Well, I got sent off to check out some adventure in the mountains again--this time at the new Wonders of Flight (part of the WonderWorks attraction in Pigeon Forge). The concept there is pretty cool--they've got a balloon that goes up 400 feet in the air. The catch? It's filled with helium and it's tethered to the ground. So you get really cool 360 degree views of the mountains in a kind of nest-like basket without wandering off into the wild blue yonder. The best part about the ride up is that because the contraption relies solely on the helium to lift the balloon (and fills 210,000 cubic feet in the balloon), the ride is totally silent. You can hear your friends chatting the whole time--even from across the gondola.
The balloon was made by a company called Aerophile S.A., which was started in 1993 by Jerome Giacomoni. Giacomoni sounded pretty excited about this fifth balloon in the states (others are in California, Indiana, and Florida). "I think this is one of the best ones to see the color change (of Fall)," he told me. Giacomoni's business partner Todd Jolley brought his friend to see the Smoky Mountains about two years ago, and Giacomoni was sold on the area.
The whole ride was no more than 10 minutes, but the views are worth the $15.99 price tag. Giacomoni and Jolley both said the views at sunset are awesome. "Because the mountains reflect the light...you get an all-day show," Giacomoni said.
Tomorrow is the Wonders of Flight's grand opening, and the price per flight will be $9.99 for everyone (that's always the price for kids). If you've got some time, definitely head out there. The balloon runs from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but it'll be open till midnight next summer.
On the adventure scale, I'd rate it about a 3 out of 10. Anyone can go, even if you're afraid of heights. Just don't look straight down the middle of the gondola.