Dec. 18, 2007
by Jeff Smith
For the millions of tourists who visit the city of Orlando each year, one of the favorite hot spots to set up camp is in the heart of several resorts on International Drive. Known as simply "I-Drive" to the locals, this visitor's destination offers it all. Resort living, entertainment, food, fun and more. What more could you ask for when you are taking in the New Year in Orlando? How about the nation's most watched non-BCS bowl game 10 to 15 minutes up I-Drive at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium?
The 2008 edition of the Capital One Bowl between Michigan and Florida prompted the fastest sellout in the history of the bowl's 62-year history. It took just 13 hours to sell 65,438 seats and a few more hours to sell out temporary bleachers. It's something that Florida Citrus Sports Executive Director Steve Hogan has gotten use to in his 13 years in Orlando.
"The Capital One Bowl is always a hot ticket," he said. "In my opinion, I can't see a better pairing of two other conferences than what we have with the Big Ten and SEC, especially with the picks we have each year."
Perhaps the reason the Capital One Bowl has excelled throughout the years stems from the support of the local organizing association in Florida Citrus Sports, a contributing sponsor in Capital One and a football-craved community in Orlando that will do anything to keep these two great conferences and the postseason bowl game here.
That support is seen by the public providing funding to renovate the 71-year-old Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium where the annual Capital One Bowl is played. Unlike any other major stadium in the country, the stadium is without a professional or college athletic team tenant. As Hogan noted, the venue gives you the close proximity to the field as older stadiums would and the soon-to-be modern amenities of a new facility thanks largely in part to the community's support.
"There is a lot of history in this stadium and there have been a lot of great players that have come through here," he said. "This community was willing to step up and pay for the renovations to make this stadium a state-of-the-art facility. And they did it solely for college postseason football."
The Capital One Bowl also offers the largest payout of any of the non-BCS bowls games, which equates to roughly $4.25 million per conference. It's a sign that Hogan says shows the long-standing postseason game is still a reward for the participants.
"We have always prided ourselves in putting the teams first," he said.
Capital One Bowlwww.FCSports.com
Date: Jan. 1, 2008
Time: 1 p.m. EST
Site: Orlando, Fla.
Facility: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
Pairings: Big Ten vs. SEC
Sponsor: Capital One
Payout: $4.25 million per conference (minimum)
Name History: Tangerine Bowl, 1947-82;Florida Citrus Bowl, 1983-2002; Capital One Bowl, 2003-present
First Game: Jan. 1, 1947 (Catawba 31,Maryville, Tenn. 6)
Big Ten Record: 9-8
First Big Ten Appearance: Dec. 28, 1985(Ohio State 10, Brigham Young 7)
Start of Big Ten Tie-in Agreement: 1992 season
Last Season: Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14
The annual bowl game is also televised by ABC at 1 p.m. ET on New Year's Day, which Hogan says is a perfect lead-in to the Rose Bowl.
And if all this talk of championship football games has you thinking about going to Disney World, well, you are in the right city to do so. Fifteen minutes in the other direction on International Drive will put you in the heart of the Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista. A day at Disney will cost you $71 per person to get through the gates, so if you are not willing to spend that much but still looking for some fun, International Drive is home to several other theme parks in SeaWorld Orlando ($65 per person) and Wet 'n Wild ($40). Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure are each the same price as Disney, however you can tour both parks in a day for $83. If you are really looking to get away from the Midwest, and we are talking really getting away, like swimming with dolphins and snorkeling close to reefs, check out Discovery Cove. For a mere $279, one gets an all-inclusive swim with dolphins, snorkeling with fish and rays, and access to hand-feeding of exotic birds, not to mention the relaxation on the pristine beaches.
Danielle Courtenay, spokesperson for the Orlando Travel & Visitors Bureau, says not only are there an inordinate amount of theme parks and attractions off of International Drive, but there are a bundle of restaurants and outlet malls as well. Prime Outlets and Premium Outlets bookend International Drive and combine for over 300 retail stores. Festival Bay Mall has a little bit of everything for the family with shopping, movies and miniature golf, all right there on International Drive.
But don't waste any more time in getting a hotel. The holiday season is a peak time for the city of Orlando.
"Christmas to New Year's is a very popular time to visit Orlando," Courtenay said. "I would stress that people will want to think ahead about what they want to do and make reservations early. If you are going to go to one of the parks, buy your tickets online ahead of time."
Courtenay also recommends the out-of-town visitors go online and print off a free Orlando Preferred Visitor Magicard, which provides discounts on select restaurants, entertainment, rental cars and attractions in the city.
Whether you are looking to stay at high-end family resort suites or standard-service hotels, Orlando's International Drive has it all. Want a true experience? Stay at one of three Loews' resort hotels just outside the gates of Universal Studios and its popular entertainment hot spot CityWalk. The Portofino Bay Hotel offers visitors a true taste of Italy, while the Royal Pacific Resort takes you to the serene tropical islands of the South Pacific. The Hard Rock Hotel is home to the world's largest Hard Rock Cafe. All three of these resorts offer free water taxi service to CityWalk, which is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment attractions. Relax at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville or with a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. Hungry? BAM! Eat at Emeril's, or have all different kinds of shrimp at Bubba Gump's. Cap off the night with a performance by the Blue Man Group.
There are plenty of additional restaurants located off of International Drive, primarily around Sand Lake Road, which is commonly referred to as "Restaurant Row." EddieK of Orlando offers up 17 suggestions among the several to choose from in the area on tripadvisor.com.
Just remember, you are here for football. And just as the tens of thousands of Big Ten alumni in the state of Florida will tell you, Orlando is the place to be on New Year's Day.
"The Big Ten is an awesome partner," Hogan said. "There is such history, such tradition with the conference, and the fan base always travels well."
As Courtenay points out, there is so much to do in Orlando it would take you 67 days to see all the attractions. Well, go ahead and try. Make it a Big Ten football fan's dream vacation. Take in the Champs Sports Bowl and all that downtown Orlando has to offer, and then stay through New Year's and the Capital One Bowl, where Hogan says the environment at kickoff is usually sunny and 72 degrees, but always electric.
Welcome to Orlando! The city that wraps itself around theme parks, resorts and college football bowl games.