Chantal trains it through Canada/USA

Staff member: Chantal // Trip date: Nov 2011

CHANTAL'S USA/CANADA TRIP - OCTOBER 2011

I was one of a few lucky rail agents from around the world to be selected to experience Amtrak and Via Rail, train travel across the USA and Canada. The whirlwind trip started in Los Angeles and ended in Washington DC, via Vancouver, Kamloops, Edmonton, Montreal and New York over 10 days.

LOS ANGELES

I landed in Los Angeles the day before meeting up with the others. First thing to do was make my way to my hotel. I had never been to LA before, but knew of the FlyAway shuttle service that goes to Union Station and knew I had booked a hotel near the station. The FlyAway bus stop is colour coded green and with multiple stops it is outside most exits of the airport. The service runs every half an hour and takes around 30-45 minutes. The cost was $7 which you pay at a ticket booth on arrival at Union Station. They don't take cash.

After arriving at Union Station I connected onto the metro service to Little Tokyo, 1 stop away where my hotel was. Metro tickets are $1.50 for one way trips or $5.00 for an all day pass valid on most metro trains and buses. They don't need to be swiped in or out of the station; just every now and then an attendant and the station will check them. The metro was frequent, easy to use and took you to places such as Santa Monica and Hollywood.

COAST STARLIGHT (Los Angeles - Seattle)

The next morning it was back to Union Station to meet the lovely group of people I'd be spending the next 10 days with, to travel on the Coast Starlight train to Seattle.

The station is very well signed, so it's easy to figure out where to go for Amtrak or the Metro. There are many attendants at the station, one who even saw me looking around with luggage in hand and asked if I was lost and needed help!

We checked in our luggage for the train and took our carry on with us. It's a 35 hour train so you want to make sure you take a carry on otherwise as you won't have any access to your luggage.

After being driven on a buggy around the station and up the platform we were shown to our sleepers. We travelled in Roomettes, which are cosy sleepers suitable for 1 or 2 people. The day configuration is 2 large and comfy seats facing each other. At night the 2 seats turn into a bottom bunk, and a bed pulls down from the wall above to make the top bunk. Little extras such as coat hangers and a bag with toiletries are provided. Food is included in the price of the roomettes. Each roomette has a curtain and a door, or if you wish you can leave it open and chat to the people in the next roomette. When you're ready to leave the room, those in sleeping cars have access to a Pacific Parlour car, which offers a coffee and bar service, wine and cheese tasting and an onboard theatre playing 2 movies a day. A sightseeing car provides panoramic windows with seats facing these windows so is perfect for capturing photos of the spectacular scenery and enjoying the Californian sunshine. The wine and cheese tasting was great fun and complimentary. It was a great way to meet people, and we were given 5 different wines as well as 3 different cheeses and chocolate to taste.

The meals provided were delicious and offered a range of vegetarian, seafood, meat and healthy options. Non alcoholic beverages and the meals are complimentary for sleeping car passengers. The cabin attendant comes around to your cabin to reserve your seats for dinner, and then calls you when it's time to head to the dining car. During dinner the cabin attendant made up our beds, so when we got back we were ready to curl up with a book and let the rocking put us to sleep. I woke up 8 hours later to the cascades out my window. We headed to breakfast where we were served again by John; a man who you knew loved his job just from the enthusiasm in his voice. In fact, all the staff on this train had the same genuine enthusiasm and professionalism. A fresh omelette and 2 coffees later, it was time to head back to the room for a day of reading, relaxing and watching the views.

Lunch in the Parlour is quite special, with a different, gourmet menu from the dining car and proper white linen on the tables.

THRUWAY BUS (Seattle - Vancouver)

8pm arrived and we were at the last stop, Seattle. Luggage is collected inside the station just like at an airport. If you are continuing to Vancouver on the bus, you just need to go out the opposite door of the station and the bus stop is there. The bus is comfy, with reclining seats, a reading light and a TV.

When arriving at the US/Canadian border, we pulled up to a small building, and went through customs. As it was late evening and quiet, the process was quick and we were back on our way to Vancouver, BC to the luxurious Hyatt Regency.

VANCOUVER

The following morning we were up bright and early for a day of sightseeing. We visited Vancouver's answer to Central Park, called Stanley Park and the famous Grouse Mountain, where we saw our first bear while on a chair lift ride over the mountain. We continued towards one of North America's most spectacular suspension bridges, the Capilano Suspension Bridge. We were in for a major adrenaline rush crossing the bridge, 137 metres long and suspended 230 feet above the Capilano River. The bridge swayed as we moved and looking down was a little daunting, however every one of us gave it a go and made it to the other side with no regrets! There are other attractions at the park to be enjoyed, the Treetops Adventure, and the new Cliffwalk - a Cliffside walkway with viewing of the rainforest.

ROCKY MOUNTAINEER (Vancouver - Kamloops)

The next morning we arrived at the Rocky Mountaineer train station bright and early for an 8am departure on one of the most famous trains in the world. We were travelling on day 1 of the Rocky Mountaineer, from Vancouver to Kamloops. Most travellers will continue onto the 2nd day to Banff or Calgary.

