The Green Bay Packers has finished minicamp and are scattered to the four corners in what is equivalent to the NFL’s summer vacation. With that, there will be little activity out of 1265 Lombardi Avenue until the team reconvenes at the end of July for Training Camp ahead of the 2015 regular season. Tickets for the annual Family Night–a night practice under the lights, mind you–were sold out within 48 hours. Fans love attending Training Camp.
But there’s still nearly a month where fans can still absorb the entire Training Camp experience and take in the events around Green Bay without missing out any of the experiences.
Plan ahead. That’s the first and foremost rule. It may not be Mackinac Island or Disney, but Green Bay is a destination for summer travelers. The vast majority of hotels in town are with a short driving (read: not walking) distance from the stadium. But there are some a few blocks away. Call early, because those are the first to fill up.
That said, Highway 41 from Appleton to Green Bay is a complete pain in the butt. It has been so since I got my drivers license in high school in the 80’s and remains one to this day. It is constantly under construction, though I’m wondering what anyone has to show for it in the 20+ years since. Familiarize yourself with local maps and consider other ways to navigate town. Your sanity will thank you for it later.
The Packers’ camp schedule is already posted. Be aware that there are a handful of practices that are not open to the public. They typically fall right before the preseason games. Keep in mind that only the preseason practices are for public consumption. Once the regular season starts in September, the green curtains go up around the field and you won’t be able to see anything.
Back in the day (ie, the 80s and 90s when I was in high school and college), the railbirds used to stand on the sidewalk along Oneida and watch the practice from there. Since 2009, the Ray Nitschke practice field has 1500 bleacher seats inside the field for fans to take in a practice. Doors open 90 minutes before practice starts, but if you wait until then, you won’t get a seat. Get there early and be prepared to wait. Sunscreen, water. You know the drill.
Once inside remember no carry-ins (sometimes during the really hot days, you may be permitted to bring in a bottle of water. But don’t count on it.) Pictures are okay as long as you aren’t using a giant telephoto lens, but video recording–yes, even your phone–is prohibited. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask one of the Guest Services attendants in the red vests that are at the practices to help with questions or concerns you may have.
By now you have made the pilgrimage to Lambeau, have seen a practice, likely been through the Packers Hall of Fame and have filled up the trunk with purchases from the Pro Shop, now what? If you’ve never been to Titletown, check out the various things you often hear locals and players alike talk about all the time.
The Packers Heritage Trail is one way to navigate the area and see how the Green Bay Packers have touched various parts of the community. Check out old City Stadium near East High School on the other side of the river to see where the Acme Packers played or Hagemeister Park where it all began. You’ll also visit the Hotel Northland, where players from the home team as well as opponents lived, St. Willebrord (Yes, it’s spelled wrong. Go check it out and discover the history behind the great typographical error) Catholic Church where Vince Lombardi famously attended daily mass. It doesn’t cost anything to check out the locations on the Heritage Trail, and it is an opportunity to visit old haunts of a bygone Packers era.
Now that you’ve toured some of the more historic sites, consider a bite to eat. There’s always Kroll’s West. It’s claim to fame its prime location across the street from Lambeau Field on Ridge Road. It was famously featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated right before Super Bowl XXXI with Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren laughing over a plate of sausage. And as a former local, I can say it actually is pretty tasty. Mind you it isn’t haute cuisine. It’s not on par with Chives which QB Aaron Rodgers frequently raves about. It’s a diner. Burgers, BLTs, fried cheese curds. Sure it has a few more things on the menu since I used to hang out there with friends after a movie, but I still think the best thing on the menu is the chocolate malt served in a metal malt cup, not some fake shake that comes from a soft serve dispenser.
Another greasy spoon worth the visit is the Pancake Place on Military Avenue. (Confession: I grew up on the East Side of De Pere and have never actually eaten there let alone set foot in the place. What can I say? I had favorite breakfast place on the east side of town, didn’t own a car when I was a student and never made it there.) Players are always praising it. They serve, among other things, pancakes. The size of your head and covered in sweet, fruity and whip creamy awesomeness. It’s a brunch place. Leaving with a Samsonite size doggie bag is definitely a First World problem. If you leave hungry, it’s your own darn fault.
So about Chives … Yes it’s very good. Actually, it’s probably one of the best places to dine in the entire region. It will be a bigger dent in your wallet, but if you chose to go, don’t go to hunt for players. That is on the uncool side. Same goes for trying spot players at the Pancake Place or St. Norbert, the Packers’ camp residence for over fifty years. Try to keep in mind that they are looking for private time where they don’t have to think about work too. No one likes being bothered during a private meal or downtime on a college campus. Try to respect their privacy and take a page from the locals–let them be if they’re not on the company dime. That said, it is amazing, but you’ll have a better chance of running into my mom there than anyone famous.
But what else is there to do with the family? It’s summer after all, and what’s summer without carnival rides. Bay Beach Amusment Park is a ten minute drive from Lambeau, and well worth the trip if you have small kids (or happen to personally love bumper cars or the Tilt O’ Whirl.) No it isn’t as spectacular as the water parks in the Dells, nor does it have the multitude of rides that Six Flags has to offer. It’s a park run by the city of Green Bay. It’s been there forever. It has many of the rides that you would find at a county fair–Ferris Wheel, Tilt O’Whirl, a Scrambler and bumper cars. But unlike the fair, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage for a day of getting spun around and dizzy. And as an extra bonus, since the rides are maintained by the city you can actually trust that nothing will come unbolted as you’re flung around at thirty miles an hour in a circle. Can’t say the same about the rides at the fair that were tacked together by scary carnies.
Ticket are dirt cheap–$0.25 each. Most rides are two tickets, with the bumper cars a little higher at three and the Zippin Pippin (reportedly Elvis Presley’s favorite roller coaster) at four tickets per ride. Not bad considering it’s often $4-5 to pay for the privilege to hurl up your lunch after a ride at the fair. While technically it’s a beach, there is no swimming. The city is still working on cleaning up the bay, but until then, it is strictly a land lover’s destination.
Camp stats in a month, plenty of time to plan a day or three in Green Bay. Needless to say, it’s a very fun and easy way to see the team up close and personal. Green Bay has a lot to offer. Why not check out some of the other attractions why you are there?--------------