Sports Power Weekend Destination: Tampa Bay and Orlando

By Craig Heitczman


April 1-3 Friday
  • Bobcats at Magic
  • Orioles at Rays
Saturday
  • Orioles at Rays
Sunday
  • Orioles at Rays


One of the most highly anticipated days in American sports is MLB Opening Day.  This marks the start of the baseball season, and for many the beginning of spring.  Come spend the first weekend in April down in beautiful central Florida, where you can not only take in the beautiful spring weather and take part in the MLB 2011 Opening Day festivities, but also see a game in the NBA’s newest arena.

Friday

  • Ceviche
  • Downtown Orlando
  • Amway Center

Photo courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Even though baseball season is about to begin, basketball season is hitting its stretch run.  We suggest starting this power weekend with a short drive from Tampa to Orlando to watch the Orlando Magic as they fight to claim one of the East’s playoff spots.

Start the night off right by eating at one of Downtown Orlando’s best restaurants, Ceviche.  Ceviche offers a spectacular central tapas bar and a large, yet intimate, lounge with live flamenco music.  The menu is comprised of over 100 different hot and cold tapas, as well as paellas and cazuelas. Most of the tapas recipes are from Northern Spain and Catalan and many of the products are imported directly to the restaurant to maintain the authenticity of the dishes. The owners have carefully designed an exclusive Spanish wine list, and the Sangria has been voted “Best in Tampa Bay.”  The best part about Ceviche is not only is it an amazing restaurant but it is also located just two blocks away from the Amway Center, which is home to the Orlando Magic.

The Orlando Magic and their franchise center Dwight Howard will be facing the young and up-tempo Charlotte Bobcats, which should make for an exciting game.  This game is likely to have playoff implications in the Eastern Conference with both teams fighting for positioning. That should make for an especially enthusiastic crowd at the Amway Center, the newest arena in the NBA. The Amway Center is three times the size of the old Amway Arena, an upon opening in the Fall of 2010, its 180-foot tall tower has become a beacon of the city’s skyline, and its HD scoreboard has become the biggest in all of the NBA.

After the game head east on Church Street toward Orange Avenue. In a span of three blocks north on Orange there are a number of bars and clubs that would make for entertaining postgame options.

Saturday

  • Fort De Soto Park
  • George M. Steinbrenner Field
  • Westchase Golf Club
  • Pane Rustica
  • Tropicana Field

After spending Friday in Orlando, the rest of your weekend will be spent in Tampa Bay.  There are a numbers of ways you can spend Saturday, but your best option is to get up early and head over to Fort De Soto Park.  Fort De Soto Park was named the No. 1 Beach by Dr. Beach in 2005 and America’s Top Beach by TripAdvisor in 2008.   Fort De Soto County Park’s pristine North Beach features soft white sand, clear waters and great shelling. Nearby picnic shelters, grills and playground equipment make it a favorite destination with residents and tourists. Hopefully the early April temperatures cooperate, but in any case it is a nice place to check out and spend some time.

Photo courtesy of SteinbrennerField.com

For those who are not interested in going to the beach there are other options.  For any Yankee fans out there, you can visit the spring training home of the New York Yankees, George M. Steinbrenner Field, located right near the airport in Tampa.  Not only do they hold spring training here but it is also the home of the Yankees Class A minor league team.  Steinbrenner Field boasts the same exact dimensions of Yankee Stadium and it also has a replica Monument Park, which is based off the one in Yankee Stadium.  While there will be no spring training games going on you may be able to catch some players who are working out at the complex due to injury or playing in the minor leagues.

Another suggestion would be to pack the clubs and hit the links at any one of the numerous golf courses located in Tampa (check out the full list here).  Getting an early tee time would set you up for a great morning out in the sun enjoying the beautiful weather. No matter your skill level there are plenty of choices available.  I suggest checking out Westchase Golf Club, a course that is carved out of a sprawling cypress forest, with fairways that are long and narrow, and greens that are fast and smooth. The local wildlife is your personal gallery.  Westchase has earned a four-star rating from Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” and was also ranked #1 in Florida for customer satisfaction by the National Golf Foundation.

After a busy day you are bound to be starving, so why not have a late lunch/early dinner at Pane Rustica.  Pane Rustica was named one of America’s Best restaurants by Zagat’s and they said, “dollar for dollar, it’s the best meal in town”.  The lunch menu offers pizza, sandwiches and salads along with an assortment of freshly baked breads.  The dinner menu expands to include pastas, fish and other entrees.  Pan Rustica has become a favorite of locals and tourists alike, so it should not be missed.

Following your meal, head down to St. Petersburg to catch the Tampa Bay Rays open up their season against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.  The Rays will once battle the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for the AL East Division Title.  The Orioles have in recent years been towards the bottom of the AL East standings, but with a ton of young talent they are looking to become relevant again.  Let’s not forget that it will be opening day and there will be a buzz in the air.

Sunday

  • The Refinery
  • Tropicana Field
  • Armed Forces Military Museum
  • Tampa Bay Automobile Museum

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

Start off your morning with brunch at The Refinery, a restaurant that serves American style food and changes their menu seasonally to incorporate fresh locally sourced ingredients.  Depending on your schedule you could head back to St. Petersburg and catch the afternoon game between the Rays and Orioles, or if you’re interested in checking out more of what Tampa has to offer why not head out to one of the many museums in Tampa. Tampa was recently named the “Top Arts Destination” by American Style Magazine. Two of the more interesting museums in the area are the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum and the Armed Forces Military Museum.

The Tampa Bay Automobile Museum is located in Pinellas Park, mid-way between Clearwater and St. Petersburg.  It features a unique collection of vintage cars and vehicles that demonstrate special creativity and imagination in their history and engineering. They include pioneering front wheel drive and rear engine cars from the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Each vehicle in the collection was chosen based on the engineering achievements that made it an important part of the evolution of the automobile.

The Armed Forces Military Museum on the other hand walks you through military history from a WWI trench to the flight deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi.  The museum has completed displays reflecting WWI, an extensive display of Japanese memorabilia associated with the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor, displays of the USMC in the South Pacific, D-Day landings, German Third Reich, Korean War and 8063rd M.A.S.H memorabilia. Exhibits are enhanced with simulations of smoke, sounds of airplanes and tanks, and other audio/visual effects.  These effects will make you feel you are part of the action.

Once you have had your fill head back to your hotel, pack up and head to the airport early.  An added bonus to the Tampa airport is that they have Free Wi-Fi so you can catch up on any work you missed out on while you were away.

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