Jess's America/Canada Trip

Staff member: Jessica // Trip date: Nov 2013

We departed Melbourne early on a Monday direct to LA with Qantas, which took 14 hours. Once we arrived at LAX, we took a shuttle directly to our hotel. We had a little bit of a nap as it was still early in the day, and then headed out on foot to explore. Our hotel was situated in West Hollywood so we were close to Sunset Blvd and Hollywood Blvd. We grabbed some lunch on Hollywood Blvd near the Chinese Theatre and afterwards hopped on a bus tour of Beverly Hills and the surrounding area, which was cheesy but it we had a lot of fun. The next day we headed over to Universal Studios. We didn't have a car but we found using the public transport (a combination of bus and metro) quite easy as Universal has their own metro station. We spent the whole day at Universal Studios as there is a lot to see and do there. The next morning we were up early as we had to make our way to Los Angeles Union Station to catch a thru-way bus from LA to Bakersfield, train from Bakersfield to Emeryville and then another thru-way bus connection into downtown San Francisco. Union Station is connected to the metro network and is a large station, however the signage for Amtrak passengers is very well placed and we found the ticket collection windows very easy. After we collected our tickets we were directed to the Amtrak Bus depot which is located just around the corner from the ticket windows. There was a lot of staff around to assist and help us board our bus. Tickets are double checked prior to boarding to ensure that you get on the right bus. All luggage is stowed under the bus by the driver and only hand luggage can be taken on board. The trip from LA to Bakersfield was quite comfortable as the bus is a large coach with toilet facilities on board. We arrived into Bakersfield on time and the bus bays are right outside the station. The train was visible from the bus and we were able to transfer easily. Once on board the train, we were free to sit in any of the coaches as all seats were in Economy class. The train was a double decker, so there were priority seats downstairs for disabled passengers. All coaches had bathroom facilities and easy access to the cafe car. From Bakersfield, we travelled to Emeryville, which is the main station for passengers travelling to San Francisco. The train was running late but our thru-way bus into San Francisco was waiting for us to transfer us to downtown. The thru-way bus service did not take long and we were soon in the heart of SF.

San Francisco

Once we arrived into SF we made our way to our hotel and settled in. It was late in the afternoon so we didn't really have a chance to go see anything, so we grabbed some dinner at Union Square and walked around the area for a while. The next day we headed down to Fishermans Wharf as we had a 9am departure to Alcatraz. It was a very foggy morning so we were not able to see much on the way to the island. Alcatraz was a very interesting place to visit, and we spent most of the morning there. We returned back to the city around midday and by this time, the weather had cleared up so we were able to see the Golden Gate Bridge from the ferry. We spent most of the rest of our day around the wharf area, which has lots of shops and restaurants. We headed back to our hotel early in the evening to collect our bags as we were departing on an overnight train to Seattle. We had to catch a thru-way bus back to Emeryville to get the train. The bus stop in SF is located at the Embarcadero, which is on the waterfront. It's a rather large ferry departure point and the Amtrak area is next door. It is clearly marked and has a waiting room that is staffed until the last bus leaves. Once on the train, we were shown to our roomette by our cabin attendant. Our beds were already set up for us as it was an evening departure. We had a welcome kit waiting for us which included a bottle of water and bathroom amenities. The cabin attendant advised us what time breakfast was in the morning and we requested a wakeup call from him. There was 3 showers in our carriage and around 3 toilets also so we did have to wait a short while in the morning for our turn as our carriage was quite full. Our train was a Superliner, so it has and upper and lower deck. The upper deck is roomettes, whereas the lower deck has bedrooms and accessible rooms. There are specific seating times for breakfast, lunch and dinner and we had the choice of sitting in the dining car or the parlour car. Both cars had different options for food and are available to all sleeping car guests. The Parlour car is exclusive to sleeper passengers, whereas the dining car can be used by both sleeper and economy classes. Meals are included in your fare for sleeper class. The trip from Emeryville takes around 24 hours, there are stops along the way where you do have an opportunity to disembark and stretch your legs. The train manager will announce these stops over the loudspeaker and will advise how long is available in each stop. Snacks are also available to purchase in the cafe car should you get peckish between meals. There is generally a wide range to choose from for your meals, with vegetarian options. Wifi is available only in the Parlour Car but it is free. We arrived in to Seattle on time and got a taxi to our hotel.

