Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Amway Center, Orlando FL

Basic Information
Team: Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)
Game: Solar Bears vs Ft. Wayne Komets-12/8/12
Team Website: www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com
Ticket Information: (407) 951-8200 or www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com
Tourism Information: (800) 972-3304 or www.visitorlando.com
Online Broadcasts: WYGM 740AM www.740thegame.com
Local Newspaper: Orlando Sentinel www.orlandosentinel.com

Team History: After a layoff of eleven seasons, hockey returned to central Florida with the second incarnation of the Orlando Solar Bears. The original Solar Bears, who were owned by the DeVos family (owners of the NBA's Orlando Magic), played in the International Hockey League from 1995 through 2001, when the league ceased operations. In early 2012, it was announced that the ECHL would expand to Orlando, and the new Solar Bears would play in the Amway Center, which replaced the home of the original Solar Bears, the Orlando Arena (nee Amway Arena) in 2010.

Seating Capacity: Full hockey capacity for the Amway Center is over 17,000, but for the Solar Bears, the upper level is curtained off, reducing capacity to 9,555.
How About That Name (And Some History): The beautiful Amway Center was opened on October 1, 2010, replacing the Orlando Arena, which had hosted the Orlando Magic and other franchises from 1989 through 2010. The new arena was part of a one billion dollar effort to renovate the downtown area through not only the Amway Center, but the Citrus Bowl stadium and the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. The naming rights to the $480 million arena were purchased by the Amway company, which is also owned by the De Vos family.

Other Tenants: The Amway Center is also the home to the NBA's Orlando Magic and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League.

Getting There: From I-4, exit at exit 82B towards Division Ave. Make a left onto Division Ave, and follow to Church St. make a right onto Church St, and the arena will be on your right.

On The Town: Known as "the City Beautiful", over the past 40 years, Orlando has spruyng from a sleepy citrus community to one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
Located in central Florida, Orlando is approximately 80 miles from Tampa and 70 miles from Melbourne on the Atlantic coast. The Orlando metropolitan area has a population of over two million, making it the the third largest metropolitan area in the state, after Miami and Tampa. Orlando is serviced by by one major interstate, I-4, which runs through downtown, as well as several smaller high-speed roads, which include Florida routes 528 and 408.

Originally the home of several bands of Creek indians, Orlando was known as Jernigan. The name comes from Aaron Jernigan, who was the first permenent settler of the area. How the town got the name Orlando was never settled upon, but city officials say that the Orlando got it's permanent name from Orlando Reeves, who, as the story goes, was killed by natives while acting as a sentry for a company of soldiers who was camping on what is now known as Lake Eola. The stroy grew through the early twentieth century through folk writings and tales told by locals. However, several researchers have never been able to confirm that Orlando Reeves ever truly existed. The city officially became Orlando in 1857.

While Orlando began to grow during the 20th century, the opening of Disney World in 1971 quickly turned the city into a major attraction. In 1965, Walt Disney announced that he wanted to build a companion park to his highly successful Disneyland park in California. After investigating sites near Tampa and Miami, Disney, while on an aerial tour, saw a huge amount of land southwest of downtown Orlando. The combination of the good land, and the fact that it was less likely to hurricane damage than the coastal cities, helped Disney make his decision.

Of course, Disney World didn't corner the market on tourist attractions. Soon after Disney World's successful launch, Sea World built a park in the area, and later on, Universal Studios, and other attractions made their way to Orlando.
Famous Orlando natives include astronaut John Young, who walked on the moon during Apollo 16, actor Wesley Snipes, and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zach Greinke.

Nearby Airport: Orlando International Airport is approximately 12 miles from the Amway Center.

What To Do: Summing up what to do on a trip to Orlando in a hundred words or so is simply impossible. Literally, there is something for everyone in the greater Orlando/Kissimmee/St. Cloud area. I would contact the Orlando visitors bureau to make your "plan of attack".

