This article was written by Kenny & Sabrina Phillips for WinnebagoLife. Please note that, aside from their WIT discount, they paid full price for this experience and were simply asked to share about it. This is their honest evaluation of this trip.
In our recent article about transitioning from full-time to part-time RV travel, we mentioned one of the big changes was that when we take our RV out now it feels more like a vacation. Well, we just came back from a fantastic RV vacation made possible by Fantasy RV Tours who has partnered with Winnebago to offer Winnebago Outdoor Adventures for owners.
The Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM, has been on our bucket list of things to experience for over five years, but the timing has never worked out until this year. Now that we had the opportunity to experience this event, we wanted to make sure we did it right!
We first heard about Fantasy RV Tours at a Winnebago Rally and thought they only did big multi-week caravans, but after speaking with them, we discovered they also did rally style trips where everyone meets at a single location and stays in one site for a few days. We were happy to learn that one of these trips was the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
When Sabrina and I found out that Fantasy RV Tours offered this trip specifically for Winnebago owners, and that we could get a discount with our WIT membership, we called to book one full year in advance to make sure we could have a spot at this very popular event.
After we booked the trip and paid a deposit, we were updated throughout the year with things like welcome packets, an itinerary, directions, and a reminder to pay the balance of the trip ninety days prior to the start of the event. Then it was time to set off for the trip itself!
Arriving at the Balloon Fiesta with Fantasy RV Tours
We followed the directions provided by Fantasy RV Tours to the south lot and, just as the directions stated, there were ambassadors in blue shirts waving us down to direct us to our site. They were so excited to greet us and had huge smiles on their faces as they welcomed us to the Balloon Fiesta.
This was so well organized, with one ambassador at the front gate to greet us and instruct us to just continue down the road to the next ambassador in the golf cart, who then guided us right to our spot and helped us back-in. This process could not have been any easier to get settled in and set up.
One of the first things we noticed as a perk is that we had thirty-amp service at our spot. We knew we would have this going into the show but didn’t realize it was something that was only provided to us as guests of Fantasy RV Tours. Everyone else around us in the south lot appeared to be running on personal generators or their solar and battery systems. We thought this was an excellent perk for us and felt very comfortable being able to plug in and run our A/C to start cooling down our RV.
The way Fantasy RV Tours was able to accomplish this was by having large, industrial-sized generators brought in that could power several RVs at time. These generators were very quiet, but just to be sure none of the guests were bothered by the sound of them, they had their ambassadors park around them to block the sound even more.
When I say they thought of everything, they really did. There was a time when one of the generators broke down and Fantasy RV Tours had another one delivered on site and had it up and running in just over an hour. This all happened early in the event and from that point on we knew we were in good hands.
Once we were all set up and settled in, we went to the Fantasy RV Tours/Winnebago Outdoor Adventures hospitality tent where we were able to check in and get registered for the show. We received name badges, museum passes, field passes, and a list of must do’s while at the show. We really liked how they had all the days planned out with more than we could possibly do, this way you can pick and choose what you wanted to attend and what to skip. It’s probably also an easy way to come up with an excuse to do this event again.
You would think on the day of arrival there really wouldn’t be much planned or things to do, but Fantasy RV Tours already had a social meetup planned to get to know other attendees. It’s probably worth noting that this meetup was accompanied with an open bar which stayed open during dinner as well. This was also our first taste of the food that we would be treated to for the week, and it was great. They did a buffet-style meal with servers, and you were allowed to go back for seconds.
This first night we enjoyed a Southwestern menu with plenty of options that even met the needs of our picky pallets. We have some food allergies that usually make it difficult for us to find things to eat, but the meals continued to work out great for us. After dinner, we had live entertainment from a local trio band called Las Flores De Valle. Some of their songs were in Spanish which made Sabrina happy as she has been taking a lot of Spanish lessons lately. All the songs were very lively, and the band was a joy to listen to.
Never a Dull Moment at the Balloon Fiesta
Our first full day at the event was certainly a fun one, Fantasy RV Tours had arranged shuttles to pick us up and take us to the Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival where we were able to browse a collection of different types of artwork ranging from sculptures, pottery, paintings, jewelry, and wood working. There were also food vendors and culinary arts tent that offered samples of their gourmet treats.
The great thing about this show is that you were able to meet the artists and chat with them about their work, we even got to see some of their creation processes in person. We were very impressed with all the talent at this show and ended up buying some unique hand-crafted gifts for my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. We also picked up some items for ourselves – oh the joys of having a class A with plenty of storage to transport goodies back home!
However, day three of this event was the first official day of the Balloon Fiesta (and probably what you all clicked this article to find out more about!). Sabrina and I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to jump on the shuttle which took us down to the main field. I know this sounds early, but we highly recommend that you wake up early at least one day to be on the field before the sun comes up to watch the Dawn Patrol set up and take off.
