by Celebration Aviation, Inc.
In spite of not living up to it's name the inaugural "Festival of the Sun," held at Celebration, Florida the weekend of September 26-28 was a great success. Thirty balloons from around the country gathered in Disney's planned residential community of Celebration for a fun filled weekend of ballooning and sightseeing in the Orlando area. The event was hosted by Celebration Aviation, Inc. Iocated in Tampa and SunTrust Bank, Central Florida, N.A.
Friday morning dawned with gray skies, an omen of the weather to come. Seventeen balloons participated in a pre-event media flight that had both local and visiting pilots in awe of the sight of Walt Disney World from an altitude of 1000+ feet. Local residents, as well as vacationing tourists, had to wonder at the sight of a giant hand holding a cellular phone, an early sighting of the great pumpkin (Ms Autumn), and the sun beneath the clouds (Sunny Boy) greeting them as they started their day in America's number one tourist destination.
In spite of Sunny Boy's best efforts the rain arrived as a tropical low, which had been stationary over Cuba for a week, moved northwest to meet a stationary front to set the stage for over forty hours of low ceilings, rain, and more rain. Friday afternoon's Pilot Registration Reception, scheduled for the headquarters tent at the launch field was quickly moved to a hospitality suite at the headquarters hotel, The Hyatt Orlando. The mandatory pilot briefing saw the cancellation of the evening glow scheduled for eight balloons scattered around the downtown Celebration area, as VIP guests of the events major sponsor, SunTrust Bank, Central Florida, were hosted for dinner at various restaurants followed by a private concert in the park.
When pilots received their wake up calls on Saturday morning they were told to sleep in. With the flight canceled due to low ceilings and intermittent rain, pilots and crews were able to make use of some of the "goodies" in their pilot packs, tickets to Walt Disney World or Fantasy of Flight, an aviation themed attraction located just 20 minutes away. Saturday evening's glow, once again scheduled for eight balloons sprinkled throughout downtown, with a free concert in the park for the public was canceled due to (you guessed it) rain. Thirty dedicated pilots came to the glow briefing and received coolers stuffed to the brim with all of the ingredients needed for a picnic (including table cloths) with their crews.
Sunday morning, the pilots and crews were awakened to the sound of..silence! The rains had stopped! Unfortunately, the clearing skies brought winds heading for the international airport and upper level winds exceeding the limits of the waiver for the event. Fifteen stalwart pilots inflated on the launch field and held their balloons in place for the enjoyment of the crowd while announcer Tom Maynard provided expert commentary. Two pilots, who had not inflated their balloons volunteered to take groups of spectators (now designated as crew members of the two pilots) on a tour of the launch field to have a closer view of the balloons.
At the awards brunch, held at The Hyatt Orlando, pilots received travel money and a glimpse of "The Festival of the Sun" trophy a hand blown glass and brass balloon sculpture. All vowed that they would return next year for a chance to take it home!