In 2008, I was unfortunately forced to relocate from Jacksonville to Charlotte after college. I was ecstatic to learn that the Jags would be playing in Charlotte this season. When I lived in Jax, my immediate group of friends and I made it a priority to go to at least one away game each year. Nothing beat being in Indy in 2008 when Scobee kicked the game winning field goal. We already have about 30 friends and family members coming up and I thought I would go ahead and write a brief city/game-day guide for anyone who wants to try and come up for it. As well, I would love if other transplanted Jags fans could right reviews for their city for away games.
Travel: Flights can range anywhere from $180 to $500. USAir is the only direct flight, but they do offer a 7:00 am, or so, flight back to JAX on Monday mornings so you can still make it back for work if you want to stay Sunday night and save a little money on the flight
Driving takes me 5hr 45m to get from my old place near the Intercoastal off JTB to my house a mile outside of uptown Charlotte. Add or subtract about 15 minutes based on your part of town. It's an easy drive that is 3 roads; 95N for 3.5hr, I26W for 45m, I77N for 1.5hr. Unless there is an accident, traffic is usually not too bad except for outside Columbia, SC between 4:00 and 6:00.
Hotels: The great part of Charlotte is that it is a banking city. Because most business is done during the week, hotels are actually cheaper on the weekends than on the weekdays. I will give a run down of parts of town, but I would recommend staying either uptown or in Southpark area.
Uptown: If you stay uptown, there are a lot of nice hotels for a good price and you can walk to a crazy amount of bars restaurants and entertainment, as well as the stadium. However, read reviews because there are a few sketchy ones; Think Phillips Highway Gator Lodge. Avoid the Days Inn on Tryon and the Ascot Inn on College, especially. Any other hotels on Tryon and College within the 277 loop are good. Those 2 are really just random bad ones in the middle of a nice area. I'm convinced the owners of the properties didn't sell when the area became really nice and they are just holding out for someone to by the land for demo at a ridiculous price. All the brand name hotels with a stigma of being a "good hotel" are.
Dining: Uptown dining has all the upscale usuals (Ruth's Chris, Mortons, Capital Grill, etc) as well as the usuals in casual dining (Wild Wing Cafe, Firehouse, Five Guys, etc.). They also have some good local places. I recommend Chima, Mez or Basil for a nicer meal, or Ri Ra's, Phils (super hot waitstaff), Brixx Pizza or Alexander Michaels for a cheap to moderately priced meal. If you want to go BIG and have an awesome meal that your wallet will feel the effects of, Fig Tree is a short cab ride outside the city and it's the best food I've ever had. It's not that ridiculously expensive, but a meal would cost a little more, or around the same, as a meal at Mathew's in San Marco in Jax. Disclaimer: I have zero affiliation with the Fig Tree restaurant other than getting to enjoy it once a year when my parents come in town and offer to take me anywhere I want to go for my birthday.
The Epicenter is the center of most of the action uptown. It is basically all the bars and restaurants at the St Johns Towncenter built up, instead of sprawled. By basically the Towncenter, I mean it has 90% of the same stuff (Whiskey River, Suite, Black Fin, Etc.) in a full city block, 3 story mega-complex. The movie theatre is the nicest one I have ever seen and the lobby upstairs, which is free to get into, is a bar/restaurant which turns into a lounge after around 9:30. The restaurant is called Mez and it's pretty solid. The bowling alley below the theatre and Mez is pretty ridiculous too. It's essentially a bar/nightclub bowling alley. Overall, the weekends can get pretty wild at The Epicenter. There are lot's of Suburbs around Charlotte and all the 20 and 30 somethings come out to the Epicenter on the weekends. The place is huge though, so if you walk around a little, you'll find a place that fits your liking.
If you want to get away from the Epicenter, check out Ri Ra's, Connelly's and Prohibition. They are all on the same block in the middle of the city. So even if you don't care for them, you are very close to a bunch of other good places. If you end up getting borderline blackout, and happen to like dive-bars, you might, MIGHT, like The Breakfast Club. It is a club from the 80's that just never updated, so now it's "retro". I wouldn't recommend going before midnight, but if drunkenly dancing to 80's music on a light up dance floor and hanging out in hand shaped chairs in a sketchy building sounds like fun, go for it. It may end up being the best or worst decision you make while visiting. I've had both types of nights there and it just depends on the crowd that night and amount of alcohol in your system. It's been a while since I've gone, so if you go and it sucks, I'm sorry. It used to be cool. Chances are you'll just stay at the Epicenter anyway.
South Park:The South Park area is about 10 minutes south of the city. It's not very far away, there just aren't any roads over 40mph between this area and the center city. South Park basically surrounds the South Park mall which has nice department stores like Macy's, Nordstroms, Neiman Marcus, etc.
