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Official Review by Kalei Hanawahine, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Aloha Stadium is located in Halawa, Oahu, a western suburb of Honolulu and is Hawaii’s largest outdoor arena. Built in 1975 with a 50,000-seat capacity, Aloha Stadium is located just two miles north of Honolulu International Airport, and is home to the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team. The stadium has hosted the annual NFL Pro Bowl game since 1980 and currently hosts the NCAA’s Hawaii Bowl every December, a Christmas Eve mainstay since 2002.
Prior to 2007, Aloha Stadium had the ability to reconfigure four movable 7,000-seat sections, each 3.5 million pounds, in order to take shape to host multiple sporting events. Using air casters, the stadium could reconfigure into a diamond shape to host baseball and soccer games as well as a triangle for concerts. However, due to the costs and maintenance issues to reconfigure the stadium, it has been permanently locked for the past eight years.
A design flaw in the weathering steel used to build the stadium is a key contributor to its current aesthetically unappealing appearance. Much of the stadium is rusting, as the initial builders failed to take into account Honolulu’s sea-laden air. In 2008, the state of Hawaii approved $185 million to refurbish the diminishing stadium. The money was used to add a high definition scoreboard, seat replacements as well as rusting treatment. In 2011, the playing turf was upgraded through a sponsorship deal with Hawaiian Airlines, hence its name, Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium.
However, even with the recent renovations, Aloha Stadium still feels outdated as you walk the concourse, and is an eyesore from the highway. Fortunately, the variety of local treats is a positive for any food lover along with a wide variety of beer options.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Aloha Stadium offers a wide variety of local treats and drinks for fans to indulge in. Concession lines are short, service is fast, but this may be due to the 30% full capacity at the 2015 Hawaii Bowl. Only cash payments are accepted.
The typical stadium foods are offered such as chili dogs, hot dogs, nachos, boiled peanuts, Papa John's pizza, chicken strips, and French fries. But for the more adventurous eater, one must try the local flavor infused by Korean BBQ plate lunch stands located near the entrance, which offers steak plates, garlic shrimp plates, kalbi plates (teriyaki flavored short ribs), fried noodles, BBQ chicken, musubis (local favorite spam and rice wrapped in seaweed), and even roasted corn.
If that is not appealing, there are Greek concession stands offering gyro sandwiches, chicken wraps, Greek salads, and a gyro plate. For dessert, one can choose from flavored mini donuts, pretzels, churros, Dippin Dots ice cream, kettle corn, cotton candy, and island shaved ice.
The concession stands offer Pepsi product fountain drinks, and there are a few slush stands offering slushy flavored fruit drinks, tropical iced tea, and lemonade. A variety of beer options are available, including premium drafts Shock Top, Heineken, Heineken Light, Blue Moon, New Castle, and Corona Light. Domestic drafts are also available which include Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Primo.
The garlic shrimp and steak plate is highly recommended along with roasted corn and a nice cold Heineken to wash it down. For the non-alcohol drinkers, the tropical iced tea is great as well. I also recommend the island shaved ice offered in tropical fruity island flavors. A snow cone is perfect to cool you off in the hot sun.
Approximately 15,000 fans showed up on Christmas Eve in 2015 to watch the matchup between the Mountain West champions San Diego State Aztecs and American Athletic conference foe Cincinnati Bearcats. The stadium felt empty and most fans sat in either the lower level (orange), or the second level (blue) due to the emptiness. In a predominantly pro Aztec crowd due their convenient west coast location, each team's fans' main reason for their Hawaii trip was to soak in the great weather. Fans would cheer when their team would score, but the fans didn't show any extra enthusiasm for their team.
Aloha Stadium is not a beautiful structure by any means, due to its rusting over the years, and plain dark brown paint job. The stadium consists of stands stretching across the length of the field and behind the end zones, leaving four big gaps in each corner. The seats in each section are the same, no cup holders and made out of hard plastic. The spaces between the seats and between rows are also the same throughout the stadium. The only difference is the color it is painted. The lower section is orange, middle section blue, the loge is brown, lower upper is red and the upper section is yellow.
The field turf is nice, featuring the Hawaii Bowl logo at the 50 yard line along with each team's name painted in the end zone. The large video scoreboard is located in the north end zone along the loge area of the stands, and has video replay ability. The screen is split in half with the left side providing the score, quarter and time, while the right is used for replay and animation.
San Diego State featured a small band of 20 in their corner of the north end zone adding some pizazz to the game. No mascots made an appearance, but each team had their cheerleading squads make the trip.
Special promotions included the ESPN 1420 AM Santa's Gridiron Giveaway. The Hawaii Bowl and ESPN 1420 presented "Santa's Gridiron Giveaway!"
Radio listeners had the opportunity to win VIP field level seats to the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl game between San Diego State Aztecs and Cincinnati Bearcats PLUS a chance to win up to 120,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles.
The contest started on Wednesday, Dec. 16, and you had to listen to "The Bobby Curran Show" (6 to 9 a.m.) and "The Sports Animals" (3 to 6 p.m.) on ESPN 1420. When you heard their special Santa sound effect, call in at 296-1420. If you were the 14th caller, you automatically won 2 VIP field level tickets to the Hawaii Bowl.
During the game, the winners were given the chance to win 40,000 or 120,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles. (Note: You had to be present to win.)
The best seating option is the 50-yard line orange section on the Makai (ocean) side about halfway from the top. The logo at the center is facing upright towards you, and you are shielded from the sun at all times. Another great option is the loge area, which provides a cozy five row deep covered section in between the middle blue section and the upper yellow section. If you are seated on the Mauka (mountain) side during an early afternoon game, you will be battling the sun for the entirety of the game.