Seattle

 

It was late in the evening when we arrived so we went straight to our hotel and settled in for the night. In the morning we had a tour of Pike Place Market. The market is massive, with many different stalls ranging from food to clothes and some oddities. We were surprised that the market opens late in the morning, around 9am unlike our markets, which open around 5-6am. After the tour we headed over to the Space Needle but opted not to go up due to the overcast day and low clouds. We jumped on our next tour for the day, which was a rock and roll history tour of Seattle. Surprisingly we were the only ones on our tour, and our guide was happy to accommodate us and take the tour at our own pace. We visited Jimi Hendrix's grave and Kurt Cobain's house on the tour. After the tour, we were dropped off at the Experience Music Project museum which was filled with lots of memorabilia from Nirvana and other famous musicians. They also had a sci-fi and movie section with authentic memorabilia which was really interesting and worth seeing. After that, we realised we hadn't really eaten all day and had an early dinner. The next morning we headed back to Seattle King St Station for our service to Vancouver. We had Economy seats for this journey but this service allocates you a specific seat so we had to line up for our seat reservations. There is no border control prior to boarding or at the border; this is done on arrival into Vancouver. Wifi is free but only available to the Canadian border.

Vancouver

Once we got through customs, we headed to the SkyTrain which is located about 100m from Vancouver Pacific Station. We took the train to our hotel on Granville St, which is in the heart of the city. We did a bit of shopping in the afternoon and familiarised ourselves with the city. The next day we picked up a car and drove to Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain. It was raining that day so the visibility on top of Grouse Mountain was not that great, however we still had an enjoyable day. Later that evening, we headed off to watch a NHL hockey game, which was a lot of fun. The next day we headed off to Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium, both are must sees in the city. Later that evening we headed back to the station to board The Canadian. Once we checked in we were able to sit in the lounge for sleeper class guests until boarding. On board, we settled in to our Cabin for 2, which is a private cabin with its own ensuite toilet. We were invited to the lounge car for complimentary champagne and canap├ęs, and also to mix and mingle with other passengers. When we returned to our cabin, our seats were transformed into beds so that we could turn in for the night.

The Canadian

All meals on the Canadian were included in our fare, so we were able to go to Breakfast in the dining car at our leisure. Lunch and Dinner required are particular sitting time to be reserved with the dining car staff. We spent most of our time on the train playing cards in the sightseeing car. The train does show movies, offers beer and wine tasting and staff will point out points of interest along the way. There are a few stops along the way where you can get off and stretch your legs, and extended stop is offered in Jasper and Winnipeg for over an hour, depending on whether the train is running to schedule. All the meals on board were amazing and there was generally a few different dishes to choose from. We arrived into Toronto in the morning 4 days later.

Toronto

It was raining heavily in Toronto so we quickly headed to our hotel. It was hard to do anything that day due to the weather so we headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was interesting if you enjoy hockey. We tried to spend most of our time inside and we were disappointed as we would have like to have gone up the CN Tower. The next morning we headed back to the station for our train to New York. We boarded our train and were handed US arrival cards as we would be crossing the border. Once the train arrived into Niagara Falls on the US side, we were advised by staff to disembark to be processed by border control. The stop time is included into the train schedule. The VIA Rail staff also hand over to Amtrak staff at this point as it is a code share service. The trip from Toronto to New York takes roughly 11 hours but the Economy seating is quite comfortable with large legroom and reclining seats. There is free wifi available in the cafe car once you're over the border. We arrived into New York Penn Station in the evening and headed straight to our hotel. Penn Station is located centrally in New York, right under Madison Square Gardens.

