VANCOUVER, Canada — With summer in high gear, suitcases are packed and millions of travelers are making final preparations to head north to Vancouver and Expo 86.
The world's fair here is playing to a big box office, with daily admissions expected to hit 140,000-plus for the school vacation period through Labor Day--just when you and your brood could be planning to be there, along with other Californians visiting the 54-nation fete that runs through Oct. 13.
Crowds are a big part of the scenery at Expo's main attractions, but with a bit of planning and selection in your daily itinerary, your family will save considerable time, stress and money.
One major forewarning, though: You won't be able to see it all in three days, as Expo's advance publicity suggested you could. To take in all the attractions demands at least a week, especially with children in hand.
Three Days at a Time
Considering the average human's physical and intellectual exhaustion levels, three days is probably enough at one stretch. Remember, though, that the three-day ticket most visitors buy does not have to be used on consecutive days.
If you can manage a second three-day session, with time off between to tour Vancouver or nearby Victoria, so much the better. But if you're locked into a shorter time frame, there are many advisories you might heed.
First, getting from a hotel to Expo: Although civic officials urge visitors to take city buses or SkyTrain rapid transit to the fair, driving and parking is surprisingly easy. There is ample parking, some at only $5 all day, within a 5- or 10-minute walk from the site, so driving can be a happier alternative for a family, especially as Expo runs a low-cost bus shuttle from designated lots. Two AM radio stations, frequencies 530 and 1600, broadcast traffic and parking reports from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Some buses run only half-hourly and crowds in the SkyTrain stations can be huge in the late-evening outward rush. Public transport costs about U.S. $1.15 for an adult one-way ticket in peak hours (85 cents off-peak), 40 cents for children at any time.
(All prices here are in U.S. equivalents, calculated at U.S. 75 cents to the Canadian dollar.)
Second, there's no need to rise early, as the full site doesn't open until 9:45 a.m. and the pavilions until 10. The Plaza of Nations entertainment area and three cabarets stay open until 1 a.m.; the pavilions close at 10 p.m.
Now, armed with Expo's "Official Souvenir Guide" ($3.75), let's head for the pavilions, where some hard choices must be made. The 136-page guide is an indispensable aid in making selections, plotting daily routes and providing myriad information on the city, the fair and its many features and services for kids.
Expo has 80 national, provincial, state and corporate pavilions, each treating the fair's transportation-communication theme of "World in Motion--World in Touch" in its own way. Many are brilliant entertainment and educational experiences.
Among the must-see pavilions are those of Canada, Czechoslovakia, Japan, British Columbia, Ontario, Telecom Canada, Expo Centre, Great Hall of Ramses II, Roundhouse, General Motors, Canadian Pacific and the Pavilion of Promise.
Conversely, others are little more than trade-show kiosks, dispensing tourism and investment-seeking hype (Eastern Caribbean, South Pacific), high-tech overkill (France, Norway, Switzerland), or dry recitations of socio-scientific progress (Saudi Arabia, United Nations, European Community).
Most fall into a varied middle ground, with a pavilion's appeal depending on a visitor's own taste. They might be classified as "Low-Key Good Show" (Italy, Indonesia, Pakistan, Washington state); "Refreshingly Different" (Australia, Hong Kong, Saskatchewan), or "Nice Try, but . . . " (West Germany, Quebec, Air Canada).
The United States, Soviet Union and China pavilions also qualify under "Must See," but only because they are the superpowers. Generally, their presentations are disappointing.
U.S.A.: A somber, sparse pavilion whose theme is "Why Explore?" It features models of a space capsule, rocket and space station interior, and a theater-shaking film of a missile launch, among a few other super-serious, all-aerospace exhibits. At the end of a too-brief walk-through, you might ask: "Is that all there is?"
Soviet Union: The Soviets have crammed their pavilion with a teeming collection of scientific gear and even a bit of whimsy. Much of it is fascinating, but it's lost in this attic full of high-tech paraphernalia.
China: For the less fanatic about aerospace, the Chinese hall is perhaps the best of the Big Three. It mixes technology with exploration, a chunk of the Great Wall and exquisite art and crafts for a more eclectic exhibit. Still, it's nothing special.