The Kentucky Derby: A Dream Come True

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..

Kentucky Derby

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.

Kentucky Derby
Louisville Slugger Field

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!

Kentucky Derby
Thunder Over Louisville – Air Show
Kentucky Derby
Thunder Over Louisville – Air Show

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.

Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs is adorned in pink
Kentucky Derby
I had to buy these pants as I own NOTHING pink
Kentucky Derby
Grey Goose Oaks Lily – Drink of the Day
Kentucky Derby
Even the horses and jockeys wear pink

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.

Kentucky Derby
Not just fancy hats are worn!
Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby’s Signature Drink: Mint Julep
Kentucky Derby
I could not find an inexpensive hat to fit my peanut-sized head & I think the lady behind me is noticing..
Kentucky Derby
Oh the hats…

“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.

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Looking for more tips on travel in the South?

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Plan Your Trip to Kentucky

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Car Rental

  • 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!

Kentucky Derby


21 Responses

  1. Strange but I have never ever seen someone report about the Derby in a travel blog before–you’d think many people would talk about how to do it, but no. So good choice for a post! The photos really present what the experience is like.

    • Thanks Tom! We went before we started the blog and since it is Derby weekend I figured I would put together something about our experience. It was an awesome weekend filled with laughter, drinks and new friends.

  2. I never thought I’d be interested in the Derby, but years ago a friend of mine invited me to a “derby” party in her home. We watched the races, had mint juleps (non-alcoholic), and played trivia games about the history of the derby. It was surprisingly entertaining! How fun that you got to attend in person. Pictures look great!

  3. Great Tips! I’ve always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby but never had the chance. Didn’t even realize it was two weeks! Crazy!

    • We didn’t realize it either and what a two weeks it is! Louisville really kicks it up a notch.. Thunder Over Louisville is a show you’ll never forget!

  4. So cool! I’m hoping to take my dad to the Kentucky Derby one day. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. I didn’t realize there was so much going on before the race. It sounds like quite an experience, especially if you are there for the full two weeks.

  6. Was on the fence about adding the Derby to my US Bucket List, but your informative and entertaining post has swayed me in the right direction – it’s on my list now. 🙂 By the way, liked the hot pink pants. Cute!

  7. I had heard about the derby before (and about the hats!) but I didn’t realise it was such a long and elaborate event – I always imagined it was just a race! I must say, I am intrigued now and I’d love to see at least part of it

  8. first post on derby from US. great one with photos.the content is good to read and experience in real!

  9. Never heard of the Kentucky derby before, maybe because I’m from the UK I don’t know! But it looks like an awesome couple of weeks with really cool events!

    • That is probably why! It’s an annual horse race in Louisville, Kentucky. It has been held 142 years and is considered the longest running sports event in the United States. It an exciting event to attend!

  10. It looks like you had a rocking time at the Derby.The snaps are amazing.

  11. Back home when we talked about “derby” it’s about “Rooster or Cockfighting”, it’s interesting to hear about this kind of derby! This looks cool and festive with those hats, and I wanna have that Grey Goose Oaks Lily too! 😉

    • Really?! That’s interesting! It’s funny how a word or even a gesture can mean something totally different depending on where you’re from.

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