Back in 2002, I was fortunate enough to attend the Olympics hosted by Salt Lake City. I planned my trip for over a year and still barely snagged a room. If you ever get the chance to go, here are some tips.
Where to stay
Start your planning with this step because accommodations are the hardest thing to book...more so than tickets. I booked an awesome bed & breakfast in Salt Lake, which was a great alternative to the over-priced hotels, and included a fantastic breakfast. (Be prepared for some seriously inflated pricing.) Plus, the owners were incredibily helpful with navigating the city and were up-to-date about transportation arrangements for events held out of town in the mountains.
Even though I booked just over a year in advance, I snagged one of the last rooms. All of the hotels were full, which was ironic since I had been told they wouldn't permit Olympic reservations until one year in advance.
For the 2002 Olympics, tickets went on sale a year in advance. Find out the time and date that tickets are available way in advance and plan to be glued to your computer for an hour so you can finalize your tickets immediately. They go very, very fast.
Tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies were ridiculously expensive...like $800, so I skipped those and watch them on TV. Because of its popularity, figure skating is also $$$$ and most seats are allocated to big corporate packets that are at least a couple thousand dollars. I remember the only seats available had partial view obstructions, so I passed on those tickets too.
Most of the events that involve a mountain (skiing, luge, snowboarding, etc.) are outside of the city center and up to two hours away. When you have the option to purchase transportation for those events...do it. Prices are reasonable and you'll avoid navigating the traffic. But, be aware that the buses depart as early as three hours before event start times and some of the skiing events start at 8 a.m. That makes for an EARLY morning.
When I went, it was shortly after 9/11, so you weren't permitted to bring any food or drink with you to events. They relaxed those rules mid-way through the Games since you're basically stranded on the mountain and dependent on the concession stands, which lead to some cases of altitude sickness (myself included, but I recovered pretty quickly).
I went to ski jumping, the luge, snowboarding (halfpipe) and speedskating events. I liked ski jumping because as an observer, I had a full view of the event, unlike some of the long ski courses or the luge. For the luge, you could practically hang your head over the side to admire the lightning-fast blur as it passed, which was amazing, but you could only see a fraction of the course. I liked the halfpipe for the same reason because you had a full view of the event.
Speedskating was incredible! I got to watch Apolo Anton Ohno compete in his first Olympic Games. My favorite event is the 5,000m relay because when team members "tap in," they actually skate in front of the current competitor and get a big push, which constitutes the transfer. It's really fun to watch. (Watch the event live at the Vancouver Olympics Friday night on NBC.)
There are live performances by well-known bands every night, but those tickets are usually only available for people who purchase the high-priced corporate packages. I bought tickets to Barenaked Ladies by visiting one of the ticket trading booths. It was such a fun concert!
Before I left for the Games, a colleague was kind enough to tell me about the pin trading tradition and gave me a few pins to get started. At Olympic village, you can trade or buy pins, and it's a really fun way to meet and interact with people from other countries. I wore my pins on a ski hat. It sounded dorky at first, but when you see that EVERYONE has pins, it's hard not to get into it.
There are also some fun interative booths at Olympic village. In one, you get to push a legit bobsled and compete against others in the crowd for the best time. That mofo was HEAVY, and I ended up defaulting since my foot went over the line. I lost to a bunch of 10-year-olds like a total loser, but it was really fun.
In another tent, I got to try on Olympic team uniforms and warm up gear from different countries. My fav were the Swiss igloo like warm ups that looked like aliens.
No Games have been awarded to the U.S. yet, but here's the schedule of upcoming host cities. Good luck! If anyone wants to go to Rio in 2016, I'm in!!!