The Great Orange Balloon is the first attraction to open at the Great Park in Irvine, California. Balloon riders climb aboard the 30 passenger gondola and float 400 feet in the air. Visitors enjoy a birds-eye view of the Irvine Valley all the way to Santiago Peak to the east and Quail Hill to the west.
The balloon operates Thursday – Friday 10 am to 3 pm and Saturday – Sunday 9 am to 3 pm. Evening flights are available on weekends from 7 pm to 10 pm. Balloon rides are ten dollars for adults; passengers 18 and under are free with paid adults. Age 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult on Balloon flights.
The Great Balloon Ride
The nominal operating height is 400 feet, the same as a forty-story building. If the wind kicks up, the balloon will fly lower or be grounded until conditions are favorable. The balloon is attached to the ground by a steel cable used to raise and lower the giant orange orb. If the cable would break, the pilot can free-fly the balloon to the ground.
Before you take a flight, you must register and the visitor center and fill out a release form. Registration for each time period starts 30 minutes before the first session flight. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. The actual balloon ride lasts 15 – 20 minutes—enough time to take in the view and enjoy flying in a giant orange balloon.
Great Orange Balloon is wheelchair accessible, allowing guests with wheelchairs to remain in their seats during the flight. The balloon ride is not dog-friendly, so you must leave your four-legged friend at home if you intend to fly in the Orange Balloon.
Great Park Irvine Carousel
Another fun attraction for families near the balloon ride is the Great Park Carousel. Up to 36 passengers can ride the Carousel, and it’s also wheelchair-accessible. The Great Park Carousel operates Thursday – Friday 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday–Sunday 9 a.m.–3 p.m.; 7 p.m.–10 p.m.
Kids Rock Playground
Kids Rock is a climbing structure at the 27.5-acre Balloon Park. Children can play on rocks or squeeze through underground tunnels in this environmentally friendly area of the park.
Palm Court Arts Complex
The Palm Court Arts Complex is a canopy of date palms with various artworks and sculptures on display. Hanger 224, an original building from El Toro Marine Airbase, is adjacent to the Palm Court and is used for events and displays historic aircraft and artifacts.
Sunday Farmers Market
Finally, each Sunday from 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., a Farmers Market is held at the Balloon Park. There is usually a food truck or two plus vendors selling food and fresh produce at the farmer’s market.
Directions to the Irvine Balloon Ride: exit the 5 freeway at Sand Canyon and enter the old El Toro base on Marine Way. Follow the signs to the Great Balloon. Reservations for groups are available upon request. Call ahead or visit the park website to make sure the balloon ride is open the day you plan on visiting. Balloon rides are ten dollars.
The Great Park Balloon is a great way to view the Irvine Valley. Plans for the Great Park have been scaled back considerably, and it looks like it will end up being the Great Irvine Housing Tract instead of a huge park that rivals central park in New York. But it’s still a fun place to take kids, and there are enough things to do and see to take up a half a day at least.