Exploring AZ: Hot Air Balloon Ride

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Earlier this week I shared the ‘Year of Dates’ gift that I gave Adam for his birthday. We went on our first date over the weekend (on his actual birthday) and it was a great way to celebrate his special day and kick off our year of dates. If you read the title of the post or scrolled down a bit, you already know that we went for a hot air balloon ride! I’ll admit that I was a little nervous at first, but it was such a smooth ride and such a fun experience!


Originally I was going to book our balloon ride with one of the companies on Groupon, but after a lot of research I decided to book with Float Balloon Tours (I think I found them from this article about the 10 Best Guided Tours in Arizona). Anyway, after reading all of the overwhelmingly positive reviews online I couldn’t not book with them. They offer a sunrise and a sunset tour (sunset available November – March only) and I picked the sunset tour after realizing how early we’d have to wake up to meet them. It’s $20 more, but definitely worth it for the extra sleep.



We met our group (8 of us plus the pilot) at their warehouse and took a van to the launch site. From what I gathered, they change up their launch site depending on the weather conditions, but that day we launched in the same area as another company. It was fun to watch the other balloons inflate and take off while we waited. 




Once the balloon was mostly inflated and ready to go, they had us get in the basket…but not like you’d think. Our pilot said because of the wind it would be easier to get the balloon upright if there was some weight in the basket. So we all had to get in while it was still on its side. There was a little bench at the bottom, so it was quite as awkward as it looks.



Once the balloon and basket were up, we were ready to fly. The ride is so unbelievably smooth I didn’t even realize how far up we were until I looked down. Our pilot told us our speed a few times and I was always shocked to hear that we were going 10+ mph. I really didn’t feel like we were moving that fast and it was really stable. Even with people moving around a bit, the basket didn’t rock or move like I figured it would.


Of course the view is incredible from up there. We took off in North Phoenix (Deer Valley area), so we had great views of the desert, mountains, and Lake Pleasant. 



The sun set towards the end of our ride, so we saw it from the balloon and from the dessert once we landed. I swear Arizona sunsets are some of the best in the world. Oh, and we completely nailed the landing, which I was definitely grateful for.



Once we were back on the ground, the crew set up dinner right at the landing site. While they cooked and set up the table, we had time to take pictures and enjoy the last of the sunset.




Dinner was family-style under string lights with real plates and silverware (no boxed meals or sandwiches for us). We started with some fruit and a champagne cocktail to toast a safe, successful flight. For dinner we had carne asada with fajita veggies, tortillas, and salsa. At dessert they served brownies and even put a candle on Adam’s for his birthday. 




After dinner, everything was packed up and we headed back to the warehouse. During our whole hot air balloon experience they had a professional photographer out taking pictures. A thumb drive with all the pictures was available for sale after the flight for an additional charge. I bought it because I’m sucker. Actually I bought it because my New Year’s resolution is going to be to take more pictures and I figured I’d get an early start on my goal. I also bought a hot air balloon ornament for our tree. With tip, everything ended up costing me $525, which is not cheap, but it was a birthday present, party, dinner, and bucket list experience all rolled into one, so I’m ok with it. 


Overall we had such an amazing time and it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I would love to go on another hot air balloon ride, but it would have to be some place new to justify the cost again. There was a couple from Atlanta flying with us and I thought it was such a great idea to go on a hot air balloon ride on vacation, so maybe we’ll do that someday. 




I would definitely recommend Float Balloon Tours if you’re in the Phoenix area, but I would caution about setting your expectations too high based on the amazing reviews. That’s not to say that we didn’t have an amazing time, but I think a few of the reviews are a little over the top. For example, someone said it was the best carne asada they’ve ever had. Let’s be honest, it was good, but not the best ever…and it doesn’t need to be! The excitement is from the balloon ride and then eating dinner in the desert under the stars! Of course that person on TripAdvisor is from South Dakota, so they probably haven’t ate that much carne asada…ok, now I’m just being jerk.

Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and everyone was really nice (we really liked the new guy), plus it’s a small business and I love supporting those…so long story short, go on a hot air balloon ride! 


A Year of Dates Gift

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Adam’s birthday was on Saturday and I feel like I totally nailed his present this year. It’s hard coming up with gift ideas with his birthday being so close to Christmas, but as soon as I saw this idea on Pinterest I knew it was perfect. So, what’s the great idea? A Year of Dates! 12 pre-planned and pre-paid (mostly) activities for a year! I mentioned in my gift guide posts that I love gifting experiences and not just things, so this was seriously the perfect idea.


I got the idea from Camille from Friday We’re in Love (although she credits Shannon with the idea). She’s been planning them for her husband since 2011, so she has a lot of great ideas on how to package them and of course lots of ideas for the actual dates. I really liked her binder idea from 2014, so that’s how I decided to make mine.



I have a lot of scrapbooking supplies gathering dust, so my goal was to only use what I had on hand and not buy any new supplies to put this gift together. I did have to buy the binder and sheet protectors, but that was my only cost (not including the gifts obviously). I’m pretty obsessive about details and my handwriting annoys me 85% of the time, but I decided to just get over it and write all of the pages by hand. If we’re being honest, I probably re-did half of the pages because I didn’t like how they turned out, but I do love how personal the pages look vs. printing them out.



For each month I described the date on the left page and then put any tickets, gift cards, details, etc. on the right side.



