Tampa Bay Skyline
This is one of a series of tailgating guides for Big East football schools written by Syracuse fan and tailgate aficionado TexanMark. If you have any feedback or additional information you think belongs in this guide, please drop an email message to Mark by clicking here.
University of South Florida (USF) is the lone geographical misfit of the Big East Football Conference. Most felt USF won the BCS lottery when Boston College bolted for the ACC and left the Big East searching for an eighth member for the 2005 season. Well I tell you what, they have fit in quite nicely in the Big East and have become a first tier team strength wise. Due to the southern location USF has become a favorite destination for mini-vacations for Big East football fans. USF is a young program but it is a great asset to the league.
First Things First: GETTING THERE
Unless you want to drive 900 or so miles (Louisville, Cinci, WVU and Pitt) this trip will be a flying event. The good news most everyone can get a nonstop into either Tampa or close by Orlando (90 miles). Both of these airports have a bevy of cheap flights to northern cities. Note: Orlando offers the most nonstops and generally the cheapest flights. It might be worth your while to fly into Orlando and rent a car and drive to Tampa. Obviously, many visiting fans will plan a four-five day mini-vacation and will visit Orlando anyway. If time is tight you should fly into Tampa. The airport is located about a mile from the stadium. You can easily take a cab to the game. Note: Taxis drop/pickup riders at the northwest corner of the stadium.
Other Travel Options:
Several ultra discount charter carriers offer scheduled service between some northeastern/midwestern cities and Orlando Sanford Airport (2 hours) and Saint Petersburg/Clearwater Airport (30-45 mins). Note: These airlines often only fly once a day so a missed flight or broken aircraft could be very problematic. If you have a lot of time, Amtrak offers service into Tampa. The fall season is a great time to visit Florida due to discount prices for rooms and other tourist related services. Consider yourself lucky if your team has a November visit scheduled to Tampa and take advantage!
Getting to the Stadium: Raymond James Stadium Click to enlarge (Thanks USFFan)
USF (like UConn and Pitt) plays their football games off campus. The campus is located about eight miles northeast. Like Pitt, they share a stadium with an NFL team. Raymond James Stadium (RayJay or RJS) opened in 1998 and is a great venue with many amenities. Note: USF games since demand increased are selling upper deck tickets for all games. Listed capacity for USF games is about 66,000. RayJay is located off Dale Mabry Highway which is a major North/South Artery in Tampa. The stadium is located adjacent (east) to the airport.
FROM THE NORTH
I-75 to I-275 South to Himes Avenue North
Dale Mabry North.
Stadium is approximately one mile north, between Himes and Dale Mabry.
FROM THE SOUTH (SARASOTA AND BRADENTON)
I-75 to I-4 West to I-275 South to Himes Avenue North or North Dale Mabry
I-75 North to I-275 North to North Dale Mabry.
Stadium is approximately one mile north, between Himes and Dale Mabry.
FROM THE EAST (ORLANDO)
I-4 West to I-275 South to Himes Avenue North or North Dale Mabry
I-4 West to Hillsborough Avenue West or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard West.
Stadium is approximately one mile north, between Himes and Dale Mabry.
FROM THE WEST
I-275 to North Dale Mabry
Highway 60 East to Spruce Street East to North Dale Mabry.
Stadium is approximately one mile north, between Himes and Dale Mabry.
Map of Parking Near Ray Jay Click to enlarge (From the official Bucs site)
Note:Lot 14 was the old mall lot
The easiest thing is to park at RayJay. The lots open four hours before games. Note: For night games USF fans told me the parking lots south of the stadium open up about 5 hours before kickoff. Buses and Campers are allowed to park on stadium property for USF games in Lot 8 (located south of the stadium). Note: Campers/RVs park in a different lot for Buc games. Expect general admission parking to be directed to Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4 but you can park in some other lots south of the stadium. Looking for where the USF students park and tailgate? Try Lots 3+4 and the old mall lot (Lot 14). Lot #4 is closest USF's student government sponsored tailgate area and student entrance (Gate B). USF fan outrunner states, "There's a lot of frats and clubs partying in there, and a lot of heckling/smack talk."
