You may never see Des Moines, IA unless you live there or are passing through on your way to somewhere else, but trust me when I say that it's very underrated and the perfect home for a sports franchise. Iowans pride themselves on being family friendly and self-supportive, and Principal Park has done a great job of merging those two characteristics together to form a unique and fun ballpark and fan experience.
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While the bulk of the menu consists of classic options such as Cubbie Dogs ($3.50), brats ($5), popcorn ($3-$5), and cheeseburgers ($6), Principal Park does offer some different possibilities in both items and portions. Among the concession options are "Lil Chicago", featuring Chicago-style foods like Chicago Italian beef sandwiches ($7), swiss and sauerkraut dogs ($5.50), and Frito chili pies ($6), and "Stu's Bar-B-Q" which features barbeque items like hot wings ($8), beef brisket sandwiches ($8), BBQ pork sandwiches ($7), and graziano sausages ($7).
Another favorite among many fans at Principal Park is the BBQ pork nachos, which, for $8, will get you a generous dish of nachos served with BBQ pork, cheese, and other extras on top. For the most part, I'd say the food prices at Principal Park are fairly reasonable, and shouldn't sway you away from ordering anything on the menu, besides some of the larger portions I'll talk about later.
A similar variety is also available in alcohol. Purchasing a regular draft beer ($5.50) will get you the classic choices such as Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Light, and Mike's Hard Lemonade. Principal Park does feature a lot of different options, too, such as The Irish Pub which offers Guinness and Harp Lager, and other unique options like Margaritaville Spiked Lemonade, Fat Tire, Mike's Harder Lemonade, and Jack Daniel's Downhome Punch.
Another interesting thing about the dining options located in Principal Park is the portions offered, which keep with the theme of catering to families. For instance, while most parks would give you only the option of a $6 individual slice of pizza, Principal Park offers another option: a $20 family size pizza designed to feed the whole family. Another example is the Cubbie Kids Meal Pail, which offers smaller portions and a more complete meal and can be purchased for children for $4.50.
The origins of Principal Park date back to 1947, but the current day atmosphere is derived much more from present aspirations than past manifestations. Principal Park is one of the most family friendly, even family encouraging parks you will ever experience. While baseball is the park's main attraction, a variety of entertainment options for children can be found inside of the main corridors, including batting games, a Chuck E. Cheese-style play area, and even a splash pad along the corner wall in right field. Not only does this offer plenty of entertainment for the kids, but it also offers parents with plenty of opportunity to get away and catch the game.
While the family atmosphere is the most dominating component, there are plenty of other contributing factors to Principal Park's allure, including a small museum inside the main corridors, the Iowa State Capitol Building framed between the jumbotron and the outfield suites, the relationship between Iowa State and Iowa fans throughout the crowd, and the affiliation with the Chicago Cubs, which is one of the favorite franchises throughout the Midwest. Fans proudly display Chicago Cubs gear and it gives the crowd a sense of pride not found in every minor league ballpark.
The only real knock on the atmosphere is that, since Principal Park is clearly meant to be a family attraction, does the atmosphere mean as much to you if you're not there with your family? Most of the time, the answer will be not quite.
Des Moines is a great city to host a minor league baseball team, especially when the team's ballpark is nestled right in the heart of downtown. Say what you want about Iowa, but the fact is that downtown Des Moines isn't quite as crowded, as large, or as strapped for cash as the larger cities throughout the United States, meaning that the area around the stadium is well supported and perfect for pre and postgame activity. Principal Park offers parking in spots that all give you easy access to downtown, meaning you don't need to move your car to look around before or after the game.
Principal Park is just down the street from Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena and the Hy-Vee Hall of Champions, giving fans an opportunity to stretch their curiosity about local athletics further than just the game. There are also a ton of restaurants and bars located just outside of the stadium, and fans shouldn't have any trouble at all finding something fun. One interesting thing about Principal Park is that, probably in an attempt to further promote family values, no bars are listed along the outfield wall or in the program. But even though they may not advertise them publically, plenty of bars and restaurants are available for your entertainment, and the downtown Des Moines area is a great place for nightlife.
Three local favorites are Johnny's Hall of Fame (302 Court Avenue), which offers high-definition TVs in a gazillion different places as well as pool tables and an awesome bar; the Miller High Life Lounge (200 Southwest 2nd Street) which offers a well-stocked bar and has been a part of the tradition of Iowa Cubs baseball for a long time; and Mickey's Irish Pub (206 3rd St Court Ave), which features a large outdoor patio perfect for hosting live outdoor music.
