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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Amalie Arena has been the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning since 1996. The 19,092-seat facility has hosted a wide variety of events in its 20-plus year existence. Among the most significant events are the 1999 NHL All Star Game, the 2004 and 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2007 ACC basketball tournament, three NCAA men's basketball regionals (2003, 2008, and 2011), the 2008 Women's Final Four and the 2012 Men's Frozen Four. It also played host to the 2012 Republican National Convention.
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 are a wide variety of food and beverage offerings throughout the arena. In addition to the more generic arena food outlets are specialized concepts for Ford's Garage Diner, Four Green Fields Irish Pub, Holy Hog BBQ, Little Caesar's Pizza, Outback Steakhouse, PDQ fast-casual food and the RumFish Grill.
The cost of concession items at Amalie Arena is high compared to many other NHL facilities. Here is a sampling of the cost of the most commonly found items at the Lightening concession stands: hot dogs ($5.50), pizza ($6.25), popcorn ($8.50), peanuts ($7.50), cotton candy ($6.50), and ice cream ($6.75). Specialty items include pulled pork sandwiches ($8.75), crab cakes ($13.50), jumbo shrimp ($11.25) and Philly cheesesteaks ($8.75).
In the beverage area, sodas cost $5.00, bottled water is $3.50, and Red Bull is $8.25. Adult beverage prices are $8.75 for a premium draft, domestic canned beer is $14.50 and a seven-ounce glass of wine is $10.75.
The Lightning have created a great game day atmosphere from the moment you arrive at Amalie Arena. Thunder Alley is a pre-game gathering point located in a plaza fronting the arena. This area offers musical entertainment, interactive activities for the fans, appearances by the team's ThunderBug mascot and former Lightning players, and other special events coordinated by the Bolts Brigade entertainment team.
Once inside, there are a number of special areas you will want to check out. The Tampa Sports Store offers team merchandise for both the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning and the Arena Football League Tampa Bay Storm. You will also want to check out the Coors Light Between the Pipes Bar. This is a one-of-a-kind digital pipe organ with a bar at its base. In addition to providing you with your favorite beverage, this area provides you with both musical and visual entertainment, as the pipes of the organ also include a stunning light show. Another one-of-a-kind feature that makes the indoor atmosphere even more electric are the Lightning Strikes Tesla coils located at the top of the arena behind the goals. When the home team scores a goal, these coils actually generate bolts of electricity that look just like lightning. The scoreboard above the ice is 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, and will keep you both informed and entertained throughout the game.
Amalie Arena is located in the Channelside District in downtown Tampa. This area is Tampa's main entertainment district, as it is filled with restaurants, shops, night clubs and waterfront attractions. Attractions in the area include the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Channelside Bay Plaza and the Tampa Riverwalk. Among the more popular restaurants in the area are the Columbia Café, the Champions Sports Bar, Precinct Pizza and Ferg's Live. Lodging options close to Amalie Arena include the Embassy Suites, the Westin Downtown Tampa and the Tampa Marriott Waterside.
All of the above facilities are reachable via the TECO Streetcar System, which is right across the street from Amalie Arena.
The Lightning have a very dedicated fan base, as games at Amalie Arena are frequently sold out. The team has been successful attendance-wise since its inception as an expansion team, as it immediately tapped into the large retirement population and snowbirds who call the Tampa Bay-St. Pete home during the winter months. The Lightning fans are very knowledgeable about the game, and they proudly wear the jersey of their favorite player to every game, resulting in a sea of blue filling the seats of the arena.
Lightning fans are a friendly bunch, as they welcome visitors from the opposition in a very good-natured way. It is not unusual to see jerseys of the visiting team spread sporadically throughout the arena, as the Lightning have a number of rivalries with other southern teams, such as the Florida Panthers, the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes.
Amalie Arena does not have its own parking facility, but there are numerous parking decks throughout the Channelside district to handle the traffic. Other options are to stay at one of the hotels located nearby (see Neighborhood section) and just walk to the game. Another fun option is to take Tampa's TECO Trolley to the game. This trolley car system takes you to many of Tampa's main attractions, and it has a station directly in front of Amalie Arena.
Once inside, you will find Amalie Arena to be well designed, with plenty of space along the concourses, frequent restrooms and concession areas, and very comfortable seating. After the game, you can be picked up at a designated pick-up/drop-off area located on the side of the facility.
If you are coming in from out of town, Amalie Arena and the Channel entertainment district are located just eight miles from Tampa International Airport. There are shuttles that take you directly to this district, so you can save on the cost of a rental car while you are in town.
