WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest kicks off with flyover, veterans' salute
Posted May 27
Updated May 28
Fuquay-Varina, N.C. — One of the first official events of the 2016 WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest featured another type of flying – the opening ceremony for the four-day festival at Fuquay-Varina's Fleming Loop Park began with a flyover and tribute to veterans, the cause at the core of the family event.
Organizers and town representatives welcomed guests and choked back tears as the Bandit Flight team flew in "Missing Man" formation in tribute to those who gave their lives in military service.
A portion of the festivals's proceeds help support a variety of military organizations and charities including AMVETS Service Foundation, US Veterans Corp and MMIA.
Paying and Parking
Organizers also say they have come up with a solution to the parking and shuttle issues that caused a lot of frustration for festival-goers last year. They have teamed up with McLaurin Parking & Transportation Management to shuttle the thousands of festival-goers from four official parking lots. There will be more than 40 buses, trolleys, shuttles and trams operating.
While admission to the festival is free, festival-goers will need to pay $10 per car to park. There is no parking on site. Up in the air: My first time in a hot air balloon
Riding the shuttle is $5 for adults, $3 for children (2-12 years old) and infants ride for free. The shuttle will drop you off about 1,300 feet from the venue's main entrance. Wear comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of walking around at the park.
To get around downtown Fuquay-Varina, there will be a "Disney-style" tram that is free if you paid to ride the shuttle.
Best times to see balloons in the air
Friday through Sunday nights there will be mass ascensions of balloons around 6:30 p.m., followed by tethered rides and balloon glows.
On Saturday through Monday mornings, hot air balloon pilots will be competing (weather permitting). This could contain flying into or out of the venue and dropping something on a target. Competition flights will start around 6 a.m. and wrap up by 9 a.m. So if you want to watch, arrive early and follow social media to find out if balloons are taking to the skies.
What else is happening
When balloons aren't in the area, there are still things to do at Fleming Loop Park. There will be a merchant and craft village and vintage amusement park rides (bring money to ride). On Saturday and Sunday, the craft beer and wine garden will open at noon and live music hits the stage at 1 p.m. and continues until 10:30 p.m.
The WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival has set up two tram systems to encourage festival attendees to explore the local shops and merchants. The "Fuquay Tram" serves the downtown area with a main pick up/drop off point at Centennial Park at the intersection of Main and Academy. The "Varina Shuttle" has a main pickup/drop off point near Draft Line Brewing on Broad Street.
If you parked in one of the park and rides lots, your wristband will allow you to take the Fuquay Tram and/or Varina Shuttle for free! If you walked to the event you can hop on for $5 and ride all day.