4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, FL 33607
Payment options: Cash only
More in this neighborhood: Stadium Area
The set-up: This is a walking tour of the sports complex, with stops along the way on the actual playing surface, in the locker room, in prime seats and in special places most fans would never get to go (a $250,000 luxury suite!).
The touchdown: The pirate ship in the end zone is definitely a highlight, with plenty of spots to pose for photos around it. The ship has plenty of great details, like the huge anchor that lies alongside it. Which makes the fun fact that the tour guide shares all the more interesting: The pirate ship wasn't in the original design for the stadium. [Note: The ship is periodically closed for maintenance, so not every tour gets to board it.]
Inside the Red (Luxury) Zone: The RayJay tour included a visit to a luxury suite overlooking the 10-yard line. Feedback from suite owners led the Tampa Sports Authority, which runs the stadium, to create windows that can be taken off their tracks and stored, so that the fans inside the suite can feel closer to the game. The stadium has 195 of these suites that seat anywhere from 8 to 46 people apiece. And unlike traditional suites that have a wall separating them, these have a window, so that you get a feeling of an infinite cocktail party being held high above the game when they're full of well-heeled fans.
A little low-key: Standing inside a small low-ceilinged locker room with the crimson and pewter colors, our group was asked: Whose locker room do you think this is? We all guessed visitors. Wrong! Since this is used just on game day, the Bucs players have better digs over at their practice facility, One Buc Place. This place is all business, with spare locker space, a communal shower (albeit with 9-foot-tall showerheads) and low-key lighting. The only difference in the visitors' room? No ceiling tiles, like the Bucs have. And it gets even more spartan when the USF Bulls play there. The room has to accommodate another row of lockers down the center, making it likely one of the most crowded locker rooms on the planet. (Insider tip: Our guide told us the Bucs' locker room is consistently voted the best smelling in the NFL. Why? They rip up the carpet after each season and start anew.)
Clipboard stats: The club seating area at RayJay is noteworthy because of its giant video board made up of 25 52-inch flatscreen TVs. The people who get in here are suite guests and those who are sitting in those gray seats around the stadium. On the day we took the tour, we got lucky there was an event being held in one of the suites. Otherwise the air conditioning would have been shut off and it would have been 20 degrees warmer inside. It costs $8,000 just to turn the air on, and $150 an hour to run it.
Advance scouting report: When you take the RayJay tour, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes because you end up walking about 3/4 of a mile. And unless you go in the cooler winter months, dress comfortably for the heat because much of the tour is spent outside any air conditioning. On the plus side, they gave each member of the tour group a Bucs bandana and coupons good for discounts on Bucs and Bulls merchandise.
Details: The tour is held at 2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday at the stadium and lasts approximately an hour. Costs is $6 for adults (16 and older); $4 for children (6-15); free for children 5 and under; and $4 for seniors 65 and older. Cash only; there is an ATM right at the tour starting point. Call to make sure the tour is still scheduled: (813) 350-6545. Group tours are also available. Parking is free.
-- Anne Glover, Times Staff Writer