Where To Eat Before The Game: Fortunately for visitors, the Amway Center is located on Church St, which is the home of the Church Street Station entertainment district. Church Street Station has a large list of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs to satisfy almost anyone. Before the game we attended, my friend Amber and I stopped into the Draft Global Beer Lounge, which was just across the street from the Amway Center box office. The Draft had a good sized beer selection and a large portfolio of top shelf liquors. While it was a little on the pricey side for my tastes, it wasn't too bad and is a good place to stop for a brew or grab a meal before the puck drops. For more information on Church Street Station, visit www.visitchurchstreet.com.
Where To Stay: If you're not able to find lodgings to your taste in Orlando, you're simply lazy or not looking hard enough. Every possible chain from economy to five star has a presence in the area. On this trip, my friend and I stayed at the Red Roof Inn on Orange Blossom Trail, a major throughfare in the area. This hotel, which was approximately ten minutes from the arena, had all the basic necessities, and was near more than a few restaurants and bars, and at $65.00 per night, was well within my financial parameters. For more information call (800) REDROOF or visit www.redroof.com.

Ticket Prices: Solar Bears tickets are priced as follows: $49.00 (gold seats), $39.00 (center ice), $29.00 (lower corner), and $15.00 (behind the net).
Parking: There are several lots within a short walk of the Amway Center. For our visit, we parked in a moderately sized lot under I-4 just across the street from the arena. I was prepared to get hammered on parking, but I was pleasantly suprised when I saw the rate was $10.00. I'm sure, however, for Magic games and other "higher profile" events, the rate would probably be significantly higher.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office is on the Church St side of the building. After you get your tickets, you queue up along the street until you're allowed in. Normally, this may not seem to pleasant, but this is Florida. It was a very pleasant 70 degrees or so that evening, so waiting wasn't a big deal. After you enter the building, there are several escalators which will take you up to the concourse level.

The Good Seats: Our seats for this game were three or four rows from the top of the lower level on the corner, which is where I prefer to watch a hockey game. The view from there was very good, and the seats were very comfortable and had their own cup holder.

Arena Food: As one might expect from a newly built arena, having enough concession stands with varied choices was a major design concern. Every few feet along the concourse there was a concession stand with names like "Slam Dunk" or "O-Town Grill". I would have thought that there would have been more choices on the menu, but what was available was fairly good.

I sampled the arena's hot dog, and I found it to be rather tasty, despite being pre-made. The french fries weren't half bad, but could have been a little warmer. Amber had the Papa John's personal pan pizza, which I guess is salvagable at best.
The Amway Center does have a nice touch when it comes to soft drinks. A large drink costs $6.50, but the cup is refillable unlimited times at that night's game.

There are several satellite stands serving Cold Stone ice cream, nachos, and beer. There was a carving station serving sandwiches in the concourse directly above our seats. There are also several restaurants and bars in the arena, but I'm not sure if they were open for our visit.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at Amway:

Hot Dog: $4.25   Hamburger (With Fries): $12.00   Nachos: $5.00   Draft Beer: $7.75   Pretzel: $3.75   Large Soda: $6.50   Ice Cream: $6.00   French Fries: $5.00   Personal Pizza: $8.75

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are poured at the Amway Center.

ATMs: Fairwinds Credit Union ATM's are located in the main concourse.
Souvenirs: There are several souvenir tables set up along the main concourse selling a large line of very attractive team merchandise.

Restrooms: Numerous and quite clean, I found them to be a bit on the small side, however.

Mascot: Shades, a large white bear, was a part of the team's promotions, but as far as I was aware, did not circulate in the stands at all.

Dance Team: The Solar Bears' Ice Girls helped giving out promotional items, and did several routines during the game.

Program: This was the thing that irked me a little. The Solar Bears did not sell any kind of program, not even a roster card. In several arenas that I've been to that didn't sell programs, the majority of them had a roster sheet or game notes which fans could request. Not so at the Amway. I feel that having some kind of program helps educate the fans, making them more likely to "invest" more in the club.
Scoreboard/Arena Voice: One of the largest I've ever seen, the scoreboard at the Amway provides just about as much information as a fan could need. The two level board includes an eight sided display on top, providing the Orlando roster and other graphics. The lower level has four crystal clear high-def video boards, providing the scores, pertinent game information, and live video. The PA and music are crystal clear as well, and are at an appropriate volume.

Arena Staff: I didn't see a lot of "team" staff, but the building staff was quite helpful and accomodating. Amber and I had several "fans" who were obviously overserved and were becoming obnoxious. Between periods I spoke to a usher and his supervisor about this, and they were more than happy to re-seat us, and would keep an eye on the group.

