Harbor Park opened in 1993 at a cost of $16 million in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. It serves as home to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides of the International League. The stadium was designed to capture a nautical theme that includes shipyard crane-like towers and arrays of colorful flags. There is also the slight smell of salt water, sounds of ship horns in the distance, and various other vessels that take up space in the Elizabeth River behind the outfield walls.
The 11,856 seat stadium was considered a trendsetter and innovator at the time of its completion. In fact, Baseball America stated that it was the finest minor league baseball facility in the United States in 1995. However, that is eons in minor league baseball architecture and there have been 22 new Triple-A ballparks that have been constructed since Harbor Park first opened. It is still regarded by many ballpark tourists in elite status and you would never question that you are in the naval rich area of Norfolk, but does the home of the Tides still rank with the best of them in baseball?
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".
There is a combination of both fixed and portable concession stands throughout Harbor Park's massive concourse that also includes a 225-seat restaurant and party deck in right field that used to be part of the field. You should shop around before you choose what to eat, since there are many incredible options inside the stadium.
The fixed locations include local area establishment Ynot Pizza where they sell slices of plain and pepperoni ($5), stromboli ($9), and chicken wings ($9). Boathouse BBQ sells carved and pulled pork platters ($10), BBQ nachos ($9), and BBQ parfait ($8).
Hot Dog Nation has conjured up numerous and creative ways to top your hot dogs, for $4.50. A few of the selections include: Oriole dog with crab meat and mac and cheese; Frito with chilli, cheese, and Fritos; Philly with grilled onions, peppers, and cheese, and a bacon wrapped hot dog.
Another fixed location stand offers chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and corn dog basket meals ($5.50-$7.75). Flamingo Joe's serves up fried Snickers, Twinkies, S'mores, and funnel cakes ($4.50-$6.00).
The portable stands offer more of an array of menu items including pretzels cooked over a charcoal grill, frozen cocktails and smoothies from Maui Wowi Hawaiian, waffle cones and brownie bowls from Bruster's Ice Cream, Corona beers from the Cantina, and Flamingo Joe's Sno-Cones and cotton candy.
Hits at the Park restaurant is situated in the right field corner and offers a panoramic view of the field diamond. There is a buffet for adults for $18.95 and children for $9.95 during games, but it does not include the price of your ticket. Inside there is plenty of memorabilia from the Tides since their inception as affiliates of the Mets in 1969. Also in this area 20-feet behind right field corner is the Shock Top Party Deck that is an outdoor bar and patio that features Long Island iced teas ($10), drafts ($9.50), bottles ($7), well drinks ($6), and wine ($5.50). There are many eating and dining options, so choose wisely before making a final decision.
Harbor Park is situated in downtown Norfolk next to the Elizabeth River. There is a constant smell of salt water and horns from ships in the distance. The views over the outfield walls are majestic and you will never second guess where you are in town. Between the sounds in the distance, the aroma of food, and the cacophony of fans in the crowd, there is a lot to take in as you walk around the stadium.
The Tides staff handle in between inning promotions quite well with the usual gimmicks, and Rip Tide is an unusual looking mascot who makes appearances throughout the game. There are 24 luxury skyboxes, two LED video boards, three LED ribbon boards, a 220-seat restaurant, and a party deck that is a result of the right field fence being moved 20 feet towards home plate.
The team store is somewhat smaller than many new ones that have opened up and there is a lot of new and retro gear that can be found inside the shop from New York Mets era Tidewater Tides shirts to current Baltimore Orioles era gear. If only there were blue and orange striped pillbox caps worn by the team in the early 1980s available.
The open concourse is not your wraparound variety, but you can enjoy an outfield view from The Virginian-Pilot Picnic Area from behind left field. The section can accommodate between 50-350 people and offers three different menu options for groups.
Even though you are in downtown Norfolk, you are still about mile away from the heart of downtown with a major interstate in between. It is advisable to drive or take the light rail that stops in front of the stadium's entrance. If you do drive, park at the MacArthur Center, since meter parking is rather high compared to larger metropolises.
