You yawned at the royal wedding in April. You were happy to miss the riots in August. But you're determined to be a part of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
This means either making a 260-foot discus throw, pronto, or studying up fast on the ticket, transport and hotel situation. The Games are July 27 to Aug. 12. The Paralympic Games follow, Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.
Lay of the land: The hub of the action is Stratford City, about eight miles northeast of Big Ben and central London (and not to be confused with the Shakespearean tourist town of Stratford-Upon-Avon). When I visited in February, construction was well along, and the area was crawling with heavy equipment. By the end of July, officials said construction had been completed on all six major venues in the new 500-acre Olympic Park: an 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, an aquatics center, a velodrome, a handball arena, a basketball arena and a broadcast center. The park's Athletes' Village will house about 17,000 competitors and officials.
Many of the 302 events (in 34 venues) will take place at familiar London-area landmarks: soccer at Wembley Stadium, tennis at Wimbledon, archery at Lord's Cricket Ground, road cycling in Regent's Park and latter-round basketball at North Greenwich Arena, a.k.a. the O2 Arena, a.k.a. the Dome. For details on just about every aspect of the Games go to http://www.london2012.com.
During the Games, officials say they expect as many as 200,000 visitors a day within Olympic Park. Between events, many will head next door to the vast Westfield Stratford City mall, which opened Sept. 13 with 1.9-million square feet of retail space, a casino, bowling, a 17-screen cinema and two hotels. Overall, tourism officials say Britain, which had about 30 million international visitors in 2010, is likely to draw an extra 900,000 or so in 2012 because of the Olympics.
Getting there: It's not just the Olympics that make this a tough airfare; it's the usual summer jump in prices. A Nov. 23 search for LAX-London (any airport) on the British Airways website showed the lowest available round-trip fare (taxes included) at $1,418 for a June 26 flight (returning a week later); $1,478 for a July 26 flight; and $1,107 for an Aug. 26 flight. On the Virgin Atlantic Airways site, the numbers were $1,438 for June 26; $1,584 for July 26; and $1,057 for Aug. 26.
Getting in: There are said to be 8.8 million Olympics tickets and 2 million more for the Paralympics, but many events are sold out. (Tickets went on sale early this year.) Americans might get a chance at tickets not yet sold, but no guarantees. If so, officials say it would probably come in the next few weeks or in early 2012. Meanwhile, there is a way to get tickets, especially if your pockets are deep.
The name to know is CoSport. The U.S. Olympic Committee has given the company exclusive rights to sell tickets and ticket packages by phone and Internet in the U.S. The CoSport website, http://www.cosport.com, will have up-to-date info on additional ticket releases, and consumers can sign up to receive updates. CoSport's phone: (877) 457-4647.
Though it doesn't have individual tickets, CoSport is selling multiple-event packages, sometimes including hotel stays, at prices that may terrify Olympic amateurs. These sales, which began in early 2011, will end two months before the Games or when the supply is exhausted, whichever comes first. CoSport's offerings in mid-November included:
— An Aug. 9-10 package of tickets to the men's beach volleyball finals and medal ceremony, along with men's and women's taekwondo preliminaries and the women's hockey finals and medal ceremony. Price: $1,834 a person. (That includes access to CoSport's hospitality area but excludes lodging, meals, airfare and ground transport.)
— An Aug. 11-12 package of tickets to the closing ceremony; the women's basketball gold-medal game and medal ceremony; and the men's bronze-medal volleyball game. Price: $7,162 a person. (That includes hospitality area access but excludes lodging, meals, airfare and ground transport.)
Among the packages that include lodging:
— A July 26-30 stay with breakfasts at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel, with tickets to archery, gymnastics and equestrian events and two men's preliminary basketball games. Price: $13,588 for two people, $10,563 for one. (Includes access to CoSport's hospitality area but excludes airfare, ground transport and most meals.)
— An Aug. 3-5 stay with breakfasts at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, with tickets to the men's and women's trampoline finals and medal ceremonies. Price: $9,212 for two people, $6,488 for one. (Includes access to CoSport's hospitality area but excludes airfare, ground transport and most meals.)
If CoSport makes more individual event tickets available to Americans in the weeks or months ahead, officials said they would stick with previously set prices. A chart on CoSport's website shows that tickets begin at $44 (badminton preliminaries, handball preliminaries, etc.), with most less than $200. The best seats went for as much as $890 each for gymnastics finals and medal ceremonies on Aug. 5 and up to $1,389 for a series of big-ticket athletics (track and field) finals and ceremonies on Aug. 11. Seats for the July 27 opening ceremonies fetched $327 to $3,727. (For sport-by-sport schedule details, go to http://www.tickets.london2012.com/schedule.html.)
Flexibility is crucial to landing tickets, said Mark Lewis, chief executive of CoSport's parent company, Jet Set Sports, in an October phone interview. "Maybe you've never seen a team handball match or never seen a weightlifting competition," he said. "But to go do that during the Olympics — those are awesome things to see."
Authorities are offering Paralympics tickets (those not sold during the initial "request phase") on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Monday, CoSport said, continuing through Feb. 6 or until they sell out. Those prices start at about $15.50 an event.
One more thing: To buy Olympics tickets, you're required to use a Visa card (Visa is a major sponsor).
Getting a room: As often happens with the Olympics, organizers are holding back most of greater London's 140,000 hotel rooms, residence halls and student dorms while they arrange housing for international dignitaries and such. Once those lodgings are sorted out, hotels are expected to release unclaimed rooms on Jan. 24. (Officials haven't said how many rooms they expect to release, but many will probably be grabbed up by tour operators.)
Still, there are London hotels that can be booked now. For the options, and the daunting prices, go to http://www.visitlondon.com/accommodation-during-the-games.
In mid-November, a check of the high-demand dates July 27-Aug. 2 yielded scores of choices, many of them far from central London or Olympic Park. Listings included the five-star Sofitel London Heathrow at about $484 a night; the three-star Ambassadors Hotel (near Earls Court Exhibition Center) at about $470 a night; and the two-star Boka Hotel (also near Earls Court) at about $400 a night.
Because many Olympic venues are far from Olympic Park or central London, a hotel an hour's train ride outside the city might make sense. Also, your odds of finding a place increase if you consider some of the 30,000 or more apartments, hostel rooms and home-stay options. (More info: http://www.visitlondon.com/accommodation-during-the-games/.)
Getting around: The idea is that nobody should drive to these Games. Toward that end, an expansion of London's already-extensive rail transit system includes high-speed trains that race from St. Pancras station in central London to the Stratford International station (next to Olympic Park) in as little as seven minutes. Tickets to most events come with a Games Travelcard good for free day-of-event travel on most public trains and buses in the city. There are three "gateway" rail stations neighboring Olympic Park: Stratford International, Stratford Regional and West Ham.
Getting a fair price: Prices tend to rise, sometimes dramatically, during the Olympics. But dozens of London tourist attractions have signed a "visitor charter" pledging to "maintain normal prices" during the Games. Among the signers: the London Eye, the Tower of London, the London Walks tour company and Eurostar rail service.