When I'm back home in the office, the left side of my brain often gets the best of me. It says things like "be responsible" or "don't do that, it doesn't look safe".
But when I go on vacation, I let the right side of my brain out for a bit. This is the part of me that says "come on, don't be a wimp!" Maybe it's the vacation spirit, maybe it's just the alcohol, but I always try to find one adventure that's sure to surprise the folks back home. But what else can you do in Napa besides wine tasting?. Petrified forest? Silly geyser? Shopping??
No, not for me. But how about a Hot Air Balloon ride?
I did my research before jumping in a hot air balloon basket and it all came down to this - what celebrity endorsement did I trust the most? You might think that this is a silly way to pick a company that's going to fly you into the air without a parachute, but I figure that a big celebrity isn't going to pick a fly by night company run by the Three Stooges! Hey, it works for me.
Should I go with Giada from Food TV? Nah, I go with Oprah. I mean, if she picks the wrong hot air balloon company and there's going to be hell to pay if she crashes! And who did she pick as the best? None other than Napa Valley Balloons. Good enough for Oprah, good enough for me - and that means good enough for you!
EARLY MORNING START
Now before you get all excited, I have to tell you something. These hot air balloon flights start early! I'm talking about getting there before the sunrise! Holy Mr. Coffee, Batman, that's really early. Thankfully the adventure starts with lots of coffee and a continental breakfast at a nearby restaurant. (Note: Too much coffee before a flight is also not a good thing as there are no bathrooms on the basket!)
We're soon off to the launch location where the colorful hot air balloons are laying limp on the ground - but not for long. Giant blasts of fire shoot into the balloons, inflating them quicker than a double dose of Viagra, and soon the butterflies in my stomach kick in with a mix of excitement and nervousness.
At least that's what I thought I was going to say. But surprisingly, once the hot air balloon got in the air it was smooth and calm. All thoughts of tossing my cookies onto the people below went out the window the second we were up in the air. Surprisingly calm, everyone had giant grins on their faces as we got higher than Jim Morrison at a Doors concert. Don't let the fear of being airsick stop you. It just doesn't happen.
The ascend into the sky was nothing short of breathtaking. The baskets are big enough to hold 12 people, but Napa Valley Balloons tries to limit that number to a more comfortable level. We only had 10 on our flight, giving us plenty of elbow room.
A few minutes later and we're high in the sky, 2,000 feet above the earth and then... POOF.... quiet. The engine off, we're floating on the proverbial cloud. It's as close as any of us are going to get to flying like a bird. In fact, it's better than being a bird because there's no wing flapping! So it's like a bird in a hot air balloon. Peaceful, calm, it's almost Zen-like as we float over the Napa Valley vineyards, over the wineries, over the poor people on the Wine Train.
Napa Valley Balloons has been around for a long time, and it shows. Incorporated in 1980, Napa Valley Balloons was one of the pioneers in Napa's hot air balloon industry. This is a good thing to know, especially when you're 2,000 feet above the ground!
We flew from the top of the tree tops to "holy crap" level. While I liked being closer to the ground (left brain again) and being able to wave to people, I also liked being high in the sky (right brain) and seeing Napa like I had never seen it before. No one on our flight felt airsick, no one wanted to get off, no one was wishing it would end.
An hour in the sky and we began to descend. This is when you want a pilot who knows what he is doing. Our flight calmly set back down to the ground near a vineyard and everyone applauded as we touched the ground. After that it was off to a champagne breakfast where everyone kicked back and patted themselves on the back for doing something truly adventurous.
If lately you've found yourself playing it a bit too "safe" and life has gotten a bit too predictable, then you owe it to yourself to get back into the game and get into a hot air balloon! And in Napa, there's no one better than Napa Valley Balloons. I did it, and so can you!
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SPRING 2013: Thank you everyone for making this one of the most popular sites on Napa. Very cool.
The big Napa news is that we now have our own online store called Napa Valley Home & Garden. We're bringing the best of Napa Farmhouse living right to your home. Check it out - we're open for business!