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How is Vancouver's big Expo shaping up? How to plan a visit?

Expo 86, the world's fair opening May 2 in Vancouver, B.C., appears headed for success. Solid funding, on-time construction, and some 80 exhibitors promise a fair of style and substance.

The beauty of the host city ensures an uncommonly handsome setting, while vacation adventures beyond Vancouver beckon visitors all the way to the Rockies. In all, the fair offers a good reason to consider a Northwest vacation this year. More than 8.2 million advance tickets had been sold by mid-January, and officials except some 8 million people to make a total of 15 million visits to the fair. But peak attendance of 100,000 or more a day will produce monumental traffic jams and put further pressure on already scarce parking in downtown Vancouver, and will probably cause delays at some border crossings.

If you don't plan ahead, finding good accommodations may also present a formidable challenge. Least crowded times will likely be before late June and after Labor Day (the fair closes October 13). Here is an early-planning guide. In a later issue of Sunset, we'll review the exhibits and attractions.

How is Expo shaping up?

Some 90 percent of the fair's major construction is complete or well underway. Last summer, one section of the fairgrounds was opened to give visitors a foretaste of 1986. That sampler drew 660,000 visitors, twice as many as predicted; Sunset editors found it colorful, lively, and fun.

The two Expo sites (see map) are both on the water and accessible on foot from downtown, by boat, or by SkyTrain, the city's new lightrail system.

The major site, stretching 2.7 miles end to end, curves around the north and east shores of False Creek. Much smaller canada Place, less than a mile away, fronts Burrard Inlet and incorporates a new cruise ship dock, major hotel, parking garage, and the Canadian pavilion. Together, the two sites total 173 acres--more than twice as much territory as the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

More than 80 pavilions, plazas, theaters

Officially titled "World in Motion, World in Touch," Expo 76 has twin themes of transportation and communications.

Nearly 50 nations have pledged to participate (compared to 10 st Spokane's fair in 1974, 17 at New Orleans in 1984). About a dozen states, provinces, and territories will also have pavilions, together with 6 corporations and a handful of special exhibitors--in all, about 80 pavilions, plazas, and theaters.

Russia, China, and the U.S.A. will be the headliners, the first time all three have gathered at a North American world's fair. Most major Western European countries are also coming, along with Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and some South American countries.

Exhibit specifics are usually kept somewhat secret. But Russia has announced it will show off its Space Lab, France will present its people-mover, Japan its magnetic levitation train, and Britain the world's fastest car.

Entertainment? More than

14,000 performances

You'll also want to allow time to see special exhibits like "The Great Hall of Ramses II" (treasures from the tomb of an Egyptian pharoah) and such major entertainment events as Russia's Kirov Ballet, Britain's Royal Ballet, and Indonesian folk dancers. For ticket information, call (604) 660-3976.

Headliner entertainers--names not yet released--are also expected. Night spots, collectively called Expo After Hours, will cluster around the B.C. Pavilion. They'll present a steady menu of music, dance, and comedy--more than 14,000 performances in all.

In fact, if you arrive intending to spend two or three days at the fair, you might easily find you need twice that to enjoy the variety of pavilions, exhibits, and entertainment.

Discount tickets still available

Through May 1, you can still buy discount tickets. A three-day nontransferable pass (good any three days, not necessarily consecutive) cost $29.95 for adults (U.S. funds), $14.95 for ages 6 through 12 and seniors. From May 2 through the fair, three-day tickets are $34.95 and $17.50. Tickets cover entry, transport at the fair, most entertainment.

One-day passes are $15;5 and under free. For ticket information, write to Box 24-1986, Seattle 98124, or call (604) 660-3976. To buy tickets, mail checks to Expo 86, Box 24085, Seattle 98124.

Exchange rates still favor Americans, yielding about $1.35 Canadian for every U.S. dollar. But Vancouver prices tend to be higher than in the U.S., and for scarce commodities (like hotel rooms and meals at top-rated restaurants) they could rise as high as demand allows.

Alternatives to expensive hotels

Officials aren't sure how many of the 18,000 rooms and compsites in and around Vancouver have already been reserved. About half is a good estimate.

Downtown hotel rooms are already hard to find. Up to 40 percent were booked by tour operators. Unsold rooms will become available beginning this month--but don't count on finding space this way.

And they're expensive. Pre-Expo, double rooms in five-star hotles like The Mandarin and new Pan Pacific cost $150 (U.S.) and up. Most first-class hotels are charging $90 to $160; less exensive hotels, $75 and up. Expect to pay 10 to 15 percent more during the fair.

