Thursday, April 14, 2011

Traveling with kids: Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport (YVR), is my home airport. I've been through this place with and without kids many, many times, and I have to say: it's a nice-looking place. It's bright and airy and spacious, with lots of light, many nice stores and restaurants, and lots of beautiful Native Canadian sculptures and carvings and totem-poles on display.

Layout of the airport
Vancouver international has a domestic terminal and another terminal for US and international departures. The terminal buildings are connected and its quite easy to find your way through the airport if you want to walk. There's also a free shuttle bus that runs between the domestic and international terminal.

Facilities & services
It's easy to find bathrooms, including bathrooms with change tables, in every part of Vancouver International Airport. The bathrooms are usually very clean and roomy.

There are a couple of play areas for children, one located near gate 5 in the domestic terminal, and near gate 43 in the international terminal. Most of the airport also features big, accessible windows that make it easy for kids who like to just watch the airplanes do just that.

You can also find a spa, luggage repair and many other types of services at the airport. There's also a medical clinic and a drugstore (Pharmasave) outside security in the domestic terminal.

There are plenty of restaurants at the airport, both inside security and outside, some of my family's favorites are:
  • White Spot, located before security in the domestic terminal and a good choice for families: my kids love their food.
  • Hanami, a really good Japanese restaurant before security in the international terminal.
  • Milestones, another nice family place inside security in the international terminal.
There is also a food court before security in the international terminal, plenty of coffee shops and fast food places, and a fine dining restaurant called Globe @ YVR. I've never been to Globe, but it is supposed to be very nice.

Lots of places at the airport also sell specially packaged food, called Food on the Fly, for you to bring with you on your flight. If there is no free food service on your flight, this might be a better and cheaper option.

Riding the Skytrain's Canada Line from the airport to downtown Vancouver.
Getting to Vancouver
If you want to head into Vancouver, either because that's your destination, or to pass the time if you've got a really long wait between flights, there are a few options. You can take a cab or a bus, but the easiest option since 2010 is the Skytrain. It leaves from a station right at the airport and takes about 25 minutes to go from the airport to the end-station downtown.

My kids love riding the Skytrain, and it's a pretty cheap and convenient way to travel. If you've got a lot of luggage, it is more of a challenge for sure, and in that case a cab might be a better (though more expensive) option.  

One money-saving tip: don't buy your ticket for the Skytrain from the machines at the station. Instead, buy a pre-paid fare, such as a day pass or 2 zone faresaver ticket, from 7 Eleven or Pharmasave at the airport. It will save you about $5 on the fare!

At the Public Observation Area.

Watch the airplanes
Located between the domestic and international terminal, very close to the Skytrain station, is the Public Observation Area. Here you can watch airplanes take off and land, and all the other activity on the tarmac.

If your kids like airplane watching, it's a great place to visit and there are also various interactive airport exhibits there. I've taken my kids to the airport several times just so they can a) ride the Skytrain, and b) watch the airplanes.

If you need to spend the night at the airport, there is the Fairmont Vancouver Airport located right in the airport itself. There are also several (cheaper) hotel-alternatives located in nearby Richmond.

Airport map
There's a good map of the Vancouver International airport and its facilities and services available here.

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