Jade and Mark recently stopped over in Dubai as they flew through to New Zealand. Top of their list? A desert hot air balloon ride with a difference; retro Land Rovers, a luxe breakfast amongst the sand dunes, a glorious Arab sunrise and hot air balloons soaring alongside the iconic falcon – need we say more?!
Join us as they review Balloon Adventures Dubai.
The Early Morning Hurdle
Getting up before 6am is only a challenge when it doesn’t involve something fun, right?
The only time I ever get up early without complaining it is when travel or adventure is afoot… and my dawn ballooning experience with Balloon Adventures Dubai was no exception. Struggling with jet lag, and a disorientating 4.30am rise, you still couldn’t take the grin off my face.
Hot Air Ballooning has been on my ‘must-do’ list since I was 8 years old and it was finally time to bring my dream to life.
Two alarms, a foggy brain and a cup of tea later, our friendly driver collected us at 5.20am from our hotel lobby.
Signing our life away on our hot air ballooning boarding pass (a standard practice for any activity in today’s world) we were told that there would be two balloons taking off that morning, each with 22 people on board.
Wait… 22 people? Was that even possible? I had only ever seen small baskets bobbing under hot air balloons, perhaps fitting up to 6.
My imagination started to run wild on this incredible feat as we made the 40-minute journey out into the desert. Meanwhile, the other passengers in the minivan were more logical, getting a few minutes of shut-eye as we navigated out of the waking city and the vast beyond.
Arriving into the desert, the colour on the horizon just starting to change, we were quickly divided between the two balloons and belted up (imagine an airplane belt around your waist). While pushing the silky sand around underneath my shoes, we were quickly introduced to Oden, our stunning feathered guest for the morning and told we would hear more about our falcon friend once in the air. The take-off and landing position (basically a semi-squat while connected to the basket) was demonstrated with an example apparatus sitting in the sand, and before we knew it, we were ready for the air!
Positioned next to the gigantic balloon basket, I couldn’t help but marvel at the massive balloon as it sprung to life. Raging blue fire heated the air in the parachute and within minutes the balloon took shape; suddenly, I was snapped from my thoughts and scrambling over the high basket edge. Wishing I wasn’t so awkward, I was at least grateful for the stretch in my jeans and the help on hand to conquer the chest high basket!
Our previously introduced pilot, Richard, ensured everyone was comfortable in their squatted position. Ready for take-off, we waited with anticipation.
A further blast from the flame above us and we heard, ‘ok, you can stand normally now, we are in the air’.
Really? Wow! I had felt nothing as the basket shifted off the ground, but looking over the edge, we were inches from the ground and rising rapidly.
Into The Atmosphere
As the horizon shifted, our view of the ground widened. We were overlooking the beginning of a stunning sunrise and beautiful windswept dunes; peaks reaching out to touch the morning light. The second balloon hung in the air against a murky morning haze. Flames continued to fire above us as we rose.
I could barely believe I was finally in a hot air balloon!
Climbing higher still, I became fascinated by the changing backdrop of the beautifully patterned dunes below. If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a desert, take it from us, it’s absolutely stunning.
Pleasingly, the continual climb higher wasn’t causing a stir as I thought it might. It was as if I was looking down on a green screen almost as if we had never left the ground; my calm matched our tranquil surroundings.
One Kilometre Up And Ready For A World First
Once at height, our pilot pointed to the second balloon. Hanging in the air, we watched as a spot soared across the horizon. Juliet the Peregrine Falcon had been released, and was dancing in the troposphere, toing and froing from the basket of the other balloon. While we watched Juliets dance, Oden’s trainer explained all sorts of interesting falcon facts and detailed how prestigious falcons are to the people of the UAE.
Being hunters and sometimes territorial creatures, we waited until Juliet had completed her demonstration before Oden’s hood was removed and his impeccable sight regained. With his tiny tracking device (ultimately the trainer’s insurance) secured to his back, Oden took several short and aptly described lazy flights from his perch on the basket’s edge. Enticed back only by his relationship with food, Oden didn’t fly far, wanting his breakfast more than he cared to fly, giving an incredible encounter for all of those on board to view the falcon’s precision and beauty.
Being able to watch this display at such close range was impressive, certainly more intimate than any other bird shows I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience.
With Oden’s trainer satisfied he had done enough for his food, it was time for his reward! Oden obviously appreciated his breakfast as he ripped gulp sized pieced from the quail offered from a tightly grasped, gloved hand.
What a place for an up-close animal encounter!
Adrift Above The Crown Prince’s Palace
Casually drifting down from a great height, our pilot skilfully guided the balloon to bob between dunes parallel to the second balloon as a slight breeze stopped us, hanging dutifully in mid-air.
As luck would have it, our journey took us over the only visible property covered in greenery, capable of existing in the desert due to human intervention; the property of the Crown Prince of Dubai. Teeming with life, the property was incredible to fly over – flocks of birds took to the sky surrounding us, whilst happy workers on the property waved from between the irrigated foliage. Gazelles startled below us and even a cheeky giraffe was spotted strutting in the distance.
Where else in the world would you expect to find such magic in the middle of a desert?!
All too soon the flight was nearing its end. On the edge of the property boundary, the landing crew were ready and waiting for us. We prepared for landing, attaching our belts to the basket attachments and bending our knees. With a shout and a sneaky look over our shoulders we watched the unsuspecting crew scramble to move one of the parked utes before its deck accidentally became our landing site!
With only two slight jolts as we skimmed dune tops before coming into land, the basket finally found its place to rest. Tipping to its side as the parachute followed us down and we found ourselves on our backs, facing the sky before unclipping and scrambling out once more onto the silky sand.
While a dedicated team masterfully packed away the gear, we were able to take a moment with our perched, feathered friend Oden for a photo.
Isn’t he gorgeous?
1950’s Land Rovers And A Divine Breakfast
To finish off the morning we were taken on a short journey through the desert in old-school, open top Land Rovers to a luxury desert Bedouin camp. Blitzing around the dunes in these vintage vehicles was a blast.
Inside the camp, we were greeted with a smile, sharp Arabic coffee, beautifully sweet dates and a full spread of breakfast delights. Cold cut meats, cheeses, fruits, and perfect eggs benedict found their way onto my plate before I settled with my back to the sun at one of the tented tables.
News of congratulations for a perfectly planned and happily accepted marriage proposal on the other balloon reached our ears followed by the sound of a champagne bottle popping. It had been such a beautifully romantic morning, you couldn’t help but smile for the happy couple.
I enjoyed being able to soak in the desert atmosphere a while longer before reluctantly being guided to start our return journey.
Things To Take For Your Dawn Hot Air Balloon Experience
- Camera and/or phone – of course, you need evidence of your incredible morning adventure!
- Jacket or long sleeve top – it might be chilly in the desert in the morning, or you might appreciate cover from the sun or breeze whilst in the Land Rover/at the camp.
- Cap, hat or scarf (certainly for ladies with styled or long hair) – to save sunburn, tangles and a ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ hairstyle situation on your trip through the dunes.
- Sunglasses – an absolute must for viewing everything on your journey. I took my glasses off for some of the photos and was squinting and blinking through tears due to the intensity of light. Sunglasses are definitely best left on.
- Snacks for pre-flight – if you are like me and struggle to function on an empty stomach, take a few snacks to munch on before breakfast. It is a few hours between wake up and the delicious spead and you don’t want to be more focused on your stomach than the view!
- Wear something you can move in, like a pair of jeans or shorts with stretch. Scrambling over the side of the basket at the start of the journey and then out of the tipped basket at the end would not have been fun in inflexible clothing or a skirt or dress. Sometimes you just have to be practical.
Would We Recommend a Hot Air Balloon Ride Whilst in Dubai?
Having tried multiple aircraft carriers and flight paths, skydiving, parasailing, bungy jumping and other high-altitude experiences, in my opinion, hot air ballooning is certainly the most serene adventure available at height. Hot air balloons will only operate in the mildest of breezes on perfectly calm mornings, so even wind noise will not register on your experience.
Without doubt, Balloon Adventures Dubai was one of the best tour companies I have ever had the chance to join on an excursion. Safety, communication and guest comfort was obviously paramount to their efforts throughout the morning.
Although there were several complicated elements involved in the morning (technical gear, unpredictable weather, landing locations, timings, animals, transport and food) the morning ran like clockwork. Team members were perfectly positioned to care for guests needs, always ready with a smile and would find any way to accommodate requests.
… But Is Hot Air Ballooning For Me?
If you’re looking for an excuse to go hot air ballooning, look no further – we’ve got your back!
- A unique exploration of your next overseas adventure
- An unforgettable marriage proposal or anniversary experience
- Or a surprise gift for that person who already has everything?
No matter how or where you choose to experience this activity, it should be on your bucket list !
Even better, book yourself in with Balloon Adventures Dubai next time you find yourself in the United Arab Emirates and prepare yourself for a uniquely local adventure with the best of the best.