Atmosphere: People know hockey in Orlando, and the six thousand or so who attended the game were into the action, and were not afraid to show their displeasure with what can only be called a "lackluster" performance by the Bears, who lost 3-0.

Overall Rating: The Amway Center, simply put, is a world-class arena in a world-class city. While I really liked the old "O-rena", the new building puts the old one to shame. While price-wise, it's a little higher overall than you might think for minor league hockey, a Solar Bears game is definitely worth the time if you're in the land of the Mouse.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pennsylvania State Farm Show Equine Arena, Harrisburg PA

Basic Information
Team: Harrisburg Heat (Professional Arena Soccer League)
Game: Heat vs Cincinnati Kings-11/17/12
Team Website: www.harrisburgheat.com
Ticket Information: http://harrisburg-heat.ticketleap.com/
Tourism Information: (717) 231-7788 or www.visithersheyharrisburg.org
Online Broadcasts: WMSS-FM 91.1 www.wmssfm.com
Local Newspaper: Harrisburg Patriot www.pennlive.com

Team History: After a nine year hiatus, indoor soccer returned to Central Pennsylvania with the return of the Harrisburg Heat. The new club, announced in May, picks up the legacy of the club which played twelve mostly successful years in the NPSL and the second incarnation of the MISL.

Seating Capacity: For indoor soccer, the Equine Arena has a capacity of 2,500.

How About That Name (And Some History): The Equine Arena is one of the newest additions to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The complex features five main buildings, the Large Arena (the home of the original Heat), the Sale Arena, the Main Hall, and the Expo Hall. The complex is used for over 200 events annually.

Getting There: (From the Pennsylvania Turnpike). Exit the turnpike at I-81 north (Exit 226) towards Harrisburg. Take I-81 for 15 miles to the exit for US-22 east (exit 67A). Proceed to the exit for PA-230 east (Cameron St). Exit onto Cameron St, and the complex will be on the right.

Other Tenants: In addition to the Heat and the Farm Show, the Equine Arena is the home of the Harrisburg Stampede indoor football team.

On The Town: With a population of just over 49,000, Pennsylvania's capital city is the ninth largest city in the Commonwealth. Harrisburg is located in the south central part of the state, approximately three and a half hours from Pittsburgh and two and a half hours from Philadelphia.

The area has been known to have been settled for over three thousand years by native Americans who called the area "Paxtang". The first European to explore the area came in 1608, when Englishman John Smith traveled up the Susquehanna River from Virginia. Smith met with the local tribes and established good relations. In 1719, John Harris, an English trader, settled in the area, and 14 years later, secured a land grant of 800 acres. In 1785, Harris' son, John, Jr., laid out a town on his father's land, which he named Harrisburg. In 1791, the town was incorporated, and in 1812, was named the state capital.

With access to the Susquehanna River and good transportation between the major cities on either end of the state, Harrisburg became a major industrial center and trading post. It was this fact that made it a key target in Robert E. Lee's march northward during the Civil War.

Not only was it a trading center, it was also a major departure point for Union soldiers. Lee wanted to originally take the city as part of his Maryland campaign in 1862, but was stopped at the battle of Antietam. A year later, Lee made another thrust northward a year later, this time being turned away at Gettysburg, some forty miles away. Lee's forces never came any farther north during the final two years of the war.

On March 28, 1979, Harrisburg was thrust into the national spotlight when the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island suffered a partial meltdown. The incident at the reactor, which was just south of downtown Harrisburg, caused minimal damage and leakage of radiation, nearly caused a evacuation of the area.

Noted area natives include NFL stars Ricky Watters, LeSean McCoy, and Marques Colston, actress Nancy Culp, best known as Miss Hathaway on the sixties television classic "The Beverly Hillbillies", and Bobby Troup, known as Dr. Joe Early in the seventies television series "Emergency".
Nearby Airport: Harrisburg International Airport is located approximately nine miles southeast of the Farm Show Complex.

What To Do: If you're a Civil War buff like me, the National Civil War Museum is a great way to spend the day if you're in the Harrisburg area. Located just east of the State Capital building in Reservoir Park, the Museum tells the story of the war that nearly tour the country apart in 1861. From Fort Sumter to Appamattox, the National Civil War Museum touches on all facets of the War Between the States. There are large exhibits on Civil War era medicine, the life of the common soldier, the effects of slavery, and the legendary generals and battles during that period. For more information, call (866) BLU-GRAY or visit www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't a lot in the immediate vicinity of the Farm Show, so it might be a better idea to eat near your lodging of choice.

