Out and About

Imaginations, balloons soar at inaugural Freedom Balloon Festival

Posted May 22, 2015
Updated May 23, 2015

— A mass ascension of more than 40 balloons Friday evening kicked off the WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival, sending imaginations soaring high above the tree line at the Bennett Bunn Plantation in Zebulon.

Barbara Word said it was her first time seeing a hot air balloon.

"It was great," she said. "I have never seen so many balloons going up in the air, it was wonderful, different sizes, different names on them."

Tara Culbreth got her wish as the evening wrapped up with the balloon glow, and Kate Hurd called the experience "beautiful."

"It was absolutely beautiful, absolutely beautiful," Hurd said. "At dusk in Raleigh. I totally enjoyed it with my family."

Parking for WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest

A greater-than-expected early turnout for the WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest had people standing in line for more than an hour and walking alongside the highway in Zebulon Friday afternoon.

By 6:15 p.m., organizers had ceased transportation between Five County Stadium and Bennett Bunn Plantation, the main venue for the festival, and were urging those in line to stay at the stadium to watch the balloons fly overhead.

Between the time that the festival grounds opened at 3 p.m. and that time, those hoping to board the shuttle for the 10-minute transfer reported waits of an hour or more, and that buses were running only every 30 minutes.

Organizers said they would add shuttle buses for the rest of the event to accommodate the crowds.

In addition to shuttle busses, organizers said they would also work closely with Zebulon Police on crowd and traffic control.

Bennett Bunn Plantation in Zebulon

Park at the home of the Mudcats, Five County Stadium, 1501 N.C. Highway 39. Parking is $10 and proceeds go to The Raleigh Jaycees. There will be a shuttle running to the Bennett Bunn Plantation, which is about two miles away. Note: Shuttles will start at 6 a.m. Saturday through Monday so people can watch the balloon races.

There is limited on-site Premium Parking for $30/car (cash only) with a portion of proceeds going to The Raleigh Jaycees.

Spring Forest Road Park in Raleigh

Enjoy free park-and-ride shuttle service courtesy of Triangle Town Center and GoRaleigh Transit. Simply park near the entrance of the mall closest to Men's Wearhouse at Triangle Town Center. There's a GoRaleigh Bus shelter nearby.

Handicapped Parking

All handicapped guests going to BBP should first go to Five County Stadium; if they have no ability to get on to a shuttle, they will be issued a $10 pass to park on-site at Bennett Bunn. Note: On-site parking is still not close to the activities. Attendees should plan accordingly to have assistance and take their time getting there.

If heading to Spring Forest Road Park, there is plenty of wheelchair accessible parking at Triangle Town Center for free. All Go Raleigh busses are wheelchair accessible. There is a paved surface surrounding the park.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Jim Niver May 23, 2015
    user avatar

    That was an amazing experience! We had to walk a bit on a beautiful afternoon to get to the plantation, but we planned ahead and allowed time. The field did double duty as both the viewing area and the launch zone. Wandering through the balloons as they rose up from a flat envelope on the ground, to standing full and tall, to lift off was a much more 'up close' experience than we could have hoped for. In terms of value, that was $10 very well spent! If you're going, pack a snack and wear walking shoes and you'll have fun too.

  • Rae Robinson May 23, 2015
    user avatar

    This was a great idea however I don't think they were ready for the crowd. Parking was horrible. $30 to park onsite and by the time we got there, that was the only option because it was over a hour wait for shuttles. 1 way in and out at the plantation so it took forever to get out. It took forever to get food. They definitely need a new plan for the rest of the weekend.

  • Jinglan Zi May 22, 2015
    user avatar

    First, why pick a Friday??? Do most people in triangle work normal hours today???
    second, why there is no exact time for the mass ascension?? not on WRAL site , not on the festival website or on the festival facebook page????
    We have to watch the news in 5pm to know it happens at 6:30???
    What is the organizer thinking????

  • Jim Wooten May 22, 2015
    user avatar

    You know, every year I go to Merlefest in North Wilkesboro and marvel at how well run and organized the event is, how reasonable the food prices are, and how friendly and helpful everyone there is.

    Then I look at Raleigh, where everyone has their hand out for a mandatory donation for services that they don't even deliver on and then don't even apologize for it or give you your money back. I quit going to events in Raleigh years ago and this is a real good example of why......

  • Leslie Klatt May 22, 2015
    user avatar

    We made it only because we passed the stadium when we saw the super long line and followed the flow of people walking who I believe got tired of waiting for the shuttle and drove at least 2 miles closer an parked in someone's yard for $10 only much closer. The food lines were so long and under-staffed

  • Jean Scott May 22, 2015
    user avatar

    We were in line an hour and thirty minutes before deciding to sit on the side of the road. Not one bus from 5:15 on...No one came and mentioned anything to the group of 75-100 people surrounding us. We never made it to see the the 'glow' event for tonight...kids were very disappointed that they couldn't see that.