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    Above it all in Vancouver

    With 4-D thrills, bridges through the forest and its own version of the Space Needle, Vancouver is taking tourism to new heights.
    The Vancouver Lookout offers a quick, orienting look at the growth and sprawl of the Vancouver metro area.

    The Vancouver Lookout offers a quick, orienting look at the growth and sprawl of the Vancouver metro area. Credit: Knute Berger

    In the amusement park business, they talk about the "squeal factor:" Do a park's attractions provide enough thrills? This seems to be a trend in modern tourism as new technologies amp up travel experiences.

    The trend is on full display in Vancouver, B.C. I was up there recently on a travel assignment which included being put up by Tourism Vancouver and set loose with a pass to check out some of the sights. What struck me was how many attractions involved getting high — without B.C. bud. 

    Gondola rides (like Grouse Mountain) and float plane tours are common, but I tried a few in-town experiences that offered different ways of seeing the city and its environs from on high while remaining firmly attached to the ground. (Still, acrophobes are advised to head to Stanley Park.)

    First, we went down to Canada Place on Burrard Inlet, which is the kind of tourism nexus Seattle would like to have on its own waterfront. It's right downtown, cruise ships can pull in and the pier is full of attractions, including the latest, Fly Over Canada, a 4-D virtual flying experience.

    Fly Over Canada is an IMAX film in a domed theater with images surrounding you. But the 4th dimension comes into play as you are strapped into seats that move giving the impression that you’re sitting in a comfortable armchair while flying over Canada's most spectacular scenery. You bank, you soar, you dive. The mist and various scents that waft over you add a touch of realism. You even feel the chill of the icebergs and snow below. 

    This is the kind of audio-visual sensation common in world's fair pavilions where visitors can feel rained on or creeped out by the slithery feel of reptiles passing under their seats, depending on the show's ambitions. They come in 3-D and 4-D; some even claim 5-D or 6-D, which means absolutely nothing in the Newtonian universe. It's just the nature of carnival ride promoters the world over making extraordinary claims.

    The purpose is to create an illusion, to trick your brain with spectacular graphics and other sensations that heighten the effect. Fly Over Canada's helicopters traversed the continent from east to west in order to simulate this virtual ride that is more exciting than most aircraft trips you've ever had. You soar above the wheat harvesters and remote mountain skiers, the spectacular scenery from sea to shining sea.

    It's beautiful, but also a bit hollow, like living inside an expensive travel brochure. Still, it has major squeal appeal and I  recommend it to friends and family as a satisfying, half-hour, entirely artificial, all-weather thrill.

    After Fly Over, we hopped a bus and headed over the Lion's Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. We wanted to see the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a wobbly wonder that spans the Capilano River,  and which King County residents might mistake for the Green River Gorge. It's a popular tourist site. The day we were there it was packed with people from all over the world.

    They had come to walk across the swaying bridge, which brings to mind scenes from an Indiana Jones movie. When lots of people are on the span, it requires a certain amount of effort to keep your feet — the elderly can be challenged to stay upright. But it's all quite safe.

    The folks that run the attraction were not satisfied with a mere bridge, cafe and tourist shops, however. A few years ago, they added a Treewalk. Once you cross the suspension bridge, you can follow a trail that takes you into the canopy of a mature Northwest forest. You wander from tree to tree on suspended walkways and rest in mid-air on platforms that give you that Swiss Family Robinson feel. It's all done without spikes or nails, so no harm to the trees.

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    Posted Wed, Jul 30, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Seeing the world is killing the world.


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