It’s hard to knock the views from the sand at Old Orchard Beach. Year-round, the seashore scene is impressive: a stretch of beach leading to a rhythmic roll of waves and out farther to blue-green water that eventually meets up at the horizon with an even bluer sky.

It’s an enviable view. And it’s even better when taken in from higher up — aboard nearby Palace Playland’s new 70-foot Ferris wheel, for example. Or from the gondola of a hovering hot air balloon.

For those who like the view-from-high idea, the Ferris wheel will be available for riding all summer long. The hot air balloons, however, are only in town during Old Orchard Beach’s upcoming Spirit in America Hot Air Balloon Festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday.

Six balloons are slated to be inflated on the sands of Old Orchard Beach. Tethered balloon rides will be offered at sunrise and sunset on Friday and Saturday and at sunrise on Sunday, weather permitting, for $20 per person.

Of course, anyone can meander by and appreciate the colorful balloons as they lounge in the early summer sun. And as night falls, but before the balloons are set off to slumber, the pilots will fire the burners for a night glow at dusk on Friday and Saturday.

There are plenty of other activities throughout the weekend as well, as the balloon festival has been expanded since last year, according to Sharri MacDonald, festival co-chairwoman.

“We’ve really added a lot this year. The balloons are so ‘weather permitting,”‘ she said. “That’s why we added all the other activities. There should be a lot going on.”

Activities include a street bazaar in the town square, featuring local crafters, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Nor’Easters Kite Club will be showcasing its kites on the beach and each day of the festival features a game of “Minute to Win It in OOB,” where participants can compete in 60-second challenges on the town square stage.

Friday includes a magic show (noon, free, town square), a performance by Jimmy Jo & the Jumbol’ayuhs (3 p.m., free, town square) and a beach lobster bake (5 p.m., $20, on the beach).

On Saturday, the Smokin’ at The Ballpark BBQ Festival takes the field from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event features a state championship barbecue contest and a people’s choice award for best pulled pork. The $10 entry fee enables attendees to sample from the people’s choice category and cast a vote.

But the events go beyond grilling at The Ballpark. Throughout the day, there will be a United Maine Craftsmen fair, pony rides, youth archery, fly-tying lessons and live entertainment from Ray Laboz (noon), Jimmy Jo & the Jumbol’ayuhs (1:15 p.m.) and the Beyond Reason Show (3:15 p.m.).

A free trolley will shuttle attendees from downtown Old Orchard Beach to The Ballpark and back during the barbecue festival.

Back in town, live music from the band Wavelength (2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.) will fill the town square before the balloons are set to night-glow mode on the beach again.

On Sunday, the street bazaar, kite flying, game playing and balloon rides continue, along with karate and hula hoop and Zumba demonstrations on the town square stage. Closing ceremonies at 4 p.m. bring the balloon-centric event to an end.

And while there will be a flurry of activity in and around town, MacDonald noted that enjoying the balloon festival won’t cost a family a small fortune.

“Most of our events are free,” she said. Aside from the barbecue festival, lobster bake and balloon rides, the rest of the weekend’s activities won’t cost a dime. Besides, MacDonald added, “The beach is always free. But now you’re going to be seeing some entertainment and just have some fun . . . and have a great weekend.”

Still, splurging on a ride in a hot air balloon to take in the scenery from that rare perspective is probably going to be worth it.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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