BRISTOL BALLOON FIESTA – LUXURY STYLE
Bristol balloon fiesta has been one of the major players on Bristol’s summer annual events calendar for as long as I can remember and I’ve written lots about it in previous articles:-
Established in the late seventies, it’s the biggest event of its type in Europe, attracting half a million visitors and 2000 balloonists from around the world. It’s free to enter and it runs for four days splat bang in the middle of the school holidays, which all make it a strong contender for a summer holiday family day out.
As a Bristolian I’m well versed in visiting the fiesta. I’ve been many times as a regular punter, queuing for everything from food, the beer tent, the loos and finally the exit! As a student, I directed traffic to earn a few quid, sporting a fetching high viz tabard. In recent years I’ve enjoyed the chaos of the press area, coupled with the luxury of wi-fi, a place to charge my phone and the spectacular photo opportunities which accompany access to the arena, but this year was different again and we had the best visit ever.
HOW TO HAVE THE BEST DAY
Now we’ve had our most enjoyable balloon fiesta ever, I’m going to share my brand new five step programme with you so you too can have a top day at the balloon fiesta.
STEP 1: WANGLE AN INVITATION INTO THE MEMBER’S ENCLOSURE.
OK, it may not be immediately obvious how you’re going to do this but there are a number of ways you could go about it and remember, you have almost a year to work on this.
- You could check out the prolific fiesta publicity and schmooze with the brands who are already members.
- If you work for a company you could try to persuade them to buy a membership package, explaining to them the amazing kudos and publicity they’ll receive in return.
- You could give up your day job and become a full-time blogger and influencer and after a few years of working approximately 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, wait for an invitation to drop into your inbox.
Ok let’s assume you’ve followed one of those steps successfully. I went for the last option and a few weeks ago Practically Perfect Mums received an invitation to spend a day in the members’ enclosure as guests of Red Letter Days who offer hot air balloon experiences.
To be honest when the invitation arrived we had no idea of the benefits on offer in the members enclosure but it didn’t sound too shabby so we accepted and opted to go on the Saturday as it worked well for the husband who has a proper job plus it’s a good day for children’s activities.
STEP 2: BE PREPARED AND CHECK BEFORE YOU GO!
Marital relations would have been strained to say the least had we busted a gut to arrive at 5.45 am only to learn that it was too windy for any balloon action. Check the weather forecast the night before and keep an eye on the official twitter feed for launch updates and notifications.
I’m guessing you won’t forget to take your camera or camera phone but remember to take a spare battery pack if you have one. There’s so much to photograph and video it’s easy to run out of power. Because I did some Facebook Live video and an Instagram story I also ran out of data so you might like to use it more wisely than I did or be ready to buy some more!
Take a picnic blanket and food to save a few pounds. Be prepared for the weather with sun hats, sun cream or rain coats. Our normal uniform for English summer outings is shorts, T-shirt, sunhat, a fleece and/or raincoat tied around the waist if there’s a possibility of rain or a chilly evening. I like to cover all bases!!
STEP 3: GET THERE EARLY
We’d initially intended to get up at stupid o’clock in time for the 6am launch but the weather forecast the night before left us in little doubt that wind would prevent the early launch, so instead we had a chilled morning and headed out at about 11.30am. We fully expected to get caught in fiesta traffic as we have in previous years, but either the fiesta has improved its traffic system or we just timed it perfectly, because we unexpectedly sailed right up to the gates of the members’ car park. My former self in a high viz tabard directed us towards our car park and again we were surprised to drive straight in and easily find a space in the small members car park. Once inside it was just a few minutes walk along a very accessible temporary metal path to the members enclosure and job done. We were flabbergasted at how easy the whole journey was and would definitely aim for that midday time slot in future years!
Arriving at midday, we beat the traffic and also had chance for a wander around the stands early on, before it got too busy. There lots to do during the day and arena entertainment starts at midday. As soon as we arrived the boys got to have a chat with the crew and sit in the Great Western Air Ambulance helicopter.
STEP 4: RELAX AND ENJOY!
You’ve made it! Now it’s time to appreciate what you’ve achieved and enjoy your day.
STEP 5: STAY UNTIL LATE
We hadn’t planned on staying so long but we were enjoying ourselves in the company of fellow bloggers, New Mum on-line and the Owlet, so we ended up staying right until the end and watching the fireworks. It was different when we had very little ones to worry about, but now our youngest is seven, why not have a late night? It’s the school holidays after all!
