I'll never forget the first time I saw a hot-air balloon. I was six or seven. I was playing outside of our house and heard the WOOOSH, WOOOSH, WOOOSH, of the burners overhead. It scared me, and then scared me even more when I saw the now familiar outline of a hot-air balloon coming over my head. The friendly pilot waived down at me and I waved back. Instantly I was hooked on this method of transportation. A year or two later, my parents took me to the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race at the Fairgrounds, and I overcome with a love for hot-air balloons.
Sadly, it took me close to 30 years to attend the events in person. In that time, the Kentucky Derby Festival has added several balloon events, including the very popular Great Balloon Glow.
The Great Balloon Glow is held the night before the Great Balloon Race at the Kentucky Exposition Center. Shortly before the sun goes down, many of the balloons that will be competing in the Great Balloon Race roll out their envelopes and begin filling them with the hot air that will bring them up to the sky. As music pumps all around them, the balloons begin to rise. When the command is given, all of the balloons attempt to fill their balloons with several seconds of flame from their burners, causing the balloons to simultaneously glow.
This event was started in 1993 after bad weather forced the Great Balloon Race to be cancelled. This event gave balloonists the chance to show off their balloons before a large crowd.
Event Rating — 9
The Great Balloon Glow is one of the more popular events of the Kentucky Derby Festival, attracting an average of 65,000 people to the Kentucky Exposition Center. Children and parents alike wander around the lawn of the Kentucky Exposition Center staring in amazement at the many shapes, sizes, and colors of balloons that surround them. My wife, daughter and I truly enjoyed the event because it gives you access to all of the balloons and allows you to see them all inflated and it one place for an extended period of time. You could appreciate the difficulty that crews must have getting some of these balloons, such as the Energizer Bunny, inflated. Many of the balloons were also giving out free goodies for the kids. The only downside to the event is that the "glow" itself is somewhat disappointing. It's very difficult for all of the balloons to fire up at the same time, so the effect of all balloons lighting is brief and limited .
Ease of Attendance — 8
The Kentucky Exposition Center has lots of parking (for $5) on the grounds. The popularity of the event means that you may wind up parking far away from the balloons, however, so be prepared if you have young kids.
Family Friendliness — 9
The Great Balloon Glow is almost perfect for families. It's held on a weekend evening and it has something for everyone in the family. Everyone loves the beauty of the balloons, and your kids will enjoy getting the stickers, pins, and other items being given away. At last year's event, there were even rides indoors for the kiddies. The only downside to this event is the massive crowds and lack of lighting at the event make it very easy to lose anyone who gets separated from you. Additionally, you should be prepared for mud if it has recently rained.