The official website states: “For USF home games Cars and Motorcycles will be charged $10, Buses will be $35, and Limousines and Campers will be $25.” Tailgating seems to have few restrictions.
Note: The stadium has in the past enforced very restrictive rules on the size of bags brought in the stadium. Definitely err on the conservative side.
However, charcoal grills are okay in the parking lots! Of course, with only three hours to tailgate you better be prepared to get to it. One other parking option is located adjacent to the stadium grounds across the street (west) at Hillsborough Community College.
Note: Just to the east was the old Tampa Bay Center Mall. Recently it was torn down. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are building training facilities there. A lot of Bull fans and USF students have used the free parking at the Mall in the past. ARRIVE EARLY OPTION: The Mall Lot has been converted into Lot 14 now and is a pay lot. Students still flock there. It is a pay lot but people routinely show up 5-7 hours before kickoff. You can arrive early, set up, save spots and throw a football. The rules are more lax. Expect an attendant to come by later to collect money. All Ray Jay lots are still $10 to park.
I tailgated in 2006 and found the convenience of the stadium lot hard to beat. I queued up 3 hours and 10 minutes before kickoff on the roadside of Dale Mabry (northbound) at Gate 9. There were about 15-20 cars waiting with me at 9am. (2009 NOTE: kickoffs now open 4 hours before kickoff.) They opened at precisely three hours prior to kickoff. I went through the gate and turned left and parked in Lot 7 right behind a rope separating me from permit parkers. If you arrive early like I did you get a "primo" spot next to one of the walkways. Tailgaters filled in over the next hour or so. We were about 400 yards south of Ray Jay's entrance. Plenty of porta-potties and lots of good times as Cuse and USF fans intermingled nicely. We stayed about 90 minutes after wards. By then the lot was very empty. If parking on site doesn't appeal to you...try cruising around to find some private lots which might accommodate you earlier. Hint: Parking on the south end of RayJay's parking lots allow you to send someone in the crew to get some food (if you don't have grills) at Miami Subs located just south of the parking lots at the corner of Columbus and Dale Mabry.
Finally, The Bulls Tailgating Association has a good website that gives you even more info. Their forums have some good suggestions in there for Bars, recipes, etc...
Tailgate Supplies: About a mile south of the stadium is Total Wine and it had a huge selection of Liquor, Beer and Wine. I even found quite a few microbrews from up north there. There is a Walmart across the street for all your other supplies.
Ticket Scalping and You: USF fans have told me it is legal to buy and sell tickets now for whatever the market bears. Supply is more than demand currently. You should be able to find tickets offered for less than face around the parking lots and walkways except for the high demand games. Even though ticket reselling has been liberalized there is still a rule not allowing reselling tickets on the grounds of stadiums you have been warned.
With that in mind: A few tried and true techniques to get the best price buying I have used: 1. Know what a legit ticket looks like 2. Buy from your own fan base first 3. The smaller the group the smaller the price--single tickets are cheapest 4. Prices usually peak 1-2 hours before kickoff--inside an hour the closer to game time the cheaper the ticket, right after kickoff they plumment to near nothing 5. A fan walking to the stadium in with a group of friends and still holding extra tickets to sell will usually dump them for a cheap price (they do not want to miss the game and often they are doing a favor for a buddy to sell them) usually you'll spot them holding a finger or two out to their side or over their head or saying selling one, etc... 6. If you have to deal with a professional scalper--NEVER give him what he asks, have a seating chart with you, check to make sure all tickets are really together and for that game, offer him lower and be prepared to walk away, after you turn and walk away more than half the time in my experience they'll give in and take your offer, if you can afford to wait...wait inside 20 minutes to kickoff as see the prices drop (assess the situation for the number of tickets available, how many you need before employing that strategy) 7. Don't be embarrassed to go back to a scalper to buy ticket(s) 10 minutes after you said no to his previous offer 8. Don't fall for their tactics to make you feel like you're ripping them off by only offering $20 a ticket, etc...they love to play games with your self-image and ego.