BENEFITS OF THE MEMBERS’ ENCLOSURE
The Members Enclosure gives brands the opportunity to entertain their guests in the spacious comfortable marquee and private outside space. If you’ve been to Bristol balloon Fiesta before you’ll know that you can get a good view from pretty much wherever you choose to position yourself, so what are the benefits of the enclosure?
- They have chairs and tables. I was going to a festival and I’m a Mother so of course I carried a picnic blanket with me and of course the husband told me it would be unnecessary. Fortunately there was room to store this superfluous object beneath aforementioned tables and chairs before carrying it back to the car, unopened, at the end.
- The members area virtually eliminates the need to queue for anything, whether your destination is the bar, the cafe or the loos!
- Talking of loos, wow – these were the best portaloos I’ve ever seen and surely the biggest bonus of the members area! That they were pristinely clean and stocked with plenty of toilet roll is to be expected, but the vase of fresh flowers and the pleasant waft coming from the bowl of pot-pourri offered a touch of luxury. The loos did run out of hand washing water during the day, so we had to slum it with hand sanitiser later on, but the flowers and lack of a queue more than made up for that huge inconvenience!
- There’s a paid members bar and Garden Café which is handy as you’re asked not to eat your own food. We did partake of a coffee from the complimentary tea and coffee station, although it was a fine day and I’d say the paid bar was the bigger draw!
- Members parking means guests are allowed priority entrance to and exit from Ashton Court Estate. This is potentially a huge bonus as it took us no more than a couple of minutes from entering the site to reaching a parking space. It would have been even more handy if we’d arrived at a busier time. Exiting the Fiesta after the night glow was also straightforward with only a brief queue as we joined the road outside
- There’s a Children’s Hub offering a range of activities. When our children weren’t watching the balloons they made the most of this area, watching a film and generally chilling and bonding with friends in this safe enclosed environment. This was relaxed parenting its best.
There was a lot of excitement when Model Balloons UK put on an indoor miniature balloon display.
- As members, we had a clear view of the arena and access to the launch field when it was deemed to be safe. Hayley from Red Letter Days and I joined the lovely team at Bailey Balloons as they prepared the Red Letter Day balloons in hopeful preparation for their passenger flight.
SO ARE THESE FLAMING BALLOONS GOING TO LAUNCH OR WHAT?
All around us a sea of multicoloured balloon fabric began to cover the field . . .
. . . but then there was an eerie lull while everyone waited to find out whether the weather conditions would allow for the first flight of the fiesta.
After a fair bit of nail-biting, a cloud of green smoke followed by a roaring cheer signalled that we had the go ahead and the launch field once again became a hive of activity.
We watched the final launch preparations from back in the members enclosure and our wait was finally rewarded with sights like these.
Yep, that was worth the wait.
Now I think there’s just enough time for a game of giant chess while waiting for the night glow.
By this point we were so chilled we decided to stay on and were pleased to be allowed into the arena for the night glow, which is fabulous to witness close up as well as from a distance.
MEMBERS ENCLOSURE – ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
- There was no wi-fi access or dedicated place to charge devices. This can be particularly challenging for bloggers and vloggers when there’s so much around for us to photograph and share on social media on behalf of the brands we’re working with. I was photographing plus videoing and live broadcasting and despite taking two spare battery packs AND charging my phone briefly in the press area (thanks to Plaster Creative Communications for that) my phone still ran out of juice just as the night glow started. Perfect timing!
- As children are welcomed into the area, particularly at weekends, I’d have liked to have seen basic refreshments like squash provided for them, alongside the complimentary tea and coffee station for the adults.
- Balloon flights for all guests. Ok, maybe that’s not completely realistic but the boys and I are always hopeful that we’ll get to go up in a hot air balloon. If I manage to organise it, I’ll be sure to share my tips with you!
We spent longer at the fiesta than we’d originally planned – about nine hours in all! Traffic was a dream, the weather was good, we enjoyed the luxury and company in the members enclosure so much that we didn’t spend much time exploring outside at all and we were lucky enough to witness the first launch of the year. Yes, it was definitely our favourite visit so far.
Seriously, if you get the chance to go into the members area, grab it. If you’re a brand, you might want to look into the packages on offer. In exchange for membership, you receive lots of coverage both on site as well as press, TV and social media coverage so while not the cheapest of advertising you do get a lot of bang for your buck. We had such a civilised and easy day out I’m hoping we might get invited back next year and perhaps even go up in a balloon one day. Hint hint!
If you’d like more information about anything, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta Website is informative and I particularly like the cute drawings.
Thanks to Red Letter Days for hosting us.
Do you have any tips for having the best day at Bristol Balloon Fiesta?