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Old 09-14-2011   #1 (permalink)
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Smile By Rail Across Canada

I "should have" posted this report quite awhile ago, but I've been busy with other trips and rail adventures since then.... It's REALLY brief compared to my "normal" trip reports, but it might inspire you to plan a similar trip!

My husband Mike and I took Via Rail across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver. Our adventure began on May 31, 2011. I booked this specific day to begin, as I wanted to be as close to the summer equinox as possible, for maximum scenery viewing. I discovered that May 31st qualified for "off season" fares, even though the majority of the trip was in the month of June. If we BEGAN our trip on June 1st or later, we were looking at high season fares, which were CONSIDERABLY higher!

I booked bedroom "F" in the Manor Car (I forget the actual name) which is QUITE A BIT LARGER (about 2 feet) than the other double bedrooms, due to the way the cars were refitted when they were remodeled. We were able to keep TWO FULL SIZED suitcases along the wall behind the door, and our carry-ons fitted nicely into the space above the sink and toilet area. Even with the suitcases behind the door, we were able to open it fully. The door swings into the room and isn't a pocket door that the Amtrak bedrooms have.

In order to get Bedroon "F", I made our reservations on the first day they became available. Needless to say, for those in the know, this is THE bedroom to request. It's also adjacent to the car's shower, which is convenient. We were able to keep a close eye on the "occupied" sign and then make a dash to use it as soon as it was available. All of the bedrooms have in-cabin toilets in a separate little room. Amtrak bedrooms have a toilet/shower combo.



Regarding the bedroom units on The Canadian, we had mixed feeling about them. The beds were SUPER comfortable ~ much more so than the ones on Amtrak. The sheets were like hotel sheets ~ crisp and freshly pressed and we had a nice comforter as well ~ not just the flimsy blanket that's standard on Amtrak. However, if you wanted to take a nap during the day ~ which my husband ALWAYS does ~ you have to call the attendant to lower both beds for you, plus collapse and store the extra heavy duty folding chairs (REALLY comfortable to sit in) which are set up during the day. In Amtrak bedrooms, Mike can stretch out on the long bench seating area and I can sit in the permanent arm chair and enjoy the scenery or read a book. On the Canadian, it's either chairs OR beds. Also, in order to use a table, the attendant has to bring one ~ which is LARGE ~ to your room. It sort of cantilevers off the edge of the windows. I have to say that I DO like the set up of the table in Amtrak bedrooms. Tables are always there, but can be folded up against the wall when not is use.

The Manor car we were in was located immediately in front of the last car on the train ~ the Park Car ~ with its unique bullet lounge, and 2nd story, bubble topped viewing area. This car also has a bar serving all sorts of drinks. It also has a few bedroom units, as well.



The Park Car was kept stocked with complimentary teas, coffee, fruit juices, fresh fruits, and muffins. The muffins were HIGHLY popular and generally vanished as soon as they were put out. I can't attest as to how tasty they were, as I never tried one. Too many calories!

We traveled Business Class from Montreal to Toronto, leaving around 3:30pm so we would make our connection onto The Canadian with an hour or so to spare. The Business Class car was VERY nice with large leather seats. Our fare included a meal which was brought to our seats by the attendents, and also included wine and alcoholic beverages. Mike enjoyed several gin and tonics with no additional charges.

The Via Rail station in Montreal was really nice. For a tip of our choosing, we were able to have the porters store our luggage on the day of departure (we spent several days sightseeing in Montreal before we got on the train) and then put it on the train for us! It was waiting at our seats when we boarded. On the train, we chose to store our bags in the cubbies at the end of the Business Class Car. You can also store your bags at Baggage Claim, but I believe that was $3.00 per bag. Having the porters take care of them was MUCH nicer!

The first class lounge in the Montreal Station was also quite nice ~ it had a fridge with all sort of drinks and juices, plus coffee, tea, etc., and free newspapers. It also had private washroom facilities. All in all, it was much nicer than the First Class Lounge in Amtrak Stations I've been to.

The Montreal Station is also part of a HUGE underground network of shops and restaurants that snakes around under the city! Mike and I amused ourselves for several hours just exploring. You could easily get LOST, but there are maps mounted here and there on the walls to help you get your bearings.