The Balloon Fiesta allows you to walk among all the pilots and balloons getting as close as you like without physically disturbing any of the crew. You can usually chat with them as they set up and take as many photos and videos as you’d like. The baskets are all in a row and as they inflate the balloons (also known as envelopes) they begin to glow and put on a show. You are literally in the middle of it all and it is magical to see. It is hard to put into words and, to be honest, our videos and photos do not do it justice either.
Between the glow of the balloons and the sound of the thrusters, we were in complete awe and could not stop smiling. The Dawn Patrol took off just shortly after 6:00 am and flew directly over us, so keep in mind when you do plan to go down to the field to be there as early as you can to catch the prep and take off … you really do not want to miss it.
We then started to look for a good spot to watch what was called the mass ascension, where roughly 640 balloons go up. This is done in waves and being on the field meant it was happening all around us. We have always heard good things about this event and never knew why it received so much attention until this point of the show. It was amazing to watch all these balloons take off and, although we were very excited, there was a calming, peacefulness about it as well. As I think back to that morning and write these words, I have a big grin on my face. This was an experience that I will cherish forever.
After a considerable number of balloons went up, we went back to the RV to check on our dog Belle and were pleasantly surprised to see the balloons were flying directly over our RV. We brought Belle out thinking she would be as amazed as we were, but she was not. We tried to point them out to her, but she was too busy being happy that we came back.
We then took out our folding chairs from the RV and sat to watch the balloons sail over us. They were so silent as they went over that it almost looked like they were propelled by magic. This is where we spent most of the rest of our mornings watching balloons. I would wake up, go to the hospitality tent to grab a hot tea and breakfast, then bring it back to the RV and watch the balloons sail by. I honestly think we had the best seats in the house.
Now let’s talk about how and where the balloons would land. There is an area by the campsite called “the box” and this is located right by the Fantasy RV Tours hospitality tent which is also right by where all the RV guests are parked for the experience. The box is where the balloons try to land, and I say try because apparently it is not so easy to set a balloon down exactly where you want it since it depends on wind and weather conditions.
It was great fun to watch these pilots try to land in this area. They also have what is known as chase crews that try to help bring the balloons safely down to the ground and secure them. This to me was the most exciting part of the event because very rarely did the landings go smoothly. I saw chase teams get dragged on the ground as they tried to stop the balloon, baskets tipping over, and pilots doing their best to make their landings look as graceful as possible. Watching the balloons land just yards away from our RV was definitely my favorite part of the show.
Weather Woes to Consider
Like any show that is weather dependent, having calm good days is a must. Add in the fact that these balloons have limited control in the direction they go once in the air, you can imagine it does not take much for them to be grounded. We unfortunately had several days of high wind and not ideal weather. So, my advice if you want to be on the field to watch Dawn Patrol, is to go as soon as you can because you never know when a day of flying will be canceled.
Now the flip side to all of this is, because we were on a Fantasy RV Tours, they still had plenty of trips and activities planned for us, such as a day in Old Town where we had lunch, shopped, and walked through the streets checking out the architecture and gardens of the city.
They also had a balloon pilot come visit the hospitality tent and he set up his basket for display then gave us a presentation of how everything worked and answered all our questions about flying a hot air balloon. They also had trips planned to the Turquoise Museum, Balloon Fiesta Museum, and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
We had a happy hour every night followed by dinner, and on the last night, they brought in another wonderful trio band led by Syd Masters, who is the writer and singer of the Official State Cowboy Song of New Mexico. These dinners and happy hours were a great time to get to know the people who were on the trip with us, and we certainly made some new friends while there.
Fantasy RV Tours also made sure we were always comfortable and taken care of by offering trash pickup at our RV every morning, complimentary freshwater fill-up, and pump out of our holding tanks at the halfway point of the event. We were also able to visit the hospitality tent every morning where they offered a continental breakfast.
I would really be doing a disservice to Fantasy RV Tours if I did not mention again how wonderful the ambassadors were. They treated us like gold – offering to pick us up in their golf carts to take us anywhere on the grounds and greeting us with smiles as well as pleasant conversation every day.
Was Attending the Balloon Fiesta with Fantasy RV Tours Worth It?
We were asked if the Fantasy RV Tours Balloon Fiesta experience was worth it and I think the best way we can answer this is to say that we just booked two more trips with them, one in 2023 and one for 2024. We had an absolute blast at this event, and we believe that Fantasy RV Tours elevated (pun intended) this bucket-list experience. I think an interaction that I had with a non-tour guest puts all of this into perspective, when I had mentioned to her that I was glad to be able to run my A/C in the middle of the day to keep our dog cool, she replied “you had A/C out here? It must be nice!”
So much happened in these seven days and we are happy to say that we did not plan any of it. We just showed up and enjoyed it all. This was truly an RV vacation, and we look forward to our next outing with Fantasy RV Tours when we visit Mexico for a wine and dine tour.