This expansive, interactive football playground has plenty to keep children of all ages occupied. My family of four -- me, hubby, 10-year-old and 7-month-old -- headed out on Saturday to see whether the $25 admission was worth dragging the kids out and standing in lines for hours.
The verdict? Definitely worth it. After all, when was the last time you had a Super Bowl experience in your home town?
Here are some lessons we learned and tips for a more enjoyable trip to the Big D:
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1. Meet your group before you arrive at NFL Experience: We were crazy to think that we could casually meet up with friends and family (some who had tickets already, some who didn't) at the Dallas Convention Center. The lines are split up into "have tickets" and "have-not tickets." On the first weekend, the crowd flow was a problem and there was miscommunication with those herding the masses. My husband ended up being split from the group because security needed to check the diaper bag and stroller. (To the organizers: It's not good to split families, especially parents from their kids.) We weren't able to find and meet up with him until 30 minutes later. Trust me, get your group together before the drive and caravan over to the DCC.
2. Text don't talk: Once inside, cellphone reception is OK in most places. However, it's very loud inside and it's hard to hear calls. It's better to text your messages.
3. Feed the kids before you go: If you want to save some money (and who doesn't these days?), get some chow before you arrive unless you want to spend $8 on a hot dog. Outside food and drink are not allowed (baby bottles and food are OK to bring). If you take full advantage of the activities, you will probably need to buy some snacks at some point. For the frugal, Pepsi gives out free samples at the main Pepsi booth and Doritos has bags of chips in the Sponsor Zone. The same snacks are also available at the Pepsi Familia de Campeones in the NFL Players Zone.
4. Wear comfortable shoes and take a sturdy stroller: General admission patrons all park in Lot E, which is unpaved with lots of gravel and small dips. The walk from Lot E to the main entrance is a trek that takes you through the gravel pit, up stairs and around the convention center. Guess who wore heels? Also, it's worth it to bring an all-terrain stroller with basket to hold for souvenirs.
5. Print/sign the waiver before you arrive: Adults and children who want to participate in any of the interactive football games must sign a waiver. Save some time by printing the waiver out in advance at superbowl.com, filling it out and bringing it with you.
6. How to manage the Zones: Once you go up the escalators and through the final checkpoint, traffic flows first into the NFL Players Zone, which has the main autograph stage, memorabilia show, and the NFL shop. To maximize your experience, head directly to the NFL Play 60 Game Zone, which is straight ahead through the Lombardi Lobby. You'll be tempted to stand in line to take a photo with the trophy, but it's not going anywhere until Super Bowl Sunday so head past it and head to the Game Zone. You can drop off your waiver forms at the NFL Rushzone for Kids (a shorter line for forms) and get your wristbands to participate in the activities. The Rushzone for Kids is good for the 6 and younger set. Have one parent stay with the younger kids here and the other parent can take the older kids to the NFL Play 60 Game Zone where all of the football activities are. Once the kids are worn out, head back to the Lombardi Trophy for your pic, then make a stop and get a second wind at the NFL Sponsor Zone for more activities. End your day at the NFL Players Zone. Download the NFL Experience Map
7. Don't miss the photo opps: Aside from the Lombardi Trophy, there are several photo opportunities. In the Players Zone: Pretend to be part of the NFL Draft on the draft stage, get an autograph from a favorite player or "wear" the uniform of your favorite team. There's also a life-size wall of the Dallas Cowboys where you can stand next to your favorite Cowboy and be part of the team picture. In the NFL RushZone for Kids: Get a free picture at the entrance. You can choose the background of your pic -- Lombardi Trophy or your favorite NFL player.
8. If you want autographs, plan accordingly: Each person is allowed to bring one item to sign.The players are only there for 2-3 hours at a time so if you want a particular player, make sure you know when he will be available. (The popular players always have long lines) Be prepared to catch players throughout the day too! There were a few unannounced visits. I was able to see Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins at the NFL Rush Zone for Kids by accident. He was doing a Play 60 clinic and I happened to be feeding the baby in front of the clinic stage.
9. Go ahead and splurge a little: Even though I encouraged you to skimp on the meals, do bring enough to get some Super Bowl XLV souvenirs, memorabilia or NFL gear for the kids -- and yourself. (Btw, you'll also need $10 for the parking). One of my pet peeves as a parent is going to a so-called free family event and having to pay for every activity. Once you pay your $25, all of the activities are free. Better still, there are even freebies at some booths and activities. Some of our favorites: free football trading cards at the Panini booth outside the NFL Play 60 Game Zone, the mini football at the Bridgestone booth in the Sponsor Zone and the Super Bowl XLV necklace at the GMC booth where you can call the football play with announcer Phil Simms.
10. Stay the whole day: For most, having a Super Bowl close to home is a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Get an early time and stay late. Make the most of that $25 and create lasting memories with your family.
When: 3 p.m.-10 p.m., February 2; 3 p.m.-9 p.m., February 3; 3 p.m.-10 p.m., February 4; 10 a.m.-10 p.m., February 5; 10 a.m.-4 p.m., February 6
Where: Dallas Convention Center, 650 S. Griffin St., Dallas. Parking in Lot E.
Info: 866-849-4635, superbowl.com
Cost: $25 for adults, $20 for 12 and younger. Available at superbowl.com or 866-849-4635.
--Maricar Estrella, Star-Telegram.com
(Photos by Maricar Estrella)