The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl may not be a premier BCS bowl site, but the college football bowl games hosted there are consistently some of the most entertaining shoot-outs of the bowl season each year. With tie-ins to both the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA, the game is often overlooked by fans of larger programs. Traditionally, the game is a matchup between the Sun Belt champion (or runner-up) and the 5th seeded team in C-USA. When Conference USA does not have enough eligible teams to fill the slot an at-large team is selected. The inaugural bowl was hosted at the Superdome in 2001 and featured the Colorado State Rams of the Mountain West Conference taking the first bowl trophy over the Sun Belt champion North Texas Mean Green.
The New Orleans Bowl has had two different major corporate sponsors since its inception. The bowl was formerly named the Wyndham New Orleans bowl between 2002 and 2004 and is currently the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and has been since 2006. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has served as the host of the New Orleans Bowl each year with the exception of 2005 game which was moved to Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette due to significant damage to the Superdome caused by Hurricane Katrina in September of that year.
Though the Superdome is a larger venue than what is necessary for a New Orleans Bowl matchup, there’s no doubt the event atmosphere is elevated by being played in downtown New Orleans and within walking distance of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. The college bowl season serves as a celebration of successful regular seasons and there may be no better place to celebrate worldwide than Bourbon Street.
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There's quite a bit of variety at the concession stands around the Superdome. Though fewer options are available for the New Orleans Bowl compared to a larger event like a New Orleans Saints home game, the options are still plentiful. There are a few important notes and recommendations for you to consider both before and during the game.
First, almost all the concession stands accept credit/debit cards. However, some of the specialty stands are hit and miss so you may want to bring along some cash before heading to the Dome. Also, if you have seats in the upper level (600 sections), you may find it worthwhile to make the long trek down to the plaza level for concessions since there likely will only be one or two stands open and with considerable lines. This recommendation is largely based on crowd-size considering that New Orleans Bowls have ranged in attendance from 19,000 to 48,000 and larger crowds will lead to more fans in the upper level and longer concession lines. Either way, the variety will be limited on the upper level. Another note is to keep in mind is the Superdome is primarily a venue for the NFL's New Orleans Saints, so expect NFL-sized concession prices.
On the lower level, you'll notice stands built into the outer rim of the concourse. These options range from Rotolo's (pizza and meatball sub), King's Table and Royal Feast (hot dogs, nachos, and traditional fare), Parish Grill (shrimp basket, assorted po'boys, chicken tenders/wings, burgers), Saint Jack's BBQ, and more. On the inner rim of the concourse just behind the plaza level seats you'll find assorted mobile stands. Your options here are considerable and range from Triple B's Cajun Corner, SuperPretzel, N'awlins Nachos, Geaux Nuts, Point After Popcorn, Market Fresh (gourmet wraps and sandwiches), amongst other stands. My recommendation, especially if you're not from the New Orleans or Cajun Country area, is to grab an Alligator Sausage Po'boy ($9) from the Cajun Corner stand. Though this falls very short of the "po'boy" label, the alligator sausage is unique and tasty and you'll be unlikely to find another venue in the world that offers such a concession item.
Only a few blocks from Bourbon Street, it just wouldn't fit the New Orleans culture if the Superdome wasn't loaded with tons of drink options. The plaza level features both a Coors Light Cold Zone lounge and Crown Royal Black lounge. Throughout the concourse you'll find several beer stands and even hard liquor stands. Your beer prices will range from $8-$9 and hard liquor from $8.50 and up. Non-alcoholic refreshments include Coca-Cola products ($4.50 - $6.50), bottled Dasani Water ($4), and a Minute Maid Smoothie ($6).
