UM fans will pay big in San Antonio for Final Four game
Better have deep pockets if you’re a University of Michigan basketball fan eager to watch courtside in San Antonio on Saturday night when the Wolverines take on the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers — the so-called Cinderella team — in the NCAA Men’s Final Four Tournament.
But you already may be too late to get to the game if you’re still looking for flights, game tickets and a place to stay in Texas’ second largest city, according to Metro Detroit travel agents and travel websites. Lodging and affordable airfare not only are in short supply for the long weekend, but prices have soared through the Alamodome roof, they say.
With most weekend flights from Detroit to San Antonio sold out and the scarce few that are left in the sky-high $2,000-plus range roundtrip, “It would make sense if someone started driving from Detroit (about 1,500 miles) now,” said Pam Nikitas, owner of Joan Anderson Travel in the Buhl Building, Detroit. “It’s ridiculous.”
She and Chris Conlin, president of Conlin Travel in Ann Arbor, said some Michigan-based fans are finding slightly lower airfares — or at least open seats — by being creative and flying into other Texas destinations, then renting a car to drive to San Antonio.
“People are flying through Houston, Dallas, Atlanta” and checking San Antonio-bound flights from other airline hubs such as Chicago and Salt Lake City, Conlin said Monday.
Several hundred UM basketball fans will leave Friday on an official University of Michigan Alumni Association charter jet.
“We sold out very quickly, in a matter of hours,” after the Wolverines clinched their Final Four spot on Saturday, Conlin said. The package, including four nights at the team hotel, the Marriott Riverwalk, was priced at $2,569 per person double, $3,369 single. The alumni group is among thousands of UM fans from across the United States planning to converge on San Antonio this weekend, Conlin said.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 75 percent of San Antonio’s rooms were booked for the long Final Four Weekend, Friday through Tuesday, according to Hotels.com and other booking websites. Most of the remaining hotels are in the $200-$350 nightly range.
While the more than 14,000 rooms in San Antonio’s downtown district are fully booked, there is still availability in nearby areas such as the airport, La Cantera, Medical Center and SeaWorld San Antonio, all less than 30 miles from the Final Four activities, a tourism spokesperson said at midday Tuesday. Ticket packages that include four-night hotel accommodations also were available for La Cantera Resort & Spa and Wyndham Garden RiverWalk/Museum Reach Hotel, starting at about $2,500 per person, double.
One “recently added” option, Stay Express Inn San Antonio North, nine miles from the city’s famed River Walk, advertised $76 per night while the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel was $485 per night. Several well-located luxury hotels, now sold-out, were higher, charging as much as $999 per night.
Fans lucky enough to make it to San Antonio for the College Basketball Final Four weekend will find a Tex-Mex city of revelers ready to party at the drop of a sombrero. The city, surprisingly lush, is home to historic missions, topnotch museums and just-plain-fun attractions.
Here’s a quick guide to San Antonio:
First off, forget the Alamo. For a great introduction to San Antonio, head directly to the River Walk in the heart of downtown. Located 20 feet below street level and stretching for miles, this park-like urban oasis pulses day and night with activity. Pause to people-watch while sipping a Texas-sized margarita under a colorful umbrella or hop aboard a sleek, newly-updated barge and cruise under arched bridges along the jade-green river.
A few River Walk miles north in a 19th-century brewery complex-turned-mixed-use community called the Pearl, restaurants serve everything from craft brews to Texas barbecue and Gulf Coast seafood. In October, San Antonio was designated a UNESCO “Creative City of Gastronomy” for its multicultural culinary heritage and vibrant dining scene.
Nearby, stop at the San Antonio Museum of Art in a historic 1884 building that once housed the Lone Star Brewery. Treasures include a world-class Asian wing and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, which showcases his impressive, multimillion-dollar personal collection of folk art.
Just off the central River Walk, stroll along the open plazas and little shops of Market Square, or El Mercado, a Mexican-style marketplace brimming with sombreros, pinatas and pottery. Listen to mariachi bands and admire floor-to-ceiling murals at Mi Tierra Café and Bakery, a local institution offering tasty Mexican sweet breads, cookies and pralines 24 hours a day.
When your feet grow weary, take advantage of San Antonio’s best bargain: a $2.75 unlimited day pass aboard colorful Viva Via buses with free WiFi and three routes to the museums, historic sites and downtown districts. (Check viainfo.net).
Stops include the newly upgraded, 64,000-seat AlamoDome, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and Hemisfair Park. The latter two are host-sites for the weekend’s Final Four Fanfest and free March Madness Music Festival starring Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic and country stars Jason Aldean and Kelsea Ballerini.
Before leaving town, be sure to remember the Alamo, a small-scale fort and mission complex that stands tall in the hearts and minds of liberty-lovers. The most famous spot in Texas, it’s the site of the legendary 1836 siege in which Davy Crockett, James Bowie and a small band of defenders held out for 13 bloody days against repeated attacks by Mexican Gen. Santa Anna’s army. The Alamo is one of San Antonio’s collection of five Spanish Colonial missions recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some advice: Don’t be among the dazed tourists who ask, “Why’d you build the Alamo downtown?” but do stop by the Alamo gift shop for a coonskin cap.
Susan R. Pollack is a Metro Detroit travel writer.