New York

First thing in the morning we went to pick up our New York Passes. We found this easy as we went early and there were no lines. We used our New York Passes to visit 30 Rockefeller and do the NBC Studio Tour and Top of the Rock, which we could fast track the line. From there we went to the Empire State Building, which did not have a long wait to get to the top. Both the Empire State and Top of the Rock had amazing views, but I preferred Top of the Rock as it was less crowded and had view of the Empire State Building. From there we grabbed some lunch and headed to the ferries to get to the Statue of Liberty. We spent most of the afternoon exploring the area around the Statue of Liberty and then headed to Wall St and The 911 Memorial. The next day we did a tour of Central Park and visited Madame Tussaudes. Both were really enjoyable, I would definitely spend a lot more time in Central Park as we only covered about a third of it. Later on in the evening we went to watch the Yankees play. We got up early the next morning to head back to Penn Station to catch the Acela Express to Washington DC. Penn Station is easy to navigate and as we had already printed all of our tickets on previous trips, we only needed to find our platform. We had Business Class seats which were quite spacious, and free wifi at your seat which is always a bonus when travelling. We arrived into Washington Union DC a few hours later. We were only spending the day here and returning to catch an overnight service to New Orleans so we left our baggage at the station. It cost us $45 to leave 3 bags all day in a baggage room that is staffed. There are no individual lockers.

Washington DC

We only planned a day trip here but I wish we had more time as the city is really beautiful. We headed out to the Washington Monument to meet our tour guide, who was taking us on a 4 hour Monuments and Tidal Basin Tour. On this tour we were able to visit and learn about all the major monuments, included the Lincoln Memorial, The WW2 Memorial and many others. It was really interesting to learn more about America's historical figures. After the tour we walked around the parks and grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to Union Station. As we had a Roomette booked to New Orleans, we were able to take advantage of the lounge at Washington. The lounge had complimentary drinks and snacks, with free wifi. This service carries Viewliner carriages which are single level, the roomettes are laid out the same as the Superliner ones, but are slightly smaller. They include a toilet in the cabin, but it is not partitioned off. All meals are included for sleeper class passengers however there is no wifi on this train.
The service from Washington to New Orleans takes roughly 24 hours.

New Orleans

We arrived into New Orleans late in the evening so we headed to our hotel for the night. In the morning we headed to the French Quarter to do a walking tour, which was really fascinating to learn the history of the city. As it was my partners birthday, we walked around Bourbon St and visited a few bars. We also found a bar that was playing the AFL Grand Final that night, so we had a great day. The next day we relaxed a little bit, as the weather was quite warm and we had been nonstop since the start of our trip. We went for some walks around the French Quarter area mainly. The next day we booked a swamp tour, which was around 45 minutes outside of the city. We had heaps of fun and saw plenty of crocodiles and other animals. We got on a train to Houston the next morning, we had Economy seating however Sleeper accommodations were available also as the train goes all the way through to Los Angeles.

Houston

We arrived into Houston later in the day and headed to our hotel. Houston Station is located outside of the CBD so you may need to ask staff to call you a taxi. We had a to wait a while for one to come. The next day we picked up a car and drove to the NASA Space Centre, which is about a 25 minute drive outside of Houston. This takes all day to do as there is a lot to see. There are a lot of authentic bits and pieces from the Space program and if you are really into this kind of stuff, you will have a great day.

The remainder of my trip did not include rail but we went to Austin, Las Vegas and back to Los Angeles. Austin is a fun and vibrant cities with a great nightlife and university culture. Las Vegas was heaps of fun but very expensive. We visited Disneyland back in Los Angeles and it was the happiest day of my life.

 

 

More staff stories

Go to staff stories page

 

Questions?

Talk to a Rail Expert

Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm

Back To Top
Questions?
Chat with a rail specialist now
Chat

Talk to a Rail Expert

Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm