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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

College Football National Championship - Tampa

Lance and I just got back from Tampa and I have to say it was our best trip away together since having kids. Lance was invited to the College Football National Championship game by a vendor and it was a quick and easy yes! The only thing we were in charge of was getting ourselves to Florida. Our original plan was to leave Saturday morning and come back Tuesday morning. Leading up to Saturday, the news was reporting snow and ice late Friday night so we knew our chances of getting out of town on Saturday were slim. We changed our flight to Friday night at 6:00 pm and it ended up being the last flight out of Atlanta because everything else was cancelled. I am usually a pretty calm and relaxed traveller but Friday had me all kinds of frazzled...it was definitely the worst part of the weekend. Between the reports of bad weather and us rushing out of the house to the airport, I was a little unnerved. Finally we boarded the plane a little late. Once we were on the plane, the crew could not reconcile the manifest with the count of passengers so they had to go through every passenger to find out who was on the plane that didn't belong. It ended up being a misunderstanding by a passenger who had a lay-over...he was sitting in the seat next to me and things were starting to get a little heated between the guy and the airline staff. Luckily, he agreed to get off of the plane and we could finally leave the gate. Our flight was completely full but Lance and I ended up having the only empty seat on the plane next to us. As we pulled away from the gate and were heading out, the pilot slammed on the brakes (similar to what you would do if you thought a dog was going to run out in front of your car). I looked over at Lance and told him I needed a Xanax. Ha! I could not wait to take off. Then we had to wait for a pad to get our plane on for de-icing and that took awhile. Two hours after our scheduled departure time, we were finally in the air.



Because of the weather, the crew had to stay buckled in their seats so no drinks or snacks for us. We finally arrived at our hotel at 10:30 Friday night and set off in search of some food. We ran in to the rep who invited Lance to the game and he took us to dinner at a restaurant called Engine 9. It was a yummy burger joint and we enjoyed our dinner...maybe because we were starving.

Our plan was to sleep in Saturday morning but Reese started FaceTiming us at 7:15 to show us the "snow" they had. It turned out the storm wasn't as bad as predicted and there was mostly ice on the ground. We got moving after talking with the kids and our first item of importance was finding a Starbucks nearby. We were staying in St. Petersburg at The Vinoy Renaissance hotel. It was a beautiful old hotel with a ton of history. Luckily, there was a Starbucks about half a mile away. We set out to walk there in the rain and still saw so many pretty sights.


This alley way was so pretty with its wet brick road!


After getting our coffee, we walked around a bit. We learned that St. Petersburg has just recently (with in the last four years) started to grow. Investors have come in and started developing it so there is a ton of new buildings and shopping areas. We saw this man walking his daughters in to the movies. It was such a sweet vision of this big, muscular, tattooed man wearing dreadlocks in his hair with his curly-haired daughters wearing tu-tus and high heels. It was so sweet that I had to take their picture.



Around 1:00, our friends who recently moved to the Tampa area picked us up for lunch. We went to RumFish and there was this pretty aquarium wall that we got to sit right by. It was so fun to see them for a quick bite while we were in town.


We got back to our hotel around 4:00 and had a little bit of time to kill so we walked around some more.


The buildings in this picture below are part of The Vinoy but they are condos. The hotel looks out over this harbor and there were tons of boats in it.


That evening we were heading out on a casino boat for dinner and fun. Because of the weather, it was too windy for the boat to leave the dock so we ended up just staying docked. It was a great decision because even though we were tied to the dock, the boat was still bouncing up and down all evening. We were each given $1000 in chips to play games with. There was poker, craps, and blackjack. We started at the poker table and I walked away with more than my $1000 in chips. We were going to play craps and blackjack but both of those tables were crazy so we just hung on to our chips. At the end of the night, you used your chips to buy raffle tickets. Neither of us won anything in the raffle but we had such a fun night.



Sunday morning, Lance had a "think meeting" from 8-10. I slowly got moving and then grabbed some breakfast from the hotel. That days plan was excursions for everyone. I had a massage schedule for noon so I went and worked out before heading to the spa. Lance was supposed to go fishing in the bay but it was so cold and windy again that he ended up hanging around the hotel. They set up a room to watch football all day with food and drinks. After my massage, I hung out with him for a little while and then went back to our room to get ready for the day. We ended up walking around town again. We were headed to another Starbucks that was a little further away in a different part of town. We walked past the Tampa Bay Rowdies stadium, their local soccer team, and thought about buying tickets to the game that was currently playing. Unfortunately the game was almost over so we decided against it. After getting some coffee we headed back towards our hotel when we saw these golf cart taxis. We were talking to the driver and he offered to drive us around for a tour. He gave us a quick tour of the city and then we went back to the hotel. That evenings plan was for a private tour of The Dali Museum. There were hors d'oeuvres and an open bar.

