The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World no longer offers a lot for visitors to do if they aren't already going there as part of a group. In 1997, Disney branched out to entice sporting events (and the hordes of free-spending crowds they bring) with the multimillion-dollar ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (known as Disney's Wide World of Sports in a previous life), a 200-acre facility. The Mouse hit a home run with a 7,500-seat baseball stadium -- dubbed Cracker Jack Stadium in 2002 -- that's the spring-training home of the Atlanta Braves. In addition, there's a 5,000-seat field house featuring six basketball courts, a fitness center, and training rooms; major-league practice fields and pitching mounds; 4 softball fields; 12 tennis courts, including a 2,000-seat stadium center court; a track-and-field complex; a golf driving range; and more. The Hess Sports Fields include baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and football fields, while the Jostens Center (a state-of-the-art multisport field house) practically doubles the complex's capacity for indoor sporting events. Future additions include a 100-lane bowling center (one of the largest bowling facilities in the U.S.). A variety of events, from tennis tournaments to band competitions, has been held here since the center opened. For information about events taking place during your stay, call tel. 407/939-1500 or visit www.espnwwos.com
The Orlando Predators play from February to mid-May. For the uninitiated, arena football is a wide-open sport played by eight-man teams on a much-abbreviated field. You don't necessarily need to know the rules to enjoy the up-close crunching and beer-fest atmosphere. The Predators have a loyal and rowdy following, not to mention a few championships under their belts. Sold-out games are common, but single tickets are often available the day of the game at Amway Center, downtown. Call tel. 407/706-4718, or go to www.orlandopredatorsfootball.com for more information.
The Citrus Bowl is now headlined by the Overton’s marine supply company—can anyone keep track of the square-dancing corporate naming rights anymore? Held New Year’s Day at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium (Camping World Stadium), it pits the second-ranked teams from the Big Ten and SEC conferences against one another. www.floridacitrussports.com.
For information on how to observe spring training around Orlando, click here.
Although we think of it as a major American city today, in the 1980s Orlando wasn't far from its cowpoke days, and it took an intense lobbying campaign to convince the National Basketball Association to include it in a four-team expansion. There were plenty of titters when early organizers chose a whimsical name that nodded more to Disney merriment than to the usual machismo-drenched NBA names. But in 1988, they finally racked up enough season ticket sales to prove to the NBA that O-Town had the market to support a major franchise, and the NBA balls began dribbling in 1989.
Since then, the Orlando Magic (www.nba.com/magic) has gone to the NBA playoffs for about half its seasons and to the NBA Finals twice; its roster has included such Hall of Famers as Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill, and coach Chuck Daly. The team has been so successful that it even outgrew the stadium built for it, the Amway Arena in downtown Orlando, which was imploded in 2012 and replaced by the Amway Center (400 West Church St., Orlando; 407/440-7900). That's where you can catch home games during the regular season from mid-December to mid-May. Most tourists don't make it a part of their plans, but it's cheaper than a day at the parks: The average ticket price is about $63.
A century ago, Central Florida was a cattle center, and it still hosts the Silver Spurs Rodeo, the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi (with bareback broncs, barrel racing horses, rodeo clowns, and athletes drawn from the cowboy circuit) over 3 days on the third weekend in February in an indoor arena off U.S. 192. Its 2021 event was held in June, but it’s usually held in February. 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee. www.silverspursrodeo.com; 321/697-3495.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.