College bowl games, with all of their pageantry and tradition — are magnets for sports fans in search of a little winter R&R. And when a Big Ten team from Michigan earns an invitation to play, travel planning heats up. We asked Detroit News sportswriter Lynn Henning for his insider’s observations of six bowl venues. To his observations, we add the expertise of Bonnie Newcomer of Departure Travel Management in Birmingham and Jill Jones of Cadillac Travel, Southfield.
If you’re staying home, remember that Detroit hosts the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl) right here in town on Dec. 26.
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1:
“It hasn’t the glamour of the other New Year’s Day bowls, but don’t underestimate the Gator Bowl — or Jacksonville. It’s on the ocean, it has big-city amenities, and it’s a great place from which to launch a more wide-ranging trip. You can spend a day at nearby Amelia Island, or take a spin down I-4 to St. Augustine, or to New Smyrna Beach. Think also about driving 45 minutes north and finding a different brand of Old South charm at Georgia’s Golden Isles (Sea Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island).”
- Airfare: From $330/person, round trip.
- Hotels: Hampton Inn Jacksonville from $149/night + tax; Omni Jacksonville from $180/night +tax.
- Attractions: Museums, golfing, parks.
- January average high temperature: 655
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1:
“This is the best of all bowl stops. Part of the allure is its timing. The game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), New Year’s Day, and ogling that Southern California sun as it’s getting dark in these parts sparks its share of lust. But it’s also about venue. The Rose Bowl is a 90,000-seat answer to the Roman Coliseum, tucked within a Pasadena canyon known as the Arroyo Seco, with background views of the San Gabriel Mountains. For decades, it has been the blue-ribbon bowl for a Big Ten team, and the fact it’s played in Hollywood’s backyard simply adds to the cachet.”
- Airfare: From $350/person, round trip
- Hotels: Hilton Pasadena from $299/night + taxes; Embassy Suites Glendale from $299/night + taxes
- Attractions: Museums, theater, The Gamble House, and, of course, the Tournament of Roses Parade.
- January average high temperature: 68
Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla., Jan. 1:
“This game shares a time slot (1 p.m., New Year’s Day) with the Capital One Bowl and offers pretty much the same attractions. You’re 30 minutes from Disney World, and also within a short drive of the Tampa Bay beaches. Lots of restaurants, bars, and shopping, with aquariums, charter fishing, and more golf.”
- Airfare: From $275/person, round trip.
- Hotels: Courtyard Marriott Downtown from $140/night + taxes; Hyatt Regency Tampa from $237/night + taxes.
- Attractions: Busch Gardens, The Riverwalk.
- January average high temperature: 70
“There’s no such thing as ‘typical’ when you’re talking bowl games,” says Jill Jones, of Cadillac Travel in Southfield. “We advise our clients that we work with tour operators that specialize in sporting events. There can be major issues with tickets if they’re not done with an authorized seller. The hotels will also require minimum stays. Pricing for these packages are high, at approximately $1,150 per person for air, a three-night hotel stay, and tickets (end zone). Often, these hotels are not that close.”
Good hotels (that fill up right away) include: The Langham, Pasadena; Waldorf Astoria, Orlando; Westin Harbor Island, Tampa; Hyatt Jacksonville Riverfront, Jacksonville; The Buttes, Tempe; The Mansion at Turtle Creek, Dallas.
Dallas Football Classic, Dallas, Texas, Jan. 1:
“No state has more fun than Texas. You want a beer? They’ll join you. Care for some barbecue? They’re game. Ready for a bit of two-steppin’ at the country-and-western saloon? Well, what are you waiting for, darlin’? No wonder they’re crazy for football in these parts. They’re hooked on pleasure.”
- Airfare: From $375/person, round trip.
- Hotels: Sheraton Dallas from $160/night + taxes; Dallas Marriott City Center from $240/night + taxes.
- Attractions: Watch bull riding at the rodeo, West End Historic District (more than 100 shops/restaurants), Texas Fair, Aquarium.
- January average high temperature: 55
Insight Bowl, Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 28:
“Fabulous, if for no other reason than the desert sunset that will leave you transfixed. Tempe is a college town, home to Arizona State University, on the southern end of the Phoenix metroplex. You have Scottsdale and Mesa nearby, with perhaps more evening entertainment spots per square mile than any place west of Manhattan. An exquisite place to be anytime of the year, particularly as Michigan slams into winter.
- Airfare: From $400/person, round trip.
- Hotels: Four Points Tempe from $130/night + tax; Courtyard Downtown Tempe from $170/night + tax.
- Attractions: Museums, botanical gardens, zoo.
- December average high temperature: 68
Capital One Bowl, Orlando, Fla., Jan. 1:
“Two major pluses here: It’s another New Year’s Day bowl, which, in this case, kicks off at 1 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). You can have some brunch, shake off any possible reminders of what you did the night before, and dig into some football. The other attraction, obviously, is Orlando. If you crave something beyond poolside beverages and Florida’s warmth, there’s Old Orlando (find out what a great city was all about before Disney arrived), lots of golf, and Cape Canaveral (a 45-minute drive).”
- Airfare: From $275/person, round trip.
- Hotels: Sheraton Downtown from $222/night + taxes; Embassy Suites Downtown from $180/night + taxes.
- Attractions: Disney, Universal, Sea World.
- January average high temperature: 72