Aloha Stadium is located in Halawa, a residential area located 10 miles west of Waikiki, about a half hour drive away. Surrounding the stadium are small shopping centers. Stadium Mall is an older strip mall located across the street with a few casual dining options such as Stadium Camellia Restaurant or Royal Palace restaurant if you are looking for Chinese food. There are also fast food options like Subway, Jack in the Box, and Taco Bell in the strip mall.
There are a few attractions near the stadium. Ice Palace is an ice rink located in Stadium Mall on Salt Lake Blvd across the street. The Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center is located just a half mile away. The USS Bowfin Memorial Park is also located a half mile away, while Pearl Harbor is a little over three miles away. The Bishop Museum is an interesting museum primarily focusing on Native Hawaiian history and is just four miles away.
Although the Pearl Harbor attractions are near the stadium, most people do not lodge in Halawa. There are a few options to stay near the stadium such as the Harbor Shores Apartment Hotel and the Harbor Arms Hotel. The Airport Honolulu Hotel and the Best Western The Plaza Hotel are also options, but most visitors would be inclined to stay in Waikiki.
The fan experience at the Hawaii Bowl is below average solely because of the number of fans that are able to make to the trip to Hawaii. Approximately 15,000-20,000 fans watched the game in 2015, but the sight of the empty seats takes away from the "Big Game" feel. Generally, fans cheer when their team scores and nobody stands up. There is no special student sections for this bowl game, no signs to get on TV or fans showing extra enthusiasm for their school with face or body paint. It seems fans used the excuse of the Hawaii Bowl to plan a vacation to Hawaii on Christmas break. The game was an extra, but their primary purpose was to enjoy a trip to Hawaii.
Tailgating is a great option at Aloha Stadium. The parking lot is barely full for the bowl game, allowing for tons of space for tailgating to set up your BBQ and food tables. Not to mention room to throw the football around. This is a great way to enjoy the weather with great food and drinks while getting some sunshine with family and friends.
Overall, Aloha Stadium is easily accessible both in terms of getting to the stadium and moving around the stadium once inside.
Parking at the stadium costs $5 and you will be able to park on the outer parking lots. Certain gates require passes that allow you to park in the inner circle closer to the entrances. Gate 3 (Halawa) and Gate 4 (Lower Salt Lake) do not require passes. Gate 5 is closed. It is best to plan what gate you will enter in before starting your drive to the stadium.
Lower and upper Halawa parking lots open at 10:00 AM, five hours prior to kickoff. Gate 1 opens at 11:00 AM, four hours prior to kickoff. Gate 1 requires parking passes. Traffic updates are available via ESPN 1420 AM Radio.
ADA stalls are open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Parking attendants will be asking for ADA placards and ADA issued identification cards. Guests who are unable to produce the placard and the ID card to match a person inside the vehicle will not be allowed to park in the ADA area.
There are two scheduled routes both heading from Kuhio Ave in Waikki to Aloha Stadium on Dec 24th. Bus Route: #20 starts running at 5:51 am with the time between pickup being 40 minutes. Bus Route: #42 starts running at 5:56 am with the time between pickup being 30 minutes. Routes and times are subject to change. Fans who want to use public transportation can call TheBus Information Office phone at (808) 848-5555 to confirm.
There are several ticketing gate entries to get into the stadium. None are quicker or less busy than any other since attendance has been down at the Hawaii Bowl. You can expect just a short line where security will check your bag to make sure you are not bringing in outside food and beverages. There is minimal security pat down and inspection upon entrance. You must have your actual ticket in hand to enter, there is no phone app/paperless option for entry.
Once inside the stadium, it is easy to move about the concourse. The main concourse does not have a view of the playing field unless you are standing on the top level concourse with a view of the gap between the stands in the corners of the stadium. There is easy access and flow to seating areas and the restrooms are somewhat clean with short lines.
Handicap seating areas are located at the top of the orange section (lower section), and are easily accessible for those who need assistance with mobility. These seats not only are easily accessible but also offer some of the best views in the stadium.
If you are looking to experience a big time college football bowl game atmosphere with tradition, crazy passionate fans, at a state of the art facility, then catching the Hawaii Bowl should not be at the top of your list, and may not provide you the most bang for your buck. If you are a college football fanatic and just want to say that you've been to the Hawaii Bowl, or your team is competing in the bowl, then the time and money spent may be worth it.
Between the 35-yard lines near midfield, the lower orange, second level blue and loge brown section will cost you $45 a pop for both Makai and Mauka sidelines. Makai sideline is shielded from the sun, and is the best option. Mauka sideline seats from the 35-yard line to end zone will cost $35 each. End zone seats go for $20. There are discounted rates for senior citizens and ages 4-18 at $15 a ticket, but these discounts are only offered for seats in the north end zone.
I would recommend driving to the stadium, and taking part in the tailgate party where many people will be barbequeing and enjoying the nice weather. Parking to enter the stadium is just $5. Pack up the coolers, hibachi grill and the pig skin and you will be set to have a great time.
Upon entry, be sure to grab a free game day newspaper-style program. Once you are in the stadium, grab yourself a delicious steak or garlic shrimp plate going for $13 along with a premium draft beer for $9.50 and you'll be ready to enjoy the game.
Hawaii Bowl games usually feature a local band playing traditional Hawaiian music along with hula dancers. The 2015 game featured singer Palani Vaughan who played Hawaiian Christmas tunes featuring hula dancers ranging in age from five years old to adults. The musical halftime show added the Hawaiian Christmas spirit and cheer and was a great addition to the overall Hawaii Bowl experience.
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