon Fest has become a very large event for the City of Plano. (For those not from DFW, it’s pronounced “Play-no”). Despite having lived mere miles from the event, I had never been before. I made up for that by going two evenings in a row.
Peter and I went on the Friday afternoon, hoping to watch the evening balloon launch. We arrived just after 4pm and parked at the nearby Methodist church. (Note: this will cost you ~$15). The Balloon Fest takes place Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve. The city blocks off Spring Creek Parkway between Jupiter Rd and Parker Rd for the event, so there is a large area for food vendors and others to set up booths.
This will be a photo-heavy post, FYI. Click on the photos to see larger versions.
Here’s what I recommend… If you want a good spot right on the perimeter of the launch field, get there early (usually a couple of hours before each launch) to stake out your spot. Lots of people brought collapsible chairs, blankets, coolers, etc. Peter and I had none of these things, so we stood right against the flag fence. This was of course AFTER we had walked the vendor area and noshed on some BBQ and fried pies. Yum!
There was live music on the stage, as well as an emcee keeping everyone in the loop on the schedule of events. I use the word “schedule” loosely though because both days I went, things were running about 20-30 minutes late. You’ll see why this is a problem in a moment.
The skydivers were scheduled for 5:30pm, but it was about 20 minutes later that they actually arrived. This in turn pushed back the balloon launch. Without getting into all the specific regulations, hot air balloons have to launch about 30 minutes before sunset or not launch at all so they have adequate time to fly and then land. Once the skydivers had arrived, there was a balloon crew meeting, and then the crews were allowed to start setting up for launch. At this point it was nearly 6:30pm. The cutoff time for launch was 6:40pm. A few crews raced to get setup, but in the end only two balloons got off the ground.
As you can imagine, only seeing two balloons launch was a bit of a disappointment. I am sure there is a lot of behind the scenes info that the public isn’t privy to, but crews know how long it takes to set up their balloon and the launch cutoff time. It just felt like some of them didn’t really care about the launch or the hundreds of people waiting and watching. Peter and I left not long after. I have heard that the Balloon Glow after dark is amazing, so in the future, I will be checking that out.
Understanding my disappointment, my husband, AK, offered to join me for the Saturday evening launch. The park was PACKED with people, so make sure you bring your patience. Having learned from the previous evening, AK and I went in with a couple of chairs and a small cooler to keep comfortable while we waited for launch. With this being our first year to attend, I have no idea if the schedule slip is normal but it happened both nights I went. I will say that Saturday night was far more enjoyable because about six or seven balloons launched.
AK and I picked a spot right by the In Touch Credit Union balloon, so we got a really good view of them setting up and then launching. It was very interesting to watch.
I was hoping to see Annie the Ladybug launch because I am a ladybug fanatic, but sadly she ran out of time. I think her crew stuck around for the Balloon Glow event.
Tickets for Balloon Fest are $5 per person, and young kids are free. Bring cash as that makes paying for parking, tickets, and concessions that much smoother. I highly recommend the sausage on a stick and Fried Pies from the Ye Ole Butcher stand. Delicious! They are a Downtown Plano staple. Again, bringing chairs or blankets wouldn’t hurt, and arrive about 2 hours before launch time to grab your viewing spot. Be considerate and patient as there is a mass of humanity. Walking back to our car took a very long time for such a short distance!
Next year, I want to come for a morning launch. Despite some initial disappointment, the Balloon Fest turned out to be a really fun event. Mother Nature gave us low winds and beautiful skies for the weekend.