This place is great now that USF is consistently drawing over 40,000 fans and a few games over 60,000...great job USF. The facility is absolute first class and has many amenities. I don’t expect all the concessions to be open but you should still have a good variety.
Buccaneer Cove is a tremendous landmark and you need to wander over and check it out sometime during the game. You should have great sight lines since the stadium was built for football.
City of Tampa a lot of stuff to do
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TAILGATE HAVEN--Total Tailgating Resource
Tailgate Haven is your total resource for setting up and managing your football tailgate online. Do you think the tailgate is sometimes just as important as the game? The goal of Tailgate Haven is to make your life easier by organizing your tailgate group; thus eliminating countless emails, text messages and phone calls about the current weeks tailgate information. The concept is simple but pure genius. You easily register by choosing your favorite team and picking a creative name for your tailgate group. Now log in and instantly each of your teams games becomes its own web page with your team colors. Next, invite your friends to join your tailgate group and the site comes to life. In addition to this tailgate manager, every team has its own tailgate profile. Do you travel to away games? This is where you can find the best information on where to park, find extra tickets, where to stay, eat, party and golf. Navigate the city easily as you travel to a stadium for the first time.
I’ll keep it real simple. Drop your spouse here. The International Plaza shopping complex is located about 1 ½ miles southwest of RayJay stadium.
From the website: “International Plaza, adjacent to Tampa International Airport, is the most distinctive shopping and dining destination of Florida's West Coast. Four fashionable department stores, over 200 specialty shops and Bay Street at the Plaza... an open-air village of fine restaurants and small boutiques.” This place has a hotel (Renaissance) there and offers some travel packages. Thirty and over crowd alert: The Bay Street Level (Street Level) has a large collection of upscale drinking and dining establishments. This is a good alternative to the rowdier, younger Ybor City area.
I do know you need to try to eat at a Cuban Restaurant in Tampa. Cuban food is excellent and not too expensive. There is a huge selection in the area around the stadium especially if you drive south of the stadium. I would recommend after the game to head to Bay Street Level of the International Plaza or another option is cruising over to the Port of Tampa area and checking out Channelside.
Map of Channelside/ Hyde Park Areas
Channelside is another retail/dining entertainment area with many great restaurants, bars and lodging to include motels and condos. If you decide to stay downtown this place should be a must do destination. A trolley is available to take you from Channelside to Ybor—a plus. Hyde Park is located just SW of Channelside. There are lots of little shops to browse. Restaurant BT comes highly recommended. It specializes in a modern style of classic French & Vietnamese cuisines and is a great place for a quiet romantic dinner. Recommend using the valet parking because parking is at a premium.
Ybor City--a great place to party
Finally, Ybor City has an international reputation for hosting a great party. The crowd trends a little bit younger than International Plaza and Channelside. Ybor is Tampa’s old Latin community. Like many other urban areas it has been revitalized. If you really want to let lose and mingle with lots of other like minded people this is the place. The Columbia Restaurant (Ybor City) has been around for a century, specializing in Spanish and Cuban fare (get the paella). They have the best sangria, and is it is a great spot for lunch or dinner.
Following are restaurants recommended by local USF fans: “Bern's Steakhouse (South Howard Ave) offers the best steak in the Bay area. It's unique decorative style -- part bordello, part renaissance and the world famous dessert room is something to see. The Colonnade (Bayshore) offers great seafood and wonderful views of Tampa Bay and downtown Tampa. Whiskey Joe's Bar and Grille (Courtney Campbell Causeway) offers good food and reggae music and is built out over Tampa Bay. Salt Rock Grill (Indian Rocks Beach) is a great place to have dinner after a day at the beach. Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (Clearwater Beach) is the best place to grab a quick sandwich when catching rays on a GREAT beach.
SPORTS BAR ALERT!
