Disclosure: This post is written in partnership with Mint Julep Experiences. While I did receive a discount off of our tour in exchange for this post, I aim to represent opinions to the best of my ability. Plus, there were 14 other witnesses as to how the day went!
How many of you are good about being tourists in your own state? I'll admit that as a long-time Kentuckian, I've not explored nearly as much as I want to. For our wedding weekend, I was trying to think of ways to introduce our out-of-towners (including Steve's family) to some of the best Kentucky has to offer. But also, the thought of having to plan yet ANOTHER event made me cringe. Or weep. Maybe both.
I researched tour companies that could create a custom tour for our group, so I wouldn't have to handle any of the logistics. I was familiar with Mint Julep Experiences because I do a lot of driving up and down the interstate between Louisville and Lexington, and I feel like I always see their black busses taking people around. An avid internet searcher and reader of #allthereviews, I felt comfortable enough to reach out to them to see if we could create a tour that would introduce the non-Kentuckian's to the state – and that would also entertain myself and a few of my local friends. Looking at the variety of public tours that they offer, I knew we'd probably be able to find something that worked.
Working with one of the Mint Julep Experience Coordinators, Steve and I agreed on a trip for the day after the wedding. We got married on a Friday night, so our tour was on Saturday. I didn't have to do anything besides tell Mint Julep where we wanted to go, how many people would be there, and where to pick up and drop off. It was that simple.
Our custom Mint Julep Experience itinerary:
- Pick up at The Brown Hotel (our wedding venue)
- Woodford Reserve distillery tour
- Lunch at The Stave in Millville
- Buffalo Trace distillery tour
- Drop off at The Brown Hotel
It's picture time!
Departure from The Brown Hotel
Since we had just gotten married the night before (I think I fell asleep around 2:30 am), we opted for a 10AM departure from The Brown Hotel. I received a call from Tom, our tour guide, to let us know they were around the corner – right on time. I didn't get photos of the inside of the bus, but it was spacious, clean, and comfortable!
On the drive to Woodford Reserve, we passed by some of the stunning horse farms in the area. We considered adding a horse farm to our Mint Julep Experience (they have multiple options!), but our group seemed more interested in the bourbon.
Stop 1: Woodford Reserve
We chose to visit Woodford Reserve for a few reasons. First, it's beautiful. Second, we though those who aren't bourbon fans would have still heard of Woodford Reserve since it's so widely available. Third, they have a great tasting at the end with a bourbon ball. Fourth, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is my go-to bourbon.
It was PACKED, so it was great to know our tickets were already arranged and we didn't have to worry about fitting onto a tour. Tom worked to secure and distribute our tickets.
Stop 2: The Stave
After Woodford Reserve, we headed to have lunch at The Stave in Millville, KY. It's very close to Woodford Reserve, and down the road from Castle & Key – a distillery that I hope to visit soon. The Stave was a recommendation of Mint Julep – I hadn't heard of it before!
It's a small place, but they knew our group was coming. We ended up sitting outside across a few tables. Again, like Woodford Reserve, it was PACKED.
The food is southern with a twist, with a lot of local ingredients and a great selection of local beer and cider (as well as a full bar.)
Service was slow here, but Tom kept checking on things for us, and Holly (our driver) made a trip up the road where there was cell phone service so she could work on moving some things around so we didn't miss our last stop. This was really one of the examples of how painless the entire experience was for me. I got to sit there and enjoy everyone's company, while Mint Julep was able to work on the logistics and make sure we didn't miss anything. They moved our Buffalo Trace tour back as the lunch was taking too long to make it in time for what we originally had scheduled.
Despite the slow service (seriously tiny kitchen and a mass of people waiting for food), so many of our guests commented on how good the food was. And Steve and I agreed – it was incredibly tasty. A couple in Steve's family even commented they wanted to go back again next time they're in Kentucky because they were the best french fries they'd ever had. Mighty high praise! We will be back for sure.
Since our tour for Buffalo Trace had been moved and I mentioned Castle & Key in passing, Holly offered to drive us past it, right down the road, before heading to our next stop.
Stop 3: Buffalo Trace
Next up was Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. Steve and I had this as a must-go place for our trip, because it was where we had our 2nd date! Seemed appropriate for wedding weekend to revisit it. (See here for the post from June 2016! I didn't mention him by name, because it was our 2nd date and I had no idea I'd even see him again!)
We had a slightly different tour than before as it was so busy and we (plus another group) had to move our originally scheduled time. This actually was awesome because we saw areas we hadn't seen before. Our guide was amazingly engaging and entertaining, and is on the Buffalo Trace Tasting Panel.
We ended up the tour with a tasting, which is less fancy than Woodford Reserve, but you can choose your samples from a variety of their many products.
If you saw my post from when I had from our 2nd date here, you know the story about how Steve took an outfit photo for me which was later shared live on air on HSN with my imaginary BFF Melissa McCarthy seeing it and saying it looked great (I was wearing her line of denim.) I made him take another outfit in the same spot for posterity.
After Buffalo Trace, we headed back to Louisville for drop off at The Brown. It was a long day, but it went so smoothly, and I think everyone really enjoyed themselves. But not only was the logistics handling awesome, the day was made infinitely better because of Tom and Holly.
Holly was our driver, and she is also a guide for Mint Julep. She got us safely from place to place, with front door drop offs and pick ups. She was delightful, and I'm highly impressed at her ability to maneuver the bus on some of the narrow country roads you take to get to some of the distilleries. Tom was extremely knowledgeable and engaging – he shared stories about Kentucky, bourbon, horses, and more. He answered any questions and made sure to get our tickets and herd us where we needed to be. He also learned everyone's name upon first meeting them, and referenced us all throughout the day. He read the crowd and knew when we could take more stories, and when we were on overload (towards the end). Thank you so much to Tom and Holly, and also to our experience coordinator Jeannie, for making this a stress-free and memorable part of our wedding weekend.
Tips for your Mint Julep Experience:
- Contact them early: Tourism is poppin' in the bluegrass, and the tours are in high demand. October in particular is a very busy month. Reserve your vehicle as early as possible so you can make sure to get the size you need!
- Know your party size: When you book a private tour, you'll need to know the total number of people so you can secure the appropriate size vehicle. This was my biggest self-inflicted mistake! We didn't know the final count of travelers until our wedding RSVPs were due so I wasn't sure if I booked something too big. Pricing depends on the size of the vehicle, so save yourself the guesswork and make people confirm they're IN when you book the vehicle. I should have emphasized how important confirmation was to out-of-towners even before invitations went out.
- Let them help: Not sure of how much you can do in a day? Let them tell you. We had a few desires like not starting too early, not being rushed for lunch, and visiting Buffalo Trace distillery. They offered suggestions and knew how much time to pad in for travel and other items.
- Don't sweat the ice: Each private bus has a cooler full of ice and water, and we could bring on other beverages and food if desired. I had forgotten this the week of the wedding, so I was trying to figure out how to get a cooler and ice packed since we were leaving straight from the wedding hotel. Read the contract and realized I didn't need to worry about it. In the end, I packed a bag with some bourbon, cider, almonds, and granola bars, but we never got into it!
- Don't forget gratuities: The tour leader and the driver work hard for you and your group all day. I always stress out about how much to tip, so this is what I learned: Tip 10-20% of the transportation cost. The tour leader and driver will split whatever you decide to leave. It was worth every penny.
I look forward to taking more trips with Mint Julep Experiences – being a tourist in your own state is really fun!