What you could do if you miss the last ferry back to Victoria

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They travelled by ferry and public transit from Victoria to Vancouver to watch World Cup soccer last summer.

Times Colonist sports editor Brian Drewry and a friend had planned to return home the same day, going to the Canada Line’s Bridgeport Station where they would catch the last bus to Tsawwassen ferry terminal to catch the last ferry to Victoria. They missed that bus. They searched for a hotel room. But all nearby hotels were full.

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So they decided to spend the night at River Rock Casino, which is connected to Bridgeport Station and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They had dinner at a Denny’s and then settled in at the casino. They went for strolls on the boardwalk, spent a few dollars at slot machines. The night went by in an entertaining way for a while. But by 2 a.m., time was definitely dragging. It was still another four hours until the first bus to the ferry terminal. They persevered and got back home on the 7 a.m. ferry.

I recalled their adventure when, on a whim, during a Vancouver visit last month, I bought a last-minute ticket to an 8 p.m. Vancouver Symphony concert instead of returning to Victoria. The on-the-fly plan was to do what Brian did.

I am not recommending this, for many reasons. It’s not a productive use of time. It’s a really bad thing to do if you have a gambling addiction. Wandering around sleep-deprived is not safe. But, it’s an option, even if you're not interested in gambling; it's better than shivering on a park bench, or walking the streets in the dark, in the rain. You can buy food, use the washrooms, and there's stuff to see and do. Here’s how my Saturday into Sunday hours unfolded at the River Rock.

After the concert, I explored downtown a bit and then hopped on a train to Bridgeport, arriving at the casino shortly after midnight. To get my bearings, I toured public areas of the complex, which has the biggest casino in B.C. There’s an attached hotel, restaurants, bar, live-shows theatre, convenience store and two curving escalators. The casino is packed with video slot machines. That’s the dominating feature — the glow, the heat and the noise from those machines.

I started my visit with a bowl of wonton noodle soup for $10 from one of the three food-court outlets in the casino. One sells Chinese dishes, another serves pizza, sandwiches, salads and sushi, and a third specializes in White Spot burgers. The Chinese and burger places never close.

After the soup, I checked out the slot machines. I’ve never used one, and it wasn’t obvious how they run. There were no instructions, apart from a pamphlet that I found at a kiosk; it warned that playing more at a particular machine did not increase your chances of winning, and that the machines should be regarded as entertainment, not a way to make money. I wasn’t interested enough to explore further, so I still don’t know how the machines work.

I wandered the casino floor and watched people gamble. I went outside several times and strolled the boardwalk along the Fraser River. I watched workers install decorations for Chinese New Year. I searched for a place to recharge my iPhone, and after much hunting, spotted an outlet in the lobby near a chair. I pulled the chair closer to the outlet, plugged in and read online newspapers. Across the lobby, another person appeared to be doing the same thing.

Time slowed considerably after 2 a.m. The casino was still bustling, but was starting to empty. I went outside again, with a freshly recharged iPhone, sat in a smoking area, cruised websites, and typed notes for this blog. I strolled the boardwalk again.

I’m guessing that the time would have gone by much faster if I had gambled. But that would have cost money. And I don’t know much about gambling.

I didn't talk to strangers, apart from the security guards at the doorways checking on age, because the atmosphere didn't encourage chatting. The people at the slot machines gave every impression that they did not want to be disturbed. 

Eventually, 4:30 a.m. came around, and I decided to have another meal. Probably because I was getting punchy from lack of sleep, I found myself ordering the most expensive combo, a double burger with fries and cola.

I strolled outside yet again to walk off the heavy meal. Finally, it was time to head for the bus stop, to catch the 6 a.m. bus to Tsawwassen terminal. A dozen people boarded. I didn’t spot anyone who had been at the casino. No one else had whiled away the night at the River Rock to wait for the ferry bus. When I got home, I went to bed and slept until the late afternoon.

I probably won’t do this again.

[Some readers have suggested that if you miss the last ferry to Victoria, which leaves at 9 p.m., you could catch the 10:45 p.m. to Nanaimo's Duke Point and drive back to Victoria from there. It runs daily, except for Saturdays in the off-season. Certainly an option if you have a car, but not a pleasant one if you're relying on public transit.]

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