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is truly one of the great American sports venues but it may not be the best venue for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Personally, there's nothing worse from an atmosphere perspective than playing in a half-filled stadium, especially in what's supposed to be a major college football post-season event. The matchup between a Sun Belt team and either a C-USA or smaller at-large program is unlikely to ever draw a capacity crowd. The only possible hope for an at-capacity crowd is likely the perfect scenario of an in-state matchup between CUSA's Tulane Green Wave and the Sun Belt's Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns. With conference realignment still churning and Tulane's move to the Big East under way, this perfect scenario becomes even less likely. The two New Orleans Bowls which have featured Louisiana-Lafayette have, however, boasted announced crowds of more than 40,000. Outside of these options, the likely attendance is between 25,000-35,000, far less than the Superdome's capacity of 72,003.
Outside of the venue-fit issue, the atmosphere created by the fans of both participating programs is pretty strong. Though the Sun Belt now has tie-ins with two bowls (the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile is the other), the opportunity for post-season play is very limited for Sun Belt teams. The Sun Belt Conference is considered by many as the weakest of FBS conferences, so many of these programs come into bowl games with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, especially when playing teams from C-USA that are generally within the same geographic footprint as the Sun Belt but perceived at a slightly higher strength level. This makes for energetic, excited, and prideful Sun Belt fans.
The downside is that many of the Sun Belt programs fall short in numbers, excluding Louisiana-Lafayette which is located just two hours away and is likely to travel in large numbers to the Superdome. As for Conference USA bids, the team selected is usually the 5th ranked or last remaining bowl-eligible team from the conference. So while a bowl bid is still an exciting opportunity, the New Orleans Bowl isn't a game teams from C-USA set their marks on at the beginning of the season. This usually leads to less excitement and a smaller turn-out.
The layout of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome seating is definitely a plus. There are three levels of seating which include the lower plaza level and upper level, with a level of suites, club seating, and press facilities sandwiched between. The plaza level seating sections will be in the 100s and 200s, suites/club seating will take up the 300s-400s, and the upper level seating consists of a few sections in the 500s with the majority in the 600s. Expect the upper level sections in each endzone to be very sparsely populated.
The vast majority of the crowd will be seated in the plaza level with larger crowds having some overflow into the 600 level on the east and west sides. Large video replay scoreboards are located on the wall behind both the north and south endzones and above the upper level seating with "Mercedes-Benz Superdome" spelled out in large letters above. The walls above the upper level seating areas and around the scoreboards alternate wide white and gold stripes of paneling. The upper level seating rises taller on the east and west sides and gradually shrinks into the north and south endzones. The playing surface is UBU-Intensity Series-S5-M Synthetic Turf. The entire dome footprint is massive sitting on top of 13 acres and reaching 273 feet high to the crest of the dome. For the best view and experience, your best seats will be in either the 100s or 200s on the 50 yardline.
There is simply no better location in the U.S. for a post-season sporting event of any kind than New Orleans. This is evident in the fact that no other venue has hosted as many NFL Super Bowls as the Superdome. Situated just a few blocks from the French Quarter, you simply can't find a better place to celebrate an accomplished season than Bourbon Street. Lined with bars, restaurants, clubs, and shops, there are plenty of options to celebrate a bowl victory, drown in your sorrow, or forget about football all-together.
When you need a break from partying, be sure to visit Jackson Square which features a statue of President Andrew Jackson on a horse in the center of the garden, as well as street vendors ranging from carriage rides, fortune-tellers, and artistic painters. In this location you'll also want to visit the beautiful and historic St. Louis Cathedral (regardless of your religious affiliation). Just across the square is the famous Cafe Du Monde serving up beignets (French powdered donut) and café au laits (coffee with steamed milk). You'll likely be serenaded by a street corner musician while you eat.
Just a few blocks from Jackson Square sits the historic French Market. Here you'll find different vendors and stands selling items in flea market style. Even if you don't like shopping, there's plenty to browse through and also some pretty good food.
If you're into gambling, Harrah's Casino is located just off Poydras several blocks from the Superdome and French Quarter. This is a great place not only for gambling but also for drinks and people watching. It's not a bad spot for parking either since Harrah's offers free parking in their casino garage if you gamble for at least 30 minutes each day.
New Orleans and the French Quarter handle millions of tourists each year so undoubtedly the hotel options are vast. Make sure you book early as possible because the best deals and closest hotels fill-up quickly. My recommendation is a French Quarter hotel just a block away from Jackson Square, Place d'Armes Hotel. It's not as luxurious as some other options, but the price usually makes it a great value and there's a cozy courtyard in the center of the hotel.
If you're looking for top-dollar luxurious hotels, I'd definitely recommend Le Pavillon. A French Quarter hotel that's a little more on the high-end side is the Maison Dupuy Hotel. If you are planning to spend a considerable amount of time at Harrah's Casino, you can book a room and stay the weekend there as well as gamble and park.
And the food.....oh the food. I've already mentioned Café Du Monde and it's a New Orleans staple for breakfast, afternoon snack, or to wind down a night of celebration (open 24 hours). There are too many absolutely wonderful restaurants to mention here so I'll offer up a just few recommendations.
The Gumbo Shop is yet another great place near Jackson Square and is home to some of the best gumbo you'll find in New Orleans. There are plenty of other options such as red beans and rice, but be sure to ask for the seafood gumbo. You have to experience the gourmet jazz brunch buffet at Two Sisters off Bourbon Street. Selections range from eggs benedict to crawfish to dessert options like King Cake.
An amazing dinner stop is Broussard's on Conti and Bourbon. Try anything on their menu and you'll think you're eating dinner at the finest restaurant in heaven, but make sure to order Oysters Rockefeller as an appetizer.
Some of the most affordable and quality seafood in the area can be found at Deanie's. There's a Deanie's Seafood in the French Quarter, but the original is located in a segment of Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) known as Bucktown. Bring an appetite because servings are heaped high. An off the radar stop is Bud's Broiler which is home to one of the best hamburgers you'll ever taste. Judging from the looks of the exterior, you won't be impressed and honestly you'll be even less impressed when you see your burger. But that first taste will certainly leave an impression. Order the #4 with their hickory smoked sauce.
It's difficult to judge the fans of a bowl game since there really isn't a "home" team and the matchup will change from year to year. If there is a home team, it's undoubtedly the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. Tulane Green Wave fans might protest, and rightfully so since the Superdome is their home turf, but the struggle to become bowl eligible over the past several years makes it difficult to call the bowl home for Tulane, especially when they've never played in it.
Louisiana-Lafayette's history with the New Orleans Bowl is brief and recent (2011 and 2012), but both games they've participated in are the two highest attended bowl games in New Orleans Bowl history. Both North Texas (2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004) and Southern Mississippi (2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009) have played in four New Orleans Bowls. Given that Southern Miss is located just a few hours north of the Superdome, they also have an argument for calling the bowl home.
As mentioned, it's fun to see just how excited Sun Belt fans are to play in this bowl game. While larger programs dream of a BCS bowl berth and smaller programs in FCS hope for a playoff game, teams in the Sun Belt look towards the New Orleans Bowl as ultimate championship experience. You won't hear any C-USA fans talking about their desire to see their program play in the New Orleans Bowl. This bowl is more of a last resort for a Conference USA team which just barely became bowl eligible and has no other options. With that said, their fans are bit less enthused but still excited for post season play. When you have two geographically close programs in the game, expect a boisterous crowd with 35,000 or more in attendance. The further away you get from the dome, the smaller the crowd as neither C-USA nor Sun Belt programs are known for traveling well.
If there's a downside to hosting the bowl game in New Orleans it's definitely access to the game. If you are arriving on gameday within three hours of kickoff, expect a traffic delay. The most congested route is usually the most obvious, which is I-10 to Hwy 90 then taking the Superdome exit and also I-10 to the Poydras Street exit. An alternate route that may save some time is to take Causeway to Airline which will turn into Tulane. This will lead you towards the Superdome with possibly less congestion.
