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  • Sean MacDonald

UBS Arena – New York Islanders


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14

UBS Arena 2400 Hempstead Turnpike Elmont, NY 11003

New York Islanders website

UBS Arena website


Year Opened: 2021

Capacity: 17,255


 

Welcome Home, Islanders!

The New York Islanders and their fans have been in a state of perpetual anxiety for many years as the team struggled to come up with a replacement for its aging home, Nassau Coliseum. Rumors of relocation to Kansas City or Quebec consistently popped up, although such a move was highly unlikely given the television contracts the Islanders had in New York. Late owner Charles Wang was committed to keeping the team on Long Island but he could not secure the political backing for a new arena and eventually took the club to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

As we noted back in 2016, this was a disaster in terms of the fan experience, but it was this move that kept the team in the area long enough for them to win the right to build a new venue next to Belmont Park. Four years later, the team opened UBS Arena and the fan base breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that their team would remain on Long Island for decades to come. So how does this new venue stack up? Stadium Journey paid a visit to the second-ever game to be played here and came away impressed, though there are a few things that could be improved.

Food & Beverage 4

There are a plethora of food options here that will satisfy any palate. It is beyond the scope of this review to list the entire menu, as there are so many different concessions offering so many different choices that to present them all would render the article unreadable. If you want to see the options, you can visit the arena’s dining page, which includes the sections near which you can find each item.

It should be noted that concession stands are built off the concourse so lines do not impede the flow of traffic. Some of these offer hot meals that you can order or pick up yourself, while others are of the grab-and-go variety. You then take your meal to the cashier, which is a misnomer as the arena is cashless. There are 17 bars in the venue, some of which are restricted to certain types of ticket holders, while others are open to the public. Two of these are outside and let you get fresh air, though many also use these spots to smoke. There are 24 brands of beer available and plenty of wine and hard liquor too.

Normally such a bevy of choices would yield a perfect score in this category, but prices are so high that I have to dock a point. A few items are under $10 (hot dogs are $8, popcorn is $5, and pretzels are $7 as is a fry cup), but most things are priced like the arena is in Manhattan instead of on the border of Queens and Nassau County. One stand offers a Harrison Burger (based on a recipe from a nearby restaurant) for $15, the same price as tenders and fries, while a grilled chicken sandwich is $16. Elsewhere I saw a cookie for $15. I don’t care if that cookie is a mile wide, that is a crazy price.

But it is the cost of booze where the cynical gouging kicks in: “packaged” beer (i.e. a can) is $17 unless you can stomach Bud Light, in which case you will save a whole dollar. A glass of wine is $18, and fountain soda (Coca-Cola products) is unbelievably $14. Bottled soda is cheaper at $7, while Smart Water is $8. Some say that these prices are in-line with other arenas in the area, but I disagree. Everything is at least $2-$3 overpriced if not more. Some of these prices need to be adjusted because once the novelty wears off, fans will be eating in advance and bringing in a bottle of water to tide them over.

Finally, for those who want to have a sit-down meal, Belmont Hall is a sports bar that is located right next to the box office (dubbed the Ticketmaster Concierge to be as pretentious as possible). It is open on event days from 11:30 am and closes at midnight, so you can wait out the traffic while you nurse your $17 beer. Game tickets are not required and reservations are not accepted.

Atmosphere 5

This is a most impressive building as soon as you lay eyes on it. It looks nothing like a hockey arena, having been built to resemble Belmont Park, the horse track right next door. It is a large, rectangular structure with arched windows and red bricks, along with blue lights atop the exterior.

As of this writing, you must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering. The main entrance leads to the Main Hall, from where a stairwell takes you to the main concourse. Note the video wall showing social media posts of Islander fans.

The arena is divided into directional quadrants, though I did not see much purpose in these as you can navigate using the section numbers. Concourses are spacious and as mentioned, having concessions set away from those walking allows one to make a circuit easily.

The very large team store is accessible from the main concourse, though lines might be expected before the game. As you walk around, you will notice the phrase “Welcome Home!” in various places; it is visible in many places throughout the arena and is used in the gameday presentation as well. The seating bowl is nice, with upholstered seats even in the top rows of the upper deck. There are only nine rows in this level and the ninth row is deemed limited view because you cannot see the entire scoreboard.

The Dime Club consists of sections 113 through 116 along one side of the rink. Food and soda are included with these tickets, though you will have to pay for booze. There are a few drink rails in the club that provide some of the best views of the ice, well above the glass. Of course, the Islanders have plenty of banners and they have all been moved over from Nassau Coliseum.

Most important is the ample display of history around both concourse levels. The Islanders Hall of Fame is most prominent upon entering, but you will see other displays honoring local athletes like Dr. J., as well as a cool wall with plenty of Islander records. The gameday presentation is professional and entertaining, with your typical promotions during the ice scrapes and intermissions. This is certainly one of the top arenas in the league and the Islanders and their fans are rightly proud of it.

Neighborhood 3

The arena is located on Hempstead Turnpike, which marks the border between New York City and Nassau County. Next door is Belmont Park, the horse racing track that is home to the Belmont Stakes, held in early June every year.

Hempstead Turnpike has several eateries and bars, including Pour House, which is just a block west when the Turnpike becomes an Avenue. Nearby Floral Park is home to many more bars and restaurants such as Jameson’s Bar and Grill, Jack Duggan’s Pub, and The Harrison, whose burgers you can find at the arena.

If you are heading back to town, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) will take you to Jamaica, from where you can catch a subway to Kew Gardens for Cobblestones Pub or Forest Hills for the Station House.

If you are looking to stay overnight, Manhattan might be your best bet as you can take the LIRR there and back. If you are flying via JFK, the arena is easily accessible via the AirTrain and LIRR from Jamaica, and there are several hotels in the airport area as well, including the TWA Hotel at Terminal 5, whose retro-chic design makes it a destination in itself.

In terms of attractions, the Queens County Farm Museum is just a few miles north on the Cross Island Parkway, while the Long Island Children’s Museum and Cradle of Aviation are about 25 minutes east, near the Nassau Coliseum. If other sports are what interests you, the Coliseum still hosts the Long Island Nets of the G.League and the New York Riptide of the National Lacrosse League, while Hofstra University is nearby as well.

Fans 5

Islander fans are some of the most passionate around and they couldn’t be more relieved that their team finally has a permanent new home. It was fun to see the faces of those who were making their first visit to the venue; the look of awe and surprise as they wandered the concourses was priceless. The game I saw featured the Leafs and ex-Islander captain John Tavares, who was booed every time he touched the puck, despite leaving the team over three years ago. Like I said, passionate. The venue was ostensibly sold out, though I did see some unsold singles as game time approached, so it is possible the team bought all the tickets. As well, many fans enjoy some of the standing areas and bars around the building, so empty seats can be seen on broadcasts, but these are not to be considered unsold.

Access 3

The vast majority of fans drive to the arena, which makes parking difficult and getting out after the game even more so, particularly in the south lot. Prepaid parking does have a dedicated entrance off of the Cross Island Parkway, but even then, it can take time afterward to exit back to the highway.

If you are visiting, I strongly advise transit. There are two dedicated trains from Jamaica to Belmont Park Station that return about 15 and 30 minutes after the game ends. Download the MyMTA app for more details on schedules. At $6 each way, this is not a cheap alternative, but you should save time if you are heading back to the city. You can also take Nassau County’s NICE buses from Queens and these cost $2.75 if you have a MetroCard, but take significantly longer. Google Maps is your best bet to plan your trip.

If you do decide to park, pay for it in advance. Getting out of the south lot, which exits onto the already busy Hempstead Turnpike, can take an hour, though I expect improvements in this area as the season progresses.

Getting through the vaccination check, security, and scanning your ticket is very easy. Once inside, spacious concourses allow ease of movement, helped by the concessions being built-in recessed areas. I did not notice any major waiting times before the game, though as always at hockey, intermissions are where things tend to fill up, both at concession stands and restrooms.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets are dynamically priced so for an unpopular game, you are probably best to wait until game time and get something at the box office or on the secondary market. Season ticket holders were given significant discounts compared to single-game tickets, so keep that in mind as well. I have seen tickets going for $15 for some games, which is quite a good deal to see this venue in its first season. The cost of parking and concessions can be avoided by fans who plan ahead and hence this category gets four points.

Extras 5

Upon entering the main hall, we were serenaded by a classical quartet playing Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, a fitting tune for both this website and the Islanders arena saga. One of the first things you will notice is the team’s Hall of Fame, located on the main concourse. It is tough to read all the plaques because so many people are taking pictures of them.

The corridors are decorated with several historic displays that honor not only the team but also other local athletes who have gone on to star in other sports. Above the Tailgate Bar in the upper bowl are logos for all the Islander meetup groups around the country. A very nice touch that shows how widespread fandom can be.

Paul Cartier and his organ are next to Section 201A, so stop by and say hi. You might also see the mascot Sparky there at times, though he does make his way around to beat his drum during the game. Season ticket holders are honored with a wall of their own, with each long-time member’s name included.

Final Thoughts

Overall, UBS Arena is an impressive new venue and one that should make Islander fans happy, if a little poorer. I expect that concession prices will be adjusted for some items, as it makes no sense to charge so much for these arena staples. If you are planning a visit, have a look at the venue maps before you go and get there early to see as much as you can. I think you will not be disappointed.

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