I thought coming up with that many dates was going to be tough, but once I really started researching and thinking of ideas, I came up with way more than 12. So once I had my list of dates, I had to narrow them down and match them with certain months. We live in Phoenix, so I didn’t want to plan anything outdoors from like May-October. I also wanted to stick with activities we’ve never done together.



I’m sure some of them are hard to read, so here’s a list of all of the dates:


December: Hot Air Balloon Ride
January: A Taste of Old Town Scottsdale Food Tour
February: Wrigley Mansion Tour + Lunch
March: Horseback Riding
April: Overnight Trip to Sedona
May: Museum Day + Lunch in Downtown Phoenix
June: Studio Movie Grill (Dinner + Movie)
July: Pizza Making Class
August: Dave & Buster’s Game Night
September: Escape Room
October: Sunset Pedal Boat at Tempe Town Lake + Dessert
November: Festival VIP Tickets
Bonus Home Date: Sushi Making


I tried to mix in a few expensive dates (hot air balloon ride, night in Sedona) with some cheaper ones. Our library has a culture pass program that gets you into certain museums for free, so April’s date will only cost me lunch. For the Dave & Buster’s date I used my credit card to get D&B gift cards, so that date is pretty much free. I also used my credit card points for a Groupon gift card to use toward Pizza Making Class and Escape Room Groupons.



This gift was perfect for Adam’s birthday, but would also make a great Christmas present or anniversary gift! It does take a bit of planning, but it’s actually a lot of fun to put together. I used a spreadsheet to I keep track of my ideas, sort them into months (and rearrange a 100 times), and list notes for what I needed to buy. If you want to make your own Year of Dates gift and need date ideas, I recommend checking out Camille’s blog, searching Groupon, and looking a local event calendars. I also put together a list of the ideas that I didn’t use this year…maybe next year!


Other Date Ideas:
Hiking and Brunch
Beer/Wine Tasting
Sporting Event
Glass Blowing
Fondue Night at Home
Hot Cocoa and a Christmas Movie (perfect for December)
At Home Taste Test – Try Strange Chocolate Flavors
Scavenger Hunt
Concert Tickets
Trampoline Park



We went on our first date last weekend (hot air balloon ride) and it was so much fun! I'm putting together a post with all the details for later this week!


A Day in the Highlands

Friday, December 8, 2017

I’m obsessed with Outlander and my mom likes to read those smutty historical romance novels about the Scottish clans, so a trip to the Highlands was a must for us while in Scotland. So for one of our free days in Edinburgh, we decided to book the Loch Ness, Glencoe, and Whisky tour with The Hairy Coo.


We took the £49 Loch Ness, Glencoe, and Whisky tour, but The Hairy Coo also offers a free tour! The tour doesn’t go to Glencoe or Loch Ness, but it does go to other areas of the Highlands. It’s all done off of tips, so it’s definitely a great option to get outside of the city. We really wanted to see Loch Ness and more of the Highlands though, so we picked the paid tour and I’m glad we did. It was such a long day and we spent a lot of time on the bus, but we had an amazing time. The scenery is so beautiful and we lucked out with perfect weather.


The first stop on the tour is the Deanston Whisky Distillery. I’m not really a whisky drinker, but when in Scotland…



The distillery tour was really interesting and the process reminded me a lot of the brewery tours I’ve been on before. Of course you end the tour with a whisky tasting. My mom and I paid for the extra sample because we were on vacation and that means it’s perfectly acceptable to drink whisky at 10 a.m.


After leaving the distillery our guide took us for a quick stop at Doune Castle. This wasn’t listed as part of the tour, so I don’t know if they always go there or not. If you’ve ever watched Outlander, it’s Castle Leoch in the show. We only had enough time to take a few pictures, but it was fun to see in person. Sadly, there were no Jamie Fraser sightings.

 
 
After our quick castle stop we hopped back on the bus and headed off to the Highlands. On the way we took a little detour and stopped to visit a few Highland cows aka hairy coos. This was seriously one of my favorite parts of the trip! THEY ARE SO CUTE! The shop offers a bag of treats to feed them for only £1 (I think) and it’s a must. I was seriously obsessed with them after this and like half of my souvenirs from that day are cow related.  

 


At about this point is when we crossed into the Highlands. We drove through hills and glens while our guide told us about clan history and the Massacre of Glencoe. We stopped of a quick picture break at the Three Sisters in Glencoe. This is where then panoramic setting on cameras comes in handy!



Finally after A LOT of driving we arrived at Fort Augustus and Loch Ness. There was an optional boat cruise of Loch Ness that I really wanted to do, but ended up skipping because it was windy and I get seasick. I think it would have been fun to search for Nessie by boat, but I really didn’t want to be sick on the long drive back to Edinburgh. Instead we had lunch at a lakeside restaurant and went to all of the little shops. 

 
 

Once we were all back on the bus we started our trek back to Edinburgh. We stopped a couple times along the way for a quick break to stretch our legs. One of the stops was at Pattack Falls. It’s a small waterfall only a short “hike” from the parking area. The waterfall isn’t much to see, but the wilderness surrounding it is beautiful.

 

Our last stop was in the small village of Pitlochry for a short bathroom and food break. I wish the stop would have been longer (and earlier because almost everything was closed) because the village had so many cute shops. Finally, about 12 hours later, we made it back to Edinburgh. It was a very full day and I was so over the bus by the time we got back, but we had such a great time. It was definitely worth the long day/bus ride to get out of the city and spend a day in the Highlands.



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