Are you thinking about going to the derby or just want to know what it’s like? Come with us as we share our experience along with useful Kentucky Derby tips to help plan your trip.
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 a few years ago, 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 – Thunder Over Louisville
Here’s a crazy thing we learned: the Kentucky Derby is not just about the derby race. It’s actually 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 and has been rated one of the top 100 events in America.
Another Great Kentucky Trip: Red River Gorge Area
There were three separate intervals we assumed were the finale because of the massive spectacle before us. Nope, just part of the show.
The Best Way to See Thunder Over Louisville
The best way to experience Thunder Over Louisville is to buy a ticket to the Louisville Bats game. The minor league baseball team plays at Louisville Slugger Field which has a great vantage point for the fireworks.
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!
In the days before the big race, the Kentucky Derby Festival continues with The Great Balloon Race, The Great Steamboat Race, The Pegasus Parade and Derby Marathons. The list goes on and on… who knew? We sure didn’t
The Longines Kentucky Oaks
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.
Take a Kentucky Bourbon Tour
The Day of the Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby is the longest annually held sporting event in the United States. It has been a big celebration since 1875 and is fondly mentioned in the popular book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”
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.
So when is the Kentucky Derby 2019? The 145th Kentucky Derby is Saturday, May 4th, 2019 at 5:50 PM (CDT) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
What Time do the Gates Open at the Kentucky Derby?
The gates open early, at 8:00 AM, for both the Longines Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. Guests can enter at the Paddock, Clubhouse, or Infield Gate.
Kentucky Derby Parking
Parking is available (RESERVATION ONLY IN ADVANCE) at Churchill Downs for the Oaks and the Derby. Additional parking spaces are available the day of the Derby at Cardinal Stadium and the Kentucky Exposition Center with no reservations necessary. Locals also offer parking on their property throughout the neighborhood surrounding the track.
Because we didn’t arrive till a few hours before the races began, we chose to park in a local’s driveway for a small fee. We had no issues getting out of our space and the people were very nice.
Do-Miss Experiences at the Kentucky Derby
Make sure to pull up the Derby Day Schedule to plan your day.
- The Infield. Even if you have seats, go check out the insane party that takes place on the infield.
- Drink a Mint Julep.
- The opening ceremonies.
- The midday celebrity red carpet stroll. You never know who you’ll see!
- Walk the Paddock to see the horses. Maybe you’ll change your betting strategy.
- Learn the words to “My Old Kentucky Home” so you can sing along when its time.
Kentucky Derby Tips to Prepare and Survive
- 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.
- Give yourself extra time. 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.
- Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses.
- Stay hydrated. Again, it’s a long day.
- Place your bets all at once in the beginning of the day or at least for the Derby race. The lines are really long so do research and get your bets in early.
- Bring cash, the ATM lines are long as well.
- Speaking of long lines, make sure to get in line for the bathroom BEFORE you have to go.
- Pack snacks, the food is expensive and it’s a long day so it’s always smart to have goodies on hand.
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- 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.
Do you have any Kentucky Derby tips? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments!