VIA Rail Canadian + Empire Builder loop trip

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Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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793
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Ann Arbor, MI
For a while, the two long-distance trains I’ve most wanted to ride have been the Canadian and the Empire Builder - a pair of trains that work quite nicely as a round-trip loop - and despite planning this late I finally managed to put it together this year. My trip started with me making my way to Toronto on Saturday, July 30th, so that I would be there to board the Canadian the next morning. Unfortunately, the options for getting from Michigan to Toronto without a car aren’t great. While there’s VIA service to Windsor, there is no pedestrian crossing, no intercity bus, and transit service across with the Tunnel Bus from Detroit is still suspended (and getting a cab from where I live in Ann Arbor would be quite expensive if you could even find a driver to go that far). Flying is expensive and means you land in the hell that is Pearson airport (unfortunately, Detroit has no flights to the smaller island airport, or I may have done that). I don’t drive, though this lack of options would be an issue even for someone who could drive - if you drove to Windsor to catch VIA there, you’d have to get back there somehow if taking the Empire Builder back.

To solve this, I got creative, taking multiple airport shuttles to make my way to Toronto without ever getting on a plane or in a car. First, after catching a local bus to downtown Ann Arbor, I caught a Michigan Flyer shuttle to Detroit Metro airport. From there, I caught the Robert Q Airbus shuttle to cross the border. They are based out of London, Ontario (or “Fake London”, as YouTuber Not Just Bikes calls it), but pick up at both Detroit and Toronto airports with various drop-off points in between. My shuttle showed up on time, and we crossed using the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel - there was a back-up in the tunnel, though we eventually made it through. We had to exit the shuttle after the border to do customs/immigration in a building, though we at least didn’t have to drag our luggage in. That went smoothly - one of the people in our shuttle got an extra surprise gift of a random take-home COVID test, though not me (and I was happy I didn’t have to figure out how to do that and drop it off before my departure).

From there, our shuttle ended up going nonstop to London, Ontario. I had considered having them drop me off in Windsor and taking VIA Corridor service to Toronto, but the designated shuttle stop for Windsor was the other side of town and I was afraid that plus border delays would have me miss my train. As it turns out, they would have let me just get off after clearing the border, which would have given me more than enough time even with the delay in the tunnel. Though I had just taken the VIA corridor 6 weeks ago, and I had never seen the highway route to Toronto. That wasn’t anything super-special, besides slightly-different highway signs from the US (including a few in French). We made a few stops in London en route to the Robert Q terminal (yes, this airport shuttle has its own terminal building). When we got there we found that my connecting shuttle to Toronto had left without me, though my driver from Detroit radioed them down and met them before they got far.

From there, it was a smooth trip to Toronto Pearson Airport, though I was disappointed they pulled into Terminal 3 before Terminal 1 (weirdly there is no Terminal 2), since I wanted to catch the UP Express downtown from the latter. That made me just barely miss a train, and have to wait almost 30 minutes for the next one. Once we got moving, I made a spur-the-moment decision to exist at Bloor instead of Union since that would be a few dollars cheaper (and thus I wouldn’t have to refill my Presto to transfer to the subway at Union). In the process, I got a bit lost looking for the transfer from Bloor to Dundas West station - while the map makes it look like the same station, it’s actually more like Chicago Union Station to Quincy or Clinton. That set me back a little more time, as did the subway getting stuck for a while once I was on it (and dragging my luggage up and down stairs didn’t help).

Eventually I finally got to my hotel, about an hour later than I had hoped given the mishaps (and it would have even earlier had I just got off the shuttle in Windsor and caught VIA). I stayed at The Rex Hotel, which is connected a jazz and blues bar. Fairly primitive, but it had good reviews and was far less expensive than other options by Union, and I just wanted a place to sleep close to Union Station so I could make the train in the morning with minimum hassle. Almost splurged for the Royal York, but it would have cost 3 times as much, and most other hotels available in the vicinity were close to that. Ended up eating at the bar, though I didn’t stay for the music since I just wanted to get to bed before the big trip.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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793
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Ann Arbor, MI
My night in Toronto was kind of restless - I was afraid I’d oversleep and miss the train (and given it’s biweekly, it would be near impossible to reschedule and one would likely lose the money as a no-show). While I had set my phone and iPad alarm, there was no other alarm in the room, and I had experienced a malfunctioning phone alarm before. Also, while the music didn’t bother me, there was a lot of noise from Queen Street that made it hard to sleep. In any case, I did wake up at 7am as intended, and walked to the station after quickly showering and packing up everything.

