The Kentucky Derby has always been an event I wanted to attend; a bucket list item one could say. I wasn’t sure when I would be able to check it off my list or if at all since it can be an expensive experience. But in 2014, the year of California Chrome, the stars aligned and our friend came through with fabulous seats. We were suddenly scrambling for a hotel room and adequate outfits for the occasion.
And what an occasion it was..
The Kentucky Derby Festival
The Kentucky Derby is not just about the race; it is a two-week extravaganza that ends with the race. The festival kicks off with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest fireworks display in North America. It is the most thrilling and outrageous fireworks demonstration that we have ever seen. There were three separate intervals we assumed were the finale because of the massive spectacle before us. Nope, just part of the show!
The Kentucky Derby Festival continues with The Great Balloon Race, The Great Steamboat Race, The Pegasus Parade and Derby Marathons. We only made it to Thunder Over Louisville on a separate trip than the Derby weekend.
We spent the day watching the Louisville Bats, the minor league baseball team, playing at Louisville Slugger Field. The tickets are an all day admittance (with in and out privileges to the park) which gave us a seat for the baseball game, air show, mid-day concert then the fireworks display at night. And to me the most important, access to the bathrooms with no long lines. Well worth the ticket price!
The Longines Kentucky Oaks – Pretty in Pink
The Kentucky Oaks race is held the day before the Derby and is just as spectacular as the Derby itself. It is an all pink celebration in honor of the Oaks official flower, the stargazer lily, and in support of Churchill Downs’ official partnerships with Bright Pink and Horses & Hope.
The Day of the Kentucky Derby
The day of the Derby is brimming with extravagant outfits, traditional Mint Juleps, exhilarating races, over-the-top-hats, and an all-consuming feeling of excitement.
“The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports”
Tips to Prepare & Survive the Kentucky Derby
- Tour the Kentucky Derby Museum beforehand if possible.
- Watch Secretariat, a movie about the first horse to win the Triple Crown in twenty-five years, setting race records in all three events.
- Book your hotel as far in advance as you can, they book up quick.
- If you have hotel points, use them. Hotels increase the room prices, but the points stay the same.
- Plan ahead and get to all events early.
- Getting home: It’s probably worth spending the extra money for transportation arranged beforehand. The taxi lines were horrendous.
- Ladies, if you wear heels, bring an extra pair of shoes (flip-flops or flats), it is a LONG day.
- Brush up on your betting strategy beforehand here.
- Bring a pen or sharpie for writing down bets.
- Place your bets all at once or at least the Derby race.
- Bring cash, the ATM lines are long.
Be Part of the Adventure.
Looking for more tips on travel in the South?
Check out these posts:
- Kentucky’s Epic Red River Gorge that You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
- Best Side Trips from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Santa Claus, Indiana: Best Place to Celebrate Christmas in July
- Adults Only Day in Downtown Gatlinburg
Plan Your Trip to Kentucky
We have been budget traveling for over ten years and love finding deals. Here are a few websites that we use consistently to save money and time booking accommodations, flights and car rental.
- Hotels.com has a best rate guarantee program that allows you to price match up until 24 hours prior to arrival and its rewards program gives one free night for every 10 nights collected.
- Airfarewatchdog.com is a comparison website that searches through tons of flights. It compares airline pricing up to three times a day, having up to date information and also includes airlines such as Southwest and Allegiant that other websites do not include.
- Priceline is usually the cheapest for car rentals and has a best rate guarantee program as well.
Have you ever been to the Kentucky Derby? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments!