Hot-air balloons were originally designed as sky prisons for bullies to spend the rest of their natural lives cruelly mocking the weightlessness of timid clouds. Enjoy a less insulting application of aeronautics with today's Groupon: for $125, you get a 45- to 60-minute hot air balloon ride from R.O. Franks Aviation Company in Asheville, North Carolina (a $250 value).
For 15 years, third-generation sky engineer R. Addison M. Brown has hoisted panorama-junkies into the heavens by harnessing the power of hot, blustery air. The pilot and up to four passengers clamber into the gondola just before sunrise, the time of day when winds are calmest and giant pumpkins transform back into balloons. The buoyant sky-vessel carries its sightseeing cargo aloft like a helium-filled donkey, rising 1,000-3,000 feet above ground level as the sun begins its own ascent over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
With permissive weather, passengers may even be treated to an intimate and peaceful view of the city as Captain Addison points out local landmarks, such as the historic Biltmore Estate and the mysterious Mothra-shaped crater. Flights last from 45 minutes to one hour and set off every day, depending on weather conditions. Riders should book as early in advance as possible and call an hour before their scheduled time to check-in.