If you're one of the scores of snow sport enthusiasts heading to Vancouver this month and the beauty of one of British Columbia's most stunning cities hasn't already convinced you to extend your stay, perhaps this will: the Vancouver Olympic Committee predicts the March 1 exodus will overwhelm the Vancouver Airport as visitors depart en masse from the Games.
To avoid massive delays, add a day (or two) to your stay for sightseeing in Vancouver or recuperate on the Sunshine Coast. Duck over to Vancouver Island and Victoria, the sublime, amenity-rich provincial capital. It takes less than an hour to get there via Harbour Air, the world's largest all-seaplane airline.
Another way to make your experience better: hustle between the live sites. Nicolas Gandossi, GM of Opus Hotel, a perennial top-five boutique hotel, reminds visitors to take advantage of two live sites, home to sponsorship tents, huge screens showing live events and a veritable Olympic playground all its own. The sites are linked by a pedestrian corridor through the heart of Yaletown, epicenter of Van's über cool universe.
Ensuring that this and a handful of other conveniences are available to the Games' guests has been six years in the making. And the more than 500,000 residents of this peninsular city that separates the Strait of Georgia (locals simply call it the "ocean") from the Coast Mountains have endured them. The Sea to Sky Highway, the main road from the city to Whistler, was widened to accommodate those traveling between the two primary Games locations, while Cambie Street was outfitted with the Canada Line, a new underground mass transit line.
And while many cities have famously undergone huge facelifts in preparation for hosting the Olympics, Vancouverites by their nature would rather party than pout. Thus, construction frustrations and budgetary grumbles will be ancient history when the world marches in to B.C. Place Stadium for the opening night ceremony. Van's nightlife shimmies and shakes on any given Tuesday, so be prepared for one massive street party throughout the entire Games from Richmond, home of the gorgeous speed skating oval (and over 350 Asian restaurants), to Whistler Village, 65 miles away.
"Practically every neighborhood has a few great gathering spots," says native David Foot, executive chef of the recently arrived Shangri La Hotel's Market by Jean-Georges, which boasts a hanging patio with a great view. Chef Foot frequents the Salt Tasting Room in GasTown's luridly titled Blood Alley and also recommends its neighbor, The Irish Heather Gastropub, purveyor of over 250 Scotch whiskeys.
Blood Alley flows into Maple Tree Square, which in turn will flood with nightly revelers spilling from bistros and bars like The Diamond, where Josh Pape, 2009 Bartender of the Year, claims home ice advantage. Get out of the cold after leaving the Opening or Closing Ceremonies by reserving a table around the corner at perennial favorites Chambar or Café Medina.
Chef Foot suggests visitors leave the rental car unrented at the airport and use the mass transit system instead. The new Canada Line runs from Vancouver International Airport to downtown in under 30 minutes, with strategic stops in Yaletown, home of the two huge screens displaying live action (ever watch curling with a partisan crowd?), sponsorship tents and many of the 400-plus cultural events of the nine-week 2010 Cultural Olympiad. A pedestrian-only corridor will link the sites.
"The Canada Line's incredible!" says Opus Hotel General Manager Nicholas Gandossi, confirming you can get from the airport to Yaletown in 22 minutes.
Where to stay
Entrée Canada provides another easy entry to the Winter Games. The Vancouver-based tour operator regularly provides custom Canadian vacation itineraries for the global who's-who of entertainment and business.
True to form, Entrée Canada has secured accommodations at Vancouver and Whistler's finest properties, including the Shangri La, Four Seasons and Fairmont hotels. Should they be booked, the company has numerous private homes to offer visitors.
Whistler Village will also be in full celebration 65 miles away and one mile above Vancouver. You can lift off for the sky via Blackcomb Aviation's helicopters or travel the stunning Sea to Sky Highway, which is best to drive after 6 p.m., says Vanessa Murphy of Tourism Whistler. It's hard to imagine the Village Stroll containing more joviality during the Games than on any other winter's eve. National venues like the Jamaica House (yes, the famous bobsled team is back) host team meals and events but also invite guests to delve into the host nation's culture.
Let the five-ring circus begin!