This Saturday's 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby might be reason enough to go to Louisville. The Running of the Roses is one of the United States' great sports events with pageantry, parade, pomp and circumstance. But Louisville has much more to offer than a grand horse race. Sitting on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville is an emerging cultural and business community with a host of things to do and see including a recently-opened Mohammed Ali Center, the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, the National Corvette Museum, a growing art community full of folk art and galleries, a strong local ballet and orchestra, charming pre-Civil War hotels, a culinary history rich in local Kentucky ingredients (Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded in Louisville) and a proximity to Bourbon County -- the birthplace of the same-named whiskey.
You can still get Kentucky Derby travel packages from Premiere Sports Travel (tel. 800/924-9993; www.sportstravel.com/horse-racing/kentucky-derby.php) offering two nights at a local Louisville hotel and two tickets to all the races on the day of Derby at Churchill Downs, the famous race track. Starting at $995 for two nights' hotel and two tickets in the First Floor Grandstand. A more expensive package offering three nights' hotel accommodations, two tickets on the Third Floor Grandstand and tickets to the Pegasus Parade on Thursday night that officially kicks off Derby weekend starts at $1,415. The hotel for this trip is the Holiday Inn Downtown Louisville located three miles from Churchill Downs. You also get complimentary airport transportation, an official Derby souvenir and on-site Premiere Sports Travel staff to help with any other needs. Book fast because limited spots are available at both price points. The higher priced package gets you an invite to cocktail parties, the Oaks race on Friday, and a Saturday night post-Derby dinner at the hotel. For some images of the Derby, check out this photo essay from Life Magazine (www.life.com/Life/classicpictures/derby/9.html) or go the official site for the Kentucky Derby (www.kentuckyderby.com/2006).
Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) offers last minute air/land packages to Louisville at discounted prices. From Atlanta, travel to Louisville from Thursday, May 11 to Sunday May 14, 2006 starts at $410 per person with double occupancy. Costs include flights, hotels, taxes and fees. Hotels are scattered about the Louisville metropolitan area with some downtown, others on the loop around town and some near Bardstown Road, the popular area known for great restaurants, fun bars and live music venues featuring anything from jazz to bluegrass to rock and roll. The same trip from Cleveland starts at $202 per person with other cities checking in at $347 from Philadelphia, $220 from Chicago, and $503 from Los Angeles. Adding a car on any of these trips is as simple as clicking a button.
For a look at the old South, a stay at the Seelbach Hotel (tel. 502/585-3200; www.seelbachhilton.com) is a walk back in time, service and Louisville flavor. Built in 1905, the hotel is now a national landmark building. Recently bought and renovated by the Hilton Hotel Group, the Seelbach is all about charm and tradition in the Guilded Age. Al Capone stayed and played cards often on trips through the country, as have nine United States presidents. The Oakroom bar is famous all across the world (yes, world) for its Mint Julep, Kentucky's state drink made with Bourbon, crushed ice, mint and sugar. The famous Max Allen presided over the bar in the Oakroom and won bartending awards and competitions across the globe for his drink-making expertise. Room prices at the hotel, located on a prestigious downtown block, start at around $151 per day with a Romance Package costing $206 but including a full American breakfast and bottle of sparkling wine.
Louisville has a great sports tradition. Baseball and boxing fans will delight in the Louisville Slugger Museum and the new Mohammed Ali Museum. You can't miss the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum (tel. 877/775-8443; www.sluggermuseum.org/index.aspx). Located in downtown Louisville, the museum's giant building-sized bat is a reference point for tourists and locals alike. The official bat of Major League Baseball, Louisville Sluggers have been used by Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle. Tickets are only $9 for adults and $6 for children 6 to 12 years old. You can also order online a customized bat with your own personal weight and length specifications with your name on it to be picked up at the factory or sent to you. Customized "youth" bats start at $49; an adult brown bat costs $55.
Opened on November 21, 2005, The Mohammed Ali Center (tel. 502/584-9254; www.alicenter.org) is an activity center dedicated to preserving the legacy of Mohammed Ali and promoting empowerment worldwide for children and adults. The 93,000 square foot project has six floors, two and a half of which are dedicated to exhibits and artifacts detailing the life of the man most believe the "greatest" fighter to ever live. The rest of the center serves as an educational and communications center dedicated to the human spirit and potential. Entrance to the center costs $9 for adults, $5 for students with ID, $4 for children from 6 to 12, and $8 for seniors. The Center is open from 9:30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 12pm to 5pm on Sunday. It has a great retail store selling all kinds of Ali goods.
Bourbon lovers rejoice when hearing the words Maker's Mark (tel. 270/865-2099; www.makersmark.com). The bourbon manufacturer offers tours of its distillery, the oldest operating distillery on its original in the United States, which began as a gristmill distillery in 1805 [Editor's Note: For more, please read our recent "The Jewel of the Julep: Following the American Whiskey Trail"]. Tours of the site where Bill Samuels created the Maker's Mark we know and drink today in 1953 are available every half hour on the half hour from 10:30am to 3:30pm from Monday through Saturday all year round and Sundays at 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm from March till December. One of the highlights of the tour is dipping your own bottle in the hot red wax that characterizes the Maker's Mark bottle cap. The driving time from Louisville to the Maker's Mark Distillery is an hour and half along prime Kentucky country roads. The route takes you past My Old Kentucky Home State Park (tel. 502/348-3502; www.parks.ky.gov/stateparks/mk/index.htm), a Georgian Mansion with roots back to the ante-bellum South with expansive grounds an outdoor rotunda featuring summer shows and concerts. Bring your golf clubs. The golf course affiliated with the State Park is on the Kentucky State Park Golf Trail.
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