LTP reader, Michael Boyle, offers up his insights for ‘Cats fans to narrow in on their options for the Gator Bowl invasion. A mid 30s guy, we have yet another perspective following up on Steve Rankin’s fantastic recent restaurant guide as told through the filter of a Wildcat Baby Boomer. Michael, take it away!
Hello, and welcome to my guide to where to stay when you travel down to Jacksonville to watch the Gator Bowl on January 1.
So, a brief bit about who I am. I spent my middle school and high school years living in Jacksonville, before heading off to NU from ’96 to ’00. After that, I lived all over the map, but I have lived and worked in Jacksonville twice as an adult (’00 to ’01 and ’04 to ’05). Also, my parents still live in J-ville, so I have been down there periodically for holidays and stuff. So, I’m pretty familiar with Jacksonville, though some of my info might be a little out of date.
Enough background. Here are a couple of things to know before booking your hotel rooms and planning your trip.
1. Jacksonville is very big geographically and very spread out.
Jacksonville is the largest city in area in the county, but has about 825,000 people in the city itself. As a result, everything is very spread out. For example, getting from the airport to the stadium is about a 30 minute drive; going from the stadium to the beach is 30-45 minutes depending on traffic, etc.
For this reason, it is very important to figure out where your hotel is in relation to the stadium, to make sure you don’t have an odyssey ahead of you to get to the game. As an example, someone mentioned in an earlier thread the entirely reasonable idea of figuring out where the teams were staying and staying there. I don’t know where the teams are staying this year, but I remember for the Super Bowl the Patriots stayed at the World Golf Village and the Eagles stayed somewhere near the beach. The World Golf Village is a solid hour’s drive to the stadium, and again the beach is 30-45 minutes. Part of the reason they did that was access to practice facilities, but for fans, those might not be ideal locations
2. Unless you stay downtown, you are going to want to rent a car.
Jacksonville has almost zero public transit. The only public transit is something called the People Mover, an elevated train that goes mostly nowhere (with the exception I mention below) and has zero riders. In fact, it has been such a failure that it is the example people point to whenever they want to defeat public transit projects in their towns. Even cabs, not generally accepted as public transit, are really scarce.
If you want to avoid renting a car, you basically must stay either in downtown (within walking distance to the stadium) or on the Southbank. Southbank is basically the area immediately across the river from downtown—and the People Mover will actually take you across the river to downtown (though, not directly to the stadium, which is crazy but whatever). In those two areas, you can use hotel shuttles to take you to and from the airport and walk/take the People Mover from there.
Anywhere else, you will have to drive, and given the rarity of cabs, you are probably going to need your own car. I suggest looking into booking your car now if you want to go this route. Jacksonville does some other large-scale events like the TPC Golf Tournament, so they should have surge capacity, but if you can’t get a car you are really in trouble. Good news is that Mississippi State fans mostly will be driving in to the game, so the people trying to get cars will mostly be NU fans.
3. Parking Passes
If you do decide to rent a car, you are also going to need a place to park it before the game. There are parking passes available for the stadium lots which have to be bought in advance, and there are day of game lots further away. One warning on the day of game lots—the neighborhood immediately around the stadium where the lots are (east of the stadium) are either part of, or right near, the Port of Jacksonville. As a result, they are very industrial looking and can seem rather scary. JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office) patrols aggressively in the area during the game, so you should be safe, but it can be disconcerting if you are not expecting it.
I assume that Miss. St. fans carry on the general SEC idea that it is never too early or too many hours before the game to tailgate. I will be tailgating with my Dad, brother, and sister before the game. As far as open beverage laws go, JSO will not enforce them before the game unless you are obviously out of control or disruptive. So, if you don’t go crazy you should have no problems on that score.
Fair warning, though. JSO is not known from their flexibility or senses of humor. It is not a good idea to talk back to the JSO or act like a smart-ass if you go outside of the bounds of calmly having a beer in the parking lot. In particular, they will come down very hard on any drug use under any circumstances, however, including marijuana. Basically, you will be arrested and will spend a significant amount of time in jail if they catch you. Don’t do it.
Jacksonville’s climate is much more like Atlanta than Miami. In other words, it does get chilly, though certainly not Evanston cold, in the winter. Now, it is very possible that it might be high 60s/low 70s and beautiful on game day, but it could also be in the high 40s with a raw wind. If you are imagining laying out on the beach and taking a dip in the ocean, that’s probably not going to happen unless you are a full-on polar bear.
Having gotten that out of the way, here are my recommendations on where to stay.
This would be my recommendation. This is the only choice if you don’t want to rent a car. Generally, the official events are held downtown, and visiting fans tend to congregate downtown near an area called the Jacksonville Landing, that has restaurants and bars. The Southbank has really exploded in the last 5 or so years, so many of the hotels are new.
Here are some hotels in the Downtown/Southbank area. Because I stay with my parents when I go to J-ville (the price is right), I have never stayed in any of these hotels, so I can’t give a personal recommendation.
• • • • • • •
Omni Jacksonvile (downtown, an older hotel)
Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk (Southbank, new)
Hyatt Regency Jacksonville (downtown, close to the stadium)
Hampton Inn Jacksonville (Southbank)
Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville (Southbank)
Homewood Suites by Hilton (Southbank)
Crown Plaza Jacksonville (Southbank)
2. Jacksonville Beach
This would be my second choice, particularly if you like the idea of staying by the beach (notwithstanding my weather warning). Jacksonville Beach has some affordable hotels that are basically right on the beach, and there are a number of bars and restaurants in the area. It’s a bit of a standard, grubby beach town, so it will never be mistaken for the Hamptons, but it is a fun, youngish place. You will need a car to get to the game.
Hotels in the area:
• • •
Fairfield Inn and Suites Jax Beach (right on the beach)
Best Western Oceanfront One Ocean Resort and Spa (new, technically in the neighboring town of Atlantic Beach, pricey)
Hampton Inn Jacksonville (right on the beach)
Quality Suites Oceanfront (old school, funky hotel, right on the beach)
Holiday Inn Express (actually pretty far from the beach, but in Jacksonville Beach proper)
Courtyard by Marriott Oceanfront (right on the beach)
3. Other options
Ponte Vedra—Jacksonville Beach’s swanky neighbor to the south. There is going to be less nightlife, and it will be pricey, but the hotels in general will be nicer. Also, it is farther from the stadium (plan on 45 minutes).
Amelia Island—Ponte Vedra’s swanky cousin north of Jacksonville. Everything I said about Ponte Vedra (less nightlife, nicer hotels, pricier, farther from the stadium) times two.
The World Golf Village—if you are planning to get some rounds in, this might be a good choice, as there are several premier golf courses in the complex, plus (I think) the PGA Hall of Fame. The primary downside is that you will be a solid hour from the stadium. Not much in the way of nightlife in the area that I can remember, though to be honest I’ve only been there once when it was still new.
Near the Airport—a bad idea. Sure, there are plenty of hotels, but there is literally nothing to do in the area, so you will need a car to get to both the game and anywhere you will want to eat or hang out. Anywhere else—see “Near the Airport.”
If people are interested, I’d be happy to do a second post on restaurant and nightlife options. Also, if you have any questions, I would be happy to answer questions in the comment boxes, or if you prefer, to answer questions by email at email@example.com.
Enjoy the game!