Ballooning is a premiere adult experience. While kids will no doubt be thrilled with a balloon ride, they'll also become bored faster than a grownup. Show them pictures instead.
A bottle of champagne after the flight is traditional, and most operators include the bubbly in their basic charge. Most are willing to customize flights to your needs and some will even cook breakfast atop the propane burners while aloft.
It is suggested that passengers wear tennis shoes, well-fitting hats, sunglasses, and bring along sweaters and gloves just to be sure. About 90 percent of all landings are "stand up," where the gondola lands in an upright position. Only in the windiest conditions, usually in spring and fall, do baskets tip over. Even then, it's relatively gentle.
Flights usually last one hour to 11/2-hours, but the distance and direction are at the whim of the wind.
Here's a look at some of the area's balloon operations.
ADVENTURES ALOFT has charter balloon flights in Maryland and Virginia countryside. $225 per couple. Call 301/881-6262.
ATLANTIC COAST BALLOON COMPANY has year-round Annapolis and Eastern Shore charter flights for $225 per couple. This summer has special four-day balloon and sail the Chesapeake tours at $1,800. Call 301/224-4746.
BALLOON-A-TICS offers instruction and charter flights for 1-3 persons; $225 per couple chartered; $100 per person in larger groups. Call 703/361-4725.
BALLOONS UNLIMITED -- has chartered flights out of Haymarket, Va.; $250 per couple, $90 per person in groups of three or more. Also offers instruction and balloon repair. Call 703/281-2300.
BARNSTORMERS AIR SHOWS -- has year-round charter flights, instruction, and balloon repairs in King's Dominion area; $225 per couple. 804/798-8830.
BARNSWALLOW SERVICE has Northern Virginia balloon flights. $250 per couple. Call 591-6494.
BOARS HEAD BALLOON ADVENTURE -- Boars Head Inn, Charlottsville, Va. 804/296-2181. $75 per person on world's largest passenger-carrying balloon for hire; holds 10 passengers. Flies April through November. 804/296-2181.
BOMBARD SOCIETY has balloon adventures in France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland from May through October for $1,875 to $3,390. Write 6727 Curran Street, McLean, Va. 22101, or call 448-9407 or 800/862-8537.
CHESAPEAKE BALLOON SERVICE -- has year-round charter flights in northern Baltimore County; will customize flight; $125 per passenger. 301/667- 6789 or 717/993-6255.
FANTASY FLIGHTS has charter flights in outer Montgomery County; $125 per passenger. Call 966-7676 or 301/972-2839.
HUNT COUNTRY BALLOONS has charter and stand-by flights, instruction year- round. Charter flights, $225 per couple; stand-by flights, $75 per person beginning in late April to early May. Call 620-3556 or 448-9695.
SKY HIGH ADVENTURES has hunt country, Potomac River and suburban Maryland flights, instruction; $100 per person. Call Pat Michaels days 657-9890 or weekends 301/972-7004.
SUGARLOAF BALLOON PORT -- has charter flights in suburban Maryland and Virgina, $225 per couple; $100 per additional person. 301/831-7239.