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Louisville hotel
Antoinette Bierman

The Kentucky Derby is just around the corner on May 2nd, and with that in mind I have scoured the Web for all the latest and greatest info for those who've booked their Louisville hotels and want make the most out of their Derby experience. Whether you will be in town for a few weeks, want to incorporate a little history in to your visit, or just need a few race-day tips, here are a few of my top picks:

Early Arrivals
If you’ve booked your Louisville hotel for an extended period of time, or are arriving early for the Derby, you won’t want to miss out on some of the big events planned during the two-week Derby Festival leading up to the race.

Thunder over Louisville is the day-long opening ceremony event on Saturday, April 18th. Air show festivities include hundreds of planes, aerobatics, sky dive and stunt teams. The evening culminates with the nation's largest fireworks display, which can be seen from almost anywhere in downtown Louisville (although the show is best viewed from Waterfront Park on the Louisville side).

On April 24th the festival features the US Bank Derby Festival Great Balloon Glow. Balloons are inflated (but do not take flight) and the burners are fired up — illuminated against the backdrop of a night sky and even coordinated to a musical score! The popular event is followed by the Great Balloon Race the following morning on the 25th.

History Buffs
Although the 135th annual Kentucky Derby race at Churchill Downs is always the main event, for those who are eager to pack in some additional historical sites/activities they will find that Louisville is the perfect place for a history lesson.

Louisville hotels
An absolute must-see is the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory — celebrating one of America’s oldest and best known brands, as well as America’s favorite pastime. You won’t be able to miss this downtown location; with the world’s tallest bat leaning against the building (more than 6 stories high)! Be sure to check the company’s Web site to note when bat production will be available to view. You can even order a personalized bat when you arrive, and can pick it up following your tour or have it shipped home.

Plan a sight-seeing lunch or dinner cruise aboard the Belle of Louisville. Built in 1914, this 750-passenger vessel is the oldest operating river steamboat, lasting longer and traveling further than any other in American history. If you’d like to see the steamer in action, but keep your feet on dry land, you can watch the Belle take on a challenger in the Great Steamboat Race on April 29th.

Race Day
When it comes to race day, be prepared for a marathon: The gates open at 8 a.m., and the last race is not until 7:27 p.m. To ensure a great time, keep inmind the following tips:

Keep it simple. Know in advance what you can and can’t bring to the Derby. A few items that will surely be confiscated at the gate are umbrellas, suntan lotion, coolers, grills, bottles and alcoholic beverages. No worries — you’ll be able to purchase what you need once inside. However, if you’re trying to save a few dollars you can still bring your own favorite foods — in clear plastic bags or containers.

The Infield is where it’s at. Although you won’t be near “Millionaire’s Row” and will have trouble spotting celebs, the infamous infield offers reasonable ticket prices, a seriously relaxed dress code, and a true party atmosphere. Keep in mind, you won’t see much of the race from this location — but a good time is surely had by all.

Make a fashion statement. Whether you’re planning on sporting your Sunday best or jeans anda t-shirt for the big day, don’t forget to plan on participating in a Derby fashion tradition — a Southern belle-style Kentucky Derby hat. Be sure to plan in advance so your hat completes your racing day style. If you’re in the infield, your hat can be as crazy as you’d like it to be, so make it yourself and add your own personal flare and humor.

Above all, kick back with a Mint Julep (beware — it’s an acquired taste), and enjoy all the unique sites that a trip to the Kentucky Derby can offer.

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Antoinette Bierman is an Orbitz market manager in Kentucky.

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