These were some of the cute desserts available.



There was an area that has a rotating exhibit and this time it was Frida Kahlo.


Then we got to see the Dali exhibit. It was very interesting and nice to have a private tour. The guide was able to tell us things about the art that we probably would not have seen or known with out her. I felt like it was a little rushed and I would have loved to have had more time but it was still enjoyable.


After the tours, we were waiting for the buses in the bar area and all of a sudden fireworks started going off right outside. We were next to a symphony hall and had been told earlier in the day that the football teams were having an event there. We still don't know if that was true or not but the fireworks could have been for that event and we just benefitted from them. The buses had been stuck getting back to us because of the fireworks but once they were over we were able to leave. When we got back to the hotel, we sat outside around unlit fire pits and visited with some new friends.


Monday morning was a similar start. Lance had a "think meeting" from 8-10 that ended up ending early. He brought me some breakfast back to the room while I finished getting ready. We headed to the closer Starbucks once again and then walked back towards The Vinoy along the bay.

View from our room...



Walking back along the water...





Our host set up a tailgate at the hotel starting at 11:00. They had corn hole, a big Jenga set, and a new game we had never heard of called Washer Toss which is similar to corn hole but with washers. We signed up to play corn hole and Jenga. There were tournaments and the winners were awarded gift certificates to buy merchandise at the game. The Jenga tournament was running long and so I ended up splitting the winnings with one other guy. I received a $50 gift certificate!




They had used the ticket boxes as decorations on the tables which just made us so excited to get to the game. As we were wrapping up the tailgate games, they started passing out our tickets. Our bus was leaving at 2:00 to head to the stadium.




Do we look excited??


The bus ride took just over an hour because of traffic around the stadium. It was totally fine though and not a bad ride.


There was a tailgate area set up that had a Heisman trophy winner stage where there was questions and answers with the winner on stage, there were games, food/drinks, Game Day stage, and a concert stage.

I, of course, had no idea who this was but turns out it is Derrick Henry (I still have no idea who he is).


We walked around a bit checking things out. Our tickets allowed us in the stadium at 5:00 in to a hospitality suite that had an open bar and food. We went in there at 5:00 and enjoyed some food and drinks.



The trophy was set up on display for a little while...this was the actual trophy!


We met these couples this weekend and had so much fun with them. They all live in the Atlanta area and we just had a blast getting to know them.


At 5:30, the stadium was open to everyone. There is an escalator behind the picture above that takes you in the stadium so we headed up there to buy our merchandise. We had been told that it goes fast so we didn't want to miss out on buying what we wanted. It turned out that it was much colder than we thought it was going to be so I bought a fleece jacket and Lance bought a pull-over. We were definitely thankful for that $50 gift certificate we had! After shopping we checked out where our seats would be...and they were AMAZING! We were in club level on the 50 yard line!


We went back to the hospitality suite for a little while and hung out some more before heading back in to the stadium...about an hour before the game started.



Both bands performed...



It was fun for us because we didn't have a dog in the fight so we got to cheer for both teams.

The teams ran out on the field...



Little Big Town sang the National Anthem and sounded perfect!



Coin toss...


This was the head ref and oh my goodness his muscles! And blue eyes! I couldn't get a good picture of him but I think we commented on his muscles more than anything else during the game. #hotref



The ticket package we had allowed us to go on the field after the game was over for the celebration. This meant we had to go down to the tunnel with five minutes left in the game. We have been to too many games (UGA v GT 2014) where all the fun happens with that much time left and Lance and I were waffling on whether to head down there at that time. Well, we were right! The last two touchdowns happened while we were standing in a wind tunnel, under the stadium, while we watched it on TV, leaving our seats on the 50 yard line! We were all kind of bummed about that but going out on the field afterwards made up for it!




This was probably my favorite moment on the field...hearing Dabo Sweeney speak TRUTH to his players (and the thousands of people listening in). He said, "Let your light shine brighter than the light shining on you!" and he gave every bit of glory from that game to God. Chills!



Again, how excited do we look??


The team ran over to the band/fans and it went wild in there. How fun to celebrate with your fellow students!


Some sweet players signing autographs...


As we were walking out we ran in to this guy...


And then we were back on the bus heading to the hotel. The excitement on the bus was fun but quickly everyone was falling asleep. We got back to our hotel at 2:00 and then we laid down for a quick nap because our car was coming at 4:45 to take us back to the airport. Our flight home was at 7:15. We fell asleep before the crew even did the safety information and we slept most of the flight home. As far as I know it was much smoother than our flight down.


Like I said before, it was such a fun weekend and we feel so grateful for the time together and the whole experience!! We weren't even upset about our lack of sleep that last night because we just looked back at all the fun memories we made and smiled.