I have always thought that taking a train across Canada would be an amazing trip and it was! I have never done much train travel so this was a new concept to me. Other than reading a few comments online and doing a bit of research I really did not know what to expect. I hope this post will help some of you understand what it is like to travel by train and how best to prepare for it!
First off, luggage. The cabins in the train cars are VERY tiny, therefore you have to pack smart! You can check luggage on the train but you won’t be able to access it for the trip so make sure what you need is with you. I suggest a carry on luggage or a backpack/duffel bag if you can make it work! Towels are provided for the showers so you do not need to worry about bringing your own.
The pictures above are of the sleeper cabins. This room type has a private toilet/sink area and bunk beds. Everything that I read before going says that the train rocks you to sleep! Let me tell you that unless you are a really heavy sleeper this is not the case! The best sleep I had was on the last night and by that time it was over.
If you are a person that needs to always be doing something and can’t enjoy sitting and watching the world go by this may not be the right type of trip for you! You are spending the majority of 4 nights and 4 days confined to a train. If you are a smoker there is no place you can smoke while the train is in motion. When you stop at select stations you are able to get off and smoke if needed.
In the off season months which is Nov- April the train has less cars than the summer months. The price is often lower at this time but it also means less people on the train. At no time did I feel the train was full as there are constantly people getting on and off, however less people is always better.
There are four classes of travel on the “Canadian”. Economy for those doing a short duration has a seat and access to one dome car. You may also buy meals/snacks while on board. Next category is the upper or lower berth. These convert into chairs during the day but are not private. At night they convert into bunk beds with a curtain. The next category is the Cabin for 1 or Cabin for 2 which is what is pictured above. If you are travelling from Toronto to Vancouver I would not recommend staying in anything lower than a Cabin 1 or 2. The Cabin pricing includes food and coffee/tea/pop at meals. If you really want to travel in style than opt for the Prestige Cabin for 2. The Prestige have their own beautiful cars and rooms, a concierge, unlimited food/alcohol and a dome car that is shared with those who are in cabins.
The schedule of the train often changes and is not always reliable. Because freight trains have priority on the tracks, Via and other passenger trains often have to wait for them to pass and this can create delays. Depending on weather and wind sometimes time can be made up. At one point on my trip we were 7 hours behind and we ended up getting into Vancouver only 3 and a bit hours behind schedule. Unfortunately most trains do experience a delay, but the best thing is to plan for them and be prepared!
I had traveled most of Canada’s provinces before but I had never been to Manitoba. One of the reasons I wanted to do the train trip was because I wanted to check this province off my travel list! The stop in Winnipeg is over 3 hours long which gives you time to get off the train and explore the city. Just like Toronto, the train station is downtown. There is a tour available to take if your more comfortable with a group or you can go explore on your own. Of course the first thing I did was found a Tim Hortons! Then I explored the Forks Market (great food and shopping!) as well as the St Bonafice Cathedral and Cemetery.
There is an activity car on board and also a couple tables available in the dome car for economy. These are great places to meet other travelers, play a game of cards, or sit and watch the world go by! There is also one dining car (more on the summer trains) and you are able to choose what dining time you want. On the first night you do not board until 10 pm so there is a welcome aboard glass of sparkling wine and appetizers being passed around. When you get to Union Station before boarding you are given your dining assignments for the following day. From there each day you choose what time you will eat for the next one. Most days have two seating’s while the last day has three because of the amount of people that travel between Edmonton and Jasper and Edmonton/Jasper to Vancouver.
For those who know me know I love food! I was told and also read a lot about the food before coming onboard and I have to say I was slightly disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t even imagine trying to cook and prep food on a train so I admire everyone doing that job! I also loved that they kept a Canadian theme throughout the trip, always offering something fresh and unique to Canada. The main meat/fish of each dish was delicious. The Bison burger I had at lunch on the first day was amazing! My other favourite was the huge piece of trout I had for dinner on the third night! Each meal you were offered a soup or salad, main entree and a dessert. I wasn’t always impressed with the soup although I loved the Tomato Bisque! I am also not a dessert person so they didn’t do anything for me. My only other complaint about the food was the sides. They seemed to be comparable to Uncle Bens Rice and it seemed like broccoli found its way onto my plate almost every night! Overall though, everything was good.
If you stay in the Sleeper Cabin category alcohol is not included. You are able to bring alcohol on board but you must enjoy it in your room which means it cannot be kept cold. Alcohol is not expensive to buy on board, a glass of wine is around $6 and bar shelf is $7. You can get a good bottle of Canadian Wine for $40 and enjoy it throughout the trip.
Depending on the time of year you travel will depend how much wildlife you see. I was travelling at the end of March and I was able to see hundreds of dear, a moose, a black bear, Mountain goats, a wolf, and a bald eagle!
After travelling on VIA I would highly recommend it! Train travel is so unique and there is no better way to really see Canada! The long trip through the Northern Ontario wilderness to the city of Winnipeg, through rolling hills of Manitoba and plains of Saskatchewan, and finally entering the Rocky Mountains and then the amazing city of Vancouver!