If you want to work up to Thunder gradually, the Derby Festival has planned a couple of appealing events for those who are “early to the party.”
Before planning a route to the event, Thunder-goers should first be aware that the Derby Festival will be closing the Clark Memorial/Second Street Bridge in preparation for Thunder. Metro Police will release their event-specific traffic plan at a press conference on Tuesday, April 17. In the meantime, the hours for the closures are as follows:
The LMPD is also very specific about is and is not permitted within Waterfront Park and the event area (this area being defined as “north of Main to the Ohio River, bounded by Clay and 8th Streets”):
All personal items – coolers, camping gear, tarps, chairs, etc. – left unattended overnight in the event venue will be considered “abandoned” and removed, including camping gear, coolers, tarps, and chairs.
Arrive as early as you can and park as far away from the event area as you can comfortably walk, since exiting traffic will be extremely heavy. There are areas where no parking is permitted, and a list is available on Metro Police’s website, as are some helpful tips on where to park to access the quickest route out of the event area according to the direction you are headed. Parking Authority of River City (P.A.R.C.) lots and Riverside Garages in the area are also accessible until full for a special event rate. You can call P.A.R.C. at (502)-587-PARK and Riverside at (502)-584-2459 for garage and lot locations.
Perhaps the easiest way to get to Thunder is via TARC. Their buses offer several committed routes for visitors, and the entire Thunder Day schedule, as well as a map of boarding locations, is on TARC’s website. The regular one-way fare of $1.50 will be in effect, and tickets and passes will also be accepted. Look for yellow signs for post-event boarding, which will be restricted to five locations, all within blocks of the waterfront. Buses will operate until 11:30 p.m. at those locations, which are posted on the map on the TARC website mentioned above.
Part of Thunder’s appeal is the fact that it’s so enormous and as such can be seen from almost anywhere on either bank of the Ohio River. The fireworks themselves can even be seen from some of Louisville’s fantastic parks and the hills of the neighboring Highlands, but if you want to taste the true “Thunder experience,” you’ll want a good view of the Second Street Bridge, which provides the backdrop to the famous the coup de grace, the “fireworks waterfall.”
Many choose to achieve this by staking out a spot in Waterfront Park, which is open to the public and outfitted with plenty of vending machines and port-a-potties (endearingly, if not inelegantly named “Thunder Pots”). You can bring food with you to this area if you’d rather not pay for a meal, as well as your own toilet paper (which is strongly encouraged). The North Great Lawn opens at 9 a.m., and admission is free with a 2012 Pegasus Pin. The prospect from the Indiana side of the river is just as dazzling, but much of the expanse is private property. In addition, crowds are expected to be sizeable between the Clark and Kennedy Bridges, and though more areas have been opened to visitors between Fort and Pearl Streets just east of the Kennedy Bridge, space will most likely be scarce. Those who want a Hoosier view are therefore advised to purchase a ticket to one of the restaurant or hotel parties along the riverfront.
The Derby Festival Chow Wagon, which remains open throughout the Kentucky Derby Festival, will welcome visitors at noon for free, as long as they’re wearing a Pegasus Pin, and remain open throughout the day. Entertainment will run between the air show and the fireworks on the Miller Lite Talent Stage, and in addition to the great food (funnel cakes, elephant ears, and a variety of ethnic options) and beverages, the Chow Wagon will also provide commentators for the fireworks and a music soundtrack over its Thunder Sound System.
If you’re not keen on joining the masses along the waterfront, there are a few more options for watching the works:
The fireworks are expected to last a half-hour, but by then, the party will just be starting. The Derby Festival Chow Wagon is open until 11 p.m., which may be a good refuge for visitors hoping to wait a while before venturing into the traffic fray. Fourth Street Live!, which is mere blocks from Waterfront Park, will be hosting its own Thunder “After-Glow Party” starting at 10 p.m. DJ K-Dogg will be on the Live! stage and various establishments in the area will be offering their own specials throughout the night. You can return every night from Thursday, April 26, to Tuesday, May 1, after each event at Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront to enjoy the same specials. Best of all, After-Glow and every KDF after-party is free with a Pegasus Pin.
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