Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a tenacious, glass half full kind of gal…but I’m also a realist. And what happened at last years’ Turf Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival in Howard County, MD should never happen again. Don’t get me wrong, the whole hot air balloon thing was an amazing bucket list experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but some kinks MUST absolutely be worked out first.The festival spanned over 3 days, Thursday-Saturday. Thursday was perfect, hot and sunny, but the weathermen predicted rain for Friday and Saturday. A whole lot of it. Naturally, our thoughts (and apparently everyone else’s) were to attend the festival on Thursday. No brainer.
No one could’ve predicted Thursday’s turnout, but it was epic. An epic fail is more like it! By the time we pulled into Howard County fairgrounds’ designated parking area, the lot was completely filled. The idea was to have everyone park at the fairgrounds and then shuttle them over to the hot air balloon launching area, which was several miles away. Hundreds of tourists lined up along the road in hopes of catching the next shuttle to the festival grounds.
A policeman standing in the middle of the road bluntly turned cars away…including us! I’m not going to lie, I was crushed, but could tell the policeman wasn’t going to change his mind no matter how much I begged.
As we drove past the parade of tourists in the shuttle bus line, they pointed at all the rejected cars, laughing. I felt bad for our own predicament, but mostly for the out-of-towners. (I saw license plates from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, and further). What a travesty!
If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve felt bad for the hecklers too, because unbeknownst to them, they were waiting for a shuttle bus that would never come. (Apparently the shuttle buses had cut off service for picking up passengers and were now transporting folks from the festival back to their cars).How ironic. These folks PAID good money for a parking space, but never made it to the festival. Never saw a hot-air balloon. Not even one. And here we were without a parking space, but made it to the festival.
Here is where the story gets interesting. As locals, we navigated through neighborhoods and found a nice spot on the side of the road. I saw one colossal balloon rise over the treetops, then another, and another, and then a whole cluster of them rose high into the clouds, flying right over our VIP roadside seats. What a spectacular view! Stunning. Majestic. A pure visual delight, like looking at a double rainbow arched across the sky.
As daylight faded and the evening sky set in, a massive exodus of shuttle buses departed the festival grounds, taking folks back to their cars. Maybe this was our chance to enter the festival legitimately.
We tried driving directly up to the entrance, but a police officer blocked the way. We obviously entered a restricted area. He gestured for us to turn our car around but also walked up to our car, discreetly, and told us where we could find free parking a block away, and then walk to the festival.
Sometimes it pays to be tenacious! We were able to get into the festival free of charge and took these great night shots. We had a fabulous time.
As a side note, when we left the festival, we passed long lines of impatient people waiting for the shuttle to get them back to their cars. It was like Deja vu.
If you plan on attending the festival this year, it will be held on May 18-20, 2017. It is so worth it, but plan according. (Hopefully the parking/shuttle issues will be resolved)
If You Go: Address: 2700 Turf Valley Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042. There is plenty of food and drink vendors so make sure to bring cash. There is also live entertainment, clothing, and arts & crafts vendors on hand as well. Make sure to stick around for the evening balloon glow (Thursday & Friday at dusk), where the balloons are fired up and glow on the ground. Balloon rides (where you take off into the sky) cost $225.00 per person for a 30-45 minute ride. This must be booked in advance. Tethered balloon rides for 2 minutes cost $20.00 for adults and $10.00 for kids 12 and under. Walk through balloons cost $3.00 per person.
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Kimberly is the owner of Travel Kimestry. Her areas of expertise include The Bahamas, The Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe and ALL THINGS DISNEY. She’s passionate about working with families who enjoy traveling the world. She looks forward to working with YOU soon!