Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta is hands-down New Mexico’s single largest tourism draw, attracting more than 500 balloons and three-quarters of a million visitors from around the world each fall.
More than half of the spectators come from out of town. Many arrive in RVs. Others pack the city's roadside motels and hotels.
This year Pullman Rail Journeys offered a new way to arrive and stay in style. The train operator offers weekly, first-class excursions between Chicago and New Orleans on refurbished train cars that recall the golden age of train travel. And it made its inaugural trip to Albuquerque for the opening of the nine-day balloon fiesta.
In addition to the overnight trips from Chicago to Albuquerque, round-trip, on the historical cars with private sleeping cabins and fine dining, the $3,389 package included two nights at one of the city’s finer hotels, the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, special transportation to and from the balloon park, access to VIP areas at the balloon festival and trolley and walking tours of Albuquerque.
“We were so pleased at the response to this,” said Sara Munley, marketing director for parent company Premier Rail Collection. “People were really excited for a new destination. So we are looking at adding more special destinations in 2016.”
The train arrived in Albuquerque the day before 550 balloons launched from the 360-acre park at the north end of the city. Spectators can arrive before dawn and wander through the grassy fields while the balloons are being laid out and blown up for launch
There are also food, drink and souvenir vendors, live music and other activities. One is the special nighttime “glows,” where balloons stay tethered but filled with propane, so spectators can view the variety of traditional and specially shaped balloons as they are backlit by the propane flames. Weekend nights end with a fireworks show.
With VIP and Gondola Club packages like those offered with the package, guests can wander with the tens of thousands of other spectators on the field -- or watch and dine from the Gondola Club, which offers a more civilized viewing experience along with food and drink and special entertainment.
Munley said the inaugural trip, which carried 37 passengers, was a huge success.
In addition to its weekly Chicago-New Orleans trips and the Albuquerque package, Munley said Pullman offered two trips to Denver from Chicago this year.
Next year, she said, Pullman plans another balloon fiesta trip, and it is hoping to add an excursion to the Kentucky Derby and to Savannah, Ga.
Over New Year’s, Pullman will offer a Chicago-Florida trip, with ground packages in Orlando, West Palm Beach and Miami.