Up, up and away in Albuquerque Balloon festival: The annual October event is popular, so make your plans -- and reservations -- early.

Travel Q&A


I would appreciate information about the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in October. I have been advised to make plans as early as possible because of its popularity. I'd like to know about the availability of hotels and car rentals.

The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place this year Oct. 5-13, marking the 25th anniversary of the event. Although a sampling of calls around town in late March found rooms and car rentals available, people familiar with the festival said both may become scarce as the date nears. It's wise to make reservations as soon as possible.

The organizers are moving the event this year from the current field to a 300-acre park in the northern part of the city, off Interstate 25. The new field will permit more balloons; last year there were 671 of them, as well as 1.3 million visitors over nine days.

Among the highlights are mass ascensions, in which large groups of balloons rise together, at 7: 30 a.m. on all weekend days, as well as Wednesday, Oct. 9; balloon glows, in which inflated balloons tethered to the ground ignite their burners at dusk, at 5: 30 Oct. 6 and Oct. 12; as well as events featuring balloons in special shapes, such as a dragon, a dinosaur and Noah's Ark.

The weekends of the fiesta are the most popular; for a less-crowded experience, the organizers suggest a midweek visit. Admission is $4; children under 12 are admitted free. Parking is free. For a schedule, contact the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, 8309 Washington Place N.E., Albuquerque, N.M. 87113; (505) 821-1000 or (800) 284-2282; fax (505) 828-2887.

Sun Tran, the city's public transport system, runs park-and-ride service on weekends to the fiesta from three locations. The specific locations are not yet known, according to John Parker, transit manager for service development. The cost is expected to be $6 to $10 round trip, including admission, for the first Saturday, less for subsequent days.

For details of the pickup points, call (505) 843-9200 after July 1, or write after Aug. 1: Sun Tran Park and Ride, 601 Yale S.E., Albuquerque, N.M. 87106.

Gray Line Tours, (800) 256-8991, charges $25 for transport from major hotels and admission to a mass ascension or a balloon glow.

Among the hotels that reported having space available for most or all of the period: Hyatt Regency, in the heart of downtown at 330 Tijeras N.W., (505) 842-1234, where a double room costs $175 on weekends, $160 on weekdays; the Marriott, off Interstate 40 and Louisiana Boulevard in the business district, (505) 881-6800 or (800) 334-2086, which charges $140 for two; and the Best Western Winrock Inn, (505) 883-5252, adjacent to the Winrock shopping center, where a double room costs $135.

My husband and I will be spending six months in France and Italy in the fall and will need a car. Do you have any information about long-term arrangements?

You are probably thinking about purchase-repurchase agreements, which technically involve buying a car and selling it back to the manufacturer. One such arrangement is available from Renault Eurodrive, which has covered hatchbacks available in various European countries for periods of at least 17 days with pick-up and drop-off in France, 23 days otherwise. (The hatchback cover conceals passengers' belongings.)

A Clio RL 1.2 three-door hatchback with manual transmission is $3,285 for 175 days if you pick it up at the company's factory location in Paris. (That is the maximum period allowed if you pick up the car there. Other locations allow a few days longer.) The cost includes unlimited mileage and insurance.

A company representative, Kerry Stranman, suggested you consider a slightly larger car, a Clio RL 1.9 diesel five-door, which costs $3,371 for the same period, because of the fuel savings; diesel fuel runs about 30 percent less than gasoline.

The car may be dropped off at any Eurodrive location in France at no extra charge. Locations outside the country cost extra. Rome is the most expensive, at $250.

The company requires a month's advance notice and a minimum deposit of $100. The balance must be paid before departure. If you cancel less than a month before delivery, there is a $100 cancellation fee.

For more information: Renault Eurodrive, 650 First Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; (212) 532-1221 or (800) 221-1052.

Kemwel, which works with Peugeot, offers purchase-repurchase programs in nine European countries. A Peugeot 106 KID, a five-door covered hatchback with manual transmission, would cost $3,285 for 175 days, the maximum period, at one of the company's free pickup points, which include Paris. Pick-up or drop-off in Rome would cost $255. The full cost must be prepaid 30 days before departure.

For more details: Kemwel, 106 Calvert St., Harrison, N.Y. 10528; (914) 835-5555 or (800) 678-0678; fax (914) 835-5449.

Both programs include 24-hour roadside assistance.

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