Got to the station, and then tracked down the baggage room to check my bag. I usually carry on with Amtrak since they allow large bags on trains and my station doesn’t do checked baggage, though sleeper passengers on VIA can’t take large bags on the train. As such, I removed a duffel bag full of what I needed for the ride from my bag, and checked the remainder. Then I found the business lounge to make sure I got checked in and got my meal reservation - they had us choose between 1st/2nd/3rd seating for both, and I chose 2nd. To my disappointment they didn’t have temporary luggage storage like Amtrak lounges, so I had to schlep my duffel bag around while I got breakfast and cash at Union Station. Got back there, and the lounge was far more crowded. We soon boarded the train, and I made my way to my sleeper, which was a cabin for 2 (at the time I booked, it was actually slightly less expensive than a cabin for 1).

After boarding, I quickly made my way to the Skyline lounge car to see the views as we exited Toronto. This was my first time seeing an actual dome car - while Amtrak’s sightseer lounge has better views out the sides, the dome allows you to see out the top of the car. Stayed there for a while, though I ended up heading back to my sleeper so I could charge my phone and take my mask off for a little while. While the Skyline car does have a couple outlets, they aren’t conveniently located, unlike the Amtrak sightseer lounge. The lack of outlets is definitely one reason I didn’t choose a berth (though the ability to take your mask off in the enclosed room also played a role). I went to lunch, and had a skewer of shrimp/scallops that was pretty good. Eventually went back to the Skyline car as car attendant passed out small wine glasses and later talked about the Muskoka region as we passed by numerous lakes in Ontario’s cottage country. Mostly hung there until 4pm came, the time which us non-Prestige passengers are allowed access to the Park car.

I had heard of the Park car before this trip, and definitely wanted to check it out as soon as it opened. I understand that many prefer taking the Canadian in winter due to non-Prestige passengers having unlimited access to the Park car then (in addition to lower fares). While the winter scenery would be cool, I’d much rather visit the destinations served by this train in summer (and I’m staying 7 nights in Vancouver and 1 in Seattle for this trip). In the winter I’d prefer the warm destinations served by the Southwest Chief and the Florida trains, so I guess its a tradeoff. The car itself seemed similar in design to the Skyline car, but refurbished with nicer leather seats and more outlets (the bottom-level seats all had them). It basically seemed like the business class version of the Skyline car, though with the added bonus of the railfan window out the back of the train. Ended up bumping into a couple with University of Michigan Alumni Association name tags - was kind of cool to run into fellow Wolverines on this train journey. Stayed there for a while, though headed back to my sleeper before dinner.

Right before the 2nd dinner call, we approached our first fresh air stop of Capreol. Decided to get off the train and stretch my legs, and then reboarded and went down to the end of the Skyline car to await the dinner call. It ended up being delayed - the original estimate was 7pm ,but it ended up being 7:45ish. It seems the stop delayed dinner a bit, and they do the Prestige passengers first to do their bonus appetizer. By the time I ate I was quite hungry, and on top of that was told that the only thing left for the next day’s dining was the third seating (with an estimated dinner time of 8:30). Got the steak with mashed potatoes, and even ate the cake (I’m not usually a cake person but was hungry). By the time I got back to my room, the bed was down and the sun was going down (and my phone had no service, having lost it slightly after Capreol), so I decided to go to bed so that I could get up early for sunrise and to make the early breakfast.
 

pennyk

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Thanks for the report. I am anxious to hear of your experience compared to mine (in December 2011, but also in a room for 2).
 

mcropod

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I'll be along with you for the ride, if you're OK with that! I was lucky enough to travel on the EB then the Canadian in pre-plague times and had bags of fun. Riding in one of the dome cars on VIA was a great way to see the country.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
Messages
793
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Ann Arbor, MI
I slept OK in my first night on the Canadian - struggled a bit at first, but eventually was able to sleep well (certainly better than in Toronto without the worry of missing my train). Got up around 7, and surprisingly had a cell signal right when I woke up, so I paused to check e-mail and other things online while I could (which was brief). After that I showered and got dressed to go down for breakfast. While the cabin for 2 (and cabin for 1 as well) have their own toilet and sink, they do share a shower, which is one area that Amtrak bedrooms are better (though I’ve never done a bedroom on Amtrak before). The toilet is at least in its own room in the cabin for 2, unlike in a cabin for 1 where the bed covers it. Breakfast had a bit of a wait by the time I got down there - unlike lunch and dinner, it was first-come, first-serve. The people who I sat with were speaking French and ordering in French - the menus (as well as the train announcements) are in both English/French as those are both official languages of Canada, and I assume crew have to be able to speak both.