Locating affordable parking in a spot that you're comfortable leaving your vehicle will be no easy task. Most of the lots around the Superdome will range from $20-$30 and will fill pretty quickly. If you have time and don't mind the hike, I recommend parking at the Harrah's Casino parking garage as mentioned above. If you gamble for at least 30 minutes (as tracked by a free Rewards card) your parking is free. If you're into gambling, you likely were planning to spend at least that long at Harrah's anyway. If you're not into gambling, you can actually find a penny machine that allows you to play one penny at a time. If you never win (which I don't) you'll probably be out no more than $5 for parking. The walk to the Dome will be a good hike so you might want to scope out some stops along the way to break it up (there's plenty along Poydras).
Once you've made it to the Superdome, access inside won't be too much of a hassle. Expect there to be swarms of people walking up the ramps and hanging out around the gates and outside concourse. If you're picking up tickets, the line will be manageable and so will the line to get into the gate.
When you've made it inside, you'll be at the plaza level. If you need to make it up to the upper level (500s/600s), you'll take the escalator to level three and then walk the Reflection Ramps up to the upper level. That's not the official ramp name, it's a nickname I've given it for what happens after the game. On your way down to the plaza level, these ramps serve as a time to reflect back on either a big win or the ramifications of a loss. It's a time to celebrate or sulk before you make it outside the Dome. When your team wins, the ramp is no bother. When your team loses, the ramp feels like it winds on forever.
The concourses are spacious enough to get around without any problems and the restrooms are accessible and acceptably clean.
Ticket prices range from $40-$60 for the New Orleans Bowl. $60 will get you Plaza Club Sidelines seating and $40 for Plaza Sideline. The price isn't that steep considering this is an FBS post-season game, but for the competition level on the field, it's a bit pricey. The concession prices will be that of an NFL game. Though there are some pretty good concession options, the game certainly won't be NFL caliber.
Parking is likely to hit you for at least $20. If you're following your alma mater of favorite college program to a post-season contest, the ROI is likely higher simply because it may be a once in a lifetime experience. If you are simply a college football enthusiast who wants to experience the New Orleans Bowl, the prices surrounding the event just don't add up to the level of play. Being in New Orleans helps improve the overall ROI because, win or lose, you're guaranteed to have an amazing experience.
The history of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome adds to the overall experience. Stadium Journey recently compiled a Top 12 Moments in Superdome History which provides more insight on the rich Superdome history.
The food in New Orleans is an experience in itself. Several excellent options were listed in the neighborhood section above but there are many, many more. There's something for everyone's taste buds in the Big Easy.
What could possibly be better than capping off a successful regular season with a celebration on Bourbon Street? Whether it's a hand grenade or hurricane, just make sure you make it back to your room before you lay down. I've seen some interesting things happen on that street and the absolute last thing you want is to pass out laying on Bourbon. Luckily the city washes the street each morning so if you lay long enough, you're likely to get a free bath.
The pride and excitement of teams from the Sun Belt is pretty fun to witness. Some of these programs struggle to get anywhere near bowl eligible each year so when they pull it off, the New Orleans Bowl serves as their BCS National Championship. If you are a neutral fan, you may want to try to sit among the fans of the Sun Belt entrant at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The overall experience of the French Quarter is unique and rivals that of any tourist area in America. Whether it's relaxing while eating beignets at Café du Monde, gulping down delicious Cajun cuisine like a tasty bowl of gumbo, perusing the booths in the French Market, taking a street car ride, or partying on Bourbon Street, the experience is unforgettable, regardless of whether it's your first time or 20th.
So is it worth it? If you are a die-hard supporter of one of the two teams playing in the event, it's definitely worth the trip if you get the most out of the New Orleans area. The actual gameday experience isn't as great for those without a connection to one of the participating programs. Regardless of what happens on the field and inside the Superdome, the good times will roll in New Orleans win, lose, or draw.
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