by 4Q Basket Case
This is the most variable logistical consideration. And as noted in the disclaimers, unless you’re staying with family or friends, there are no perfect options – cheap, nice and close to stadium is a pipe dream.
Keep in mind, there are 7 game weekends a year, and the hotel operators look to these to make their other 45 weeks a year profitable.
- Many hotels require reservations for all seven weekends, at a two- or three-night minimum for each.
- If you can find a room, you will pay full rack rate. There will be no bargains.
- If you are coming in for one game only, and have to be near campus, start calling in the spring and go for a cancellation.
- All rooms will be expensive. The main tradeoff is availability vs. distance from campus.
- I cannot emphasize enough: Make your reservations well ahead of time – like April / May time frame. For big games (think LSU and Auburn), even that might be late.
One pleasant surprise to those visiting Tuscaloosa for the first time since COVID is that there are at least three new hotels in or near downtown Tuscaloosa, all national chains, and one additional high-end option on the way.
See below for more details on Comfort Inn and Suites, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home 2 Suites by Hilton, AC Hotels by Marriott, and a Residence Inn by Marriott. The Alamite is billed as a luxury property and is in the final stages of construction. It might open by the 2022 season, but I’m not 100% sure on that.
Lodging and Restaurant / Bar COVID Warning
COVID has done a number on all restaurants and bars. I’ll keep this as updated as I can but be aware that things could change fast. If one of these places is going to make or break your trip, check with the hotel, restaurant or bar
Specific lodging options:
- The Alamite – The Alamite opened on September 17, 2022. As I write this on September 20, it’s been open only a few days – they haven’t even had their Grand Opening. And I’ve been only to the bar and had an appetizer – haven’t eaten a full dinner or seen a room. Nick and Terry Saban have been confirmed as part of the ownership group.
It is far from inexpensive, but guys … The Alamite is for real. Mrs. Basket Case and I had wine and an appetizer – gruyere cheese pastry with ham butter, aka “gougeres.” Not the easiest thing to deliver anyway, and given that it was the kitchen’s first week, a bit of an ambitious order. They delivered flawlessly.
The wine list has only one option over $100 (restaurant prices, not your favorite wine shop). But it has one of the best $60 – $95 selections I’ve seen. Within the price constraint, first-rate European, California, and other New World, i.e., anywhere other than continental Europe. Yes, they mark it up – you can get it cheaper at retail – show me a restaurant that doesn’t.
I didn’t have an entrée and just looked at the menu. Expect high-end Birmingham prices. Most entrees are $30 – $50, concentrated in, though not exclusive to, steaks. If you go for the 32- oz bone-in Ribeye (obviously meant for at least two, maybe three), it’s $145.
So, for the bar and an appetizer, in the first week of operation, I’d say extremely promising. Expect the food to be equally good but can’t yet say that from personal experience. It isn’t, however, friendly to a budget. Also, they were highly staffed. Don’t know where they got all those people, but there was a bunch of waitstaff.
Caveats: This is the first week. They were still ironing out some of the service wrinkles and were a bit slow. As with any hospitality operation, I expect that to get better.
Mrs. Basket Case looked up the room prices. After the first week of initial pricing, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it, especially on a football weekend. The website, nevertheless, claimed to be close to sold out.
I’m not sure Tuscaloosa can support the level of food, wine and room currently offered – especially at SEC football weekend prices. But it’s awesome right now – just expect it to come at a price.
- Hotel Capstone – Literally right on campus, between Coleman Coliseum and Bryant-Denny Stadium. Has one of the full-season arrangements I mentioned above. There is a 100% chance it will be 100% packed on game weekends.
Best bet if you don’t already have a reservation is to get a cancellation. And it will be expensive. Still, if you can handle the cost, it’s worth a long-shot-try for the incredible convenience of the location.