After that I went back to my room and went to the Skyline lounge a bit. Ended up reading a book for a little while, but wanted to make sure I got back to the Skyline lounge for the car attendant to give a little talk about Ontario. Right before he could start, we came up on our fresh air stop of Sioux Lookout, so that was postponed to after the break. Given that I was wondering when my lunch would end up being, since 3rd call was supposed to be 1:30 (right around our stop time). Since it was going to be after our stop, I went ahead and got off the train, and was surprised to see almost no platform - we got off the train and stepped onto dirt. Reboarded the train and finally got the Ontario talk, after which I was called for lunch, at this point after 2pm.

Had a hamburger for lunch as well as chocolate ice cream, which was pretty good as I was quite hungry having such a late meal time. However, getting the late meal times did give us first choice for tomorrow - at which point I took the first meal time. The lunch is a bit early, but with the delays actually getting served I figure it won’t be too bad, and I think we won’t pick last for the next day like non-Prestige 2nd sitting passengers evidently do. By the time I finished it was after 3 - at which point I went back to the room for a little while, charged my phone, and started writing the first few posts of this report while I awaited the 4pm opening of the Park car to non-Prestige. At that point, I made a bee-line to that car, and found that the top was full with some kind of tour group having a meeting. I stayed on the bottom level and finished my report while looking out the rear railfan window, and eventually spotted a seat upstairs when the tour group cleared out. Had wanted to go back to the Skyline for a talk on Manitoba at 5:30, but kind of forgot once I was in the Park car.

The scenery for this portion of the trip (and earlier today) was actually quite nice - lots of lakes and rivers to see in this part of Ontario. I’ve heard people say that the Canadian east of Winnipeg is boring as far as scenery, but I’d say it tops most of Amtrak east of the Rockies. Went downstairs and saw another person from that Michigan alumni group as well as one I saw yesterday. They wondered where I had been all day, at which point I explained I was not in the tour group and only had a regular sleeper ticket (I was pretty sure they were in Prestige, as were most of the tour groups - which leads me to wonder if these groups are getting a bulk discount of some sort…). That is definitely something I don’t like about the separation between Prestige and regular class - we don’t get to see everyone all the time…

At second dinner call the Park car nearly emptied out - figure the Prestige passengers all take that time as it’s not too early or late. It also helped that we had a fresh air stop in Redditt, ON - since that was the first time I had cell service in a while, I thought it might be funny to joke that it was named due to being your chance to post on Reddit. Had the top dome nearly to myself, and the bottom didn’t have many people either. Ended up having a drink, then went back to my car before we reached Winnipeg as I wanted to say goodbye to my attendant and give a tip. I asked about when dinner would be served for 3rd seating as it was supposed to happen around the time of our Winnipeg stop. Glad I did, because it turns out it was happening during the Winnipeg stop - had I got off I would have missed it. There were very few people in the diner - wonder if some got off and missed it (hopefully they got food in Winnipeg somewhere). Felt kind of weird - almost like that early last meal on a long-distance train coming into Chicago. Had cod with potatoes and tried the soup since they had no salad due to supply issues, as well as a chocolate dessert. The meal was great - I’d say the cod was the best entree I’d had so far on the trip. Went back to the room after, and now about to head to bed. Looking forward to Saskatchewan and Alberta tomorrow. Hoping by taking 1st meal instead of 2nd I avoid 3rd the next day, while still getting to visit the Park car when empty.
 

MccfamschoolMom

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Since I'm not from Michigan, I was thinking that the way I would connect from VIA's Canadian to the Empire Builder would be the VIA/Amtrak Maple Leaf to Buffalo, then the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. (In that direction would probably be at the end of the trip, since my hometown is much closer to the starting point of the westbound EB in Chicago; otherwise, the reverse of those directions might work if hubby & I wanted to do the Canadian first.) I like your creative solution to getting from Michigan to Toronto, though! Something along those lines would be a possibility for us if we wanted to make a stop at the Spinrite Yarn Factory Outlet in Listowel, ON -- although Listowel isn't a stop on the Corridor service Windsor-Toronto (I think), and I'd probably have to arrange to have most of my purchases shipped directly home, as lugging along more yarn than I'd need for a week's worth of crocheting on the Canadian + EB would be a pain.
 

