It’s time for Orlando to show off, and show out
It was so nice to watch a UCF away game on television with an actual atmosphere and home crowd environment. I made a conscious choice to not hang on the socials for too long this past weekend because the FOMO was too grand. Every Instagram story was a Manhattan Brewing Co. beer flight and late-night shenanigans in Aggieville; Kansas State’s downtown bar district. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “You should have been here Dali!” I’d have enough coin to firmly secure John Walker’s NIL purse for the next three years.
Every one of our fans that made the trip to the Little Apple, besides the obvious, said they had an incredible time. A very warm Midwestern welcome and a hospitable small college town with a serious case of purple fever. We’ve earned the privilege of playing in these types of environments for quite some time. No more cavernous NFL stadiums with sparse attendance and being asked why you have a UCF shirt on when you arrive in town. The turn and burn of flying into Philly to take on Temple like I did in 2017 was fun when chasing perfection, but the perfect college football experience is what so many did this past weekend. Ingratiating yourself into a local culture, being an ambassador for your school, sharing cold snacks, seeing what makes their place tick, and hopefully kicking their ass on Saturday.
K-State proved to be great hosts and I’m so damn proud that our fans were great guests. We’re obviously all in a honeymoon phase right now and like anything, it will take some time for rivalries and sour tastes to form. We still have a quarter of the conference coming in next year and I give it at least half a decade before we all settle in with our new peers. It’s fun though. Meeting new people, trying new things, and breathing new air. We are going to have so many unique autumn cathedral road trips to choose from in the coming years.
So, what exactly is Orlando’s culture? Non Ball-Knowers will state the following: It’s a tourist trap with only theme parks, endless chain restaurants, and terrible traffic. If you stay by the convention center for your entire stay that will 100% be your experience. I think we all know though; the true wealth of what Orlando has to offer. Here is my lowdown for future visiting Big 12 fans and the Baylor Bear faithful.
Do them. You’re going to have a lot of UCF fans trying to stray you away from what makes Orlando so popular for over 75 million people annually. Floridians can get jaded to the Mouse, but for as much as we complain about having to deal with the surging crowds, and exorbitant prices, there is always a tinge of magic when you bring people that don’t normally have it in their backyard. The true local trek is “Drinking Around the World” at EPCOT. I do this at least once a year and it’s the perfect backdrop to get mangled with your adult friends with the veil of just a simple day at the parks. Just don’t go full Alex Morgan. So much fun and by the time you get halfway through to the Morocco showcase you forget how much you’ve spent on libations.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando is also a local favorite that we frequent regularly. It’s spooky vibes, cooler temperatures, and a side of the theme park you don’t normally see culminating in the country’s premier Halloween event, that will run the majority of football season. Do it. Nothing like it and I’m sure some UCF fans will go with you too if you invite us.
Kennedy Space Center is also a must if you’re in the area. This is our claim to SPACE U, with the launch pad only being 45 minutes away east of campus and our deep ties to NASA. It’s my favorite blend of American history, wow factor, and inspiration when you need to fold some culture into your trip. You’re at the beach as well. Look up Jetty Park if you’re adventurous and want to do an overnight stay on the sandy dunes and time it with a launch, if you’re so lucky.
Do not sleep on Tin Roof on International Drive. Live music and a really fun hang when Orlando natives want to take a dip in the tourist pool.
Amongst the sprawl that is the Orlando metro, there are beautifully unique neighborhoods tucked away with boutique shops, trendy bars, and non-chain restaurants, lined by paved brick roads that shimmer after an afternoon Sunshine State rain. You have to go to Downtown Orlando and walk around Lake Eola. Here you’ll see our iconic Lake Eola fountain, the famous swans, and maybe even take a ride on the swan boats. Eateries aplenty and you’ll soon find out that Orlandoans are never too far from a cocktail. Very boozy city. Get a strong drink at Casey’s on Central for a Friday night happy hour, pop in for half off at Mather’s Social Gathering speakeasy, or have an early dinner sip at dusk at the AC Sky Bar rooftop bar and take in a beautiful sunset view of West Orlando.
Thornton Park, an adjacent neighborhood to the lake has awesome boutique shops and varying restaurants. Beautiful small-town architecture and the friendliest neighbors you’ll ever meet.
Mills/50 has some incredible Vietnamese food, taqueria tacos, specialty cocktails, and our good friend Drew Belani at Pour Choice Taphouse. Check out the Lazy Moon satellite location, a UCF pizza staple. Order a Jason’s Mom Slice, plus a deep assortment of craft beers. Notice a theme?
Colonialtown has a little more hipster vibe, but they have a great craft beer scene, billiards, and bar games plus a newly refurbished posh bowling alley. It’s eclectic and a little beatnik, but always fun.
Winter Park/Park Avenue has beautiful outdoor spaces, with superb shopping, coffee/breakfast spots, and excellent restaurants. A little more posh but amazing for a chill evening. Some of my favorite places to eat include Prato, The Ravenous Pig, and The Porch for light bar fare and chill local vibes. This is a true hidden gem and a great place to stay when in town.
Game Day Activation
Depending on kickoff time, you can enjoy all of these recommendations the day of and then just Uber over to campus. Dropoff location: The Celeste Hotel. This on-campus hotel is one of the nicest in all of Central Florida. Their lobby and hotel bar are the perfect place to grab a drink, comfortably inside away from the elements. Good mix of away fans, players’ parents, and Knights returning home to take in a game at the Bounce House. Surprisingly good food too.
After that, cruise through the heart of campus by our Reflection Pond and through the Student Union. Here you can grab a bite to eat and take a breather in the AC. You’ll notice Floridians have mastered the art of changing locales to maintain a comfortable temperature. Walk through Memory Mall and head over to Burger U for a drink to watch early games and catch some pregame hype. For game days they usually run great specials, DJ is playing, and very welcoming fans. There should be quite the buzz this Saturday. Yeeeah Buddy! (Pauly D voice)
Now we get to be the hosts for our first Big 12 conference home opener. This is something we’ve looked forward to for quite some time. Last Saturday night felt like a fever dream and I’m glad for the effort we put forth, but angry at the self-sabotaging acts we undertook that stole a win from the jaws of victory. We were in it, but at this level, we cannot have turnovers and afford to be undisciplined. Long gone are the days of just lining it up and outclassing an opponent with skill position talent. We need to have discipline, togetherness, and maturity. This is something as fans we can exemplify off the field as we showcase our community and campus to the Big 12 for the first time this Saturday.
Yes, we’re a young school founded 100 years later than most, without the same generational fan support or decades of P5 resources. That doesn’t mean we can’t be excellent to opposing fans and be gracious hosts with class and fun, just like how our fans were treated in Manhattan. We’re not a traditional college town and we have a melting pot of different cultures, things to do, and a unique experience on game day. Let’s not get away from what makes us special. We’re diverse, inclusive, and unexpectedly fun. Did not get to where we are by sitting on our hands, or by going with the status quo. Let’s be the best of what UCF has to offer. People already have preconceived notions about the city of Orlando, Floridians in general, and UCF as an institution. You only get one time to make a first impression. Let’s make sure when visiting fans hear Mayor Buddy Dyer’s voice on the MCO monorail, it’s a cause for excitement because the Big 12 flag is now firmly planted in The City Beautiful.
Just be cool. That’s what we do best.
Trust if we start kicking ass in this conference, the welcome pleasantries will change and vibes will shift. Let’s enjoy this honeymoon phase for the moment though. We’re all growing too.
Let’s get a Sic Win on Saturday and Beat Baylor (Again)!
‘Til next time, take care of yourself and each other.