After months of watching the renovations to BC Place in Vancouver from the outside, this past weekend I was able to experience the new-look stadium from the inside for the first time.

I’ve blogged before about the changes to the concrete structure in downtown Vancouver, just across the street from Rogers Arena, the smaller, newer of the two sports venues in western Canada’s largest city. While BC Place served as the host to the opening and closing ceremonies during the February 2010 Winter Olympics, it received a complete overhaul after the Games, opening in September 2011 in time to host a couple MLS and Canadian Football League games before the winter sports season went dormant.

But instead of merely driving by, walking by or settling for press photos, I took the opportunity to check out the new stadium while it hosted soccer during the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament (both the U.S. and Canada qualified for the London Olympics, but the Americans proved dominant by defeating Canada 4-0 in the championship match).

Owned by BC Place Pavilion Company, the $563 million renovation for the 54,000-seat stadium originally built in 1983 actually made the structure seem cozy and inviting, even from the outside, where the structure remained in tact, but a new roof provided architectural interest.

Driving into downtown Vancouver, the 36 white mast-like arms—each mast is 154 feet tall and 656 feet long in what amounts to 18 separate suspension bridges in a ring-like formation around the circumference of the stadium—protruding from the oval and supporting the Tenara-fabric retractable roof emerge prominently from the skyline. And the ever-changing colors radiating from the top of the stadium and the roof pull the eyes and bounce off the neighboring harbor water. Let’s just say my daughters were truly impressed.

The roof façade covers nearly 10 acres and utilizes 1,700 ETFE (a fancy plastic) panels stacked four rows high around the top of the structure and 6,800 linear feet of LED lights to create the customizable lighting displays, helping the stadium to glow and pop amidst Vancouver’s nighttime skyline.

Once inside, the stadium felt much more new than it did old. Sure, you still had concrete concourses and concrete ramps (which were actually quite slick and I even saw someone fall because of it), but they were widened during the renovations? The walls did receive new blue-green glazing that served to brighten the previously dreary look.

The retractable roof covers the all-weather playing surface, while the seating area will always rest under a permanent coated fiberglass covering. The roof was predictably closed for the January game, but the design sure beat the old Teflon-fabric roof. The indoor cables allowed event organizers to hang more fabric off the roof, essentially visually closing the upper bowl of the stadium, making visitors feel like the lower bowl was all there was. And that new four-sided video scoreboard (68 feet by 38 feet) suspended from the roof’s support structure in the center (the roof actually can pull into space over the scoreboard in 20 minutes) added a touch of modern feel.

But the best feel came in the 20-inch wide seats, complete with padding and arm rests. The restroom areas and concessions, but, alas, not the concession pricing, also received upgrades that helped the stadium look new.

The best part of the stadium, though, was that it provided a comfortable way to watch an exciting event, not getting in the way of the event, but adding to it. As we drove away from the stadium, my daughters took in one last look of the stadium, with the light show still playing from the top of the stadium, reminding them of the excitement they had just experienced inside.