Organizers, vendors prep for 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta opening day

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Excitement is building as tens of thousands of people will ring in the start of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta bright and early Saturday morning.

So what’s new and what should you know before you go?

Along with a new opening ceremony and new safety technology, Fiesta-goers can expect tighter security on the first day.

Most of the 80 vendors Fiesta has coming spent Friday afternoon putting the finishing touches on their booths.

“Absolutely the most amazing man-made spectacle I’ve ever seen,” said Norm Dravis, a now second-time Fiesta vendor. Dravis says 2016 marked his first visit to the event, ever.

Dravis and his partner Judy drove 12 hours over from Palm Springs, California on Thursday. They spent all Friday setting up their soft serve ice cream cart, which they say is the only one at Fiesta.

“Yes, it is a mad dash,” said Dravis. “Four o-clock (AM) this is just a sea of people.”

Further down “vendor row,” the Plano Pin Company spent Friday rehanging its new banners. This year, they’ve got a first for pin collectors.

“We actually have 59 of the special shape pins that are the ones that the pilots commission,” said Britt-Lee Smith, sales manager for the Plano Pin Company.

About 70,000 to 80,000 people can pack Balloon Fiesta Park for the opening day. AIBF spokesman Tom Garrity says, “Patience is essential” on day one.

“The first Saturday is always the you know busiest day out of Balloon Fiesta,” said Garrity.

This year, security crews will be checking bags thoroughly in response to the Las Vegas shooting.

Another safety feature that likely won’t be used on opening day are the new weather sirens the city has installed in Balloon Fiesta Park. Those sirens blare if there’s lightning nearby.

So far, organizers believe opening day is looking good. If you’re on the field, look out for a new opening ceremony.

“Think of 200 plus gondolas on the field with their burners aimed high,” said Garrity.

When the announcer says, “start your inflators,” those burners will all ignite, throwing flames into the air at the same time.

Garrity said his only other advice is to remember how much the weather changes when the sun comes up. While it might be cold on the field in the morning, once the sun rises, you’ll likely need sunglasses, sunscreen and something light you can wear.

Festivities start up Saturday morning with “Dawn Patrol” at 5:45 a.m.

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