Quick Tips for the QuickCheck Festival of Ballooning in NJ

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The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning is the largest hot air balloon festival in North America.  It is a colorful, family-friendly, attraction voted for the 6th time, as a Top 100 Festival in North America by the American Bus Association.  We checked it out this past weekend at its annual location in Readington, NJ, braved the high heat and humidity and lived to tell about it.  Know before you go!  Here are my quick tips for the QuickCheck Festival of Ballooning.
1.  Weather permitting.  Your general admission ticket is non-refundable and balloons will only launch if weather permits, i.e. if winds are less than 10ph.
TIP:  Attend the MORNING launch, if the weather messes things up, you can still return for the PM launch. Tickets aren’t valid the next day but will be valid within the same day.  Just remember to get stamped to re-enter later that day.
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2.  Location.  Solberg Airport is seemingly in the middle of nowhere and traffic in/out is 1 lane either way which makes for painful traffic jams depending on the time of day you arrive.  The parking lot is basically a grassy lawn so if it has rained recently, expect it to be muddy like when we went.  Some cars even got stuck in it and those wearing flip flops truly regretted it!  Also, there aren’t any shady areas so unless you can score a makeshift seat on one of the bales of hay under a sponsored tent, you will have to rely on your own makeshift umbrella shading.  Also, we left around noon on a Saturday from the Financial District of Manhattan and it took us about an hour an 20 minutes to arrive.
TIP:  Take a picture of the parking lane sign before leaving the lot!  The last thing you want at the end of a long day out is to wander around hopelessly looking for your car amongst the hundreds there because you forgot it was parked in P1’s row.

3.  Pricing.  Most people complained about the price – gauging.  $35 general admission is the starting price.  Pay $10 for parking.  Plus carnival rides, trinkets, food and beverage are extra.  Want a hot air balloon ride?  The AM ride is $225 and the PM ride is $250 PER PERSON.  The tethered hot air balloon which they say lasts 5 minutes (but someone timed and said actually was 2-3minutes) will cost $20.   So a family of 4 will pay $150 just to get in and park for the day.  Then add gas, tolls, f&b and entertainment.

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TIP buy tickets at QuickCheck to avoid the $4 service fee online and purchase early for $20 if you want to risk the rain or shine no refund policy. Groupon had a half off deal that we missed this year so keep an eye out for that.  I also read that discounted tickets through NJIT alumni association. were available and included drinks and food.

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4.  Food and Beverage.  Note that security will not only check you to see if you are armed but also check to see if you are smuggling in your own snacks! They WILL confiscate any snacks you have forcing you to beg, borrow and buy food once inside.  Bottled water was allowed this year.  Complaints abounded about the festival food pricing given everyone just paid a hefty admission fee just to get in..but what do you expect..it’s like that at every fair, isn’t it albeit without charging admission prices?  Apparently vendors really take to the “sky is the limit” spirit of the event seeing that they charge $7.00 for a lemonade for example.  Thankfully there are several sponsors offering free tastings that allow you to freely snack and drink along the way (thus the begging comment above).
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TIP: cheapest area to buy food and beverages is the Quickchek tent. Fountain drinks were just $2 here.  Note, most vendors shut down sample stations from 5-7pm even though the event officially doesn’t end until 10pm.

5.  Comfort.  Add these items to your packing list to ensure you stay comfortable throughout your time there. Comfortable walking shoes (not open – toe if it happened to have rained there recently).  Sunscreen and bug spray.  Hats and sunglasses.  Waterproof picnic blankets to sit on (or a dollar store shower curtain will do too!).  Bottled waters and cooler bag.  Snacks you can easily hide in pockets.  Extra toilet paper, hand sanitizers (porta potties are on-site and often run out of both).  (optional) beach chairs and umbrellas.  CAMERAS and extra battery juice for your phone if you plan to be out long.

Having arrived at around 2, we were severely disappointed to find that there were no hot air balloons anywhere in sight.  We learned too late that we’d have to wait until 6:30pm when they were scheduled to ascend.  Who knew that the balloons could only be up for a little bit (45min. at a time or so)?  We thought that the hot air balloon festival was going to have a sky filled with balloons all day..NOPE!  So we wandered aimlessly around what looked like every average NY street fair that we’ve already grown jaded with.  Crafts and trinkets that we didn’t want..unhealthy fair foods, and a bunch of vendors selling the same stuff mixed in with a random bathtub renovation vendor haha. Needless to say, hubby was not too happy about this.   It’s no wonder that this event’s Yelp review is only 2.5 stars.  The website should have really offered more information to help others plan ahead and know what to expect – which is why I’m writing all of this for you.

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After spending $5 per carnival ride, we decided we couldn’t stand the heat anymore, and drove off to a nearby random restaurant for bathroom relief, air conditioning and a decent sit-down lunch.  Course we had to fight traffic again to get back in but with our stamp and wisdom, having gone through the process of checking ourselves back in, we headed straight for the picnic-ing area where we plopped down our blankets and watched the rainbow of balloons take over the skies.  And we played a little mommy and me game of ring around the rosie.

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This part was truly magical!  To me, if the weather had been cooler and the grounds less muddy, I would have happily enjoyed the entire day (assuming we started closer to the ascension time).  This view with the custom shaped balloons (think Elvis, blue dog, American flag etc.) was breathtaking and wow-ed EVERYONE there.  Audible gasps, cheers and celebrations filled the air with each balloon launch.

Knowing what I do now, I would return wiser and have much more fun.  I would even consider springing for the VIP ticket which gives you access to the Blue sky tent, air conditioned bathrooms, seating, and a private parking lot.

Have you been to this festival and if so, what tips would you add?

Would you ride the hot air balloons??

If you love balloons as much as I do, check out these posts.

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  1. tory says:

    Wow I never heard of this! I should go next year. Thanks!

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