One of my favorite things about the fans at Principal Park is that at no point were any of them visibly drunk. Sure, Principal Park offers a lot of great options as far as alcohol goes, but the fans all seemed to understand how much was too much and stayed away from that point, leaving them in a respectful state and receptive enough to understand what was going on out on the field. It may seem like a small thing, but it can make a huge difference.
The fans of Principal Park seem to be pretty familiar with one another, including the staff, often calling each other by their first names and talking to people they clearly didn't arrive with, which makes it easy to know the people you're sitting next to and strike up a conversation if you wish to. The only drawback is that most fans seemed to be attracted to the family atmosphere rather than the baseball game, even though many fans did pay close enough attention to the game to cheer when the Cubs made a rally or get on players as they struggled. They might not understand baseball to the depth some visitors may wish, but it's enough to accommodate most people and make the game enjoyable and important.
With Principal Park located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, the park is in a pretty accessible spot to begin with. While parking is a little up for competition between game goers and bar hoppers, it's not usually too hard to find a spot to park, as long as you're willing to pay $5 -$8 to do so. There is free parking along the street that can be found if you're willing to hunt for it, but sometimes that will leave you with a pretty long walk to get to the stadium if you can even find it. The lots outside of the stadium offer enough parking to accommodate most, if not all, of the fans in attendance, but again, you'll have to pay to use it.
The inside of the park is fairly strategic in the placement of bathrooms, concession stands, and entries and exits. Bathrooms, in particular, are well placed and won't leave you waiting in line and missing large amounts of the game.
With prepaid tickets ranging from $7 for General Admission, $10 Reserved Grandstand, $10 Field Box, $12 Club Box, to $25 Home Plate Club, Principal Park tickets are pretty standard for parks in the Pacific Coast League, even though a $7 General Admission ticket should be just fine and give you access into pretty much everything you'd want to see other than the seats themselves.
Since parking isn't free, it's only fair to consider that a part of the investment, but it should also be considered that food and beverage prices really are pretty reasonable. Also, when you take into account all of the free luxuries available inside of the park, especially if you're bringing children along with you, your return on investment starts looking pretty good. All of the children's attractions I mentioned earlier (batting games, Chuck E. Cheese-style play area, and the splash pad) are inexpensive.
Your return on investment really boils down to whether or not you're bringing anybody with you, and if so, what age they are. If you're spending a day at the park as a family, the return on investment is pretty great, with a ton of things included that your kids will love. But if it's you or you and a friend coming to the game without anyone to take advantage of some of the featured children's attractions, you don't get quite as much bang for the buck.
For what it's worth, whenever you attend Principal Park, there's a pretty decent chance you'll get the chance to watch a former Chicago Cub play a game, with legitimate professionals such as Alfonso Soriano, Darwin Barney, Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd, and even the notoriously hot-headed Carlos Zambrano making appearances over the last few years. The Chicago Cubs use their minor league system pretty well, and the Iowa Cubs are one of the main beneficiaries.
Another point is deserved for all of the entertainment aimed at helping children have a good time. I know I've talked about it a lot already, but seriously their kids' play area is incredibly thorough and well done, and since often attentively challenged children can derail any parents' attempt to watch a game, the kids' play area is something that can enhance the experience for everyone involved.
Finally, Principal Park is held up by a well trained and personable staff. It's pretty unique how many fans seem to know staff members on a first name basis, which leads to comfort and loyalty.
Whether you're alone or in a group, Principal Park is a great place to catch a baseball game. While the park itself is aimed at pleasing families and children, adults and individuals will love the area just outside of the stadium's walls, and can take full advantage of the park's location right in the heart of the Iowa state capitol. Des Moines is a great city to be the home of a sports team, and the Iowa Cubs have found themselves in a great situation inside of Principal Park.
The exterior is landscaped perfectly with green grass, places to sit, flowers,etc. There is an excellent view of the state capitol building from the seating area.
Take time walk around the exterior of the stadium to view the downtown area, the bridges, the rivers, and the backside of the stadium entrance gate.
Fans are absolutely wonderful and friendly.
The one downfall is the ushers did scoot fans from sitting in the empty infield seats even when it was the 11th inning and there were about 200 fans in the stadium.
302 Court Ave
Des Moines, IA 50309
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