A Fan’s Perspective of Lightning’s Amalie Arena

When the first cords to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck screamed across the speakers to the synchronized lightning bolts streaking across the ice, I was totally emerged in the moment. Then, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy skated out right before team captain Steven Stamkos. I could barely hear their names being called from the frenzy of applause.

Main Entrance to Tampa Bay Lightning's Amalie Arena
Main Entrance to Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena

My first game at Amalie Arena was everything I had hoped. I had seen the Lightning play in other cities, but none compared to a home game at Amalie. It wasn’t just because it was in Tampa, it was the entire game-day experience. Bolts banners could be seen all over the city, including a fly-over from a helicopter, and the crowd assembled wore nothing but Lightning blue.

Lightning Pregame Experience

Speakman Wharf is a great place to hang out before the game. If you don’t have tickets, you can still congregate with Bolts fans in the large beer garden, which is about two blocks from Amalie.

Of course, Lightning fans are familiar with Thunder Ally, which is directly outside the entrance to the arena. The plaza area was larger than I anticipated. There were quite a few people crowded around the Phil Esposito statue, taking photos of the founder of the franchise.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Thunder Alley
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Thunder Alley

Other areas of interest in Thunder Ally were two oversized Stanley Cup rings from their 2019-20 and 2020-21 championships. There was also an oversized bolts chair, perfect for photo-taking. Adding to the festivities was a stage where a band kept the fans entertained while they enjoyed a few brews. Once inside Amalie, the check-in was fast and efficient. The signage was clearly marked, and the food smelled fabulous.

Concessions at Amalie

There were plenty of food options and overall, prices were less expensive than other stadiums I’ve visited. I was pleasantly surprised by the eclectic cuisine and the quality as well. Cur(ate) TPA is the umbrella food and beverage brand for Amalie. One of the most intriguing places was Havana Nights, which serves Cuban food; it is something you probably won’t find at other arenas. We also passed by the Wicked Oak Barbecue which had a steady stream of customers. On the way to our seats, we spotted an Outback Steakhouse concession stand and Moschella’s Italian Bakery and Market. They all looked and smelled great, but I was excited to find our seats. I finally settled on a barbecue flatbread pizza, which was enough for two people. It was delicious and reasonably priced.

As Tampa is known as the Cigar capital of the world, it was smart to offer signature brews from local Cigar City Brewing, throughout the arena.

For those not as excited to reach their seats 30 minutes before puck drop, there were alcoves with comfortable, cushy chairs scattered throughout. The halls were crowded, especially on the first level, but the arena setup made it seem spacious. I was relieved to see that the stairwell leading to the upper levels was very spacious, clean, and well-lit, and the restrooms were clean and plentiful.

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The merchandise store near the main entrance was packed—and fans were buying! We decided to come back when the crowd thinned out, but on our journey through the arena, we saw two additional, somewhat smaller, stores. One Lightning baseball cap and a key chain later, and we were all set.

On-Ice Warm-Ups

Since we attended the home-opener and the Lightning are celebrating their 30th anniversary, there was a complimentary knapsack on the back of every seat. When the players came out on the ice for pregame warm-ups, fans were waiting by the glass for an errant puck. Pat Maroon, a fan-favorite, made sure lots of pucks landed on the ice. We watched archived footage of the team’s first game on Oct. 7, 1992, on the large display above center ice, in addition to a recorded message from Esposito to honor the milestone.

Inside Amalie Arena
Inside Amalie Arena

As beloved as Esposito is in Tampa, few people can beat Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for the adoration of the fans. He and Esposito were recognized before the game and dropped the ceremonial puck. Other than the players themselves, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper got the biggest round of applause.

Our seats were great: level two, row H, seats 1 and 2. Not only did we have a great view of the ice, but we sat right behind long-time public address announcer Paul Porter and sound man, Sean Bovelsky, who pumps up the crowd with the music you hear in the arena. After watching Sonja Bryson sing the national anthem on TV, it was wonderful to hear her sing it live, accompanied by organist Krystof Srebakowski.

Before the game began, I took time to look up at the rafters to see Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier’s retired jerseys. However, hanging from the opposite side were the real achievements: three Stanley Cup championship banners. I couldn’t help but wonder how many more championship banners this team could raise before their run ends, and how many current players would join St. Louis and Lecavalier in Lightning immortality one day.

We’re All Here for the Hockey

A few years ago, there was a hype video for the Lightning as part of the “Be the Thunder” series. It depicted beautiful sunsets and the fast-growing downtown Tampa. However, the video emphasized that with all the Bay Area has to offer, visitors and residents are here for the hockey. I found that sentiment to be true, at least with the fans I encountered.

It’s no wonder that the Lightning have sold out 281 consecutive home games during the regular season and playoffs (not counting the two shortened seasons). As exciting as the action on the ice was, I was completely impressed by the entire game experience. The folks at Amalie Arena know how to create a fun, exciting, and comfortable experience. I call it Southern hospitality at its finest.

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