Last weekend I had the chance to preview one of the amazing prizes in the Hilton HHonors Seven Tickets to Your Paradise Sweepstakes. The prize package I sampled was Your Ticket to Dine; a remarkable, once in a lifetime trip to Napa Valley. Hilton HHonors sponsored my trip, but the experiences I had were all mine. One of the most amazing parts of the trip was one of my bucket list (if I had one) activities – hot air ballooning.
I’ve wanted to fly in a hot air balloon for a long time. In fact when I was recently in Saskatoon I attempted a flight, but the weather conditions just wouldn’t cooperate. I’m sort of glad it didn’t work out though because the Napa Valley hot air balloon experience was the ride of a lifetime and a perfect introduction to this amazing activity.
The sun wasn’t up yet when we met our hosts at Balloons Above the Valley, although the first rays of sun light were beginning to peek over the surrounding mountains. Hot air balloon flights in Napa are big business and we were joined by at least fifty other people, everyone excited and nervous about the impending adventure. After some much needed coffee, it was time to travel to the launch site where I was met by one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen: a series of gigantic, nearly inflated hot air balloons. Each craft can hold up to sixteen people, but with the number of balloons going up that morning we were able to spread out and relax as we soared into the heavens.
I’m not sure what I expected liftoff to be like exactly, but it was just like one sees in the movies. Without a lot of forewarning we were suddenly gently floating up, away from the grassy field and the other balloons and into the clouds. We quickly reached our cruising altitude of around 2,000 feet and watched as the morning sun spread out across the verdant Napa Valley.
I watched as the other balloons slowly made the same ascent and before I knew it the sky was dotted with balloons of every color floating across the valley. The pilot sailed around, taking us lower to admire the acres of green vineyards and the impressive mansions strewn across the 30-mile long valley. The sensation of carelessly floating with the breeze was amazing and we were graced with a particularly great morning. In the distance we could see San Francisco, or The City as locals call it, and beyond that the bay. Closer in, the Vaca Mountains around Napa seemed like mere dirt mounds from high up in the air and the slowly emerging sun created a constantly shifting array of colors and shadows. Simply said, the experience was amazing.
Prior to the flight I was sure I’d be watching the clock, but the hour seemed like only a few minutes and before I knew it the pilot was preparing for our landing. I was a little nervous about this part, but our able pilot was swift and accurate and we soon touched ground in a large, grassy park. I don’t like bucket lists and I hate thinking of ticking off experiences like it’s a grocery list, but this was different. The balloon flight over Napa truly was a once in a lifetime experience and is worthy of bucket list inclusion. Sure, the hot air balloon ride itself was amazing, but the setting of one of the most beautiful regions in the world superimposed on the experience created something truly magical.
Whether or not you won this great prize with Hilton, whatever you do make sure Napa is firmly entrenched on your must-visit list and that a hot air balloon ride is one of your first experiences when you visit this very special destination.
Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? What did you think?