Lee Roy Selmon's (Boy Scout Blvd - near Tampa Stadium) has some GREAT barbeque as well as alot of TVs. The Pressbox Sports Emporium is also close by. Beef O'Brady's is a large sports pub chain. The Westchase location is fairly close to the airport area. International Plaza has Champps. It is a full service sports bar and should have ESPN Gameplan. Finally, if you are looking to shoot a game of pool and be surrounded by lots of Coeds...well Peabody's Billiards is the place for you. It is located just north of the USF campus.
Besides Lee Roy Selmon's (mentioned above)--other great barbeque places: Kojak's House of Ribs (Gandy Blvd), Jimbo's, First Choice BBQ, maybe the best barbeque around Tampa? Near the campus try Lupton's Fat Man's BBQ (located near the college). Finally, Jazzy's BBQ has a legion of fans.
CK's (Tampa International Airport Marriott) is a revolving restaurant with a GREAT Sunday Brunch. Another great place for Sunday breakfast: The Brunchery (S MacDill Ave & N Dale Mabry). Charley's is great for gourmet steaks. Charley's can be seen from I-275 just east of West Shore. For tailgate sandwiches, Publix deli & Brocato's on Columbus and 50th are about as good as you are going to get. The bay area's best buffet (arguable) is right down the road on Dale Mabry (were RJS is) known as the Vari Asian Crazy Buffet. It has steaks, seafood, sushi, Japanese, etc. It's pricey at $22 a head. Looking for Thai? Try the Thai Terrace on Dale Mabry.
For a decent economical steak, try Sam Seltzer's north of RJS on Dale Mabry--located next to the Comfort Inn. Sam's is unique to central Florida. For wings, Hooters is north of the stadium on Hillsborough just west of Dale Mabry and the Press Box is south on Dale Mabry. The original Hooter’s is in Clearwater Beach. For Japanese hibachi steak, chicken, & seafood (cooked at the table), try Arigato's Japanese Steak House. It is north on Dale Mabry. If staying on the beach in St. Pete, for seaford I'd recommend the Hurricane on St. Pete Beach, Crabby Bill's with several locales, Ted Peter's in St. Pete on Pasadena for smoked mullet and Shell's Seafood. TBO.com is a good information source for Tampa Bay eats & things to do too.”
Lodging is plentiful and comes in all price ranges. If you want to be able to walk to the game the Day's Inn or Comfort Inn are your best choices. Note: You are smarter to drive and park if you are bringing in supplies staying at either property--Dale Mabry is a very busy road and not pedestrian friendly. A couple others very close to the stadium are the Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza (a Marriott Property, 4 star luxury) and a Mircotel (2 star budget). If you want to benear the airport (Westshore Area), there are a bevy of choices which you can see here. The airport motel area is only about a mile or two from the stadium which means you can avoid a rental car if you are only staying overnight.
Another option to try is the Downtown/Channelside/Ybor area, which is several miles from the stadium. Finally, if you want to stay near the beaches you should try Clearwater or St. Pete areas. Expect you’ll be about 45 minutes from the stadium. The Don Cesar is not to be missed.
Beaches and Other Tourist Stuff
World class beaches await you on your trip to Tampa. USF fan, JimUSFSig says: “Sand Key Beach, just south of Clearwater Beach, is usually less crowded and has some of the best sand around. Clearwater Beach is where the tourists head to catch some rays. St. Pete Beach is where the locals go -- check out the Undertow Beach Bar for one of the best beachside bars around.” BullDoug says, “don't forget Fort DeSoto Park. It was voted the nation's overall best in 2005. It is south of St. Pete Beach just west of the Skyway Bridge. It is about a 50-60 min. trip from (RayJay) and good for a relaxing day to picnic. Treasure Island is a nice beach too. T.I. is south of John's Pass where there are numerous shopping opportunities and dinner cruises leave from there.”
