Your nitty-gritty guide to Vancouver — for the Games, or just for the party
A roundup of useful information for visitors and a guide to celebration sites during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
Seattle Times travel staff; Seattle Times staff photographer
Northwest travel guides
If you're headed to next month's Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. — or considering a last-minute trip, even just a day trip to join the fun — you don't need to hemorrhage money or get stuck in huge lineups.
Here are ways to cut Olympic hassles and costs, plus places to party and watch events even if you don't have tickets for the Feb. 12-28 Games.
Driving could be painful as there will be congestion at the U.S.-Canada border; very tight restrictions on driving and parking in Vancouver; limited daytime access to the highway to Whistler; and no parking around any of the Olympic venues (and restricted resident-only parking on nearby streets).
To go car-free, Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) has two daily round-trip trains from Seattle to Vancouver. As of Wed-
nesday, tickets were available on most trains during the Olympics. Fares vary; $114 round-trip is typical for the period.
For a day trip, an early-morning train to Vancouver and evening train or bus back will give you five to six hours in the city. Or, if you're energetic and can stay up all night, the city's clubs and bars will be hopping and Grouse Mountain, just north of the city, even has 24-hour skiing during the Games. You'll avoid the $500-plus per night that Vancouver hotels are charging for an Olympics stay — yes, rooms are still available at some hotels — and you can sleep on the train or bus home the next morning.
Both Greyhound (www.greyhound.com) and Quick Shuttle (www.quickcoach.com) offer frequent daily buses between Seattle and Vancouver, and special lanes at the border help speed buses through. A Greyhound round trip starts around $40 with advance purchase.
Or Alaska Airlines and Air Canada have frequent Seattle-Vancouver flights.
Border and ID
While Canadian entry requirements are less stringent, U.S. citizens need a passport or other approved ID (such as Washington's enhanced driver's license) to return across the U.S.-Canada border; see www.getyouhome.gov.
If you're driving, get border information, both northbound and southbound, at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/border/. U.S. customs officials don't expect delays to exceed 90 minutes at peak times since some inspection lanes have been added at major crossings.
Signs near the border show delays at the Peace Arch crossing at Interstate 5 and the "truck crossing" on Pacific Highway about a half-mile east (open to all vehicles, despite the name), helping you choose the quickest one. Travelers also can cross farther east at Lynden (Aldergrove on the B.C. side).
Don't have Olympics tickets? Head to Vancouver's two free LiveCity downtown sites to celebrate with a crowd of thousands.
LiveCity Downtown has a massive screen, concert stages, a beer garden and tented pavilions with interactive exhibits (including Canada's national pavilion and corporate sponsors' pavilions). It's at Georgia and Cambie streets and is open daily starting Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. (closes at 4 p.m. on Feb. 28).
LiveCity Yaletown will host nightly concerts by big-name Canadian and international musicians, and big
screens will show Olympic highlights. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the Olympics (shorter hours on the opening and closing days, Feb. 12 and 28). It's on the north shore of False Creek, at David Lam Park (Pacific Boulevard at Drake Street). See www.livecityvancouver.ca.
In the heart of downtown, Robson Square is another official celebration site. It will have big-screen Olympic broadcasts; free live entertainment; exhibits about British Columbia at the official B.C. pavilion (in the adjoining Vancouver Art Gallery) and free ice-skating at a newly refurbished public rink.
Richmond and Whistler also will have free public celebration sites:
Suburban Richmond, the host of speedskating at the Olympic Oval, offers the Richmond O Zone. Spread through public plazas, community buildings and a park, it will host free concerts, big-screen viewing of live Olympic events; virtual-reality games; food; fireworks and more. See www.richmondozone.ca.
Richmond's O Zone includes Holland Heineken House, the Dutch national pavilion known from past Olympics for some of the liveliest parties. Its main hall will hold 4,000 people and offer big screens, entertainment and food.
In the Whistler ski resort, Whistler Live! will bring free concerts, art exhibits, theater and big-screen Olympics viewing at six sites scattered along Whistler Village Stroll, the resort's main pedestrian-only thoroughfare. See a map and calendar of concerts and events at http://whistler2010.com/whistler-live.
Get maps of on-mountain venues and more at www.whistlerblackcomb.com.
Other Vancouver street fun
Some downtown Vancouver streets will be pedestrian-only during the Games from noon to midnight daily, including in the trendy Yaletown neighborhood, which links the two LiveCity sites. Yaletown's renovated warehouses have been turned into restaurants, bars and condos.
