Just about every blog I have read about this trip says that VIA is NOT Amtrak. Thank goodness. I took my last long distance Amtrak journey last January, the Coast Starlight, from San Diego to Seattle. Why is VIA different? Most bloggers say that the staff is happy to be there, or at least, really good at faking it, right Elaine? They are friendly, just as if you are in Canada!
But on the downside, the Canadian share track with freight and guess who gets priority? Just like Amtrak, freight comes first, after all, it pays the baggage, so to speak. Some delays have been up to ten hours, which I find difficult to believe or endure. But it is reasonable to gain a little time back, since some VIA Canadian stops are rather long. If the delays are at night, I would welcome the sleep, with no rocking to and fro, back and forth, up and down.
Update as of Monday, May 14, I was notified by VIA that my train will not leave on Tuesday at 10pm as scheduled. At least they told me ahead of time. I land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto at 8pm. So, VIA is putting me up in a downtown hotel. My train leaves, hopefully on Wednesday afternoon at 2:30pm. I may have time to look up an old friend! (I did, and it was a great visit)
Unlike Amtrak trains, most people on the Canadian are not headed from Point A to Point B. Most everyone is there for the experience. Most are retirees, but some are younger, and everyone on board is up for an adventure, world travel, and outdoor activities. We had a big group of Aussies.
Activities help pass the time, most revolving around alcohol. No need for a designated driver, though it may be difficult to find my sleeper after too many craft beers. They have, in addition to beer tasting, wine tasting and champagne, along with, now get this, LIVE music!!!! What a great idea!
Most bloggers recommend getting off the train whenever possible. I learned this when I took the Trans Siberian Railway across Russia. The only downside, of course, are the smokers and complainers. But I would always walk from the front to the back of the train when possible. NEVER, I repeat, never, walk around the train, as another train could arrive on the opposite track and prevent you from getting back to the other side!
Wi-Fi is an issue on the train, so station stops are vital for bloggers, and people trying to communicate to their friends back home. Hey, as long as my phone works, I am fine. For $10 a day, I get unlimited talk, text, and a ton of data. But then another problem rears its ugly head. Not all sleepers have electrical outlets. Coach seats have outlets, as do regular rooms. This means having to hang out in the Cafe or Activity car.
Much like Amtrak, it pays to book a lower berth. Why? You must be a Romanian gymnast to reach the upper berth. When sleeping, they say earplugs are a must. How about my wireless music headphones?
Meal time is always a big deal, and quite social, I might add. Bloggers recommend always taking an early shift, for fear of running out of some meals. Eating first gets first pick of meals, just like First or Business Class on the airlines. Bloggers say the food is quite good. We shall see, as Amtrak is basically reheated food, like the airlines.
But meal time is the most social period. Amtrak forces people to fill in booths of four people, no solo or couples dining. It works well for me, since I am traveling solo. I have met the most interesting people on these rail journeys. This should be no different!
Bathrooms and showers are clean, car attendants provide a shower kit. The only annoyance is that the shower faucet only stays on for about 30 seconds each time you push the button. Annoying for the price we paid! But it beats the bucket shower in the Serengeti, and the cold showers in southern Chile.
But all bloggers recommend getting the Sleeper Plus ticket, which I did. Coach can be annoying, uncomfortable, and noisy. I like to doze off during the day, read in quiet surroundings, and talk only when I want to.
Another key bit of information: “Note that the much spoken-of Panorama Dome Car does not join the train until Edmonton so don’t wander up and down the train endlessly wondering if there is a secret entrance like, *ahem* some people did! I actually wasn’t the only one and finally we asked our “Activity Manager” who informed us that we were not going crazy, but that the car wasn’t on the train just yet. I am fairly certain that this piece of information was not included in any of the VIA literature I read before the trip. In Edmonton you get to watch them add the car to the middle of the train which was a lot of fun! (if you have kids who are interested in trains, make sure you find out which cars the Panorama will be going in between and park yourself on the platform so you can watch the process. It’s quite fascinating).”
So, the trip is about scenery, meeting people, and relaxing. For me, it is also a time to catch up on some reading, thinking, and talking to people of varied backgrounds. Maybe it can be called some nourishment for the soul. Maybe it is just another trip. Time will tell!