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10 Best Cruise Destinations for Hot Air Balloon Rides

Jason Frye

Last updated
Mar 4, 2024

Read time
6 min read

Cruising carries us all over the globe, exposing us to different landscapes as we explore from the comfort of the lido deck and on shore excursions. For a different view of port, why not try a hot air balloon ride?

If ocean cruises and hot air balloons seem like an awkward fit, you're not wrong; that's why few ports offer balloon rides that send passengers drifting out along the coast. Since hot air balloons fly at the mercy of the wind and weather, and landing can be tricky, free flying (that is, flying without a tether to the ground) is generally a no-no at the coast. However, with a tethered balloon or with a short drive inland, balloon flights can be a jaw-dropping way to take in the scenery.

We love the sight of hot air balloons filling the sky and the vistas when we're perched high above, so we looked for the best ports for hot air balloon rides around the world. Whether you want to soar above the vineyards of France or Italy, take in the sunrise over the jungles of the Dominican Republic or Cambodia, or catch a bird's-eye view of one of the most remote "ports" in the world, we've got you covered.

Read on to discover the 10 best cruise ports for hot air balloon rides.

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Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas

Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, has become an unparalleled cruise passenger playground. There's no shortage of activities, from the expected -- snorkeling, Jet Ski rentals, paddle-boarding -- to the unexpected: Giant water slides anyone? Then there's the thrill of a tethered balloon ride.

On CocoCay you can hop in the basket and rise up, up, up some 450 feet (making it the highest point in the Bahamas) for a view of the island, your friends, your ship and that gorgeous Caribbean Sea. There is one caveat: It's not a "hot air" balloon, it's a helium balloon, but regardless -- It's an experience you can't get elsewhere in the Bahamas.

Tuscany, (Livorno) Italy

As you sail the Italian coast and take in sights like the green hills of Elba rising out of the sea and the hidden villages of Cinque Terre, chances are, you'll enjoy a glass or two of wine. Now imagine stepping into a wicker basket and rising above the hills and vineyards just a few miles inland: the ordered rows of vines trace the contours of the land below, in the distance the sea sparkles like a sapphire.

Given that Leonardo da Vinci's obsession with flight led him to produce drawings of hot air balloons, we think ballooning over his homeland is a fitting tribute and a stunning way to experience Italy. Land-based outfitters can set you up for a ride, but if you're sailing with Celebrity Cruises and are calling on Livorno, its Winds of Tuscany shore excursion has it all built right in.

North Pole

That's right, you can board a tethered hot air balloon ride at the top of the world, and one of the most remote places a person can visit: the North Pole. While there's no port to speak of, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience on a once-in-a-lifetime cruise.

Weather permitting -- and if you can get flyover permission from Santa -- Quark Expeditions' icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory, will tie off on the pack ice around the North Pole and send a hot air balloon into the sky. If you're lucky enough to get a cabin and if the conditions are right, you'll have a view of the earth that few have enjoyed.

Barcelona, Spain

A short drive from Barcelona, Ballooning Barcelona takes to the air above Catalonia, launching from the base of Montserrat Mountain. On both flights you'll gain an appreciation for the Catalonian countryside and see the fields give rise to the mountains on one side, and the glistening Mediterranean Sea on the other.

If you're adventurous -- and if you're embarking or debarking from Barcelona -- you can go for more bold flights: soaring over the Cerdanya Valley 93 miles (150 km) northwest of the city or even crossing the Pyrenees Mountains for an astounding ballooning experience.

Cape Town, South Africa

Travel just a few minutes from the port of Cape Town and you're in one of South Africa's most lauded wine regions and a spot where hot air balloons can fill the sky. Wineland Ballooning sends balloons soaring over the Berg River Valley, daily, from November to May. Take in views of Table Mountain as you glide over vineyards and tasting rooms.

Flights take place at dawn, taking advantage of reliable winds and the stunning morning light, so if you're overnighting in Cape Town -- or if you're in port for a few days before or after your cruise -- exploring by balloon is an excellent way to experience the beauty of South Africa's wine country before you begin to explore by the glass.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Your Instagram will thank you when you book a balloon flight over Cappadocia, where the Turkish countryside will leave you awestruck. Although Cappadocia isn't a cruise port, pre- and post-cruise tours from Istanbul will take you here for a worthwhile day trip.

This region is ideal for ballooning -- reliable winds, spectacular landscape, plenty of outfitters -- and as you drift along, you'll see a countryside that's dazzling and disorienting in its surreal beauty. Mountains, fairy chimneys, spires and undulating rock formations look like a planet from "Star Wars," and all around you the sky is filled with balloons.

Chalon-sur-Saone, France

Chalon-sur-Saone, in the heart of Burgundy, sits on the banks of the Saone. Once docked on your river cruise, you can be in the basket of a hot air balloon readying to soar above the vineyards and chateaus in minutes. Chalon-sur-Saone gives you easy access to Beaune, Dijon, and a number of other towns where hot air balloon operators take flight.

Most flights here are from March to October, in line with the heart of the river cruising season, making it easy to round out your wine experience with a sky-high glass of Champagne and photos of the vineyards in bud break, the full emerald green of summer or during harvest and the height of fall color.

Luxor, Egypt

Luxor, on the banks of the Nile River, makes for an excellent base for hot air balloon rides. From here, your balloon will carry you high above the desert for a hawk's-eye view of the dunes, oases and communities nearby. The range of colors as dawn lights the sky is incredible -- Sands will transform from their nighttime anonymity to a dawn-hued pink to their daytime dun in minutes. The clouds hanging on the horizon give you a dreamy backdrop for photos and Pharaonic fantasies.

That's only the half of it. The Valley of the Kings, doubtless a shore excursion you'll take later, unfolds beneath you as you fly overhead, getting a sense of the vast scope of this archaeological site filled with temples and other ruins.

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

With its 4,446 Buddhist temples, pagodas, shrines and monasteries, Bagan is an amazing sight from the ground, but the ability to look out across the shining ribbon of the Irrawaddy River is awe-inspiring.

From a balloon, bell-shaped pagodas and shrines stand tall from the banks of the river to the jungle and throughout the city and its outskirts. At times their spires poke above the treetops or stand shoulder to shoulder in fields packed with holy places. In fact, the Bagan Archaeological Zone is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first in the country). Cruise lines, like Belmond and Scenic, offer hot air balloon rides as excursions, making this experience even easier to have.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Just outside Siem Reap sits Angkor Wat, the often-photographed Hindu temple complex built in the 12th century, and a common pre- or post-tour on Mekong River cruises. It's quite the sight, and walking the halls, feeling the stone and hearing stories of the temple are excellent ways to experience it. However, nothing beats seeing Angkor Wat from the air.

Tethered balloon flights take you up to 590 feet into the air, giving you a view of the temple, jungle and even spires from temples like Bayon and Angkor Tom in the distance. Sunrise rides afford exceptional views as the light lays on the horizon, the clouds and on the temple stone. If a tethered flight doesn't tickle your fancy, there are outfitters available for free flights that carry you over Angor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon and other temples.

Publish date February 07, 2020
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