West Coast Challengers members descended on the Great Park in Orange County to experience both the park and the free balloon ride there. Touted as the first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century, the Great Park spans over 1,300 acres (nearly twice the size of New York’s Central Park) and embraces environmental sustainability while preserving Orange County?s agricultural heritage together with honoring the military history of the former air base that once resided there (the former El Toro Marine Base).

While the Great Park has expended millions of dollars transforming from an air base to a park, we were surprised to learn that they offer a free balloon ride. The balloon can easily be seen floating up in the air by those even remotely close to park. It almost appears to be a huge flying pumpkin with its bright orange color, a perfect fit for Orange County. The balloon itself is 118 feet tall and its gondola weighing in at about 1,800 pounds. Tethered to the ground by a steel cable on a power winch, the balloon soars to a height of 400 feet allowing its riders to capture a 360 degree view of South Orange County. On really clear days, both the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island can be seen, and with binoculars, even the Hollywood sign to the north.

Orange County Great Park Balloon Ride

After registering in the flight center and being issued a boarding pass, club members decided to have some fun on the carousel, also free. While many waiting to board the balloon stood around, West Coast Challengers members braved the snickering of bystanders and got in line. It wasn’t very long before other adults began to follow suit, a chance to re-live something that many haven’t experience in decades.

Orange County Great Park Carousel Ride

Now, I have to tell you, that, after watching Bill mount his mighty steed, I couldn’t help but to begin laughing hysterically (as I am laughing now just thinking about it). To Bill’s esteemed credit, he didn’t bat an eye and was nothing but smiles and ready for his ride.

Club member Bill on his mighty carousel steed

After a few minutes of round-and-round on the carousel and having an absolute blast, we headed over to the boarding area for the balloon.

Orange County Great Park Balloon Ride

While waiting for the balloon in the boarding area, we had plenty of time to get our cameras ready. The Great Park’s balloon ride is capable of holding up to 30 passengers and the gondola is circular in nature which allows passengers to freely walk around, albeit in a 360 degree circle. Wide steel mesh ensures that passengers cannot fall out. In no time at all, the power winch was activated, and the balloon slowly took to the air. Almost from the moment that the balloon takes off, passengers are overwhelmed by the view, both of the park and of the Orange County landscape. After reaching a height of 400 feet, the balloon holds position while cameras begin clicking feverishly. From the balloon’s commanding altitude, club members were able to spy the filming of an upcoming episode of Top Gear which was taking place on the runway below. After a while, the balloon slowly descended to a nice soft landing on the ground.

Orange County Great Park Balloon Ride

Orange County Great Park Balloon Ride

Having had our fun on the carousel and the balloon ride, club members took to the highway in a caravan to brunch at Arthur’s Coffee Shop in Orange. The restaurant easily lived up to its motto of having “The Best Breakfast in Town.”

Club Caravan to Arthur's Coffee Shop in Orange, CA

Arthur's Coffee Shop in Orange, CA

Club members made it a fantastic Saturday morning get together, and the most silly fun that they have all had in a while I’m sure.

More pictures from the Great Park Balloon Ride and Brunch event (and silliness) can be found in our club photo gallery.

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