We have changed from Rail Plus to Rail Europe

Tracey visits Canada/USA

Staff member: Tracey // Trip date: Mar 2011

Vancouver- Edmonton

We arrived into Vancouver to mild weather and took advantage of the day by heading to Granville Island by using public transport which was very easy to use; however, correct change is required as no change is given. The following two days we used the Vancouver trolley (hop on hop off) and did some sightseeing. Unfortunately it was pouring rain so we couldn't make too many stops, so we just did the sightseeing from the bus.

vancouvertrolleywebsite jpg

Since I needed to collect my ViaRail tickets from the station prior to our first journey on the 'Canadian', I headed to Pacific Central station where I collected my documentation. This process took about 10 minutes and the attendant explained where I needed to check in on the day and also if I had luggage, I could check it in early in the morning as the train does not depart until 8.30pm.

My journey was to take me from Vancouver-Edmonton-Winnipeg-Toronto.

We were welcomed aboard by the carriage attendant just prior to the scheduled departure time and shown to our cabin. Shortly after departure, the attendant popped back in to show us where the features were and how to call for assistance during the night if it was required. We were then advised to head down to the Park car where welcome drinks and snacks were provided. Champagne and Hor Dourves were a great way to begin the journey! Meals are included on all services on the Canadian and are of great quality and huge serves. Soft drink and juice are complimentary while beer/wine etc available at a cost.

When we arrived back to the cabin, it had been transformed from the day configuration to the sleeping compartment. My comfy bed was ready to hop into and I had a really good night's sleep.

cabinfor2website jpg

Early the next morning, breakfast was called and as there were minimal passengers on board due to the season, there was only one sitting. For those passengers that didn't want breakfast, there were fresh hot and cold beverages in the park car to help yourself. Fresh fruit and croissants were also complimentary.
The shower room (one per carriage) was very clean and spacious. We were provided with a bathroom amenities pack the night before, and we had plenty of clean towels and bathroom supplies.

You can opt to spend the morning in your cabin as it has magically transformed back to the day seating configuration during breakfast or you can spend time in the Panorama car which most passengers do. It's a great way to meet fellow travellers and take in all the scenery. There's no better way to start the day then by sipping fresh juice and watching mile and mile of snow and mountains.

We arrived into Edmonton at 11pm and collected our bags inside the small terminal and headed to the hotel.

The city of Edmonton is bigger than I thought. We took advantage of the huge shopping centre and filled in a day or two there. We had also arranged locally a private guided tour of Edmonton and the surrounding area.

edmontonstationwebsite jpg

It was time to leave Edmonton and head for an extremely cold Winnipeg. The train was slightly late arriving into Edmonton but the station was well equipped with tea/coffee facilities, vending machines, television and power outlets for laptops etc. There is also a display cabinet of souvenirs that can be purchased on board.

For this leg of the journey, we opted for upper and lower berths. These berths make for a comfortable night's sleep; however with just a canvas curtain around the bed, it was a little noisy with people walking by. There is a small shelf for your overnight bag at the end of the bed and if you're on the lower berth, you also have some space under the bed for storage. The wall panel is heated and there are adjustable air vents at either end of the bed for your comfort. Reading light and attendant call button are also within reach.

The meals were excellent along this sector and for lunch I had the best chicken dumplings I've ever had. Vegetarians and special dietary needs passengers are catered for also.

Winnipeg

With temperatures dropping to -28 degrees Celsius, this is the coldest I've ever been. The cold just sucks the air from your lungs when you first go outside but after about 10 minutes, it's ok. I played on a frozen lake and tried to build a snowman but my gloved fingers were so cold I couldn't do it.

The 'Forks Market' is a good place to stay warm and do some shopping whilst watching the local's ice skate. And the market is just a short walk from the station and open most nights till about 8.00pm.

Winnipeg-Toronto

Departed Winnipeg at 11.30pm and we had booked a cabin for 2 again for this sector as we were to be on the train for 2 nights.

We had our own wash basin and toilet and plenty of room for the 2 nights. The attendant changes the cabin from night to day configuration whilst you're eating meals, so there is no interruption to your moose hunting. I didn't get to see any moose but I saw a lot of Elk.

candianwebsite jpg

I spent most of the day sitting in the Panorama car enjoying the 360 degree view, and only venturing down to the dining car for meals.

Time goes so fast watching the snowy world whizz by and we arrived into Toronto just after 10.00am.
Toronto Station is huge and I got a bit lost as the signs weren't overly clear as to where we collect luggage. The staff are so lovely and pointed us in the right direction and soon we were on our way to the hotel.

Toronto-Niagara Falls

When leaving Toronto, we arrived at the station 30 minutes early and lined up but once it was announced we could board, people just headed to the train.

It was a short journey to Niagara with a 2 x 2 seating configuration. The train was very hot and uncomfortable for the first hour of the journey but as staff were checking out tickets, they apologised so I knew this wasn't always the case.

Arrived into Niagara and it's a small station but neat and clean.

Niagara Falls is amazing and I hope to return one day. It started snowing as we arrived and it added to the majestic beauty of the falls.