Granby Street is the main hub of the city where you will find Jack Quinn Irish Pub, Granby Bistro & Deli, The Grilled Cheese Bistro, 219 Bistro, and AJ Gators Sports Bar and Grill among a few places to eat or drink.
A little further down the road is O'Connor Brewing Company that is housed in an old industrial building. The pet friendly establishment features affordable prices, plenty of tastings, and a lot of room to enjoy a well crafted beer or two with friends.
The Norfolk fans have been witness to Triple-A baseball since 1969, and have been affiliated with the Mets (1969-2006) and the Orioles (2007-present). There are many season ticket holders who are still die-hard Mets fans and you see quite a lot of people wearing a cap or jersey. However, many younger fans are now Orioles fans, especially because they are only a short drive from Baltimore where they have the opportunity to watch a former Tide shine at Camden Yards. They are a knowledgeable group that put baseball first before promotions.
There are times that entering Norfolk from the Tidewater region through the tunnel can be frustrating. However, once you navigate through the traffic, Harbor Park is easily noticeable and there are plenty of lots which charge just $5 to park. The stadium is also accessible via Tide Light Rail that runs 7.4 miles east to west with connections to busses and ferries. Fare prices are $1.75 for a single ride and $4 for an all day pass. If staying near one of the 11 different stations the Tide serves, it may be a unique and fun way to travel to a baseball game.
There are three price points for tickets: $9, $11, $12 (with a $2 up charge if purchased the day of the game). This is a real bargain with the escalating prices of minor league baseball at the Triple-A level. There are discounts for seniors, children, and high school students and military members with ID. The views of the river, sound of the horns, and the smell of salt water compliments the ticket prices and makes this venue an excellent value.
One extra point for the views from the Elizabeth River that include ships, vessels, sounds of horns, seagulls, and the smell of salt water.
An additional extra point for the amount of New York Mets fans in attendance; it is nice to see that the club left its mark among the folks of the Tidewater region. A lot of great players honed their skills here before becoming All-Stars including Ken Singleton, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Jason Isringhausen, Jose Reyes, and David Wright.
The Hampton Roads Hall of Fame is worth checking out. If you're not from the area, it will educate you about the athletic talent that comes from this area. The exhibits are not fancy - plaques on a wall - but it is interesting. The Hall of Fame is located at the main entrance behind home plate, or you can access it by stairs from the main concourse.
Since its construction in 1993, Harbor Park in Norfolk (Va.) has been the go-to sports attraction for Hampton Roads area families.
Sure, there's the Norfolk Scope, home to the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, but that's for a rowdier set. And it smells much more like the inside of a game-worn hockey skate.
Norfolk, the epicenter of the United States' 36th-largest metropolitan area, has tried a few hare-brained schemes to woo professional franchises over the years. City representatives pitched the "Hampton Roads Rhinos" to the NHL as an expansion team in 1997, courted the Hornets when they left Charlotte in 2002, and offered to expand Harbor Park to accommodate the Montreal Expos in 2004. But for better or worse, the Triple-A Norfolk Tides have remained the biggest game in town since they showed up back in 1969.
For a franchise that's been a Norfolk institution for over 40 years, you would figure the ballpark would be more distinctive.
I was at a game here last week and it certainly is a beautiful ballpark from both the outside and inside. The name of the ballpark is a bit deceptive as one would think you have this terrific harbor view, when in actuality the view is of cranes, cargo ships and old buildings. I do agree the whole experience here is rather unremarkable as a Sunday afternoon game featured stands that were mostly empty and a rather bland atmosphere. The neighborhood immediately around Harbor Park is dull, but downtown Norfolk is beautiful and its right around the corner. Had a great time checking out downtown after the game.
I went to a Saturday and Sunday game (6/1/13 & 6/2/13) vs. my favorite team, the Buffalo Bisons. If you're in Norfolk and are looking to catch a ballgame, it's definitely worth a trip out.
