27 August 2017

Charleston Tips!




Hey y'all. After one heck of a travel adventure getting home (I may eventually post about travel mishaps on my travel blog), I am back and ready to recap my awesome 5 days at the Volvo Car Open!

I first attended the Charleston WTA event in 2013, and it was a magical year. I was credentialled media so this year was completely different. I went with my tennis-loving mom who uses a cane at events like this and has to be careful walking up/down steps.
Love the photos of prior winners in Charleston

Per usual, I rate tournaments based on the following criteria:

Food
I admit I was so spoiled at the 2013 Family Circle Cup - the media center food was outstanding! Shrimp and grits, freshly made pralines. It was amazing. This time around, I had to feed myself and mom at least once a day onsite. We are told not to bring food into the site, and one woman who got her bag searched after me was questioned about a granola bar. I actually had a few snacks in my purse which I didn't have issues with, but we did not bring in anything that constituted a meal.

So - the onsite food includes one main food court area that had three different options, and then there were about 6 food trucks, and a few other stalls around the stadium. I can't say anything I ate wowed me, but it was all decent and pretty well priced.

We really never had an issue finding a table whenever we wanted to sit. Now this was great and all but I think attendance was way down compared to the previous time I was in Charleston.

Ticketing
I purchased tickets back in November and purchased individual session tickets. Because mom and I are both USTA members, we got $10 off each of our tickets. I booked on the phone because I wanted to get accessible seats for my mom. I held off buying grounds passes for the opening weekend because I wasn't sure of our schedule, but when we got onsite Saturday and Sunday the grounds passes cost us just $5 with our USTA discount.

The main draw starts on Monday, and the first night session was Tuesday night. Our handicap seats were located on the main stadium level, which was wonderful. We sat behind all the box seats. The 200 level were just above us, and then the top level is grounds pass admission, FYI.

Stadiums
Billie Jean King Stadium is a nice sized stadium and it feels pretty intimate. By far my favorite court at the Family Circle Tennis Center is the Althea Gibson stadium, essentially the 'grandstand' court. It's wonderful and is located right near the player area and the back practice courts.
Althea Gibson Club Court is a wonderful place

Located along the stadiums are the main bathrooms and water fountains (still the old school ones, not the new bottle fillers). There are some food options inside the stadium concourse but I did not buy anything from them. The Hanby donuts did smell delicious, and I did notice a few bars and a Chick-fil-A (gosh it pains me to spell that name).

Crowds
As I mentioned above, this year's crowds felt a bit light, but I was there the first few days of the main draw. The opening weekend is always family-centre and the grounds were hopping so naturally the weekdays felt thin. But, this is not always a bad thing. It wasn't crowded for us to get around the grounds, there were always handicap seats available for us and as previously mentioned, getting a table was never an issue.

In terms of the stadium atmosphere, I gotta say the Charleston crowd is on the quiet side. I rarely heard anyone on any court actually cheer for a player. Only when I watched Venus did anyone every cheer her on by name, tho I am sure when Shelby Rogers played that was also the case.

Security
Every tournament is SO different when it comes to security and bag searches. As I have so regularly been media, I am sometimes not prepared for the old bag hunt. I did read the policy before we left so I knew the Volvo Car Open said no food could be brought inside and no glass bottles. It also said you were only allowed to bring in an unopened bottle of water. Well. I left behind my Swell bottle, but brought in a plastic bottle I could fill in onsite. My mom was the same. Neither was an unopened bottle but we never had issues. I had a few snacks in my bag, and security never nudged me about them.

I did not see a specific handicap line, and my mom's body cannot handle just standing on hard concrete so on our first day I asked if we could hop in the far right line which seemed for credentials? I wasn't sure, but they accommodated us which was great especially when we arrived as gates opened and the lines were long. Naturally, after 4 days the far right line changed and it was for box holders only, so the ticket scanners at the end were not the ones we needed. It all worked out, but signs might be helpful to indicate if there is a special line for any specific ticketholders?

Accessibility
Handicap chairs were literally just folding chairs and to put it mildly, they sucked! Totally uncomfortable. Even the ballkids had better seats - those plastic chairs which must have been a little softer than our hard chairs. I was regretting not bringing seat cushions but it can be a pain to lug them around all day. I was disappointed in the chairs and think the Volvo Car Open can do better!
Draw ceremony

One issue we had getting around the grounds was that often we had to walk on gravel, or on uneven ground to get to practice courts or food seating areas. My mom had her cane with her, but I was uneasy in some areas. Also, the bathrooms were not handicap accessible. There was one bathroom near Althea Gibson, and the toilet was way low. Then were a few trailers but those steps up and down scared me. The main stadium did have what must be considered handicap toilets but again they were quite low.

A major issue we had was that the main stadium bathrooms had wet floors! No matter what time of day, anytime we used them the floors and stalls had water all over. I have no idea what the issue was, but the tourney should do better about mopping or sometime because it is dangerous.

I am happy that getting to and from our seats was pretty easy and all the steps leading to the stadium had a handrail. I did not notice if there was a slope to walk up instead of steps but my mom did fine with the stairs.

Venus sliding to net
Charleston
I admit that when I attend tennis tournament, I don't prioritize being a tourist much. So only one morning did we head to Downtown Charleston for a look around. I parked by The Battery and took a brief walk along the park and the waterfront area. Charleston is very much a walking city (at least the downtown) and the roads are narrow and there were so many buses and groups of people all over.

I tried to drive mom near the French Quarter and to the City Market area but on a Monday mid-morning it was busy. Other than that, on this trip we did not eat anywhere remotely local. Our long days at the tennis, and the bad weather, sent us to grab quick meals at Whole Foods and Trader Joes. But, I am not that much of a foodie so I didn't feel like I missed out.

All in all, Charleston is a lovely option for tennis fans. The intimacy of the grounds and courts is special and the tournament is so well-supported by locals. I know I'll be back!

More photos...

Missed you here Serena!

Petko's glamorous ballgirl - her sister I was told?

Keys and Davenport hitting on Stadium court

Venus practice

Crowds entering the gate


The beautiful green clay


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