We all know that Orlando is a magical destination for a holiday, but did you know that there is a different kind of Orlando Magic - a sporting kind?
And the city’s high-profile basketball team are back in action this month as the new NBA season kicks off with a flourish of media attention, including extensive coverage in the UK by Sky Sports.
More importantly, for visitors to Central Florida from now until April, there is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some live hoops action at the team’s dazzling Amway Center stadium in downtown Orlando.
Just to start with, a visit to The Amway is highly recommended at any time to see the astounding level of comfort, facilities and technology packed into this fabulous 17,500-seat indoor arena, which maxes out at a whopping 875,000 square feet. It opened in 2010 in a blaze of publicity and immediately gave the city bragging rights on one of the most impressive and high-tech stadium facilities in the country, an architectural marvel boasting a massive central LED display board with 18 individual screens and a flexible seating design that can accommodate multiple events.
As well as basketball, the venue can host ice-hockey and indoor American Football, while it is also a superb stage for big-name concerts (the likes of Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli and Elton John have all performed here), WWE wrestling and mixed martial arts shows.
The $380million arena is packed with user-friendly features, including full-service dining and more than a dozen bars, most notably the huge Craft Beer Bar and open-air ULTRA Club, with magnificent views over the city. Oh, and there are plenty of loos, sorry, restrooms. The latter also have their own TV screens, so you won’t miss a moment of the action!
Food choice is superb, with more than two dozen kiosks featuring a variety of local and national favourites, from Orlando’s popular Black Bean Deli (excellent Cuban sandwiches) and Bento Sushi to the likes of Gringos Locos (tacos and nachos), Papa John’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery.
The Amway even hosts more than 340 works of art, as well as 60 luxurious private suites, and it is fully disabled accessible at all levels.
It is easily walkable from the central downtown area - notably Church Street with its inviting collection of bars and restaurants - and it has its own multi-storey car park, with a covered walkway into the arena for the most convenient of access points.
And then there is the team. The Orlando Magic’s most famous players are Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, but both are now retired and a new, young crop of hoops stars take to the court on game days.
The Magic have endured some lean times recently in terms of reaching the all-important end-of-season play-offs (April-June), with just two appearances in the past 10 years and no series wins. But there is real hope that this season’s team is prepared to make a breakthrough and be a serious contender, behind highly touted rookie Paolo Banchero and second-year star Franz Wagner, as well as Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jnr, who are all poised for a breakout season.
The team’s average age is a youthful 23.5 years old, the second youngest in the league, which is VERY young in American sports terms, where most players have to go through college to qualify to play professionally. But that gives Magic fans hope for an encouraging future, hence this season stands to be one of growth and promise.
More importantly, for Orlando visitors it should mean that games will be well worth watching for basketball fans, while they continue to be a highlight as a one-off experience, and that’s REALLY where the attraction lies for British visitors.
American sports are a completely different animal from UK sports like football, cricket and rugby. In the US, games are events as much as a sporting occasion, with plenty of hoopla before, during and after the game itself. This is therefore a chance to revel in the rollicking atmosphere that exists within the Arena, an action-packed venue tailor-made for fans and full of family-friendly touches that ensure everyone is catered for.
For the grown-ups, you are never far away from excellent food and beverage options, while children can have fun with the team’s mascot, Stuff (the Magic dragon), at STUFF’S Magic Castle play area.
There are cheerleaders, dancers, games, giveaways and other activities going on around the concourses and arena, and that’s all before the game has even started. And then there are fun diversions during breaks in the action, with more cheerleader sessions, a half-time show and the essential excitement of the T-shirt cannons - hand-held devices that the cheerleading team can fire into the audience, offering the lure of a free T-shirt if it comes your way.
It’s simply an all-round show, crowned by some truly top-notch basketball action and rounded out with comfortable seats and excellent views from every point in the arena - even most of the bars.
The bottom line is that this is not a sporting event so much as a slice of pure, enchanting Americana, and it can be enjoyed just as much as a day at the theme parks and other attractions. In fact, we’d go as far as to say this is an essential experience, especially if you have never been to the USA before. You don’t need to know the rules - just enjoy the razzamatazz!
And, if all this sounds like your idea of a fun night out in Orlando, don’t forget AttractionTickets.com can provide a variety of tickets when you book in advance!
Have you been to a sporting event in America? Tell us about it on the friendly ATD forums, our Community Facebook page, on Twitter or Instagram.