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  • Writer's pictureChris Green

Kia Center – Orlando Solar Bears



Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43

Kia Center 400 W Church St Orlando, FL 32801


Year Opened: 2010

Capacity: 17,353

 

Hockey Night in Orlando

The idea of hockey in Florida should no longer be a foreign one to sports fans – the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have been in the league for several decades with their respective successes in the NHL. The ECHL also has several Florida teams, including the Orlando Solar Bears.


Perhaps unfairly forgotten by most in the Central Florida sports landscape, this hidden gem provides a perfect opportunity to see some great hockey in an A-plus facility that won’t break the bank. In the last few years, Orlando’s sports revival has seen the stock of the Solar Bears experience rise exponentially, with fans packing the house on a nightly basis for Orlando hockey.

 

Food & Beverage   4

The concessions at Kia Center are impressive. The home of the Solar Bears combines standard stadium concessions and local favorites with known brands from around the country. Among the popular spots are PDQ Chicken ($15.99-$19.99 for chicken tenders, $15.99 for chicken sandwiches) and Papa Johns ($10.99-$11.99 per personal pizza); local favorites come in the form of 4 Rivers BBQ ($15.99 for BBQ chicken nachos, pulled pork nachos, or carved turkey sandwiches) and Gringos Locos Tacos ($12.99-$15.99 for nachos, $6.99 for tacos).


Stadium favorites like popcorn ($6.99), jumbo pretzels ($4.99), hot dogs (9.99), and even Brazilian meat bowls and burritos ($14.99) are available. Drinks include soda ($6.49-$7.99) and beer ($11.99-$13.99). Smaller food vendor carts are also scattered around the arena, including coffee stands and Dippin’ Dots ice cream. The downside of Solar Bears games is that some of these concessions may not be available at all games, as the upper level is closed off and some of the stands are only open when demand requires.


Perhaps the coolest thing about the concessions at Kia Center, though, is the Ultra Club bar, an outdoor location that overlooks the downtown skyline, while also providing a beautiful gathering space for some fresh air, good drinks, and TVs that show the action inside. Another great spot is the Big Storm Brewing location on the event level near the main entrance – this bar and restaurant is open from 11 am to 7 pm on weekends, as well as during Kia Center events, and features its entrance to the arena for fans with tickets.


Atmosphere   5

Kia Center is stunning; from the vibrant and colorful concourse lighting that extends to the main entrance lobby to the unique arrangement of the court’s flooring – everything here is visually beautiful. The arena looks like it is a new facility, not one that has been open for over seven years. The acoustics are also great, making the crowd roar loud and noticeable.



Solar Bears seats are routinely full when it comes to ticket sales on the weekends, or for certain theme nights, meaning you have the feel of a big game depending on when you go. But perhaps the best thing is that Solar Bears games feel like they are a family affair; there are young fans at every game, and the team works to engage with younger fans like few others. The family-friendly atmosphere penetrates everything you see and do at Kia Center.


Neighborhood   5

What can you say about downtown Orlando? Kia Center is steps away from Church Street, the hub of Orlando’s rebirth as a foodie and entertainment destination. The City of Orlando has become a sports-thirsty destination over the last few years; with the explosion in popularity of Orlando City SC and a renewed interest in the Orlando Magic, the City Beautiful loves sports.


The immediate area around Kia Center includes suburbs to the west and the downtown city center to the east. There are tons of hotels nearby, and since the arena sits next to I-4, getting to other resorts and hotels in the greater Orlando area is not hard to do either. Fans can easily stay at the Crowne Plaza Orlando-Downtown, Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, or the Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown, and still walk to the arena with ease.


For local restaurants, AC Sky Bar is one of the most popular sports bars in the Church Street area. Fans also visit Aku Aku Tiki Bar, World of Beer, and Tin & Taco, and if you want to see the sights, Lake Eola Park is just a few blocks away; this park is an Orlando landmark that is also home to a weekly farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. Being in Orlando you are also just a short drive from Walt Disney World, Sea World, and the Universal Studios theme parks.

 

Fans   4

The fans who come to Orlando Solar Bear games are passionate, to say the least. Not only do they love their hockey team and cheer them on with fervor, but attendance has grown in recent years. A lot of fans can be seen sporting t-shirts and jerseys from the team, an impressive feat for any minor league or lower-division professional sports franchise working in the shadows of other, larger pro teams in the city.


The disappointment here, however, is the closed upper level. While bigger games do draw larger fan totals, such as on opening night, themed nights, and during playoff games, your run-of-the-mill mid-week games only draw about half capacity, which can leave the arena looking bare in some places.


Even during playoff games the upper-most deck of Amway Center is covered by large curtains. That said, the attendance has been growing as of late, which is encouraging for the Solar Bears and their quest to return to prominence.

 

Access   5

How much easier can an arena be to get to? Driving on I-4 you pass within a few yards of Kia Center itself, so not finding the venue is quite arguably an impossibility. But if you do somehow get lost, signs all around downtown point the way to the facility, and both the South Street exit and the South Street Express Lanes exit drop you off right next to the arena. Also, when leaving there is an I-4 express lane entrance on South Street well.



Once you get to Kia Center, the Geico Garage is your best option for parking, and the best part is that the garage connects to the arena through a sky bridge across the street. There are also numerous other parking options nearby in parking lots and garages in the area; the only downside of late is the continuing construction in and around the I-4 corridor throughout the greater Orlando area.

 

Return on Investment   5

Tickets are not expensive for Orlando Solar Bears games, and neither is parking. Add to this the quality and quantity you get for food when at the game, and you have one of the best values when it comes to taking your family out for some hockey. With the ease of getting to the arena, parking, getting into the game, and finding something to eat inside, it is hard to argue against the Solar Bears when comparing them to other hockey teams around the minor leagues, and maybe some pro hockey teams as well.

 

Extras   3

Fans can also enjoy the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame and other team memorabilia on the main concourse – these displays pay tribute to some of Orlando’s sporting heritage, community connections, and their best players of years past.



Like other stadiums, the Solar Bears have their championship banners hanging in the rafters for all visitors to see.


Finally, Kia Center has also partnered with Disney, meaning there are various displays and nods to the Orlando theme park throughout the facility, including large painted Mickey statues in the main lobby, and an entire suite inside sponsored by the theme parks.


Final Thoughts

The Orlando Solar Bears are a great choice when looking for a quality addition to your Central Florida visit. Whether you’re a hockey fanatic, a sports junkie in general, or just want to find something to take the family to that won’t cost you $100 a head to get in the door, hitting up a Solar Bears game is a great option for you to consider. Between the low cost and the high entertainment value, it is easy to see why the Orlando Solar Bears are on their way up from here.

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