You all know about Disney in Orlando so I won't tell you about it. The Tampa Bay area has some neat attractions, too. Busch Gardens offers a chance to view animals, be entertained by performers, drink a couple brewskis and ride some awesome roller coasters. Hint: Any active duty, activated or drilling reservist, or National Guardsman is entitled to free admission under the "Here's to the Heroes" program. More info here. The Florida Aquarium a few miles south in Channelside is a neat place to take the kids. Into tropical gardens? Drive over to St. Pete's Sunken Gardens. About 60-90 minutes north of Tampa is Homosassa Springs and Weeki Wachee Springs if you want to get away from typical amusement parks.
Good and cheap:
Located in the heart of Pinellas County, minutes from the Gulf Beaches, Eastbay is an 18 hole, par 72-championship layout. A William Mitchell design, this track features elevated, well-bunkered greens with water in play on 14 of 18 holes. Eastbay has the GPS yardage system on its brand new fleet of carts. All tees, greens and fairways are overseeded with winter ryegrass for the winter months, ensuring lush, green playing areas.
Babe Zaharias Golf Course is a municipal course that winds through a residential area in North Tampa. It's the shortest of the city courses, but tight fairways and small greens keep it challenging.
Rocky Point, located near Tampa International Airport, is a scenic course with a mix of tree-lined fairways and open holes. Water comes into play on 12 of the 18 holes.
The Claw at USF
Featuring long, tight fairways lined with oaks, cypress and pines, this attractive course is home to a variety of wildlife, including the occasional alligator. Located just off I-75 near the University of South Florida, the club is home to the university's golf teams and is a par-71 layout with driving range, golf clinics, individual lessons by PGA professionals and a golf shop. Summer golf camps are featured here, and players gather at Rocky's Sports Grill to moan over the score sheets.
Good and not so cheap:
Since opening in the fall of 1992, Westchase Golf Club has established itself as one of Tampa Bay's upscale golf facilities. The 6,710 yard, Par-72 Westchase course was designed by nationally known architect Lloyd Clifton. Located in northwest Tampa, it is one of the better upscale courses in the Bay area. The natural setting and the well manicured fairways and greens of this course surrounded by natural wetlands, wooden bridges and bulkheads are what set it apart.
This facility features two 18 hole layouts, The Lakes and The Forest:
An abundance of water inspired the moniker for this course. Water comes into play on virtually every hole. This 18-hole course measures over 7,100 yards and is more like the traditional Florida course with huge greens and generous driving areas. Both nines of The Lakes start out with unique par-5's that challenge golfers to use their creativity to make a sub-par score. As you play these outstanding layouts, you soon understand why The Eagles Golf Club of Tampa Bay has a hard-won reputation for well-conditioned tees, greens, and fairways. Four sets of tees offer golfers a wide choice of challenges. When the St. Petersburg Times canvassed several dozen Tampa Bay golf courses to put together a Tampa Bay "Dream 18," two holes from The Eagles were selected.
Noted golf course architect, PGA Tour professional and NBC-TV commentator Gary Koch and master architect Rick Robbins are responsible for the front nine of The Forest Course, while noted architect Ron Garl designed the back nine. Accuracy is a premium on this course, with its highly contoured fairways and well placed, meticulous greens. This course measures 6,700 yards and features the signature island-green, par-3 sixth hole, which rivals the famous 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass in Jacksonville.
Designed by world famous golf architect Donald Ross, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club opened in 1925. It is a challenging course that features lush lined fairways and water hazards and is noted for its beauty.
TPC of Tampa Bay
The TPC of Tampa Bay is part of a network of outstanding stadium golf courses across the country owned and operated by the PGA Tour. Winner of the Golf Digest's four star award for places to play, this course is the home of the Verizon Classic, the area's only Senior PGA Tour event.
I’d like to thank USF fan JimUSFSig and BullDoug for helping me with this guide. I hope this helps.
The opinions expressed in this guide are those of TexanMark. While every effort has been made to ensure all the information presented is accurate and current, it would be wise to verify things when possible. Please note that this guide is not endorsed by Scout.com, Rivals.com or its site publishers, administrators and/or moderators.
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