Food & Beverage
First and foremost, the food and beverage staff were exceptional. We ate both at the 'Hits at the Park' restaurant and at the concession stands. They were by far the most polite and caring staff I've seen at a ballpark.
That said, the concessions were pretty standard fare at average ballpark prices. Beer prices were pretty outrageous at $9 a pop(, so get drunk before you come). There was a veggie burger option, which I was impressed with, although I did not try it.
If you are a vegetarian or have one in your group, the Hits at the Park restaurant's buffet is not for you. I was very disappointed in their lack of ANYTHING vegetarian. My brother and nephew seemed to enjoy their dinners (more on that in extras). I got stuck eating buns with sauer kraut in them.
The park was clean, bright, and it didn't look like there was a bad seat in the house. There was also a nice breeze coming in off the harbor, and the occasional boat horn to remind you that it was there. The scoreboard and information display were modern and nice, although an instant replay feature would have made it even nicer (there were a few questionable calls). All and all, a nice setting to watch a ballgame.
The neighborhood was fine. I don't know the area that well, so I don't know if you can walk to anything else. The neighborhood was safe and parking was abundant.
I neither liked nor disliked the Norfolk fans...well, I should say I both liked and disliked them. Positives: No drunken hooligans and people actually watched the game (vs. talk on their phones like I've seen at other parks). Negatives: Fans seemed apathetic - not a lot of passion for their team or the outcome of the game, parents let their kids run wild in the stands (maybe my fault for coming to family day)
We took the light rail from VA Beach on Saturday night (still experimental...but it was nice for our purpose). We drove and parked on Sunday ($5 fee). We did both with ease. Both were extremely close. No complaints.
Return on Investment
I would say average return on investment based on other AAA ballparks I've been to. Way high compared to a Major League Park.
The extras were not quite as abundant as I've seen at other parks (Lehigh Valley IronPigs / Buffalo Bisons). There are some in-between inning contests, etc, but nothing inspiring.
We went intending that my brother was going to complete 'Salute to Pork Challenge'. We got scared away because they want to make a big to-do about it with an announcer in the restaurant, etc. If you're into that, sweet. If you're going hoping to eat 5lbs of food in private shame, it's probably not going to work out for you. That said, I made my own Russ's Dirty Dozen challenge, where I made him eat 12 hot dogs. He is now on my own Personal Wall of Fame (which is actually a wall of shame because he ate 12 hot dogs).
Minor League Baseball has been alive in Norfolk, VA for over 50 years. The Tidewater Tides started as a High-A affiliate of the Kansas City A’s in 1961, but they are most well-known for being the AAA International League team for the New York Mets. That relationship started in 1969, and their famous alumni include Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra, who all saw this as their last stop before major league stardom.
In 1993, not only did the team change the name to the current Norfolk Tides, but they also opened a new stadium - Harbor Park. Located in downtown Norfolk, this was a $16 million investment for the city and replaced the old Met Park that was located close to the airport, about 20 minutes north of downtown. The new stadium’s seating capacity of over 12,000 almost doubled the Tides' previous home, more in line for a AAA ballclub.
In 2007, the Tides began a new chapter in their history, as they became the Orioles' AAA farm club, replacing Ottawa. All of Baltimore’s class A and above minor league teams are now located in Maryland or Virginia.
Nothing really special about Harbor Park. Doesn't really give you a warm fuzzy feeling. The stadium itself isn't really eye appealing and the crowd wasn't all that excited for the game that I was at. I actually went to a game while vacationing at Virginia Beach but would not go out of my way to go again.
Once the best minor league park in the nation, Harbor Park is still a great place to watch a game, but be aware of many tiny annoyances. Parking, silly fans, painful to get to, expensive, and few extras.
999 Waterside Dr
Norfolk, VA 23510
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244 Granby St
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300 Monticello Ave
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777 Waterside Dr
Norfolk, VA 23510