Our trip from Montreal to Toronto was pleasant. We made a few brief stops along the way and arrived in Toronto on schedule.

The Toronto Station ~ in its current condition ~ is probably the worst large station we've been in in all of our travels. First Class passengers were in sort of a roped off area that, as far as we could tell, wasn't any different than the area for Coach passengers. Perhaps it had a coffee pot? Not sure. The station area was crowded and confusing. We didn't see anything nearby worth checking out, so didn't go exploring. Happily, we didn't have to wait long to board.

Our bedroom was turned down and ready for us when we got on the train, as it was about 10:30pm. Time for bed!

The trip between Toronto and Winnepeg, while pretty, became rather repetitious after a few hours.....miles and miles and miles of woodlands, with lakes, streams, and beaver ponds. There were very few towns that we passed through during the daylight hours. We finally made a brief stop and the smokers POURED out of the train to get their fixes. I can say, that on the entire trip, smoke stops were few and far between. Glad that neither Mike nor I have to deal with that!

One thing that was sort of perplexing was the number of stops that the train would make out in the middle of nowhere. Generally, these weren't to allow a freight train to pass by, but were just STOPS to get back on schedule. I read somewhere that The Canadian used to have real issues with being FAR behind schedule, so they now have loads of "extra" time built in that necessitates stops here and there.

Apparently all of the staff working for Via Rail are at least partially bi-lingual. All of the announcements were first made in French and then in English. Hearing this was sort of strange for us. Coming from the USA and Florida in particular, bi-lingual announcements are generally in English and Spanish. We didn't hear, or see, ANY instructions in Spanish during this entire trip.

Dining was very pleasant with good food selections and cheery, efficient service people. The entire car was seated for lunch and dinner on an "hourly" schedule of sorts and then allowed to empty at leisure before another group was seated. Breakfast sittings were more Amtrak style ~ as seats became available, passengers were shown to their tables. In some ways, we prefer the way Amtrak seats diners for all the meals, but Via Rail's system is ok too.

Mike and I never ventured into the coach areas of the train, so we're not sure what type of light meals or snacks may have been available for purchase there. The Canadian is a LONG train with LOTS of cars and LOTS of passengers!! We stayed put in our sleeper passenger only end of the train.

We arrived (traveling westbound) in Winnipeg at about 8:00am and had a 4 hour stop there for a crew change. Happily, the weather, which had been quite overcast and drizzly, took a turn for the better and the sun peeked out from the clouds. We took the opportunity to explore the adjacent The Forks which has a park, riverwalks, shops, restaurants, etc. After exploring that area, we also walked around downtown some, but there wasn't much to see. The Winnipeg Train Station was fairly nice, but again, not as nice as the one in Montreal.

We lucked out weather-wise during our brief 4 hour stay in Winnipeg! After we reboarded the train, and were enjoying lunch, there was a hailstorm!

On Via Rail's Canadian train, you're allowed one stop-over at no additional charge, so I arranged for us to stay Friday and Saturday nights in Jasper. There are loads of shops and restaurants in the core downtown area. We rented a car there so we could drive the MAGNIFICENT Icefield Parkway. There were two car rental desks right in the Jasper Station. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time. While in Jasper, we stayed at The Sawridge Inn & Conference Center. This hotel was located a bit out of the center of town. You "could" walk into town, but it would be a bit of a hike, so it's best to stay here if you have a car arranged for. We found the hotel to be quite nice. It had good sized rooms, comfortable beds, an indoor pool and a restaurant and a bar. There's also a breakfast place right next door with good prices.

While in Jasper, we got to see several bears, antelope, elk, deer, etc., during our drives to the Icefields glacier and Maligne Lake. We continued on our way on Sunday afternoon at about 2pm for our final leg into Vancouver.

In my opinion, the BEST scenery of the trip is from Winnipeg to Vancouver ~ actually from Edmonton to Vancouver. If we ever travel on this particular train again, we'll probably only do this portion.

