Light the candles, slice the cake, pop open the champagne and offer up a toast.
It’s the big “5-0” for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Technically, the 50th celebration of the annual event should have been held in 2021, but COVID caused the fiesta to evaporate into the clouds the previous year. When it returned last year for the 49th event, post-pandemic jitters affected attendance, which was down by 9.5%. Even so, the fiesta recorded nearly 784,000 visits.
This year’s event will be from Oct. 1-9, and 648 balloons are registered. Including the United States, 22 countries will be represented: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. All of them have had a presence at fiesta in previous years.
Among the balloons flying this year will be 118 special shape balloons. Always a fan favorite, this year the special shapes will come from 11 countries, with 19 special shape balloons appearing at Balloon Fiesta for the first time. Among them are Tiger, from Australia; Flying Bus and Flying Saucer, both from Brazil; Mister Globie, from Netherlands; Alfred the Carpenter, from Germany; Bravo Bear, from Taiwan; Alien from the United Kingdom; and Party, from the United States.
They will be joining some of the more familiar special shapes, such as Airabelle, the Creamland Dairy cow, Darth Vader from “Star Wars,” and the eyeglass-wearing and winged pig Pigasus.
Competitors in the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race will begin inflating about 2 p.m. on the opening Saturday and are expected to launch around 6 p.m., weather permitting. This year, eight teams have registered for the distance race, including three from the United States, three from Germany, and one each from Poland and France. Last year’s race was the shortest winning distance in the history of the America’s Challenge. The winning team of Noah Forden and Bert Padelt were airborne for 36 hours and 22 minutes and traveled 356 miles before setting down in Big Spring, Texas.
Also returning this year will be the Fiesta de los Globitos, a sort of balloon fiesta within a fiesta. About 85 of the tethered radio-controlled miniature balloons are expected to put on an exhibition on Oct. 2, 5 and 7, from 7:30-11 a.m. Fiesta organizers have their eye on setting a world record for the largest number of remote controlled balloons in the sky at once.
Don’t be misled by the notion of “miniature.” These one-quarter scale models, when inflated with 3,500 cubic feet of air, can stand 20-30 feet tall or more.
Balloons won’t be the only thing worth craning one’s head skyward. Team Fastrax Skydiving will return for two shows at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2, 7 and 8. Spectators will see team members jump from aircraft over the launch field and descend to precise landings.
Balloon Fiesta Park is the largest of Albuquerque’s city parks, and with 365 acres, of which 86 serve as the launch field during fiesta, there will be plenty of space in the park to enjoy some of the more terrestrial offerings during morning and evening sessions. This year there will be more than 80 concessions, half of them food vendors.
Among those new to fiesta will be M&E sales (patio furniture and umbrellas), Photo Brick Show (photographic novelties), Spoonman Creations (art from recycled objects), Extreme Pet Products, Aly’s Taos Eats, Lasyone’s (Louisiana meat pies and fresh beignets) and NaTEAVO Wing Man (specialty teas and coffees). They will be joining some of the longtime returning concessionaires, including Chile Traditions, Chavez New Mexico Foods, Discover Balloons, and Plano Pin Co.
Look for chainsaw carving exhibitions and auctions, the Fiesta of Wheels Car Show, balloon glows, Special Shape Glowdeos and AfterGlow fireworks shows.
This year’s Music Fiesta will be held on Oct. 8 with three top country recording acts. Restless Road takes to the stage at 1 p.m., Lainey Wilson at 2:30 p.m., and Cole Swindell at 4 p.m. A number of ticket and reserve seating packages are available at balloonfiesta.com/Music-Fiesta, or call 855-725-1824. Concert guests can stay and enjoy that evening’s balloon glow and fireworks show.
Glamping, or “glamorous camping,” is also back with 24 slots for people who want to “rough it” in comfortably appointed tents. Located within Balloon Fiesta Park, the glamping site includes access to a restroom and shower trailer, as well as easy access to the launch field. Glamping tents must be rented for three days at a time and the cost ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the number of guests per tent and the size of the beds. For more information, go online to balloonfiesta.com/Glamping.
Another more upscale way to enjoy the action is from the elevated perspective provided by two new fiesta sky boxes. Located at the north end of the park, on the edge of the launch field just off Main Street, the two-level sky boxes accommodate up to 20 people in each. They offer above-the-ground views from the top deck, while the ground floors offer additional seating, dining space (with food prepared by Slate Street Catering), a grassy patio and fire pit. Each sky box rents for $5,000 per session. For further information or to reserve a sky box for a balloon session, go to balloonfiesta.com/Sky-Box.
Visitors can also upgrade their admission ticket to a Chaser’s Club ticket, which offers seating in a private outdoor patio at the edge of the launch field, a stone’s-throw from the Fiesta Sky Box. The upgraded ticket includes a catered meal with beverages, an opportunity to purchase alcoholic beverages and access to private restrooms. Tickets cost $60 and are available at balloonfiesta.com/Chasers-Club.
Particularly popular among people with mobility issues and photography enthusiasts is the Concierge Program, which provides golf cart transportation and a personal concierge driver, premium parking pass, general admission ticket and a Balloon Fiesta gift. The program allows guests an insider’s view of the event, as well as an opportunity to see fiesta unfold from multiple angles. Participants can stop to shop with vendors and end their session with a visit to the Balloon Museum.
The cost for the service is $350 per session for up to two guests; $400 per session for up to three guests, and $450 per session, for up to four guests – which is the maximum per golf cart. To purchase tickets, go to balloonfiesta.com/Concierge-Program.