If you've turned on a TV over the past two weeks, you know that we're in the midst of the 21st Olympic Winter Games, where thousands of athletes from scores of countries are sliding, gliding, slipping, and plunging their way to the winners' podium. But where exactly in Vancouver are all these events taking place?
Since Vancouver is one of the three big Alaska embarkation ports, cruisers probably already know Vancouver better than the average traveler. As a cruiser, you've likely flown through its airport, stayed in its hotels, sampled its cuisine, and walked through its happening downtown -- but you still may not have a good handle on where the Olympics are taking place. Here's a tip sheet for your next trip to British Columbia.
It's worth noting that the Olympics have made a lasting contribution to travelers' future convenience by being the impetus behind the new Canada Line (www.translink.ca). Running between the airport and downtown's Waterfront Station (located just blocks from Canada Place), the rail line cuts your travel time to 26 minutes and your per-person cost to about $10. Until now, the main way of getting between the two was taxi, which can take a while if traffic is heavy. The taxi fare from the airport to downtown is about $28 to $32, so couples or families who aren't in a hurry may still want this option.
OK, So You're Standing at the Cruise Terminal . . .
Every cruiser who has gone through Vancouver knows where to find Canada Place, the city's big combo cruise terminal, convention center, and hotel-and-office complex. Jutting out into the waters of Burrard Inlet, the cruise terminal portion of the complex is itself shaped like a ship, with five teflon "sails" distinguishing its roof. Next door, the newer Convention Centre is topped by a 6-acre living roof with indigenous plants and grasses that capture usable rainwater, reduce building heat, and clean the downtown air by trapping dust and creating oxygen. It's that roof that you often see in the sentimental profiles of athletes that the TV network runs between events: The young athlete leans against a railing, looking soulfully out over the waters and pleasure-boat docks of Coal Harbour, while seaplanes glide in for a landing, letting out, oh, I dunno, maybe Bob Costas. The nearest Olympic venues to Canada Place are the similarly named Canada Hockey Place and BC Place, both located near the eastern foot of Robson Street. Robson itself is a main drag that's notable at its western end for Asian restaurants and tea houses, in its center for its shopping (it's supposedly the busiest shopping district in Canada), and toward its eastern end for the Vancouver Public Library with its Gladiator-meets-Tatlin's Tower design.
Canada Hockey Place is the main Olympic hockey venue. When it's not full of Olympics fever, it is home to the Vancouver Canucks and is also a big-time concert venue. Its real name is General Motors Place, which it will be called again once the Games are over. The domed BC Place stadium hosted the February 12 opening ceremony -- the first such Winter Olympics ceremony ever held indoors, by the way. It's also where the nightly victory ceremonies are held, and where the big closing ceremony will occur on February 28.
Now imagine yourself back at Canada Place, maybe at the far north observation end, where they have those nifty mounted binoculars for scanning the views. Point a pair of them to the northwest, and you'll be looking in the general direction of Cypress Mountain, where men's and women's freestyle skiing and snowboard events are taking place. Located just 19 miles from downtown, the mountain is a regular ski destination for Vancouverites, offering 51 downhill ski and snowboarding runs.
If your binoculars were very powerful (and perhaps had a nice satellite feed), you could look farther north to Whistler, where the alpine skiing, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, biathlon, Nordic combined, bobsled, luge, and skeleton competitions are taking place. But cruisers don't typically make the trek because Whistler is about 65 miles from Vancouver -- a long way to go for summer scenery.
You Decide to Go to Granville Island for the Food and Shopping . . .
While in Vancouver, a lot of cruise travelers find their way to Granville Island. A former industrial park, it began its transformation in the late 1970s and today, the 37-acre pseudo-island (a peninsula, actually) attracts Vancouverites and visitors alike. The old warehouses and factories are now full of restaurants, theaters, shops, museums, artists' workshops and galleries, two small breweries, and a gourmet/produce market.
Make your way through the market and exit to the plaza that overlooks False Creek. Buskers are playing, pigeons are panhandling, kids are running around, and the ferries are making their way back and forth between the Granville dock and the downtown peninsula. If you were to hop aboard one of them -- say, one bound east toward the Yaletown district, another former warehouse zone that's now très hip (and located a little south of touristy Gastown and Chinatown) -- you'd get a good view of Vancouver's Olympic Village, currently home to curlers, figure skaters, speed skaters, freestyle skiers, hockey players, and snowboarders. Built with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind, the Olympic Village will be transformed after the Games into a model residential community with its own community garden, three childcare centers, and buildings equipped with green roofs, rainwater harvesting systems, and electric car plug-ins.
You Read a Frommer's Guidebook and Decide You Just Have to Go to the UBC Museum of Anthropology . . .
Most of Vancouver's big attractions are within walking or easy bus distance from the downtown core, but, for better or worse, its very best museum is not. The University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology is instead located about 7 miles from downtown, at the very end of the city's West Side district, on a cliff overlooking the Strait of Georgia. Inside is a reputable collection of totem poles, canoes, blankets, and carvings by British Columbia's Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw, Gitxsan, Nisga'a, Haisla, Oweekeno, and other First Nations peoples. Outside, the museum's building exterior is a modernist interpretation of First Nations post-and-beam architecture. Its designer, Arthur Erickson, also created Robson Square, the modern public park complex across from the city's other major museum, the Vancouver Art Gallery.
So, you're out at UBC for the museum -- but that means you're also near UBC Thunderbird Arena, which is the secondary hockey venue for the Games and home to most women's hockey events.
Now Your Cruise Vacation Is Over, and You're Headed for the Airport . . .
Vancouver International Airport is located about 8 miles south of downtown, right across the Fraser River from the neighboring city of Richmond -- which, coincidentally, is where the Richmond Olympic Oval is located: right there across from the airport, on the river's middle arm. Built especially for the Games, this 8,000-seat venue is home to all of the speed-skating events.
But That Still Leaves Two Venues . . .
I feel confident in saying that the vast majority of cruise travelers sailing into or out of Vancouver never make it to far East Vancouver, and very few probably get down to Queen Elizabeth Park on the West Side. That means you'll never be near Pacific Coliseum, where the Olympic figure skating and short-track speed skating events are taking place, or the Vancouver Olympic Centre, a new 6,000-seat venue that's host to all Olympic curling matches. From a tourist perspective, you won't be missing too much in East Vancouver, though travelers who appreciate gardens may want to head to flower-filled Queen Elizabeth Park and the on-site Bloedel Floral Conservatory, or the nearby VanDusen Botanical Gardens.
And Don't Forget About the Paralympic Games
The Paralympic Games (www.vancouver2010.com/paralympic-games/), the world's top competition for athletes with disabilities, began in England in 1948, when Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition for World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries. The Games went international four years later, and in 1960, an Olympics-style event was held for the first time, in Rome. Since 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same cities as the Olympics, using many of the same venues. This year, the Games will be held from March 12-21 and will include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, ice sledge hockey (aka sled hockey), and wheelchair curling events. Vancouver venues will include BC Place (opening ceremony), UBC Thunderbird Arena (ice sledge hockey), and the Vancouver Olympic Centre (which will become the Vancouver Paralympic Centre, for wheelchair curling). In Whistler, Paralympians will compete in biathlon, and cross-country ski events. The Paralympics' closing ceremony will take place at Whistler's Celebration Plaza.