Where can you go see a concert, party on a yacht, see dogs dressed like alligators, men sporting mullets, and trick or treat with your kids? “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, that’s where. While COVID all but eliminated the game day tailgating experience in 2020, things appear to be back to normal for 2021. Which is just in time for the 100th meeting on the gridiron between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs.
Up to 150,000 fans are expected to descend upon Jacksonville Florida for the game this year. This jumbo gathering has weathered world wars, depressions, recessions, presidential impeachments and many a lopsided outcome. In 1942 Georgia beat Florida 75-0 and in 1968 the Dawgs prevailed 51-0. Then, from 1990-1996, Florida beat Georgia by 30 points or more, five times in those seven games.
Nevertheless, these devout fans keep coming back to one of the world’s greatest tailgate parties if not maybe “The Greatest”. It is amazing how many people come to this event and never even go to the game.
To truly understand the magnitude of this event I am going to try and break it down by the three totally unique tailgating experiences that you can enjoy at this game. There is the traditional “Game Day in the Parking Lot” tailgate, which was effectively outlawed last year, The “RV City” party for five days tailgate, and the truly impressive “Party on your Yacht in the Marina” tailgate.
Let me start off by saying that the city of Jacksonville and TIAA Bank Field are blessed with many great attributes that make this one of the top stadiums in the country to stage a great football classic and the corresponding multi-day event.
First there is geographics, not just that it’s right (nearly) on the border of Florida and Georgia but it sits on a river next to an ocean with great boating access. There are many great hotels within walking distance, killer bars within crawling distance, a good supply of cabs and rickshaws, tons of good safe parking, and extremely tolerant police.
I give Jacksonville an A+ for how they have put this venue/event together over the years. Wake up America, see how these guys do it and, by the way, ask them what the economic impact of this weekend means to the city.
Ok let’s get down to tailgating; here’s the down low on the first tailgate option- “Gameday in the Parking Lot”. This is how most of us tailgate year in and year out whether we are crammed in the stadium lot with the Gestapo patrolling or are in somebody’s backyard. We manage to create our own little slice of paradise in a 10×10 footprint out the back of a truck or the trunk of a car complete with grill, cooler, TV, a pop-up tent, and a few chairs. This is where we get our game faces on, fill our bellies with gameday grub, consume some adult beverages, talk smack about the other team and hope that Mother Nature is kind to us during our ritual.
The parking lot is the birthplace of tailgating and Jacksonville has completely embraced this sport (Tailgating) by providing great parking all around the stadium including under the highway bridges, along the river and the surrounding neighborhoods. This is one of the best tailgate friendly environments around.
For the more advanced tailgaters “RV City” is the way to go. This is a city-managed first-come/first-serve excellent RV campsite about a driver and three-wood from the stadium and the river. This location allows you to order your own porta-potty to be delivered to your campsite, has pump-out service available for your RV/Trailer, allows for the coolest golf carts (more on that later), and is guarded by the best cops around. What more can you ask for? To show how much the City of Jacksonville really appreciates tailgaters, historically, they have allowed people to start lining up on the street on Sunday morning 6 days before the game.
Then they open the lot at 6am on Wednesday morning to the campers. So, if you want a premium spot, you better plan on taking vacation because you must get there by Monday or Tuesday or be left out in the cold. Once you get your rig in place and are done setting up, you’re ready to have some fun. RV City becomes one big happy family campground of Dawgs and Gators, eating, drinking, grilling, sharing and laughing for five days and nights.
Most of the people in RV City have been coming there for many years. These fans bring their “A” game with some monster golf carts, killer grills, radical rigs and really creative decorations. There is a lot of planning for these folks, and it really shows. Each night the crowd builds, and, in the daytime, everyone is recovering from the night before. Friday night is when it gets really gets wound up and if you can only make it one night, that’s the night to be there.
The only thing I can relate it to is Talladega Speedway inside the track, or the Turn 2 club at Daytona International Speedway. The party in RV City literally goes all night and I mean all night. Most of the sleeping is done during the daylight hours and if you need a lot of sleep, you better get a hotel room. Saturday (Gameday) is a continuation from Friday night. You see people wearing the same mullet wigs, face paint and beads you saw them wearing on Friday night.
The crowd grows on Saturday to max capacity and all the game day warriors show up to party with their exhausted friends. The streets between the campers are filled with decked out fans checking out all the parties and it really feels like Mardi Gras with a football game thrown in the mix. The crowd starts moving towards the stadium around 2:30 pm for the usual 3:30 pm kick-off.
It is amazing how many people never leave RV City and just stay there to watch the game. One thing to know is: win or lose, there’s no early departure after the game. You must stay and suck it up if you’re the loser and you get to gloat and celebrate if you’re the winner. By the way, Georgia leads the all-time series 53-44-2. If you have a camper, RV, or a bus I highly recommend the RV City experience, but it’s not an experience for the weak of heart.
For those who would prefer partying with Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III, taking your yacht, boat or raft to the Jacksonville City Marina may be the way to go. The Marina is about a driver -5 iron from the Stadium. Each boat no matter the size was proudly displaying their team colors with flags and banners, lighting and even Halloween decorations. The docks are full of people all tailgating right from the cockpit of their boats, full bar set-ups under the pop-up tents, tables of food and moderately loud Jimmy Buffet music playing.
The marina is a bit more subdued than RV City, but I think the voyage is as much fun as getting there. Fans come from all around and you will see a variety of boats ranging from 120’big boys to 20’ski boats with home ports scattered all over Florida and Georgia.
As you can see this annual football classic has turned into one unbelievable tailgate event. For those who have never experienced it and have a passion for tailgating this should be at the top of your tailgate bucket list. Even though the NCAA banned the term “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” there’s no denying that’s what it is.