Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival: Free Event at OWA (Updated)

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival 2018 launch
Balloon launch at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival
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Visit OWA for a hot air balloon competition and witness almost 50 hot air balloons take to the skies to see who’ll bring home the trophy. Then, check out the balloon glow and mass ascension to get inspired for a tethered ride. Starting in 2021, the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival has relocated to OWA and everyone is excited. I can’t wait to check it out, because this combines two of my favorite attractions in the same location for a fun-filled weekend on the Alabama coast.

What is the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival?

The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is an annual event that celebrates the wonder of flight with hot air balloons. Throughout the weekend, visitors will enjoy a variety of entertainment options.

The schedule for the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Fest includes:

  • Hot air balloon competition
  • Tethered rides for visitors
  • Balloon glow at sunset
  • Mass ascension
  • Multiple musical performances
  • Carnival games
  • Food, drinks, arts, and crafts

More details and specific times & musicians will be announced as the event draws closer.

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival 2018 balloon glow
Balloon glow at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival

What is a Balloon Glow?

A balloon glow is when hot air balloons are filled and ready to fly, but rather than take off into the sky, they stay tethered to the ground. The ground crew ignites them periodically to keep them inflated. And since the event happens in the dark, the balloons give off a big glow like a giant light bulb or a Chinese lantern.

What is a Mass Ascension?

A mass ascension is the launch of the hot air balloons for the competition. With such a variety of colors and designs from the participating hot air balloons, the mass ascension at the Gulf Coast Balloon Fest is such as spectacular display of sound and color. It’s a magical experience that will bring out anyone’s inner child.

What are Tethered Rides?

Tethered rides allow visitors to enjoy the experience of balloon flights at a fraction of the normal cost. Visitors ride in a hot air balloon to a height of 35 feet and take in the views. Thirty-five feet may not seem much, but that’s the height of a 3-story building. It can be quite thrilling and, on a clear day, you can see for miles.

Special shapes balloons at Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival

On March 4, 2021, the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce announced that two special shapes will join the hot air balloons this year – Laska the Unicorn and Sunny Boy! Special shape balloons are always the stars of the show at ballooning events because they are so unique and stand out among all of the other balloons.

Both special shapes this year are flown by repeat pilots of the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival. Laska the Unicorn is traveling from Land O’ Lakes, Florida, and is flown by Tom Warren.

Laska the Unicorn hot air balloon
Laska the Unicorn hot air balloon

While Sunny Boy is piloted by Benjamin Drennan from Cordele, Georgia. Aren’t these balloons awesome? I know my kids are going to love them!

Sunny Boy hot air balloon - Ben Drennan
Sunny Boy, the hot air balloon

What is OWA?

OWA is an entertainment and shopping district located a few miles from the shore in Foley, Alabama. It features an amusement, park, several live performance shows, and numerous retail and dining options.

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival 2020 Legends in Concert Viva Las Vegas 2021.02.09-7790
Listen to the Viva Las Vegas show at Legends in Concert

The kids and I visited OWA in Fall 2019 and loved watching Brandon perform magic at Brandon Styles Theater, impersonators sing some of our favorite songs at Legends in Concert, and riding coasters at The Park at OWA.

The Park at OWA Rollin’ Thunder roller coaster; Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival
The best ride at The Park at OWA – Rollin’ Thunder roller coaster

When is the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival?

The annual event will be from May 7 to 9, 2021. Activities will be available Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning.

Friday schedule

The event opens on Friday afternoon with a carnival, arts & craft vendors, and several musical performances. Friday night ends with tethered rides, balloon glow, and mass ascension. Tethered rides are available Friday evening.

Saturday schedule

Saturday provides a full-day of excitement with a continuation of the carnival, musical performances, and balloon displays. And, of course, there will be tethered rides, balloon glow, and more on Saturday night.

Sunday schedule

The hot air balloon pilots have their final competition flight before the awards ceremony. Attractions and musical performances are not held on Sunday, but visitors are welcome to attend to cheer on their favorite hot air balloon and watch the awards.

How much are tickets to the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival?

Festival admission is free. This means you can bring the whole family to spend the day at OWA without breaking the bank. You can watch the balloons, listen to the musical performances, and enjoy the children’s activities without ever opening your wallet. Of course, there are places to spend money, like food & beverage stations, arts & crafts vendors, and tethered rides, but all of that is optional.

Tickets for tethered rides

There will be 8 hot air balloons available for tethered rides up to 35 feet in the air. Tickets are available online or in-person for $20 for adults and $15 for children (ages 12 and under) plus fees.

VIP Passes

VIP Passes are also available if you want a higher-end experience. You’ll receive access to the VIP Lounge, two complimentary drinks each day, and one visit to the buffet.

The VIP Passes are available for one-day ($50) or for the full weekend ($80), plus fees.


Parking is free at OWA, but VIP Parking is available for $20 plus fees. This will be a popular event, so don’t get stuck parking far away. The VIP Parking pass is good all weekend and you can re-enter for free at any time.

The Bald Thoughts

Watching hot air balloons is a fun, family-friendly activity that everyone will love. The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is a free event happening in May 2021. Bring the whole family down to watch the balloons, listen to musical performances, and enjoy food and drinks in the carnival atmosphere. VIP Experiences and Tethered Rides are available for an extra fee, but they aren’t required to have a wonderful time.

Mark your calendar now and don’t miss out on the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Fest at OWA in Foley, Alabama.

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