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A front row seat to TAP events

Courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

For a few days every year, ordinary cities turn into colorful capitals of fun.

Festivals and special events celebrate the natural beauty and wonderful traditions of destinations throughout North America, and Travel Alliance Partners (TAP) tours take travelers to enjoy many of them. Groups can choose from time-honored traditions such as the Kentucky Derby and the Rose Parade, cultural celebrations such as the Red Earth Festival and outdoor events such as the Buffalo Roundup. And some events, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, honor an area’s seasonal beauty.

If your group enjoys a high-profile party, check out the TAP tours that feature these events.

Rose Parade
Pasadena, California
Pasadena will welcome the beginning of 2013 with floral pomp and circumstance at the 124th annual Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.

Known as “America’s New Year celebration,” the Tournament of Roses Parade has been a grand tradition since 1890. It began when the Valley Hunt Club voted to stage a parade with flower-laden horses and buggies to showcase Southern California’s glorious winter weather.

Today, more than 700,000 spectators line the parade route. Every Rose Parade features more than 90 marching bands from across the nation, equestrian units and elaborate floats. Each float must be completely covered with flowers and floral material. An average float requires as many as 100,000 blossoms and can cost $200,000 or more.

Grand Marshal Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations Messenger of Peace, will lead the Rose Queen, Royal Court and floats down the 5.5-mile parade route. This year’s theme is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

“People come from all over the world to see the Rose Parade,” said Janet Zaldua, director of tourism and communications at the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Many say it’s a lifelong dream come true. It takes seeing the Rose Parade in person to appreciate the beauty and magnitude of the floats.”

National Cherry Blossom Festival
Since 1935, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has welcomed millions of visitors to America’s capital during one of the nation’s great springtime celebrations. The festival was recently awarded 10 Pinnacle Awards, among them the Bronze Grand Pinnacle, from the International Festival and Events Association.

The 2013 festival, to be held March 20 to April 14, will commemorate the 101st anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan to the United States and the enduring friendship between the two countries. It includes three spectacular weeks and four weekends of events.

“Each year, the festival unites the metro D.C. area to herald spring with exciting events and programs that will keep the entire family entertained,” said Danielle Piacente, communications manager for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “Visitors should expect hundreds of events beyond the blossoms at the Tidal Basin, nearly all of them free and open to the public.”

Groups that attend the festival will find traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty and community spirit. Festivities include the Blossom Kite Festival, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. The festival-closing Japanese Street Festival is produced by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C.

“People can find free performances, unique arts exhibits and cultural experiences, tours of the cherry blossoms, athletic events and much more,” said Piacente. “Even restaurants get involved, offering special cherry and spring-inspired dishes.”

Kentucky Derby Festival
Louisville, Kentucky
Encompassing two weeks in late April and early May, Louisville’s Kentucky Derby Festival is a citywide celebration of the state’s most famous sporting event.

Next year will mark the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, which always takes place on the first Saturday in May. The race is often referred to as the “Run for the Roses,” because the winning horse gets draped with a blanket of roses. A horse has only one shot to win the Kentucky Derby — all entries must be 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

Another race, the Kentucky Oaks, is held on the day before the Derby and is much like the Derby, but exclusively for fillies, or female horses. Often referred to as the race of the “Lilies for the Fillies,” it takes its name from the blanket of stargazer lilies that is draped over the winning horse.

For two weeks before these big races, Louisville enjoys dozens of other special events. A large air show and fireworks event called Thunder Over Louisville kicks off the festival. The afternoon show takes place on Louisville’s waterfront.

“The air show is one of the largest in the nation, and the fireworks are the largest in the U.S.,” said Susan Dallas, marketing communications manager at the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Derby Festival has more than 70 events. Hot-air balloon happenings include the balloon glow, the balloon glimmer and balloon races. The Great Boat Race, held on the Ohio River between the Belle of Louisville (a steamboat) and the Belle of Cincinnati, is a perennial crowd favorite. In Louisville, the Pegasus Parade travels down Broadway with floats, bands and the many celebrities who attend the Derby.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.