Tampa expects more than half a million people to visit next weekend for Super Bowl XXXV, but you’ll have your pick of more activities than just football watching at this Florida city on an inlet off the Gulf of Mexico.
Tampa is hosting the big game for the third time in the city's history but for the first time at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new home.
The last time football fans thronged to Tampa for a Super Bowl game was in 1991, when Whitney Houston dazzled a nation in the throes of the Gulf War with her rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner," and the New York Giants held on to beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 when the Bills' last-second field goal attempt sailed wide right.
This year, the Giants are again appearing in football's marquee game, where they will play the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. ET before an estimated 72,000 fans — about 6,000 more than the stadium usually seats.
Don't have a ticket? No problem. There's still plenty to do in Tampa, from parades to music to beaches. The city expects an additional 30,000 to 40,000 people to travel there in the hope of scoring a ticket or to join in the other activities surrounding the Super Bowl.
Tickets Tickets run between $325 and $400 apiece this year, but chances are you'll end up watching the game on TV like most Americans who aren't season ticket holders, VIPs or affiliated with the networks or special charities.
Still, it's not too early to start planning ahead for Super Bowl XXXVI, which will be held Jan. 27, 2002, in New Orleans. Each year the NFL doles out 500 pairs of Super Bowl tickets to the general public through a random drawing. The league will accept requests for tickets to Super Bowl XXXVI by certified or registered mail between Feb. 1 and June 1 of this year.
Click here for more information on the random drawing.
Parking Expect to pay $20 per car for parking for Super Bowl XXXV, but don't forget your walking shoes. Fans will have to trek to the stadium from the lots since no buses will be shuttling fans back and forth and no vehicles will be allowed to drop off people. If you're traveling in style in a limousine or private bus, you'll still need parking passes. The city has reserved 15,000 parking spaces around the stadium for the disabled.
To ease the flow of traffic, roads going in and out of the stadium will be largely one way before and after the game.
The NFL Experience
It's now become something of a Super Bowl tradition, except it gets a little bigger every year. Open from Jan. 20th to the 28th, the NFL Experience is a 20-acre interactive football-related theme park set in tents and open areas adjacent to Raymond James Stadium. Think you're the next Joe Montana? Try out your arm at the park, or get coaching advice at clinics and land autographs from more than 50 NFL players. Kids can let loose in the video game stadium and the NFL moonbounce.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 12 through Ticketmaster and at the park. For special group rates and arrangements, call Christine Mills at (212) 450-2625.
Aye-Aye, Matey: Gasparilla Fest
If swords and eye patches capture your fancy more than helmets and eye black, you're in luck: Tampa moved up its annual Gasparilla Fest from February to Jan. 27 and 28 to coincide with the Super Bowl. The festival pays tribute to a time when the port of Tampa was an irresistible draw to pirates and buccaneers. Named after the fictional pirate Jose Gaspar, the festival has been a city tradition since 1904.
Here's what to anticipate:
Saturday: Beginning at 11:30 a.m., the Jose Gasparilla, a fully-rigged ship, begins its "invasion" of Tampa from the south end of Hillsborough Bay, followed by hundreds of leisure vessels and crafts. No less than 700 pirates come out for the annual tradition, dodging cannon fire en route to the Tampa Convention Center to take away the key to the city from the mayor.
At 1:45 p.m., a 3.5-mile victory parade of more than 90 floats and 14 bands begins at Howard Avenue and continues down Bayshore Boulevard.
Performing Saturday night on two different stages are k.d. lang, Richard Marx, the Baha Men, K.C. and Jo Jo, Shaggy. The members of 98 Degrees will host on one stage.
Local acts and giant television screens showing the game will pepper the parade route for visitors milling about Tampa.
The whole event is free of charge unless you want to reserve a seat for the parade. Call (813) 353-8108 to snag a parade seat for $18.
Tampa's Latin district is one of only four national historic landmark districts in the state. It takes its name from Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spanish cigar maker who arrived in the area in 1886 via Cuba and Key West. Soon his factory and others were producing up to 300,000 hand-rolled beauties a day. Although no longer the cigar capital of world, the smell of hand-rolled stogies still hangs in the air and there are several shops where you can watch the cigars being made.
Ybor City (pronounced ee-bor) has become a center of the city's dining and nightlife. At its heart is Centro Ybor, a new dining, shopping and entertainment complex at 7th Avenue and 19th Street. By day, the area offers museums and restaurants, while at night 7th Avenue is open only to foot traffic, where you can enjoy sports bars, dance clubs and live music ranging from jazz and blues to indie rock.
Ybor city offers the widest range of local favorites, from Cuban sandwiches — boiled ham, roasted pork, cheese and pickles on specially baked bread — black bean soup and Spanish paella. Check out the historic Columbia restaurant. You can't miss it: it takes up an entire city block and features Flamenco dancing in the main dining room. Other favorites include Carmine's, one of Ybor's oldest and most popular hangouts.
Hotels and Other Hot Spots
While busy downtown Tampa is largely booked, some hotel rooms remain in nearby St. Petersburg and Clearwater, where you can expect to pay anywhere between $40 and $400 for a room. The best source for finding a hotel at this point is Super Bowl XXXV's official Fan Housing Bureau at (800) 922-1681. Many residents are also offering their homes for the weekend, but rates range from reasonable to outrageous.
Don't worry if your hotel is in St. Pete's or Clearwater. While Tampa serves as the area's business, industrial and shipping center, these two towns are long-time tourist destinations for offering more picturesque areas for a little rest and relaxation. So if sun worshipping is more your speed, a hotel stay or short drive to St. Petersburg and Clearwater will put you in touch with some of the nation's most pristine stretches of sand.
One beach event unique to the Super Bowl is the world's biggest football sand sculpture. The sculpture at Sand Key Park in Clearwater Beach will cover an area the size of — appropriately enough — a football field, with 29 8-foot high NFL helmets and two 30-foot high helmets for the Giants and Ravens. Officials from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to authenticate the world record at its unveiling.
To see Tampa's skyline from the water, a short cruise probably offers the best view. Several cruise lines run up and down the shore of St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach and Tampa, such as the Sea Life Safari operated by Clearwater Marine Aquarium (727) 462-2628, Hubbard's Sea Adventures (727) 398-6577, and the Caribbean Queen (727) 895-BOAT.
Tampa is vying to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. The city, therefore, will attempt to put its best foot forward while the nation and world tunes in for the Super Bowl, making it a good time to check out this ever-expanding city.