A Pope Primer: Tips on Traveling to Philly

If you plan on traveling to Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit Sept. 26-27, there are two things you need to bring with you: a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of patience.

If you plan on traveling to Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit Sept. 26-27, there are two things you need to bring with you: a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of patience.

As many as 2 million people are expected to come to the City of Brotherly Love for the pope’s visit. Two big events are open to the public. A Festival of Families, featuring international performers, will be held on Saturday along Benjamin Franklin Parkway outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The pope will attend. He will also say Mass, a culmination of the weeklong World Meeting of Families, there on Sunday.

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You can expect lots of chaos, including traffic jams, overcrowded hotels and all sorts of logistical problems that go along with an event of this magnitude.

The first hurdle is getting there. Thousands of people will head to Philadelphia by train, so SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has planned accordingly. It will be adding more trips, and stops that are normally an hour or two hours apart will be serviced every half-hour on the days of pope’s visit. Those trains will travel nonstop from local stations into Center City.

SEPTA had so many requests for the $10, one-day-only tickets that its website crashed when they went on sale on July 20. It organized an online lottery for tickets. By now, you know whether you have one or not. To keep informed of the latest developments, visit www.septa.org.

For Delawareans, there are two rail choices: the Wilmington station or the one in Marcus Hook, Pa. (There will be no trains picking up passengers at the Claymont station.) The trains will travel to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, which is good news for passengers since the papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is only about a mile away.

Each express train will have six cars and be able to carry 1,000 people. That, along with the quicker turnaround, should be enough to handle the larger-than usual crowds, says SEPTA official Jerri Williams.

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“If 3,000 people show up at the Wilmington station, they should all be on their way in an hour-and-a-half and be able to zoom right into Center City.” Williams says. “Of course, people have to be patient and realize this is a unique event with unique circumstances. But we do have a plan in place that should make things run as smoothly as possible.’’

Still, SEPTA realizes that even the best plans can go awry, especially when orchestrating a massive, one-time event. “We want to make sure people understand what they have to deal with and are prepared,’’ Williams says.

The Diocese of Wilmington will not charter buses to carry the faithful to Philly, but Philadelphia officials are expecting up to 5,000 buses to make their way to the city. The vast majority will park in remote lots far from Center City. From there, people will have to take public transportation and, eventually, lace up those walking shoes.

The other main concern for visitors is lodging. There isn’t much left, and what there is will cost a lot. One of the few hotels that still had a vacancy in August the Embassy Suites near Philadelphia International Airport—is an example. A room at the hotel for the weekend of Sept. 11-13 goes for $129 a night; that same room for the weekend of Sept. 25-27—just two weeks later—costs $719 a night. A breakfast buffet is included, as it should be for that price.

Other area hotels are charging as much as $812 a night for that weekend. There are 11,500 hotel rooms in the city limits and 65,000 rooms within a 60-mile radius, which includes New Castle County, according to the City of Philadelphia. Almost all of them are booked for what is expected to be the biggest event in Philadelphia history. 

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