- Embassy Suites – Downtown Tuscaloosa, in the middle of a lot of downtown restaurants and bars. Excellent in-house restaurant called Side By Side. Owned by chef Chris Hastings. If you don’t know Hastings, Google him. He’s the real deal. About 12-14 block relatively flat walk to the stadium, or there are shuttles a few blocks away at the Downtown Parking Deck (see parking topic below).
- Home 2 Suites by Hilton – A couple of blocks west of the Embassy Suites. Really designed for extended stay (includes kitchen) but will book shorter terms. As such, rooms are functional and clean, but not terribly luxurious. A short flat walk to downtown restaurants and bars.
- Homewood Suites by Hilton – Just down the hill from Embassy Suites, but a block or two closer to downtown from the Indigo (see below). Finished and completely open. From the outside, looks nice. Real difference between this and Embassy Suites is that your walk to the downtown entertainment district will be about 1 – 1.5 blocks longer, and uphill.
- Hotel Indigo – On the edge of downtown, easy walking distance to the Amphitheater, but about a two to three-block uphill walk to the downtown nightlife. Or just do your nightlife at the hotel. Has a rooftop bar with a great view of the river and Amphitheater. Excellent experience in good weather. Could walk to the stadium if you don’t have mobility issues, but it will be a longer, somewhat hillier walk.
- AC Hotels by Marriott – Construction complete and hotel open. Location at the intersection of Lurleen Wallace Boulevard and 6th Street is a couple of blocks from the downtown entertainment district. From the outside, rooms look functional but not luxurious.
- Residence Inn by Marriott – This is new, but is on the north side of the river, not walking distance to the stadium, downtown or The Strip. The reason I mention it is that it’s on the north side of the river. That’s huge in regard to getting to your hotel after the game. The whole world is heading south and east. You’d be heading due north. Still have to deal with some traffic and possibly some narrow (but not closed) lanes, but nothing like what it is trying to get to the interstates.They’re also advertising a gameday shuttle, but you’ll need to check with them on the details – especially whether it’s a one-time trip, or there are repeated departures and returns.
- Comfort Inn & Suites – New and open on Jack Warner Parkway. I’ve never been in, but from the outside, it looks generically functional. Don’t expect a snazzy bar or turndown service. Will be about a 5-block walk to the downtown entertainment district. As the crow flies, it’s shorter than that. Problem is, there’s a cliff between the hotel and the district. So you have to walk about 3 blocks to Greensboro Avenue, take a left, walk three blocks uphill to University Boulevard, turn left again and backtrack a block or so. I haven’t checked prices, but it should be the least expensive of all the options named here.
- Holiday Inn Express – Not walking distance, but is across a busy street from University Mall, where there is a gameday shuttle. I think the shuttle is $10, but you’d need to check.
- Other Hotels – There are dozens of other hotels that are not within walking distance to the campus, and don’t provide a shuttle. Chances of getting a room will be better. Just understand that (1) you’ll have to find gameday parking on your own, and (2) there are no bargains on hotel rooms on game weekends.
- Air BnB and VRBO – There are options for Tuscaloosa on both sites. Just be really clear on where you’ll be. Caveat emptor.
All things considered, this is a good option for a one-off game weekend. There are several hotels at or near the I-459 / US 280 interchange. Easy hop onto I-459, then to I-59/20 to Tuscaloosa.
Also, lots of options downtown, which is experiencing a renaissance. If you haven’t been here in a while, you probably won’t recognize the place.
Downtown, Uptown, Lakeview and even Avondale are buzzing, and the restaurant scene can hold its own with any city in the country anywhere near its size.
Both downtown and the 459/280 interchange are about normally 60 – 75 minutes to Tuscaloosa in non-gameday traffic. Depending on how close to gametime you need to add 15-30 minutes to your travel time.
I don’t know much about Meridian, but it has a Naval Air Station, and so has a lot of mid-range chain hotels and generic restaurants near the interstate. A good, serviceable place to stay. Just don’t expect boutique hotels or fine dining. About 90 minutes to Tuscaloosa in non-gameday traffic.