I went out to the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station this morning to test-ride the new Great Park Balloon and to check out the new visitorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ center.
The big orange balloon is the first attraction of the Orange County Great Park, and it gives riders the opportunity to soar up to 500 feet above the park to watch the progress (this morning the balloon was only going up to 300 feet because of windÃ¢â‚¬â€and this safety precaution really peeved the man behind us in line who was obsessively complaining about those missing 200 feet).
The helium-filled balloon is about 118 feet high and the gondola can fit about 30 passengers.Ã‚Â And the best thing is that the balloon rides are free (F-R-E-E) until 2008.Ã‚Â For more information go to: greatparkballoon.org
The ticket counter for the balloon ride is inside The Great Park VisitorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Center that houses a few chintzy exhibits on the development of the park.Ã‚Â All of the exhibits try to sell you on how the park is good for the community.
I was hanging out with a friend at the center that was on the airport side of the airport v.s. park debate (that I thought ended in 2002) and he reminded me how this area needed an international airport and that this base already had the runways constructed.Ã‚Â He also asked how often a guy like me, from Garden Grove, would be commuting this far south to visit a park.
My verdict: the balloon ride was a fun one-time attraction; the visitorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ center was a waste of money; the graphic design on all of their marketing materials was exceptional.