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14 Aug, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Guided Tour: International Balloon Festival in St. Jean sur Richelieu 2010

Festival International de Montgolfières de St. Jean Sur Richelieu 2010
*Photos taken at last year’s festival.
Schedule: August 14 to 22, 2010; open noon to 11 p.m. weekends; 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. weeknights. Hot air balloons launch at 6 a.m. and at 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting.
Address: 5 Chemin de l’Aeroport, St. Jean Sur Richelieu. (View map)
Cost: Adults, $16/$20 on Saturdays; children 3 to 7, $7; children 2 and under, free. Family package, $37/$42 on Saturdays.
Parking: On-site parking lot, $5.
Website: http://www.montgolfieres.com/
Telephone: 450-346-6000

Although you may not see a single hot air balloon during a visit to the Festival International de Montgolfières de St. Jean Sur Richelieu, there’s so much there for families that it doesn’t matter. To the kids, anyway. Adults will want to go back and see those balloons! We visited the festival last year, so here is 2009 guided tour with updated information and links for this year’s edition.

This festival sets expectations high, billing itself as “The Greatest Family Event in Canada.” The programming is definitely extensive: the 9-day festival features an amusement park, petting zoo, outdoor food court, many concerts (2010 performers include Adam Lambert, Akon, Edward Maya), children’s shows and the most impressive collection of inflatable rides and slides you’ve ever seen. We visited at noon and were not able to stay until 6 p.m., when the balloons were set to launch. The only family un-friendly part of the event is the schedule: it opens at noon on weekend days (3:30 p.m. on weekdays), so you can’t plan a morning visit. For parents with afternoon nappers, it may work best to go in the late afternoon and stay through dinner. The hot air balloons go up at 6 a.m. and at 6 p.m., weather permitting, and then stay illuminated after landing.

Watch the kids go bounce
When we arrived, the kids were immediately drawn to the inflatable nirvana. This “Planète Ballon” area of the festival is located close to the entrance of the festival site. There are inflatable pirate ships, underwater adventures, race tracks, fire trucks and more. Many are variations on the traditional bouncy castle, but others feature mazes and huge slides. A new addition to the 2010 festival is The Beast, which “reflects the future of the haunted house.” There are also several inflatables that are low to the ground and safer for toddlers; this area is best for babies/toddlers who are solid on their feet. Festival organizers thought to set up several empty tents in the area where families can take a break and enjoy some shade. Bravo!
See the full 2010 lineup of children’s activities and children’s shows.

Lots to eat
After some bouncing and sliding, it may be time to refuel. Not far from Planète Ballon is an outdoor food court; there are tables with umbrellas and stands selling pizza, burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, ice cream and sandwiches. Chances are you won’t spend much time eating, because the kids will start salivating over the amusement park area.

Amusement park
This area has lots of simple rides and mini roller coasters that are appropriate for toddlers and up, plus a ferris wheel. You have to buy tokens to go on the rides. There are also all kinds of games kids can play to win a stuffed toy; for some, you pay $5 and kids are guaranteed a prize. Beyond the amusement park is the petting zoo, where there are chickens, pigs, rabbits and llamas.

Family services
Aside from all the family activities, there are several family friendly services at the festival. There is a large infant-care tent, for example, which has several glider chairs for breastfeeding, changing tables, free wipes and diapers. Then there’s another tent set up where you can replenish sunscreen and wipes. Great thinking! There’s also a rental service for wagons. The bathrooms are porta potties; not the nicest option, but there are lots of them around the site. Bring your own hand sanitizer!

Have you taken the kids to the Hot Air Balloon Festival in St. Jean? What did they think of the balloons? Tell us about your experience!

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