After months of anticipation, Wonders of Flight will have its grand opening Friday.
Pigeon Forge has long been a weekend destination for many UT students as well as for tourists from around the country. WonderWorks' new "Wonders of Flight" attraction will add to the allure of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood as a state of the art tethered hot-air balloon, taking 30 passengers at a time and more than 400 feet into the sky.
Todd Jolley is the manager of the North American operations for Aerophile, the maker of Wonders of Flight. He has had the chance to ride the balloon a few times and is excited to open the experience to the public as autumn descends upon East Tennessee.
"I'm hoping that people will come for the fall color change to see it in the different perspective," Jolley said. "I think it will be absolutely gorgeous when the leaves change."
By boarding a gondola beneath the enormous green and blue balloon, the adventurous riders steps foot onto what will soon become a flying balcony.
Aerophile, the world leader in tethered gas balloons, manufactured the Aero30NG balloon in France. With over 50 balloons sold in more than 22 different countries, the attraction is world-renowned. Due to helium shortages across the nation, the Pigeon Forge balloon's grand opening has been delayed for more than four months. On Friday, however, Pigeon Forge will finally join Disney World as the only locations to offer tethered gas balloons in the Southeast. China's OCT East Amusement Park and France's Disneyland feature similar experiences, as do Berlin, Istanbul and Paris.
Holli Kervin, junior in nursing, loves Dollywood and Pigeon Forge, and even owns a season pass during the summer.
"It's just an all-American pure Southern place to be, full of funnel cakes and a good time," Kervin said.
Knoxville has been ranked highly on lists of cities with poor air quality in years past. Last November, Forbes Magazine had the Knoxville-Sevierville-LaFollette area as 15th on the list of America's "20 Dirtiest Cities." This attraction, however, will not add to the pollution. Due to its permanently inflated helium envelope and hydro-electric winch, the system is noiseless, while using no more energy than an elevator.
The opening rate for riding the Wonders of Flight attraction will be $15.99 for adults and $9.99 for children. Rides are offered daily during both daytime and evening hours. As for a potential rate change past the balloon's opening, Jolley was unsure.
"The owner of the company, Jerome Giacomoni, is coming from Paris right now, and once he gets here, we'll discuss the permanent price with him," Jolley said.
Those unable to make the grand opening should not worry about the balloon closing before they get a chance to ride it. Unlike some attractions in Pigeon Forge, Wonders of Flight can operate year-round.
"We are open 365 days a year, weather permitting. The only way we cannot fly is in the snow or if it is minus 10 degrees Celsius," Jolley said.
For more information on Wonders of Flight, please visit wondersofflight.com.