Granville Island will be a party site with a French Canadian flavor. The four-block square islet, which houses a popular farmers' market, boutiques and galleries, will become "Place de la Francophonie" during the Olympics, with more than 100 free events, from mime artists to nightly concerts by musicians from Quebec and beyond; big-screen live Olympic broadcasts in French; and the Olympics-themed Club Adrenaline bar. See http://placefranco2010.ca.
Around the city, provincial governments and corporate sponsors' free pavilions will showcase their areas and offer entertainment; see links at www.tourismvancouver.com (click on 2010 Winter Games-related Events).
The Aboriginal Pavilion (next to LiveCity Downtown) will highlight the native cultures of Canada.
For something completely different, Molson Canadian Hockey House will be a pay-to-party, hockey-mad place with entertainment, gourmet food, veteran hockey stars and, of course, Olympic hockey games on big HD screens.
Or make your own mark on Vancouver through a light show celebrating the Olympics. Called Vectorial Elevation, it's one of the world's biggest interactive artworks with 20 powerful searchlights stationed on the shores of English Bay to create patterns in the night sky Feb. 4-28. Individuals from around the world can program light patterns online starting Feb. 4 (or perhaps a few days earlier in a test version) at www.vectorialvancouver.net.
Locals and visitors are being urged to take public transit, walk and bike since the Vancouver area will be jammed with an estimated 350,000 extra people during the Olympics. Some downtown streets will be pedestrian-only; some lanes will be bus-only; and streets around Olympic venues will be closed for security.
The SkyTrain (including its new Canada Line) is a light-rail system connecting downtown, suburbs (including Richmond, home to Olympic speed skating) and the Vancouver airport. It's fast once aboard, but officials anticipate hour or longer delays to board after major events such as the Games' opening and closing ceremonies. Transit info: http://travelsmart2010.caOn the south side of False Creek, the new 1.6-mile Olympic Line Streetcar will run for a two-month free demonstration. It links Granville Island to the Olympic Village station of the Canada Line (at Cambie Street and West Second Avenue). See http://olympichostcity.vancouver.ca/gettingaround/publictransit/olympic-line/Ticket-holders to Olympic events can use the Olympic Bus Network, especially useful for getting to events at Cypress Mountain, on the outskirts of Vancouver, and to Whistler, about 80 miles north.
No private vehicles are allowed on Cypress. To take a private vehicle to Whistler, drivers must show permits confirming they have parking (hotels provide permits to guests) in Whistler. There will be a checkpoint on the highway just north of Squamish, with travel on Highway 99 (the Sea to Sky Highway) restricted northbound beyond that point to permit holders from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 11-28.
Book Olympic bus tickets in advance and get details on the Whistler highway permits at http://travelsmart2010.ca (click on "Mountain Venues").
Private buses and shuttles also go between Vancouver and Whistler, including Greyhound Canada (www.greyhound.ca), Pacific Coach Lines (www.pacificcoach.com) and Ridebooker (www.ridebooker.com). Get instructions on reaching each venue by public transit at the official Olympics site, www.vancouver2010.com. Click on "Spectator Guide," then "Venues."
Much of the Olympics action will be around False Creek, a narrow inlet on the south edge of downtown. On its shores are BC Place (the 55,000-seat stadium where opening and closing ceremonies and nightly medal ceremonies will be held); Canada Hockey Place (ice hockey competition); the Olympic Village, temporary home to 2,700 athletes; and the popular Granville Island neighborhood. False Creek Ferries and the AquaBus run dozen-passenger mini-ferries that will shuttle almost constantly across the narrow False Creek from Granville Island to the downtown side. See www.granvilleislandferries.bc.ca and www.theaquabus.com.
As at other Olympics, some Whistler and Vancouver hotel rooms are becoming available in the weeks before the Games. Check the official booking site, www.2010destinationplanner.com. The catch: Many rooms start at $500 a night and have minimum stays of at least several nights. But last-minute travelers can always phone hotels directly to see what's available — and if prices drop. As recently as last week, travelers were able to book rooms during the Games for about $50 at a Vancouver hostel.
To find last-minute tickets, in person try the main ticket office at Vancouver's Robson Square or at each venue when competitions start. Or buy online through the official ticket resale site: www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-tickets. CoSport, the official seller of Olympics tickets for U.S. residents, also began selling individual tickets this week to some events (after its hotel-ticket packages didn't sell out): https://vancouver.jetsetsports.net/tickets.
Kristin Jackson: email@example.com