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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Should You Take the Kids to: the Hot Air Balloon Festival in St. Jean Sur Richelieu

Festival International de Montgolfières de St. Jean Sur Richelieu
Schedule: August 8 to 16, 2009; open noon to 11 p.m. weekends; 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. weeknights. Hot air balloons launch 6 to 7 p.m. daily, weather permitting.
Address:5 Chemin de l’Aeroport, St. Jean Sur Richelieu. (View map)
Cost: Adults, $15; children 3 to 7, $7; children 2 and under, free. Family package, $37.
Parking: On-site parking lot, $5.
Website: http://www.montgolfieres.com/
Telephone: 450 347-9555

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. We still plan to go back and see those balloons!

This annual festival runs for 9 days (August 8 to 16, 2009), featuring an amusement park, petting zoo, outdoor food court, many concerts (Simple Plan, Flo Rider, Annie Broccoli, etc., etc.) 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 between 6 and 7 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. There are also several 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!

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!

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