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Vancouver Snapshot: Last-minute travelers' sprint is a quadrennial Olympic event

A clock at the Vancouver Art Gallery counts down to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics.
A clock at the Vancouver Art Gallery counts down to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. (Remy Scalza For The Washington Post)

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By Remy Scalza
Sunday, February 7, 2010

So between slogging your way through the Great Recession and following the inaugural season of "Jersey Shore," you haven't had much time to think about the Olympic Winter Games starting in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday. But now, all of a sudden, those Morgan Freeman commercials for Visa -- the ones with the slow-mo shots of Olympic glories past -- have you in the spirit. You want in, front-row center, as the next generation of Apolo Ohnos is crowned.

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Is it too late? Maybe not. Although responsible Olympics fans finalized travel plans months if not years ago, it turns out that good things come to those who procrastinate. Flights, beds and tickets are still available, in some cases at rates cheaper than before. Just remember that the Olympics, like the Super Bowl and U2 concerts, is one of those mega-events where "cheap" and "affordable" are relative terms.

Flights. Getting here should be the easy part. The cheapest option is to fly into Seattle. As of press time, Southwest was offering one-stop flights from Baltimore to Seattle with fares starting at $318 round-trip if you fly in on Saturday, Feb. 13, and leave on Sunday, Feb. 28. Continental and Delta had one-stop round-trip flights from Baltimore for around $280. Catch the Quick Shuttle at the Seattle airport for the five-hour bus ride to Vancouver ($94 round-trip).

Lodging. The challenges start with finding a place to stay. Hotel rooms are either flatly unavailable, offered at astronomical prices or located hours from downtown Vancouver. But those willing to explore a less conventional option will be rewarded.

Months ago, eager to cash in on a perceived Olympics accommodations shortage, Vancouver homeowners signed up en masse to list their homes and apartments on the Internet. With just days left before the Games, thousands of these vacation rentals are still available. Furnished one-bedroom apartments just blocks from major venues list for about $350 a night and up, but the glut of offerings suggests that prices are highly negotiable. To avoid Craigslist scams and other fiascos, consult the accommodations section of the official Olympics-planning site, http://www.2010destinationplanner.com, for a list of sanctioned rental agencies.

Even more off the beaten path: How about bunking in an RV? To accommodate camper enthusiasts, a temporary urban RV park is up and running only minutes from Olympic sites. Oceanfront parking spaces, with a great view of the city skyline, go for a mere $90 a night. Even factoring in the cost of an RV rental, this is probably the best deal in town. See http://www.vancouver2010rv.com for details.

Finally, last-minute cancellations mean that major downtown hotels in Vancouver do have fleeting vacancies, most of which never get listed on the Internet. Persistent calls to reception just might turn up a coveted room.

Tickets. The good news first: If you're a huge fan of women's curling, there are still a few tickets available for early-round action. But pretty much every high-profile event -- from figure skating to ski jumping to snowboarding -- is sold out. This doesn't mean, however, that your dreams of seeing Shaun White, a.k.a. the Flying Tomato, pull off the first Double McTwist 1260 in Olympics snowboard history have to go unfulfilled. Caving to the reality that tickets will be scalped, Vancouver's Olympic committee has set up a special fan-to-fan marketplace for ticket resales. Buyers who log on to http://www.vancouver2010.com will find plenty of passes to just about every event, even the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and can rest assured that all the tickets being sold are legit.

Just don't expect face-value prices. As of this writing, the cheapest ticket on the fan-to-fan marketplace for the men's gold medal hockey game, a nose-bleeder in the upper level, is going for $1,414, a cool 428 percent markup over the original $330 price. Nonetheless, there are still some relative steals out there: $188 will get you a pass to see both the men's and the women's individual biathlon, the thrilling contest that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. And for $256, you can even grab a decent seat for the men's ice hockey quarterfinals.

But deals are going fast. So log on, whip out your Visa -- the only card accepted -- and start living your Olympic dream.

Scalza is a freelance writer based in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.


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