Anothe roption is to rent a room in a resident's home. The city's Host the World program hopes to accommodate 20,000 people a day. Cost is $25 a night for one, $35 for two, plus $10 per extra adult, $5 each child, and a $5 booking fee. You reserve and pay through ResWest, which will mail you confirmation, the home's address, and directions. ResWest can also book hotels, motels, and campsites throughout southwestern B.C. Write to ResWest, Box 1138, Station A. Vancouver V6C iT1, or call (604) 662-3300. (Or book yourself using the B.C. Accommodation's Guide; see lower right.)

Another possibility: rent a residence room at the University of British Columbia (about $25 a night, double) or another college in the city; check with ResWest. For economy, the best bet may be motels in suburban communities like North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Richmond, all less than 30 minutes' drive from the city center at low-traffic times.

Many motels along Kingsway (Provincial highways 99A and 1A southwest of downtown) ask less than $50 U.S. for a double. And you can take the light rail along this route to the fairgrounds, no more than a 27-minute ride away.

To the east, highways 7 (Lougheed Highway) and 7A (Hastings Street, Barnet Highway) also offer moderately priced motels (about $50 average). Towns like Delta, Surrey, and White Rock also have affordable accommodations and are planning to provide shuttles to the fair.

The Vancouver regional transit system syas it will increase express bus service from all these suburbs during the fair. Round-trip fare will be about $4 U.S.

Campers should expect to pay $10 to $20 U.S. in commercial campgrounds, less in provincial parks. Another choice: a Surrey-based group will be offering up to 3,000 home RV sites for $15 a night U.s. Write to Pacific RV Park and Share Corp., Box 1187, Station A, Surrey V3S 4P6, or call (800) 663-4173.

Finally, consider staying at a resort well outside the city (Whistler, Harrison Hot Springs, the new Semiahmoo resort just south of the border near Blaine) and taking resort transport to the fair.

Driving to Expo: lots of company

Most fair visitors will come from the West Coast, and most of those will drive. Through the summer, Interstate 5 will become a long caravan of Vancouver-bound campers and family station wagons, perhaps half a million of them.

The Expo trip offers a good opportunity for interesting stops along the way: to explore Eugene's burgeoning bikeways, see Portland's innovative architecture, visit Seattle's changing waterfront, cruise the San Juan Islands from the Bellingham Maritime Heritage Center. Many B.C. towns also plan tie-in events; for example, Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, is promoting sailing cruises to the fair.

For lists of Expo-year events, write to state and provincial tourism departments in Idaho (Statehouse, Boise 83720), Oregon (595 Cottage St. N.E., Salem 97310), Washington (101 G.A. Bldg., Olympia 98504), and British Columbia (Parliament Buildings, Victoria V8W 1X4).

Crossing the border: time it carefully

The major crossing is on I-5 at Blaine. Others are at Pacific Highway (1 mile east of Blaine), near Lynden (15 miles farther east on State 539), and Sumas (another 15 miles east on State 9); the last two crossings lead to the Trans-Canada Highway. Thirteen crossings in all are sprinkled along the B.C. border.

Even without Expo, it's not uncommon for weekend line-ups at Blaine to extend for miles, with waits of up to half an hour. To handle this summer's onslaught, both U.S. and Canadian customs have pledged to add manpower.

Other measures are being considered, including radio broadcast alerting drivers to less congested crossings. But your best help may simply be to time your crossing wisely. Major border crossings will be open 24 hours a day. Officials expect that northbound traffic will be least busy weekdays at midday. Coming back, evenings may well be very busy.

You may be asked for proof of citizenship (birth certificate or voter registration) or residence (driver's license). Single parents traveling with children could be asked for youngster's identification and a permission note from the other parent. Those under 18 traveling alone might be asked to show a parent's or guardian's written permission.

Cats and dogs need rabies certificates. No handguns can be brought into Canada.

Package tours and other alternatives

Fast boat service (jetfoil or catamaran) between Seattle and Vancouver is possible by fair time.

Cruise ship operators offer several West Coast and Alaska-bound outings that include four or five days in Vancouver.

More than two dozen Northwest tour operators are advertising coach, air, and boat tours (most begin in Seattle) that combine an Expo visit with prebooked lodging and local transportation. Other tour operators in California, Nevada, and elsewhere are offering similar packages.

Air service to Vancouver's relatively small airport has been limited, but major carriers plan to increase capacity or number of flights for Expo. From Seattle, Pacific Western, San Juan Air, and United fly to Vancouver, and more may join them; Lake Union air Service will begin daily seaplane service to Vancouver harbor. PSA now flies from California cities to Bellingham, near the Canadian border. In July, Cathay Pacific will begin offering five 747 flights a week from San Francisco to Vancouver.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1986
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