The Villages Balloon Festival kicks off Friday afternoon with a variety of events and activities planned throughout the weekend.
Gates at The Villages Polo Fields open at 1 p.m. Friday with plenty of entertainment, activities, tethered hot air balloon rides and flight competitions scheduled throughout the weekend.
Retail and arts and crafts vendors will be at the event. Food, drinks, beer and wine be sold. A free Kids Zone will offer fun for younger visitors. And hot air balloon flights and nighttime glow events are scheduled each day and evening, depending on the weather.
General admission tickets for the balloon festival are $15 for adults and $10 for children 10 to 18 years of age. Kids under 10 will be admitted free of charge. And attendees are encouraged to bring chairs.
Security measures will be in place, including bag checks. No animals (with the exception of service animals), contraband, or outside food and drinks, including alcohol, will be permitted. To learn more visit www.thevillagesballoonfestival.com.
Gates at the polo fields open Saturday at 6:30 a.m., with a balloon flight competition beginning 30 minutes later. A pilot meet-and-greet event is planned from 11 a.m.-noon, a flight competition begins at 6:30 p.m., tethered rides will be available from 5-9 p.m. and a Balloon Glow event will take place from 8-9 p.m.
Gates open Sunday at 6:30 a.m. with entertainment planned throughout the day. Tethered balloon rides will be available from 5-8 p.m. and a Balloon Glow event is planned from 8-9 p.m.
A similar event drew thousands to the polo fields last year. Billed as a Balloon Glow, it featured several hot air balloons lighting up the night sky and some offering tethered rides for participants.
At last year’s event, Villages pilot Bubba Winston was all smiles as he talked about his 10-story-high purple balloon named Christel Delight.
“It’s like owning a Studebaker,” said the 72-year-old Winston, who along with his wife, Pat, splits their time between Florida’s Friendliest Hometown and Richmond, Va. “You’ve got to fix it yourself and you can’t find parts.”
Winston said he was bitten by the hot air ballooning bug in 1985 after a man who owned a ballooning business invited him on a flight.
“When I came home that night, Pat asked, ‘How did you like it.’ I said, ‘I bought it.’”
Ocala’s Paul LaRocco was one of the thousands of attendees at last year’s event. As he walked amongst the balloons with several members of his family, LaRocco said he’d always wanted to experience a hot air balloon ride.
“I just want to go up and look below and see the world,” said LaRocco, who was enjoying the day alongside sons Paul Jr. and Nick; daughter Jessica and Nick’s girlfriend, Allie Poirier. “It’s exciting to get off the couch and experience life before you’re rendered to the couch.”
This past March, controversy erupted at a hot balloon festival that carried The Villages name on it. Marion County sheriff’s deputies were called to the event, also billed as The Villages Hot Air Balloon Festival, at the Florida Horse Park on S Hwy. 475 in Ocala after a hot air balloon was reported stolen.
Deputies had received a call from the Bloomington, Ind., Police Department about the $30,000 balloon and it was seized at the event. That balloon also had been a part of the Balloon Glow event in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown last June.