Shortly after being farewelled outside the carriage by the station staff, the onboard staff welcomed us all with a toast (of orange juice). We were in Silver Leaf, the middle, and new level of service, between Red Leaf and Gold Leaf. Shortly after breakfast was served - a warm blueberry muffin, fruit and a Canadian favourite which I tried for the first time - French toast with bacon and maple syrup. Tea, coffee and juice were also offered.

As we headed toward the Rockies we sat back, relaxed and listened to the wonderful on board attendant's commentaries about what we were seeing. They were very knowledgeable and interesting, and I heard a lot of laughter coming from the passengers talking to them.

We watched the amazing scenery change through our panoramic windows and didn't need to leave our seats as lunch was served to us. The choices were delicious, and in Silver Leaf a complimentary glass of wine or beer is included.

Upon arriving in the evening at Kamloops, things couldn't be simpler. We were given our hotel room keys, a transfer bus was waiting outside our train carriage to take us to our hotel, and once we got up there our luggage was waiting for us inside our rooms. It was completely stress free and very well organised.

THE CANADIAN (Kamloops - Edmonton)


The following morning we departed Kamloops for Edmonton, Alberta on The Canadian train. Although we were only travelling on one part of this journey, the train travels from Vancouver in the West to Toronto in the East, two of Canada's biggest and most famous cities. This 4 night journey is on the bucket list of many.

After departing in the early morning, and arriving late the evening before, we were desperate for a snooze. We were lead to our upper and lower birth accommodation. As we were travelling during the day, the beds were folded down to spacious seats which easily would fit 2 people, and we were asleep within 10 minutes of lying down. We were devastated to miss out on breakfast as I was eyeing off the banana pecan pancakes when I saw the menu, however the sleep was needed. At night time these seats would be converted to upper and lower beds, with a thick curtain to provide complete privacy. Alternatively these trains also offer private cabins.
There was a dining car for all our meals, which are included for all sleeping car passengers. Having meals included is fantastic. You can choose anything you want from the menu without thinking about the cost, and besides alcoholic beverages there's no need to spend any precious spending money on board the train. The food was wonderful and fresh, and all reservations for dining was organised by the dining car staff.
Although 4 nights may sound like far too long to be on a train, time would fly with everything the train has to offer, including the dining car, with 360 degree views on an upper observation deck, 2 lounges and a little cafe. VIA Rail do allow 1 free stopover in either Kamloops, Jasper, Edmonton or Winnipeg so you can break the journey down this way if you prefer. This is a train I will be back to do in full one day.
We arrived into Edmonton late in the evening and went straight to sleep to get ready for our flight to Montreal the following day.

MONTREAL

Our hotel, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth was part of the train station complex. Montreal Station is amazing. I eventually walked so far into the huge shopping complex that is part of the station that it took me close to an hour to find my way back to the hotel! After a very satisfying afternoon of shopping, we explored the amazing French flavoured city, where you will be greeted with both a bonjour and a hello so it can be distinguished which language you want to speak in.

ADIRONDACK (Montreal - New York)

The next morning we were all buzzing with excitement ...as we were headed to NYC! We boarded the Adirondack service at 9:30am, ready for the 11 hour or so journey ahead of us. As it's a day train, there are comfortable reclining seats rather than sleepers. Time flew by as we settled in and got stuck in our books. There is a cafe car on board where you can eat food purchased at the snack bar.

Once we arrived at the Canadian/US border, officials came on board and checked our passports and arrival cards that we were provided. We didn't need to leave the train, it was a simple process.

After finishing our books and excitedly spotting a beaver at one of the stops, we arrived right into the heart of New York City. Penn station is underneath Madison Square Garden, in the heart of Manhattan. The perfect location for exploring the city, only a few minutes to the famous Times Square.

ACELA EXPRESS (New York - Washington DC)

The following day after a morning of sightseeing around one of the most amazing cities in the world, (including stumbling upon the taping of one of my favourite New York based TV shows!) we headed back to Penn Station for the final train on our journey, the Acela Express from New York City to Washington DC. This is an easy and low stress way to get between NYC and Washington DC, and definitely the most popular. As in a lot of places around the world, the train stations were right in city centre so it's simple to get to and from them, unlike the airports in both cities which are quite far out. The full route of this service is Boston - New York - Philadelphia - Washington DC, all must see cities on the east coast of America.

This train especially suits the business traveller - with free Wi-Fi, power sockets, and even a 'Quiet Car' where being noisy is not allowed! We travelled in Business Class and as seating is not assigned we got on early to get 2 x 2 seats facing each other with a table in between. A delicious chicken Panini (USD$7.50) and chocolate cookie (USD$2.50) later, and we had almost arrived. Acela also has First class, which is an upgrade from Business Class. First Class passengers are treated to a meal and beverage at their seat and extra comfy seats.

We arrived at Washington DC's Union Station only 3 hours later.

Travelling across the US and Canada by train has made me even more sure that trains are by far the most easy, interesting and comfortable way to travel.

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