Newbie Tips for Thunder Over Louisville

For many of you, this Saturday (4/21) will be your first Thunder Over Louisville.  What is Thunder Over Louisville?  Thunder Over Louisville is the largest annual pyrotechnics display in North America, attracting over a half a million visitors every year. Thunder officially kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival, which is basically two weeks of partying leading up to the Kentucky Derby (held annually on the first Saturday in May).

This all-day event kicks off with the Thunder Air Show from 2:30 pm - 9:30 pm that includes more that 60 military and civilian air crafts.  The air show started off as a filler to entertain folks prior to the firework show, but is now ranked one of the top 5 air shows in the nation.  The planes travel at high speeds along the riverfront and perform breathtaking stunts with aerobatics teams and sky diving groups.  The best places to watch the show are along the riverfront (Waterfront Park is always a favorite and in the middle of all the action) and on the rooftops of downtown buildings.

You’ll probably get hungry and thirsty throughout the day and lucky for you there are a lot of great options.  The chow wagon is one of the most convenient, but honestly is not the healthiest food options, mostly fair food oriented.  And you’ll need a Pegasus pin to enter, which can be picked up at any Kroger store.  There are also several great restaurants within walking distance to Waterfront Park.  Here’s a link to a downloadable map of downtown. You can also pick one up at the downtown Visitor’s Center, located on the corner of 4th and Jefferson Streets.

Following the air show, there is a big countdown to the fireworks show, what we’ve all been waiting for.  Now this isn’t your ordinary fireworks show, not your mama’s back yard or local state fair show…no, no.  This is way bigger.  I did tell you that this is THE largest pyrotechnics display in North America right?  It is a mind-blowing 28-minute fireworks show where the stage is the entire 2nd Street Bridge and six 100-foot barges located in the river on both sides of the bridge.  The show is strategically choreographed by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale to popular music and showcases the signature one-mile “waterfall” effect off the bridge.

So now that you know more about what Thunder Over Louisville is and that’s it’s kind-of a big deal….where should you go to enjoy the show?  Here’s a couple of great options:

  • Waterfront Park - free to attend, get there early to reserve your spot and bring a blanket or two. It might get cold later in the evening
  • Thunder at the Kentucky Center - $40/person, $20 for kids. Includes activities for kids, clean and accessible restrooms, food and drink service and shelter just in case it decides to rain
  • Thunderblast at the Louisville Science Center - Adult members $65, non-members $85, kids $40. Indoor and outdoor family activities, “explosive” science entertainment, clean and accessible restrooms, and picnic-style meal included
  • Glassworks Rooftop - Adults $45 ($60 with meal included), kids $20 ($30 with meal included). Rooftop view of air and fireworks show, cash bar, indoor and clean restrooms, easy access to freeways.
  • Southern Indiana Riverfront - most of the property along the river is privately owned so public space between the 2nd Street Bridge and I-65 ( Kennedy Bridge) is limited.  However, there are additional areas available between Fort and Pearl Street on Riverside Drive, east of the Kennedy bridge
  • Or you can stay home and watch live coverage on any local TV affiliate & avoid the crowds all together, but what fun would that be?

These are by no means all the options available, only a short list of the ones I know about.  I am sure there are more around town, so I strongly encourage you to ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. what they recommend.

Now that you are coming downtown, where do I park? If you don’t live or are already parked downtown, it can be a bit of a bear to find parking.  Here’s some parking tips from the official Thunder website.  I strongly recommend that you come down early and park on the outskirts of downtown facing the direction that you will be heading after the show.  For example, if you are heading east to Clifton/Crescent Hill/St Matthews, park east of downtown.  It may be a bit of walk, but you will thank me later.  Another great option is to bike downtown.  Free valet bike parking (thanks to Louisville Metro) is available on the northeast corner of Witherspoon Street and Preston Street across from Slugger Field.  Here’s a link for additional Thunder bike parking info.

Last, but certainly not least. Here is the Top Ten Survival Tips from the official Thunder website. There are some great tips like to bring an extra roll of toilet paper, because we have all been there, without a square to spare.  Well that’s about all the advice I can offer you for now.  Good luck and God’s speed.