A hot air balloon fest. Who wouldn’t want to watch unique, themed balloons spice up the sky, especially here in Kansas? I was interested the second I heard about the Great Midwest Balloon Fest.
However, the fest ended up being a huge disappointment. Because I was under 18 but older than eight, there was nearly nothing for me to do. Despite my numerous attempts to ask directors and representatives about any requirements and information regarding both the festival and balloon rides, I showed up to learn the full story on my own. It wasn’t deceiving information, it was a lack of it. More information about age restrictions and suggestions should be provided by the website and or when asked about details.
After walking for what felt like a mile from the parking lot to the festival with my three friends, I was caught off guard. I couldn’t tell whether I had made it or not: no balloons, nor a welcome sign, in sight. All that greeted me were a row of port-a-potties and a few booths selling pottery and homemade bracelets. So, following the rest of the crowd, I continued walking.
I finally reached the “official” entrance where two people stood collecting tickets, while K-Love radio played in the background. I handed the lady my ticket and proceeded along the mulch pathway. Immediately, I was hit with the stench of beer and cigarettes, making it painful to breathe. Maybe it was just the helium, though.
White tents containing more booths lined the pathway in front of me. Instead of seeing more homemade craft booths that I had expected, they contained sign- up forms and representatives of different insurance companies and window stores. I thought this was a balloon festival.
Lost in the sea of the advertisements, I decided to follow a mom pushing her stroller to find my way around. After a short walk, lagging behind her, I made it to the “Kids Zone.” Oh god. Four- year-olds impersonating Minions and miniature Dorothy’s swarmed the area. I don’t hate kids by any means, in fact I babysit them all the time, but between the shoving aside and crowding, it was too much to handle.
Even more prevalent than the Kids Zone full of bouncy houses, face painting and a costume contest, were the shiny Ford trucks set out for a raffle. I didn’t understand why all of these ad reps were so prominent, because what did they have to do with balloons?
In attempt to get away from the teeming children, I again, began to wander. I suddenly found what seemed like the more traditional part of the festival.
As I approached the Tilt-A- Whirl ride, I was finally hit with a waft of hamburgers grilling and funnel cakes frying. This was what I had been waiting for.
Instantly, I hopped in line for my turn. I devoured a greasy, deliciously-fried funnel cake with the help of my friends, while watching hot pink and magenta blow-up, animal kites. I was mesmerized by the whale kites, bigger than RVs filling the pale sky. They were oddly entertaining, but as time went on, the faces with plastered smiles were slightly creepy, following me no matter where I was standing.
As I peered into the sky at 5 p.m., minimal hot air balloons cruised over Kansas planes. And with nothing left to do, as we were the oldest kids there, my friends and I polished off the funnel cake and hit the road. It was just our luck to see hot air balloons begin transcending into the sky, right as we started the 40 minute ride home.
The next morning, 6 a.m., each of us rolled out of bed to go back to the festival.
Hello, round two.
I left my house with the goal to get on a balloon.
Speeding along the highway through a thick fog, I watched hot air balloons drift into the sky. It was a pretty addition to the tasteless gray morning. By the time I was pulling into the gravel parking lot, the balloons were much closer to the ground- I could even see the people inside the basket through the sunroof of my car.
Soon, that would be me standing in one of the baskets, overlooking Bonner Springs… Or so I thought.
The first problem I encountered was the price. As a 16-year-old with minimal funding, my wallet cried at the thought of a 300 dollar balloon ride. So, I settled for the $15 tethered ride, just 50 feet in the air as opposed to hundreds.
As I pulled out my $15 to hand the ticket lady, she stopped me.
“Are you 18, Miss?”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I drove 40 minutes, early in the morning to Bonner Springs. I even called ahead of time and scoured the website for any restrictions on balloon rides. Not one person stopped me, not one tab on the website led me to understand that there was an age minimum of 18 or a required parent signature.
After watching numerous families ascend in the tethered balloon without me, I was more concerned with getting back into my warm car than I was with experiencing the “Great” Midwest BalloonFest anymore.
Overall, here is my tip to you, if you are going for a festival– don’t. I wish I could say I felt that my hot air balloon experience had been fulfilled. There are flaws to be fixed– the layout, content and information on the festival should be drastically improved.