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Florida Guide > Miscellaneous

A day at the Lightning

Of the thousands of activities available to the Floridian holiday-maker, few offer the same experience as that of the National Hockey League.

Tucked away in the heart of metropolitan Tampa lies the St Petes Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of the 2004 Stanley Cup - the Ice Hockey equivalent of the Premier League.

The Lightning are one of the best followed teams in the league, undoubtedly as a result of playing in one of the most modern and comfortable arenas in the world. The front line is led by arguably the best line of players in the world in Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St Louis and Brad Richards, and as a unit they are a young, exciting hockey club with a thriving infrastructure and bright future.

Considering the Lightning generally play in the evening, it gives you a great opportunity to fit a game into a busy day. The arena is a mere 25 minute drive from the roller-coaster-dream park of Busch Gardens, which usually closes only an hour or two before the game begins. Another option is the Florida Aquarium, only minutes from the arena.

Tickets can be ordered online and picked up at the arena. Prices vary between $250 for rinkside seats and $25 in ‘the gods’. Tickets are usually available on the day, although I’d recommend buying tickets in advance for the local ‘derby’ against the Miami-based Florida Panthers or against other big clubs such as Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto or either of the New York teams.

Parking is plentiful and not overly-expensive, with plenty of secure options in the immediate vicinity of the arena. We prefer to get there a little early, as there is usually a thriving atmosphere outside the arena. There are several hockey-themed bars and restaurants for the adults, and if you have children there are plenty of mini-games outside the arena, such as sumo suits, baseball pitching tents, shoot-the-puck competitions and many more. Upon entering the arena, you are also usually presented with a little present, such as a t-shirt or even (in our case) blue and white ‘Bolts’ Santa hats – which I still treasure to this day!

In-game entertainment isn’t limited to the hockey either. Pretty young ladies clean the ice during breaks in play, mini-zeppelins fly over the crowd and drop vouchers for free drink, cheap food, free merchandise etc. . and the local radio/tv stations also occasionally run onto the ice during the TV breaks and fire t-shirts into the crowd.

If you are worried about taking your children due to any potential violence at games, there is no need. As a hockey fan myself, I take great pride in the fact that I have never seen a police officer at a game, and have never seen anything to suggest that they would be needed. It is a different world entirely from that of football.

Whilst Ice Hockey may not be a well-known sport in the UK, do not let this deter you. It is an excellent way to spend an evening and a good chance to take in the sport at its highest level. The rules are explained fully in the programme and a sheet featuring the line-ups for both sides is provided on your seat before the game – so there’s no excuse for not following it!

I honestly couldn’t recommend catching a game enough. It’s always a highlight of the holiday for me (alongside Islands of Adventure, Cirque De Soleil and Longhorn Steakhouse! ) and is rarely disappointing.

PS. If you do go and find you enjoy the game, you may be interested to know that there is a ever-growing UK league in existence. There are 10 teams nationwide, located in Basingstoke, Belfast, Cardiff, league champions Coventry, Edinburgh, Hull, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield (although I would feel irresponsible for recommending them) with future teams likely destined for Dublin, Fife and London. First-timers are always encouraged and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.

Give it a go!

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Page added on: 15 July 2008
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