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Official Review by James Hilchen, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Opened in 1983, Carver-Hawkeye Arena houses University of Iowa men’s basketball, women’s basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and wrestling. The 15,400 seat arena has been host to the Big Ten and NCAA wrestling championships as well as the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials in 1984 and 2012. In 2008, the arena hosted a record 15,955 people for dual wrestling meet between Iowa and Iowa State.
The arena has undergone some renovation but nothing that would be apparent to the fans. At a time when big video boards hanging over center court are the norm, Carver-Hawkeye Arena has four scoreboards over the top of the seating bowl on each side. Rumors persist that a larger centered video board and ribbon board are in the plans.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and drinks are offered in the traditional concourse style. The arena has all the standard fare and serves Coke products ranging from $4-$5.50 with the large souvenir cup being your best bet value-wise. Water (definitely pricey at $6), Powerade and other beverages are also available. No alcoholic drinks are offered.
Among the food choices are: grilled chicken sandwiches or pork tenderloin, tacos, and cheeseburgers ($7), and bratwurst ($5). Hot dogs range from $4 for the basic to $6 for specialty dogs (Chicago Dog, Kansas City Dog, and Iowa Dog). Pizza Hut serves slices for $4.50. Snacks including candy, peanuts, and cookies can all be had for around $3. Soft serve ice cream ranges from $3.75 to $7 with a souvenir bowl. (More on soft serve later).
The arena is well laid out and easy to find seats. If you want to sit mid-court facing the Hawkeye logo, sit in section MM or NN. All seats have chair backs and are comfortable. The court is dug into the ground with 42 rows rising from courtside in a single-level seating bowl. Video scoreboards sit atop each of the four sides making it easy to see the score at all times. As the fans file into the seating bowl, it becomes a sea of black and gold (Iowa's official colors). For those sitting in the very back rows of the seating bowl, there are monitors above with the live television feed of the game; very beneficial in seeing replays throughout the game. The crowd comes to life with the introduction of the team and they remain engaged through the game. Iowa's band is very interactive throughout the game and adds to the experience.
The arena is located on the University of Iowa campus near Kinnick Stadium (football) and Duane Banks Field (baseball). Within reasonable walking distance (about half a mile) are Wig & Pen Pizza and Vine Tavern & Eatery. Wig & Pen is a British themed pub offering up some great pizza and a full bar. Next to Wig & Pen is Vine Tavern. Vine has a ton of food options and plenty of drink specials. Both places are jammed on game day.
Less than 2 miles east of the arena is downtown Iowa City and there are no shortages of places to eat and things to do. The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History and the Old Capitol Museum are downtown. The Old Capitol Museum, built in 1840, was where Iowa made the transition to statehood. The old building is well worth seeing and the architecture is tremendous. The Natural History Museum is great for kids. Both have free admission and are well worth a look.
Directly across the street from the Old Capitol Museum is The Airliner Bar. The Airliner has a tremendous atmosphere, plenty of televisions for sports of all kinds, and daily food and drink specials. Much like Vine Tavern and Wig & Pen, Airliner is jammed on game day.
Fans are passionate about their Hawkeyes and are there to see the game rather than to come to a social event. They know their players and are engaged throughout the game. However, they are generally kind to the opposing fans, giving only good-natured ribbing. As the game progresses, the crowd grows louder when their team needs the added support. Like at the football games, the student section stands the entire game and, combined with the band; adds to the atmosphere that keeps the fans engaged.
The arena sits a couple miles off I-80. Getting there will take a little time as the area immediately surrounding the arena is very densely populated. Plan to arrive a little early because lines are the norm although they do move steadily; albeit slowly. Once parked, getting into the arena is a quick process. Inside, the concourse is wide but with both the restrooms and concessions on that level, it can get congested prior to tip and at halftime. The restrooms have lines at halftime although they generally move quickly. Plenty of sections with great views are available to handicapped fans.
Tickets range from $18-$33, great prices for Big 10 basketball. The arena doesn't have any bad views or obstructed seats and a ticket near the back of the seating bowl allows for a great view and the added bonus of the ability to see the television feed on monitors. Parking across the street from the arena is reasonable at $5. With average food and drink prices, a trip to Carver-Hawkeye gives you a good value for the cost.
Iowa does a great job at celebrating the accomplishments of their teams. The arena is jammed with banners from all the sports they play at the arena as well as displays on the concourse walls.
Iowa offers up a nice program and game day sheet and they generally have free posters and other goodies for fans available while they last.
Need help? No problem. There are numerous people around the concourse in neon shirts that say "how can I help?" on them. They are very friendly and can point you to your seat or help with whatever else is needed.
Two stars for the spectacle that is the Iowa City obsession with soft serve ice cream. Lines begin to grow about 5 minutes before halftime and they can span a couple hundred feet at their peak. It really is an amazing site to witness.
Even without the on-court success that the Hawkeyes are enjoying, Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a fun place to take in a game. Iowa City is a nice town, there are plenty of good restaurants in the area, and the fans are passionate about their team. Combine all these factors and you have the recipe for a great time at a reasonable price.
Member Review by paul
As I approached Carver Hawkeye by car, I thought my GPS had perhaps led me astray. The building looks like it may be the art building or perhaps a performing arts center. It certainly doesn't look big enough to house a 15,000+ seat stadium. What you'll find is a pleasant surprise indeed.
Member Review by hilch on Mar 12, 2013
Opened in 1983, Carver-Hawkeye Arena houses University of Iowa men’s basketball, women’s basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and wrestling. The 15,500 seat arena has been host to the Big Ten and NCAA Wrestling championships as well as the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials in 1984 and 2012. In 2008, the arena hosted a record 15,955 people for dual wrestling meet between Iowa and Iowa State.
Member Review by MNGator13 on May 03, 2013
Had a fun time, even though the Gophers lost by 20. Fans were ok, food was decent and the arena/atmosphere was great.
Member Review by newsome321 on Jan 25, 2016
This gem does not have a bad seat in the house! Very unique look from the outside, almost appears you are walking into an out gallery. Neat that the arena is built into the ground as well. Concourse is one level and has Windows all the way around which brings nice light into the arena. Definitely worth the trip.
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