Alas, Orlando — so rich in castles and coasters, but so poor in sporting entertainment.
That’s a foul! We may not have a professional football, baseball or hockey team (how did they all end up in Tampa, by the way?), and our basketball team hasn’t been a thing since Shaq’s heyday, but Orlando is a big sports town — even if we all seem to be rooting for the Steelers on Sunday.
Here’s how to give your sporty family a sporting chance:
- The other football. You may have noticed that the whole town is purple these days, and it’s not just the bougainvillea in bloom. It’s because every single Orlandoan is crazy for the Lions of Orlando City Soccer Club. The inaugural game took place in March of 2015 in front of 62,500 people in the remodeled Citrus Bowl, and ended in a thrilling tie. Downtown is packed on game day with people pre-gaming in restaurants or queuing up for great street-side barbecue in the surrounding Parramore district. In 2016, a permanent and purpose-built soccer stadium will open three blocks closer to downtown, still safely within the barbecue district.
- Run like the wind. You know who runs this town? The runners. Maybe it’s the advantage of year-round training, or maybe it’s the lack of hills, but running is the sport locals are crazy about. Every weekend hosts a 5K or a half-marathon, most of them themed around a fundraiser, a holiday or sometimes even bacon and donuts. The best list of upcoming events, as well as meetings of informal running groups, can be found at the website of the legendary running store Track Shack. Stay hydrated! Sometimes it gets a little warm out there.
- This is a stick up. Hockey. You wouldn’t think it would be popular here, but lots of northern transplants miss the ice as long as it isn’t collecting on their windshields. The Tampa Bay Lightning play four games in Orlando’s Amway Center every year, and Orlando’s Solar Bears — the EHCL feeder to the Toronto Maple Leafs — run a full season of games for a crowd that appreciates both athleticism and irony.
- The hole thing. There are more than a hundred golf courses within an easy drive of Orlando, from life-list destination courses to neighborhood munis, and most have water hazards enlivened by great blue herons and alligators. If that’s not exciting enough for you, the city course at DubsDread rents Golfboards along with its carts, so more adventurous golfers can cruise the course on what are essentially four-wheel-drive electric skateboards. This area also features some of the world’s most advanced mini-golf technology, with courses at Disney, Universal CityWalk and all up and down International Drive. Many of those also feature alligators.
- Hoop dreaming. Yes, the Orlando Magic still makes the list, even though they haven’t been doing very well since, oh, 2004 or so. But they’re coming out of a few rebuilding years, and there’s excitement with the naming of new head coach — and former Magic point guard — Scott Skiles. Magic tickets aren’t impossible to find even against the NBA’s greatest teams, and Amway stadium is walking distance from downtown hotspots and has some good amenities itself. Look for the loaded tater tots and craft beer stands; if you’re going to cry in your beer, it might as well be a nice IPA.