A trip to a Lightning game can be an expensive proposition. Because of the team's large number of sellouts, a ticket on the resale market goes for considerably more than face value. You can expect parking near the arena to fall in the $20- $25 range, as these lots serve the Convention Center and the multiple attractions in the Channelside district, as well as the Amalie Arena. The TECO streetcar system can be a more economical alternative to getting to the games, as there is a streetcar stop immediately in front of the arena. A one-day ticket is only $5, which allows you unlimited rides for that day to the many attractions along the streetcar route. The concession prices at the arena are well above the average of most NHL teams, and it may be a good idea to patronize the many restaurants in the Channelside District before the game to fill up. It is a good idea to check the hotel prices well before you plan to attend a game, as they can fluctuate greatly, depending on the size of conventions at the nearby Convention Center.
One of the more unique extras of attending a Lightning game is the use of the Tesla coils to generate an indoor lightning show. The coils are used as part of the pre-game ceremonies, at the beginning of each period, and most importantly, when the home team scores a goal.
A second extra has to go to the Between the Pipes area of the arena. The use of the pipe organ for musical entertainment hearkens back to another era, and is a nice reprieve from the ear-splitting, piped-in music most teams use. In addition to its music and light show, the Between the Pipes area provides a great vantage point to watch the game while you enjoy a beer at the bar located at the base of the organ.
The next mention goes to a tradition that involves crowd participation during the National Anthem. A huge American flag is unfurled in the eastern stands and is passed around the arena from section to section throughout the National Anthem. It is done reverently, and brings a nice and unique way to show your patriotism.
Finally, we offer a nod to the many great attractions available within a short walk or streetcar ride of the arena. The Florida Aquarium, the Ybor City district and cruises on Tampa Bay are all activities worth checking out.
Member Review by StPeteRays
As there really is no "wintertime" of which to speak here in Tampa Bay, the one piece of solace I have in this land of palm trees and warm breezes between the months of October and April is NHL hockey at the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the St. Pete Times Forum (nÃ©e Ice Palace). As out-of-place as a hockey rink would seem in the land of orange groves and perpetual flip-flops, the Forum really does make Downtown Tampa seem - if only for a few months a year - more on par with hockey meccas, like Montreal, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Opened in 1996 to replace St. Petersburg's Thunderdome (which, in 1998, was returning to its originally-built purpose - baseball - under the guise of "Tropicana Field") as the home of the Lightning, the Ice Palace (renamed after the area's largest newspaper bought the naming rights in 2002) quickly became a major player on the national stage. At one point in 2009, it was actually the busiest venue in the world; today, it remains in the top 5 worldwide, and for good reason. In a metro area full of things to do outside, it somehow finds a way to keep them coming in, and - for the most part - it does not disappoint.
Member Review by sjc_delatorre on Apr 04, 2010
Nestled on scenic Channelside Drive in Downtown Tampa, the St. Pete Times Forum, formerly known as the Ice Palace, is a beautiful place to watch any event, but especially what the building was created for - hockey.
Member Review by george1969 on May 17, 2011
New Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has pledged major improvements to the St. Pete Times Forum over the next 2 years. Not that it's a bad barn to begin with. Good variety on food & beverages in the lower level but in the 300s...not so much. Best bet there is the Gordon Biersch garlic fries. Downtown Tampa gets a bad rap for the sidewalks rolling up at 5:00. While this is partly true, there are plenty of dining/nightlife options at Channelside and my personal favorite pre/postgame, Hattricks, is about a 5 minute walk away. Fans are taking a beating for being apathetic but they were alienated by previous ownership. They all seem to be coming back now and when they get going, the barn gets LOUD!
Member Review by StPeteRays on May 12, 2013
Hockey south of the Mason-Dixon Line gets a bad rep, and for the most part, rightfully so. While the quality of the product on the ice has been reasonably high in the last 15 years (with eight teams below the Maryland–Pennsylvania border making the Stanley Cup Finals since 1998, and five of them actually winning the silver chalice), the teams in the South get the majority of their grief from hockey purists who believe a.) hockey belongs where ice can actually form, and b.) almost every team in those markets have no fan support. While the latter could reasonably be argued for both the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers, it's not true of other teams (see: the Washington Capitals). Surprisingly to some, the subject of this review is one of those in the "not true" category.
Despite the negative impression making the rounds in the hockey-based media, the Tampa Bay Lightning are bucking the trend of "typical" Southern hockey market. With three potential hall-of-famers on the team in the latest seasons, a Stanley Cup to their name in 2003–04, and renovations in 2012 that bring the Tampa Bay Times Forum into the upper echelons of worldwide arenas, the Lightning have made their mark on both the Tampa Bay metro area and hockey as a whole.
You can see a brief history of the venue, and the team, in the "Crowd Reviews" from a previous review I wrote.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Nov 30, 2014
Great place - get a cheap ticket and stand in the areas along the lower concourse that are open to all fans. Food horribly overpriced, except for the $4 grilled cheese sandwich which is a bargain and well worth it. The pre-game show and in-game entertainment keep fans entertained, but it can be very loud. Free parking can be found within a mile if you don't mind walking, look around Tampa and Tyler for meter parking that expires at 6 pm.
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