Who doesn’t love a good fireworks show? When my husband heard about the annual Thunder over Louisville fireworks display, there was little guessing about where our next trip would be. This time, we managed to sucker two friends into joining us for the long drive, I mean… fun.
Thunder Over Louisville is held annually as the kick off for the Kentucky Derby festivities. The day starts off with one of the top five air shows and culminates with the largest fireworks display in the nation. The festival is free to the public, although you can support it by purchasing a $6 Pegasus Pin that allows you access to the waterfront and the food truck areas. The festival starts around 11, the air show starts around 3, and the fireworks show is from 9:30-10:00 – yes, an entire 30 minutes of fireworks!
I had a difficult time trying to find information about what the event was REALLY like. The webpage and FAQs are very informative, but I still couldn’t grasp what to expect when it came to crowds, food, and events. We’d just have to wing it.
We stayed just over the bridge in Indiana at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino. While the location wasn’t bad, it wasn’t ideal either. We’re not very good gamblers, and our time was limited, so we didn’t spend any time in the casino. The drive to Louisville was about 20 minutes, which wasn’t bad considering the crowds in town.
After a long drive (and several stops at entertaining country stores and gas stations), we arrived in Louisville around dinnertime the day before the big event. We sampled the bourbon and delicious BBQ at Doc Crows. After we’d all had our fill, we turned in early knowing that the next day was going to be a long one!
We could have stayed on the Indiana side and had a perfectly good view of the air show and fireworks, but we hadn’t traveled all that way to sit on the sidelines! Not knowing what the traffic would be like, we headed into downtown Louisville early on Saturday.
Turns out… 9am was too early! Traffic was a breeze and we easily found parking in a garage that wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg once the day was over.
Leaving our gear in the car, we headed out in search of a good breakfast place – and found one at Wild Eggs. Bloody Marys, bellinis, waffles, eggs, biscuits, and gravy sure got our day started on the right foot!
Once we were able to roll out of Wild Eggs, we headed back to the parking garage to grab our stuff – lawn chairs and a backpack with some water and small snacks – and headed out to stake out a good location for the day. We wandered around awhile and found several okay spots before finally settling down in the grassy field near the food trucks.
I’m not sure what I expected for the festival – there were some typical carnival-like games, food trucks, small rides for the kids – but mostly it was like spending a day at a crowded park or on a beach boardwalk. There are things to do, but you’re mostly on your own for entertainment.
The festival is a great people-watching event – families playing together, policemen joining in pickup football games, the local radio station keeping the crowds going. It was great to sit back and watch a community of strangers come together and enjoy the day.
The air show started around 3:00. About 30 different acts performed about every 20-30 minutes. It was fascinating to watch the different groups of planes and skydivers perform.
Finally, after a long day of waiting, it was time for the fireworks! The anticipation was killing us – and the show didn’t disappoint! It’s difficult to describe how amazing the show was; there just aren’t words that do it justice. You’ll have to see for yourself!
After the show was finished, the crowds headed out quickly. All in all, it took us about an hour to get from the festival back to the hotel – not bad considering it would have been a 20 minute drive even without traffic. Luckily, we were all still riding the high from seeing the fireworks and were able to stay patient with the traffic all trying to leave the city at once.
- Bring lawn chairs and blanket
- Bring a cooler with plenty of water
- Find lunch and dinner at the food trucks, but bring your own snacks
- Umbrellas and tents aren’t allowed, so bring plenty of sunscreen
- Bring something to do – cards, a football, something! The air shows are fantastic and the festival is fun, but we had about 10 hours to kill from the time we arrived until the show started.
- Dress appropriately: wear comfortable shoes and bring layers – it’s hot during the day, but it gets chilly once the sun disappears for the day.
- Save some patience for your trip home at the end of the day. Everyone’s in a hurry to get home and no one’s going anywhere quickly.
- Outside alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed. No one really checked, but all bags are subject to searches, so it’s at your own risk. Beer was available for purchase at some of the carts. No glass bottles are allowed.
- Bring toilet paper in case the Thunder Pots (porta potties) run out.
The event left us with a feeling of community – even though we were surrounded by strangers. There’s really nothing like starting your afternoon with the Star Spangled Banner, ending with God Bless America and an air show showcasing many of our nation’s finest, followed by a spectacular fireworks display to make you feel incredibly grateful for our freedom and for those who do so much to protect it. It’s great to be reminded how truly lucky we are.