Hotels: If you search for a hotel online in the South Park area, CHECK THE REVIEWS! For some reason, they include Arrowood Rd in the search and that is not where you want to be. It's not awful, it's just not where you want to be. So, any of you Priceline Negotiaters, don't put $100 in South Park. You'll get screwed. I am partial to the Double Tree Suites. It is a nice, recently upgraded hotel that my friends and family usually stay in. Last I checked, it was $89 non-refundable ($115 refundable) for a 2 queen bed suite with a full kitchen and pull out sofa. There are lot's of other hotels in the area, just make sure you are within a mile of the mall and you will be fine. READ THIS!: THE COPS HERE LOVE DUI CHECKPOINTS! They love checkpoints more than I hate Jeff Fisher and the ref's love Peyton combined. If you stay out here, call a cab unless your walking or have a DD.
Dining: Outside the your standard connected-to-a-mall restaurants (California Pizza, Maggianos, Cheesecake Factory) there is another great selection of places to go. For an expensive meal, there is The Palms and Zebra. For a medium priced to just above medium priced meal, definitely go to Cowfish. They do Burgers and Sushi and it's awesome. Paco's Tacos is in the area as well and it is great. For a mega-sportsbar, go to Taco Mac. I don't know why they call it that. They have like 3 taco options but the majority is good bar-food (wings, pizza, etc). If you get there early, you can even get a table in the bar area where you have your own tap at your table and they charge you by the ounce. The convenience is amazing, but the tab can sneak up on you. $115 on beer, food and tip just for me during last years Browns game. Granted, it was a nail biter, I had to be helped out after and I am pretty sure I tipped 35%.
Drinks: There are lots of fairly nice restaurants that have good bars in them in the mall area, but it's kind of the 30-40 year old divorcee scene in the evening. About 5 minutes away is the Montford bars and Selwyn Pub. The Montford bars are kind of like the beach bars, except not beachy. Angry Ales, Brazwells (Amazing looking staff) and Moosehead have good bar-food, cornhole, and outside seating. Duckworth's has a crazy beer selction (probably hundred on tap or in a bottle) and, again, good bar food. I would say it is a notch above Moosehead and Angry Ales in that department. After 11:00, go to Andrew Blairs. It's where lots of local, recently out of college (South Carolina, Clemson, etc.) sorority girls converge. Then, there is Jeff's Bucket Shop. See Breakfast Club hour and alcohol parameters and replace 80's music and hand chairs with karaoke. Again, best or worst decision you could potentially make, but if you meet a drunk chick at Andrew Blairs, you have a 50-50 shot of ending up there. If you have ever been to Ginger's in Jax Beach, it's like that, but a hair bigger and a lot more young people, but the same amount of sketchy ones.
Finally, there's Selwyn Pub. I can say with out a doubt, my favorite place in Charlotte. It's mainly comparable to the Swamp at UF with tons of outdoor seating, but with a lot more tv's. It's amazing. It may not really seem like much when you walk up, but it's great. Story Time: On a random Tuesday night a little over a year ago, I met some friends up there. One of them looks at me and says, "Hey, is that Fred Couples?" Sure enough, it was. 5 minutes later a Ferrari pulls up and Michael Jordan gets out. He came to watch the Bobcats game and hang with his friend, Fred Couples (weird combo). We asked his private security and apparently they are good friends and that night he chose to watch the game at Selwyn instead of at his suite at the arena. Then, about 20 minutes later, Charles Oakley joins the group. It was their first time going up there, but every once in a while, MJ still comes up to hang out. If you see a Ferrari in the parking lot, you know he's there. I don't know really what else to say about it except you should check it out, especially Friday early evening or during the day Saturday.
Game Day: The stadium is located very close to the main drag in uptown. Kind of like if Everbank Field was where the courthouse is. If you stay uptown, you can walk there and just checkout tailgates and bars. I wish Jax had better bars around the stadium. The Tailgate bar north of the stadium just doesn't really do it for me. The majority of parking is in building parking lots, parking garages and then in a huge field south west of the stadium. It is pretty crazy because people are scattered everywhere. The huge lot has tailgating in the more classic sense, but there are people everywhere. It almost seems unbelievable because there doesn't seem to be that many people inside the stadium once the game starts. If you stay in South Park, I recommend getting your hotel shuttle to drop you off at the light rail and take the train to the stadium or uptown and then walk. There's only one line, so it's easy to know when to get on and off. It's much nicer, accessible and convenient than the downtown Jax people mover. Actually, I never had a reason to ride the people mover (never worked downtown and I never had to go to the convention center), so I am just assuming it is. When you walk to the game, their version of the D-Line performs under the 277 overpass which is closed off for foot traffic. It's a pretty neat experience, especially when the majority of the crowd is going in at the same time.
Tickets: If you are coming with a decent size group, I would do the normal means of getting tickets; Panther's website, stub hub, etc. However, I went to a game a few years ago and bought a ticket in the lower level from a scalper for $10 right after kick off. If you do this, make sure you have the guy walk you to the gate. I've never heard of this happening in Charlotte, but I got burned at a baseball game in NY by a guy selling me a ticket that had already been scanned.
As much as it pains me to admit this, Charlotte is a really cool city. It is a young city, that's affordable to travel to and is not too far away. I hope you decide to make it up for the game, and if not this game, any away game. As well, I hope this helps you if you do decide to come. Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section and I will try to respond. Go Jags!
In Gene We Trust