Unfortunately on the LAST evening of our trip, Mike became violently sick. I'm pretty certain it was Norovirus ~ the same stomach malady that is commonly found on cruise ships. I also succumbed to it our last night in Vancouver. We don't know if we picked it up on the train or while we were in Jasper. Thank goodness it's a short lived bug and that it struck towards the end of our adventure.

We both really liked the lovely, modern city of Vancouver, and enjoyed warm weather and sunshine while we were there. We happened to be there during the Hockey playoffs, so there was LOTS of excitement! Happily we missed the riots.

Our train adventure on Via Rail's Canadian train was a once in a lifetime experience. We had such a good time that I can see us doing a portion of the trip again. We're also thinking of taking the Via Rail train from Montreal to Nova Scotia.

Sorry for not posting individual photos in this thread, but you can see lots of them if you go to our website at Maison-t-Bayou. Select CANADA from the menu choices ~ you can view slide shows with music of Montreal, The Canadian Rockies, Jasper, and Vancouver, which were all taken during our trip. We have other slide shows of Canada there as well.

Last edited by JoanieBlon; 10-17-2011 at 10:29 AM..
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Old 09-14-2011   #2 (permalink)
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That is funny, I was just driving in Jasper on the Columbia Icefields parkway and doing the Athabasca glacier tour myself- 2 weekends ago!

Thanks for the detailed report. My parents and I took the Via Rail train from Calgary to Vancouver wayyyyy back in 1979. I was nine. All I can remember is waking up in the top berth while it was creaking and groaning through some pass in the Rockies.

Did you see a lot of these cars by any chance on the Prairies?


Last edited by Rissask; 09-14-2011 at 03:53 PM..
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Old 09-14-2011   #3 (permalink)
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Did you see a lot of these cars by any chance on the Prairies?

Don't recall seeing any ~ but then when we were passing any freights, the cars just FLY by one another due to the speeds of both trains....
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Old 09-14-2011   #4 (permalink)
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Don't recall seeing any ~ but then when we were passing any freights, the cars just FLY by one another due to the speeds of both trains....
ah, of course....that is a car for potash, those constitute over half the cars that run across the country these days....was just curious.

Thanks again, great photos too!
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Old 09-22-2011   #5 (permalink)
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Love train trips

I did that solo in 1999 in May. I got the North American Railpass ($450 then + extra for the rooms $$$$). I went for 21 days. Started in Macomb Illinois to Chicago, to Portland, to LA, to San Diego, 2 nights in Hotel, back to LA, to Seattle, 2 nights in hotel, to Vancouver, 1 night in hotel, to Toronto, 1 night in hotel, north to North Bay then another train to Moosene, 1 night in hotel, back to Toronto, 1 night in hotel, to Montreal, to Hailfax, 1 night in hotel, back to Montreal, south to Renslinger NY, back to Chicago, then to Ft Madison Iowa (21 miles from home). I had planned of going to NYC from Montreal then to Florida but cut trip short, the railpass was good for 30 days. Only 2 nights did I sleep in the coach seats (that sucked). Via Rail was much better than Amtrak by far.
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Old 09-22-2011   #6 (permalink)
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Great trip report I love reading when other people experience our backyard. Sorry to hear that you all got ill, as that is never fun.
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Old 09-22-2011   #7 (permalink)
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Great trip report I love reading when other people experience our backyard. Sorry to hear that you all got ill, as that is never fun.
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Old 09-25-2011   #8 (permalink)
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Another nice report, Joanie- thanks.
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Old 09-25-2011   #9 (permalink)
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*snort* not my literal backyard - but the area surrounding where I live and grew up
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Old 10-17-2011   #10 (permalink)
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Your trip reports are de bomb - love them.
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Old 10-17-2011   #11 (permalink)
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Your trip reports are de bomb - love them.
Glad you enjoy them, Tappy! I have a partially finished one about our mini-trip to Apalachicola over the July 4th weekend this year...somehow just cannot get myself psyched to finish it up....
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Old 02-25-2012   #12 (permalink)
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Love the trip report and the pictures are awesome!!
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Old 02-25-2012   #13 (permalink)
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Jasper is one of my all time favourite places.....love, love, love the photos!!!
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