There is a lot to do in Niagara (on the Canadian side) apart from the falls. Madame Tussauds, The Guinness Book of World records and the Niagara Eye are some of the attractions to keep entertained.
I strongly recommend staying on the Canadian side as not only is there more to do but the view is better and that's what it's all about.

It is possible to walk across the border but once crossing the bridge (and customs) getting to the station requires either taxi or bus. Niagara Station USA side is a bit of a distance from the border so allow plenty of time to get across.

New York

Wow, this really is a concrete jungle. You can see something or someone completely 'out there' and literally turn around and see something fantastic. For a first time visitor to New York City it really is like being on a movie/TV set as so many famous landmarks are at every turn.

I exchanged my Hop On Hop Off voucher that was pre- purchased from Rail Plus before my departure from Australia. This was exchanged at one of the Grayline terminals throughout New York City. Once exchanged, I boarded the uptown loop bus and ventured into Harlem and the uptown area. To change to the downtown loop, you can either get off at the Central Park stop or head into Times Square where all buses depart for all loops.

Tickets can be purchased locally for the Hop on Hop off, but the prices are a lot more expensive locally as opposed to the great Rail Plus fare.

New York- Lancaster return

Headed back to Penn station to get a train to Lancaster where I was heading into Amish country. As mentioned earlier, Penn station in huge but I found it was easier to get into than get out of. There is a big waiting area and when its time to board, an announcement is made advising of platform number. Tickets are checked prior to boarding and also onboard.

unionstationwebsite jpg

I was in economy for this regional journey, and as it was only a return day trip with no luggage, it was fine. Amtrak service do not allocate seats, so you are free to sit anywhere within the Economy carriages. It was a comfortable journey, albeit the train was very hot for the first 30 minutes.

Lancaster station was a lot bigger than I thought it would be and in dire need of renovation. Having said that, the station did have a kiosk, vending machines, elevators, ticket counter, and a quik trak self serve machine.

The return journey was pretty much the same as the first; however, as it was a late afternoon service, the train did stop at Philly station for 45 minutes. We were able to get off the train for this time if we wanted.

Sadly it was time to leave NYC and fly to Las Vegas.

I spent a few days here including a day trip to the Grand Canyon where I had a moment of complete insanity and did the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Even with a fear of heights and sheer terror taking over me, I would recommend the skywalk to anyone heading to the Canyon.

Las Vegas-Anaheim via Los Angeles

Las Vegas to Los Angeles on Amtrak is operated by a Grayline bus service bookable through RailPlus/ Amtrak. On arrival to the bus station, we checked in and were advised what door we needed to line up at. All Amtrak passengers line at one door, and passengers that purchased tickets direct through Grayline, wait at another door. Amtrak passengers are boarded with priority, so again it is best to pre purchase these tickets from Rail Plus.

I really enjoyed this sector. The desert scenery with the mountains in the background stretched on for miles and I never got sick of looking at it.

There were about 5 scheduled rest stops along the way and that was a great chance to stretch your legs and grab a refreshing drink or snack. There was also a toilet on board the bus.

On arrival into Los Angeles Union station, we disembarked at the bus terminal and again the lack of signs to point you in the right direction were minimal to nonexistent. A lot of people were wandering around looking for where to go. As it turns out, the station is just behind a huge hedge but I think it would be beneficial for either some signs or staff members to help out.

LA Union station is also huge. Many cafes, ATM's, customer service desk and ample waiting room. The outside grounds were extremely well maintained and would make an enjoyable waiting area on a fine day.
When boarding time is announced, everyone heads to the gate to have tickets inspected and it doesn't matter if you are in line first or not as once the gates open, it seems everyone just makes a run for the train to get a seat. There is no apparent order or organisation to it.

amtrakwebsite jpg

The train was double decker and the below deck is for elderly or passengers in need or assistance, and the above deck is for the able bodied. This is a great idea although with luggage it makes things awkward. It was impossible to drag heavy suitcases up stairs and as you cannot leave luggage unattended, the only option was to stand on the lower deck with your bags for the journey. We were not permitted to sit in the lower section as we were neither elderly or in need. Fortunately we were only going on the train for 40 minutes so standing up wasn't an issue. Tickets were also checked on board.

Anaheim station is small and located by the baseball stadium. Taxis are available to take you into the city area.

Overall

The 'Canadian' train from Vancouver to Toronto was magnificent and well worth the journey. Staff were brilliant at all times. I cannot fault this train.

Canada itself has some of the most breath-taking scenery in the world and this train highlights all there is to offer.

Amtrak services were also really good, and highly advisable to pre-book from Rail Plus before leaving Australia. The journeys were comfortable and the staff were friendly. Stations can be a bit daunting for first time travellers due to the sheer size but being forewarned is forearmed.

The Hop On Hop Off New York pass is the best way to see the city, and RailPlus have the cheapest tickets around. Make sure to get yours before heading off.

Overall, this was a fantastic trip and one that will never be forgotten.

More staff stories

Go to staff stories page

 

Back To Top