In the spirit of Up‘s unexpected success at the box office this weekend, I thought I’d post a bit about Scott’s and my recent trip up in a balloon of sorts ourselves.
(See that hangar that looks like it might barely fit the blimp? Um yeah, it could comfortably house 18 of those suckers! Skewed perspective, I s’pose!)
Located on Moffett Field, a former naval base operated by a NASA Research Center (there’s still all sorts of cool military paraphernalia like this Navy plane), San Francisco-based Airship Ventures started offering residents and tourists a one-of-a-kind experience last fall: a trip up in a commercial Zeppelin NT. It’s only one of three in the world that normal folk like us can go up in (the other two being in Japan and Germany), unless you’re uber-connected (read: wealthy!) and have access to the Goodyear. And what a place to do it, really.
The entire experience was just above (sorry, had to!) and beyond, from the woman checking us in and the guy who administered the safety brief, to Alex, one of the charming owners, and Fritz, the amazingly dashing German “flight attendant” who gave me great bar recs for my upcoming trip to Berlin. As Alex put it, “We have a job where we give so much joy to others—you never see anyone leave here grumpy—how could we not be happy all the time?”
When we got back, there was even a champagne toast and ceremony where we all got our official blimp certificates. The trip lasted two hours from takeoff to touchdown and departed in Mountain View (most famous for housing the Google campus), though the whole experience was more of a day-long ordeal, due to weather delays. The blimp went up the Bay, over downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge, around Angel Island and back. There are also trips that go over to Monterey, where you can spend the day and come back at sunset, and Airship is looking at rolling out Wine Country excursions in the near future. And if you’re in the LA area, you’re in luck: The Zeppelin’s coming to you over Fourth of July weekend (book soon, though; they’re almost full!).
The blimp can accommodate 13 passengers, plus the pilot and flight attendant. You only have to be seated for the first five minutes as it takes off, and after that, you’re free to roam the cabin. I had read in an LA Times article that the back loveseat had the best views in the house. Needless to say, we snagged it early on, while all the other passengers crammed up front trying to see out from the pilot’s seat. There are windows all around, though, including one at the front and another at the back that you can open and take pictures from. It was windy to say the least.
A ride aboard the Zeppelin is definitely a different way of seeing the city—you float low enough (around 1,000 feet) that you see things in much more detail than you would from a plane. Like the salt flats.
And the mud flats, too.
(I can’t help but think of the scenes in Austin Powers—“…the rocket, that looks like some guy’s..” “Johnson!”—because I’m incredibly immature like that and because my life is an imitation of pop culture, clearly.)
The ride was also highly educational. There were quite a few blimp buffs—who even knew there was such a thing?—who could spout off facts about the Hindenburg disaster like they were reciting their ABC’s. SVV wanted to give you all a bit of a science lesson, too: The red you see in the Bay in the photo above is due to the presence of millions of brine shrimp.
Like most “summer” days in San Fran, a heavy blanket of fog cloaked parts of the Bay. It is, after all, June; if you want a fog-free day, don’t come here until September when the Indian summer kicks in. Personally, I thought the fog only enhanced the beauty of the trip. Parts of the Bay Bridge emerged from the clouds like the Emerald City, and the fog looked inviting, as if you could jump into its folds like one oversized feather bed. But an older couple on our flight complained the whole time and wanted their money back because we couldn’t see the Golden Gate Bridge, as if it the weather were the pilot’s fault or something. (Though Fritz mocked humored them by saying, “You can blame us Germans!”) So I guess if that’s a priority to you, give yourself a couple day cushion when planning this trip just in case the weather isn’t ideal the first day or two.
Still, fog or no fog, I have no doubt you’ll be impressed by the views.
**All photos except the last two (and the one he’s in, natch) taken by Scott van Velsor with a Canon XTi, 17-85mm lens that is now completely shot thanks to an unfortunate run-in with the desert ground. Full set here.