We've decided to go ahead with our tour to Turkey in early May and are facing some extremely steep prices for the Cappadocia balloon ride. The cost depends on the number of people in the basket with options for 20-24 passengers, 16 passengers, or 8 passengers. Of course, the 8 passenger basket is preferred, but it's well beyond our budget. Can someone who has done this tell me if the baskets with 16 passengers and 24 passengers still give everyone a place to stand along the edge of the basket? Or, do some (like us shorter folks) get stuck in the middle with no opportunity for good views?
I just looked back at my pictures, and while I don't have great detail, it was certainly more than 8 per basket, so probably 16. I recall the basket being a rectangle divided into 5 sections—4 outside corners for passengers and a middle that spanned the width for the pilot. Having fewer people per section made it easier to take turns at the edge and for us taller folks to stand back more.
I rode in a 24 passenger basket in Egypt. It was divided into sections. I found it very easy to get to the outside of the basket in my section. I noticed that the taller people just kind of went to the middle. Maybe I had a section with really considerate people?! In the case that you end up in the middle, just politely ask someone to switch spots midway through. You won't be so crowded in the section that you can't move and can't see out even if you are in the middle.
You will get some view. Exactly how much up-front time depends on multiple factors, including where in the balloon you start, and (mostly) how courteous those around you are.
When I was there, our balloon had 16 passengers. The basket(s) were segmented, that is, it was not a single, contiguous container, so people were not free to move around from one side of the basket to another. It was divided into roughly 6 or 8 separate sections, within which it was possible to move around a little.
(I can imagine this is a safety feature. Imagine a small boat filled with tourists, and a whale surfaces on one side of the boat. All the passengers are going to immediately rush to one side of the boat and lean over the side to see the whale....and that boat will be in danger of flipping over - capsizing. The same thing could happen in a balloon filled with a dozen or more people, or other equally bad things with all the weight on one side...and that would not be good. So I'm sure the baskets' divisions force some overall equal weight distribution. This will help distribute the views somewhat more equally, too.)
So you won't be moving around a lot. In our balloon we were free to move around (a bit) within their own section of the basket. Mostly front-to-back but it depended on the section. In our case, there were maybe 4 or 5 people in our section. People were fairly courteous about sharing the "edge" positions for the best views. There was a little jostling but no "mosh pit" experience.
FWIW I was there in early March 2020, so it was off-season (and quite cold aloft!). It was also a time when the pandemic was just starting to blow up internationally, so tourist numbers were way down. With tourism now booming, I would expect some more crowding in the balloon business, but it's regulated (and has physical/safety limits on numbers of passengers).
Bottom line: you will have some ability to move around within the section of the basket you're in (more than in an airline seat), but you won't be walking more than a couple steps at most. There will be a little shuffling and perhaps a bit of squeezing past others. Not much social distance, but plenty of ventilation.
Tip: The last to board the balloon basket will be initially standing along the outside edges. So don't jump to board among the first passengers thinking you'll get to pick a better spot (you won't: those first on board will be encouraged to move towards the center to let others climb in). Instead, linger a bit, and be among the last to board, that way it's most likely you will be standing around the outside edge (at least for a bit). Don't be greedy and hog the edge all the time; switch positions throughout the flight with the other folks in your section so everyone gets a chance for the best views.
It's expensive no matter how you decide to do it. Enjoy the experience.
Well, that makes me feel a lot better! Thanks to everyone for responding.
FYI: The 2023 prices have doubled from what we were quoted last year---$350pp vs. $180pp for a basket with 16 people, with a $230pp optional surcharge to guarantee a spot the next day if our ride is cancelled. Gulp!
I recall our balloon having 4 sections with 4 people in each section. Everyone had plenty of room for a view the whole time.
Sorry to hear that the prices have increased so much.
There were 28 peoples in the balloon we rode last December. I paid $200 USD. Amazing experience!!!
Our balloon had four section with eight people in each. Arranged as four aside and two deep. I stood behind my wife and as she is shorter than me, I har no problem seeing. The pilot told us to stay that way.
The view of the "sunrise" when the balloon rise over the mountains is fantastic. And then they lower the balloon, turn it around and rise again for all to see the "sunrise".
Yes it was and is expensive but to us it was worth every cent.
Do you know if any of the balloon tours are coordinated (for an extra fee) by the Rick Steve's Tour operation? We are booked on the Best of Turkey tour that starts in Istanbul on May 8. There is nothing in the general itinerary that discusses what day or how to book the balloon experience but it sounds like a great thing to do.
I don't know if any "coordination" is required. The balloon operators are very well attuned to their business, and handle everything (at least ours did). They'll pick you up from your lodging (it'll be very early morning), and return you afterwards.
As to "what day" to do the balloon experience: book that for your first morning. Because the balloons only go when the wind is calm, and if the weather doesn't cooperate, no flying that day, maybe tomorrow. If your balloon trip is canceled (happens all the time), you should be given priority for the next morning's flights. So to increase your chances of getting to fly, book for your first morning, then you'll have additional flight options if the first day is a blowout. With a very early start (which is standard), you should be all done and back to your hotel by 9 am, so it shouldn't step on your other plans for the day.
I suspect that tour companies don't actually book the balloon rides directly for potential liability reasons. I did the balloon ride as part of a Smithsonian/Odysseys Unlimited tour, and I suspect that Rick Steves tours work the same way. Our tour guide negotiated the pricing and gave the balloon company a head count. The balloon company picked us up early in the morning, and returned us to the hotel after the balloon ride. We paid the balloon company directly. Other than the head count, the tour company had no involvement.
The balloon ride was a terrific experience, worth every penny, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.