When I would travel to Harrisburg on a regular basis in the early and mid-nineties, one of my standard stops for lunch was Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg. Located in the Harrisburg Hilton, Strawberry Square had a good sized food court and a shopping area. I did stop there for lunch on this trip, where I found a fairly good pizza place (can't remember the name, though). Sadly, one of my favorite ice cream places, The Creamery, was out of business. I would always stop there for a truly amazing chocolate ice cream soda whenever I was in town .
Where To Stay: I used to spend a lot of time traveling to Heat games in Harrisburg during the nineties. It seemed like every other weekend, I rolling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to catch my favorite team in action. On many of those trips, I made the Days Inn in New Cumberland my home base. A nice easy 15 minute drive to the Farm Show and just a strong nine iron from the turnpike and I-83, convenience was the main reason for staying at this Days Inn. I decided to make this a "retro" trip, and did just about everything like I would have when I made those legendary trips years ago, which included staying at the Days Inn. It's an older hotel, but still comfortable. The rooms were well maintained (except that they forgot to leave soap in my room), and for $72.00, it wasn't a bad deal. For more information, call (800) DAYSINN or visit www.daysinn.com.

Ticket Prices: Heat tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (box seats), $15.00 (center), $12.00 (corners), $10.00 (goals), $8.00 (standing room).

Parking: I do have a major issue here, as parking on the Farm Show grounds costs a ludicrous $8.00. Unfortunately, there really isn't any other choices parking-wise in the area, so you're stuck.

Getting In: There are two entrances to the Equine Arena, one of which is on the Cameron Street side of the arena, and another in the rear of the building. Both entrances have ticket sales areas.

The Good Seats: The majority of the seating in the Equine Arena are on either sideline, which has a total of approximately 1700 blue plastic seats. There are also box seat sections which surround the field and two large metal bleachers behind each goal. The intimate size of the building gives a good view of the action in all sections.
Stadium Food: I hate to say it, but this is one area where the arena needs some work. The Equine Arena has two concession stands, one located under the stands under section A, and another in the seating area near the entrance near the Cameron Street atrium. The seating bowl concession stand had a very limited selection of concession items (hot dogs, pizza, soda, candy). In addition, there was no "menu board", so I couldn't get a read on the prices on the items sold upstairs.

I had two hot dogs and a bottle of Pepsi, which cost a fairly agreeable $9.25. The hot dogs were made by a local outfit, Hatfield's. They were relatively tasty, served relatively warm, but I could tell they were pre-made, since they were served from a steamer on a somewhat mangled bun.

On field level, there was a beer stand, serving local favorite Yuengling, as well as several other brands.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the Farm Show Complex.

ATM: I did not see an ATM at the Equine Arena.

Souvenirs: A small souvenir booth is located in the concourse above the seating area. The team had a small line of merchandise available, but I was told more items would be coming.

Restrooms: There are rest rooms located under the seating area near the concession stands and in the concourse in the atrium. Both were of a decent size, well stocked, and in good working order.

Mascot: A large red and yellow beast of an unknown origin named "Boomer" paraded around the stands during the game.

Dance Team: None

Program: At $1.00, the Heat's program, "Game Night" is a good value. The full-color program gives updated information on the Heat and the visitors.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Equine Arena has a basic, center-hanging scoreboard which was recently purchased from the former home arena of the San Diego Sockers. The board gives the basic game information in an easy to read format. The acoustics of the arena are fairly good, and the music selection is good as well. The PA announcer needs a little work, as he was hard to understand at times.

Arena Staff: Everyone I encountered was laid back, but fairly helpful.

Atmosphere: The eighteen hundred or so in attendance were happy to have indoor soccer back in town, and after warming up to the new team, became fairly responsive.

Arena Features: A classy touch by the Heat management was naming each of the box seat sections after one of the "icons" of the history of the original team, which included Bob Lilley, Mark Pulisic, Richard Chinapoo, Danny Kelly, Todd Smith, and former team owner Rex Herbert.

Overall Rating: While I'm sure playing permanently at the Equine Arena isn't the "end game" for the Heat management, it's a good place to start. With just 2500 or so seats to fill, it's a good place to start rebuilding the tradition of indoor soccer in Harrisburg.