It has long been hailed as the perfect destination for a girls’ getaway weekend – and with good reason. Melbourne truly is a shopper’s paradise, home to world-class cuisine, a thriving café culture and must-see theatre performances. But if you haven’t ticked it off your list, the city’s absolute must-do is a week at the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
While Emirates Melbourne Cup Day is the event that hogs the hero’s share of attention, I’m joining the masses for Crown Oaks Day – also referred to as Ladies Day. With a strong focus on fashion, building up to the crowning of the Myer Fashion on the Field’s winners, headdresses (a fascinator or hat) are essential.The dress theme for the day is feminine, floral and floaty.
Although it’s a Thursday, it appears not many women (or men for that matter!) are headed to their offices, as we join the bustle of action at Flinders Street Station for the fastest, cheapest way to reach Flemington. Already, it’s a people watcher’s dream. From the glamorous to the garish, the interpretations of the dress code provide a fascinating array of styles, including some seriously eye-popping disasters. Added to the mix is a healthy dose of wonder as to how some of the sky-high footwear many women have chosen will fare across the day.
The races themselves provide a host of different options, from full-service tables at several thousand dollars a plate, through to packing it in with eager punters on the lower grounds. You can’t really go wrong wherever you choose to spend the day, as long as you bring a warm layer – the weather in Melbourne is particularly unpredictable in November!
To really enjoy and get amongst it on your day, a flutter on the races is essential. Unfortunately, our intentions to create a group betting pool in the hopes we’d share a big win together didn’t quite come to fruition. But we’re at least still able to toast our group disappointment with a glass of bubbles, without having a smug winner in our midst to deal with! The day is far from disappointing though, providing much entertainment, laughter, glamour and gorgeous food.
When our arches are truly aching, it’s time to call it a day – although we are congratulating ourselves for faring better than those whose discarded heels were left on the grass by lunch!
This time we head back in style, taking a river cruise along the Yarra, delivering us to town with class. At a price that’s comparable to a taxi ride back home, it’s an option well worth exploring.
Arriving back at the Crown entertainment complex, after a quick outfit change, I’m down for another bite to eat. No.8 by John Lawson opened in late 2013 and has been earning rave reviews ever since. The menu is ever-changing as John sources his ingredients locally, choosing tasty and fresh options that are currently in season. It’s worth giving over some decision making to the in-the-know waiters, who explain the specials of the day. I’m treated to an almond mushroom John has just sourced, black kingfish and his must-try potato honey and rosemary loaf.
If I had more stamina, the Crown complex provides a number of entertainment options and bars. But for me, I’m calling it a night. A week at Carnival Cup Week demands some careful planning, but is certainly a must-see event.
While the main event of Melbourne Cup Carnival is Emirates Melbourne Cup Day, there are three other lesser known days in the diary, all catering to different tastes and styles. It’s essential for any cup-goer to be well briefed on what’s considered appropriate attire for each of the events, to avoid making a fashion faux pas.
The dress code for the event that kicks off the week – AAMI Victoria Derby Day on November’s first Saturday – is strictly monochrome, meaning coloured attire may as well be a Halloween fancy dress costume amongst the sea of black and white dresses and suits.
Emirates Melbourne Cup Day is your chance to go bold with colour, while Crown Oaks Day (also referred to as Ladies Day) is a time for floral and floaty elegance. All require a headdress of some description, even on the week’s final and most casual event, Emirates Stakes Day. A family-friendly day, it has more of a BBQ feel, suitable for young ones. And it’s not just the ladies. Gents are encouraged to follow suit, sticking to black and white on Derby Day, and a tie with a pop of colour, preferably to match the hue of their date’s dress on Cup Day.
To really embrace the week, each day has an official nominated flower that can be worn in the buttonhole – cornflower for Derby Day, a yellow rose for Cup Day, a pink rose for Oaks and a red rose for Stakes.
Insider’s guide to... Melbourne Cup week
When: Begins the first Tuesday of November every year.
Best way to get there: Emirates flies a daily A380 service to Melbourne from Auckland. Splash out for business class and enjoy the novelty of perching at the onboard lounge for a cocktail or two above the Tasman.
Where to stay: The Crown Metropol puts you right in the centre of the action. The location is handy to shopping, restaurants and nightlife, and you can even catch the tram right outside. The shops are a 10 minute walk away. It also sports the best place to enjoy a buffet breakfast. 28 Sky Lounge is at the peak of the hotel, with stunning five-metre glass façades providing views as far as the Dandenong ranges.
Best place to spot a celeb: Melbourne Cup’s Bird Cage. It’s a quick jaunt from a helipad and at any time during the Cup week events you can expect to see an array of stars swilling Champagne inside.All-access passes are hard to come by, but a slow walk past with a craned neck should provide some good star spotting.
Best way to get around: Grab a Myki travel card at tram stops or 7/11 stores. For $7 a day, you can jump on any tram in the central city (zone 1).
Don’t forget: Bring a warm layer. Don’t be fooled by photos of cup-goers basking in sweltering heat. With its changeable weather, Melbourne can swing from blistering hot to bone-chilling the next day.