Kentucky Derby 2024 First Timer’s Guide: Vip, Parties, Prices & More

Sitting in the stands and watching horse racing is sure to get your blood pumping, even if you’re watching your money go down the drain.
Welcome back to Wanderfully Lost, your home for all things travel!
Today we’re talking about all things Kentucky Derby. From the best tickets and hotels to activities and even a few VIP secrets along the way.
So, fix your saddles, strap in, and let’s get off to the races!

What are the Best Tickets?

Let’s kick off by talking about how to get into the derby.
The cheapest of the cheap are the General Admission Tickets, which will cost you only about $65. These will let you get into the Infield, which is smack dab in the center of the racetrack, and the area by the Paddock.
The Paddock is where the riders prepare their horses, but sadly, you can’t get in there, no matter how much you want to fulfill your jockey dreams.
But for the party animals, just handing out at the infield is more than enough, because it’s eighty thousand people reveling in drunken debauchery. The booze is flowing freely, the people are smashed, and there’s a lot of dirt and sweat.
No, seriously. While we definitely recommend swinging by the infield for a day, it’s best not to do it in clothes you’d mind getting dirty. This is not the best place.
Then there are the infield bleacher seats. These are the cheapest reserved seats you can find, and we’re warning you, they’re not the most glamorous. You’re not allowed umbrellas, so if it rains, well, you’re on your own.
The tickets are for two days and will cost you about $500. But you can probably find single-day options on resale websites.
And after that, we have the full package deal. These expensive tickets will get you on the right side of the track and cost you a minimum of $1,000. Although if you have really deep pockets, some of the seats closest to the tracks can come for as much as 10 grand.
You’ll be so close, you’ll be able to feel the blast of air on your face as the horses whizz past you.
Of course, all these prices are for the actual Derby day… because surprise, there are a lot of festivities before the actual event, and you might be able to get tickets that are a lot cheaper!
So, let’s get into the schedules and activities next, shall we?

What is There to Do at the Derby?

Now, the events related to the Derby start about a week before the big race, which takes place on the first Saturday of May.
But Thursday before the Derby is when the fun really begins. This is the aptly named Thurby, the race that the locals attend, and it’s a great option if you’re looking to avoid the crowds and get a cheaper option.
Then there’s Oaks Day, where 3-year-old fillies test their mettle. It’s also a great option before D-day, but be warned, it’s going to be a little more crowded than Thurby.
Also, keep in mind that there’s a bit of a dress code!
You can wear anything you want, as long as it’s pink! It’s like mean girls, but for horses and on Friday.
Each racing day features 11 to 14 different races of varying lengths, so rest assured, boredom will not be your issue.
And then, the day we’ve all been waiting for, the reason for the season comes. Make sure to place your bets wisely!
Actually, speaking of betting, here’s a secret insider tip for you if you want to be smart about putting your money where your mouth is.
Regardless of whether you choose one of these options or go to the actual thing, be sure to check out Dawn at The Downs. This is when the jockeys warm up, so if you’re looking to put your coin on one of the horses, this is the best time to scope out the talent.
Dawn At The Downs starts at around 7:30 am, and goes on till about 10:30. The best part? It’s free!
After that, check out Wagner’s Pharmacy, a diner right across the Churchill Downs. Not only will you have a meal that will leave your taste buds racing for more, but you might even spot a celebrity or two!
Or, grab a Hot Brown at the Brown Hotel for the full experience, the dish is legendary in these parts. You’ll have to get your reservation months in advance, though. So, what are you waiting for?
But speaking of food, if you’re staying here for a bit of time – and rest assured, we’ll get to hotels in a moment too – the best way to experience the local cuisine is to take a food tour! You’ll be able to check out all the culinary classics that Louisville has to offer, from bourbon balls to bourbon.
Yeah, you’ll be having a lot of bourbon while you’re there.
But don’t worry if you prefer staying sober, because May in Kentucky brings a whole host of things to do. In between days at the Derby, you can go underground ziplining at the Mega Cavern, go to the Waterfront Botanical Gardens and take Instagram-worthy pictures that will make all your friends jealous, or check out the Kentucky Derby Museum if you’re a fan of history!
But the crown jewel of all things Kentucky Derby is the parties. Specifically, the Barnstable Brown Gala.
Be warned, it will cost you a pretty penny at about $1500 if you want to buy an invite, but this night will become something you rave about to your friends for years. The gala takes place on the Friday before the derby, in the Barnstable Brown mansion in the Highlands neighborhood, and is jam-packed with celebrities and millionaires.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, then check out Unbridled Eve instead. You might even get lucky and find your favorite B and C list celebrities dancing the night away. If you’re not the sort to spend money on parties, you could check out the Hillbilly Outfield.
If there’s one thing the Derby people know, evidently it’s how to throw a good ol’ party. Oh, and hey, while you’re there, take part in the local fashion scene and make sure to stock up on a few big old hats! When in Louisville, do as the derby-goers do!
Obviously, Kentucky has a lot to offer anyone willing to explore its nooks and crannies. But to do that, you’ll need time… and a place to stay. Let’s get into the next thing you’ll need to plan your trip.

Where To Stay.

Louisville has hotels galore, and you’ll find your list of options so large you’ll be hard-pressed to choose which is the best one for you.
So, we recommend deciding the part of town you want to stay in first, and if you want more of our advice, stay downtown.
Not only will this help your budget by making any taxi rides cheaper, but in many cases, you might not even need a car at all to get around.
Now, there are a lot of stellar hotels here. There’s the 21C Museum Hotel.
This one can cost you a pretty penny, let’s be real here, but the feeling the contemporary art will evoke in you-not to mention the pictures- will be well worth every dollar you spend.
After all, you’re only here for a bit of time, and it’s all part of the package deal, right?
Or, you can stay at the Omni Louisville Hotel. It’s one of the top-rated places to stay, so you won’t be going wrong with this one.
But if you absolutely can’t find anything worth your time downtown, don’t worry. Check out Old Louisville next! The gorgeous Victorian homes will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a period piece, and the hotels are one of a kind.
Speaking of old-world charm, the Louisville Bourbon Inn is another great option that’s just around the corner from where the derby takes place. This bread and breakfast is a mansion turned hotel, and is the perfect place to satiate all your bourbon needs.
And if you’re a fan of something a little more modern, then you absolutely can’t go wrong with Buchertown and NuLu. You’ll find galleries and eateries and all the vibrancy your heart can need.
The only thing we don’t recommend is staying over at East Louisville. While there are a lot of cheap options over there, it’s far away from where all the fun takes place. On top of that, the area isn’t really accessible by public transit, so you’ll have to waste time and money to get to anywhere worthwhile.
So what do you do? pack your bags and book your reservations before all the other race-goers leave you down in the dust, of course!
Thanks for wandering with us! If you enjoyed this video, check out Best Family Vacations in The USA linked here!

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