I wanted to share my review of the Dean Smith Center as a visiting fan. This was my first time at the center and I couldn't have been more pleased with the experience (except that we lost). The center is a really good atmosphere for a basketball game and most of the UNC fans were really great to be around.
First, parking at the stadium was not recommended by our local UNC friend, who got me the tickets. He highly recommended the bus round-trip from several locations around Chapel Hill. We took his recommendation as the weather was pretty awful (cold, rainy), but I think we could have found something a bit closer. In fact, we were parked downtown in Chapel Hill, but it's a pretty decent walk (around 1.5 miles) and I was told traffic out of downtown on a gameday is pretty awful - so we did the bus thing from the University Mall (see my notes for the bus at the end of this review for the first-timers out there).
When arriving, most of the fans were respectful and behaved. Naturally, there were bad eggs with some awful language which is really quite a shame, especially since we had a younger teen with us. But honestly, we ignored them and only saw this kind of behavior a couple of more times during the game. Also, some of it was coming from my UK brethren as well, so I am not criticizing one side or the other here - just immature idiots, which reside everywhere.
Upon entering the stadium, you come into a pretty normal looking arena entrance. It looks like every other arena in the country at this point. Food and drink booths hammered around the circular walkway around the place, with entry points up and down every so often.
Walking in to the arena though, you are greeted with the history of UNC basketball (man, do they have a lot of banners hanging around) and a fantastic looking basketball court. The sight lines seem to be great everywhere, but I am not entirely sure if that is true since they have some very large hanging video screens in the corners of the stadium and some seats below them. I couldn't tell if they would be a bother - I am sure not obstructing your view down, but if you looked up, you would only see this huge black video board back.
The game atmosphere was very exciting and when comparing the Dean-dome to other places I have been, including Rupp Arena, I would say this is a better experience. UNC still has some elements which could be better (the lower arena fans are pretty quiet - these are the money spenders and older generation of UNC fans mostly), but I can say that my son and I were really pleased we got to see the game here, even though we lost!
On an side note, the bus thing worked pretty well but you need to know as a first-timer a few key things. First, there are several locations to pick up a bus and you can find these by searching for this on google or yahoo.
After arriving, you need to buy a ticket before you get on the bus. Not knowing this, we got into line to wait only to find out we were in the wrong line. We lost our spot, but this didn't hurt anything as they bring a bunch of buses to take you to the game - still, frustrating a bit.
Once you pay the $5 round trip ticket price, you find your way on to the bus and ride to the stadium, which takes only 15 minutes or so. You'll be riding with UNC and visitor fans, so be nice!
The key thing to know is not how to get there, but how to get back efficiently. Once you decide to leave, things get a bit chaotic. You need to know that there are 5 bus lines once you get back outside. Your wrist band will be a different color based on your origination point. You should remember also the place where you started (mine was University Mall). Then, there will be five lines that will be in place along the main road outside the stadium and you need to find yours. The starting point for each line will be a lighted sign that will reflect the color of your band, with the name on it. But honestly, it is hard to find that so I recommend that you start asking people who are in lines which bus they are waiting for. But, be somewhat careful as we saw several people in the wrong line because they asked the wrong people by mistake (not malicious, but just an error). We had difficultly finding our line at first and had to wait a while. I think all-in-all, we had to wait about 40 minutes to get on the bus - then a 20 minute ride back to the mall. Overall, I think that the service was quite efficient, but knowing key things would have helped, and I hope that this will help you!! HAVE FUN and be a GOOD FAN!
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