Northwestern

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For a while, the two long-distance trains I’ve most wanted to ride have been the Canadian and the Empire Builder - a pair of trains that work quite nicely as a round-trip loop - and despite planning this late I finally managed to put it together this year. My trip started with me making my way to Toronto on Saturday, July 30th, so that I would be there to board the Canadian the next morning. Unfortunately, the options for getting from Michigan to Toronto without a car aren’t great. While there’s VIA service to Windsor, there is no pedestrian crossing, no intercity bus, and transit service across with the Tunnel Bus from Detroit is still suspended (and getting a cab from where I live in Ann Arbor would be quite expensive if you could even find a driver to go that far). Flying is expensive and means you land in the hell that is Pearson airport (unfortunately, Detroit has no flights to the smaller island airport, or I may have done that). I don’t drive, though this lack of options would be an issue even for someone who could drive - if you drove to Windsor to catch VIA there, you’d have to get back there somehow if taking the Empire Builder back.

To solve this, I got creative, taking multiple airport shuttles to make my way to Toronto without ever getting on a plane or in a car. First, after catching a local bus to downtown Ann Arbor, I caught a Michigan Flyer shuttle to Detroit Metro airport. From there, I caught the Robert Q Airbus shuttle to cross the border. They are based out of London, Ontario (or “Fake London”, as YouTuber Not Just Bikes calls it), but pick up at both Detroit and Toronto airports with various drop-off points in between. My shuttle showed up on time, and we crossed using the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel - there was a back-up in the tunnel, though we eventually made it through. We had to exit the shuttle after the border to do customs/immigration in a building, though we at least didn’t have to drag our luggage in. That went smoothly - one of the people in our shuttle got an extra surprise gift of a random take-home COVID test, though not me (and I was happy I didn’t have to figure out how to do that and drop it off before my departure).

From there, our shuttle ended up going nonstop to London, Ontario. I had considered having them drop me off in Windsor and taking VIA Corridor service to Toronto, but the designated shuttle stop for Windsor was the other side of town and I was afraid that plus border delays would have me miss my train. As it turns out, they would have let me just get off after clearing the border, which would have given me more than enough time even with the delay in the tunnel. Though I had just taken the VIA corridor 6 weeks ago, and I had never seen the highway route to Toronto. That wasn’t anything super-special, besides slightly-different highway signs from the US (including a few in French). We made a few stops in London en route to the Robert Q terminal (yes, this airport shuttle has its own terminal building). When we got there we found that my connecting shuttle to Toronto had left without me, though my driver from Detroit radioed them down and met them before they got far.

From there, it was a smooth trip to Toronto Pearson Airport, though I was disappointed they pulled into Terminal 3 before Terminal 1 (weirdly there is no Terminal 2), since I wanted to catch the UP Express downtown from the latter. That made me just barely miss a train, and have to wait almost 30 minutes for the next one. Once we got moving, I made a spur-the-moment decision to exist at Bloor instead of Union since that would be a few dollars cheaper (and thus I wouldn’t have to refill my Presto to transfer to the subway at Union). In the process, I got a bit lost looking for the transfer from Bloor to Dundas West station - while the map makes it look like the same station, it’s actually more like Chicago Union Station to Quincy or Clinton. That set me back a little more time, as did the subway getting stuck for a while once I was on it (and dragging my luggage up and down stairs didn’t help).

Eventually I finally got to my hotel, about an hour later than I had hoped given the mishaps (and it would have even earlier had I just got off the shuttle in Windsor and caught VIA). I stayed at The Rex Hotel, which is connected a jazz and blues bar. Fairly primitive, but it had good reviews and was far less expensive than other options by Union, and I just wanted a place to sleep close to Union Station so I could make the train in the morning with minimum hassle. Almost splurged for the Royal York, but it would have cost 3 times as much, and most other hotels available in the vicinity were close to that. Ended up eating at the bar, though I didn’t stay for the music since I just wanted to get to bed before the big trip.
I have been interested, for a long time, in a loop journey connecting the Empire Builder with the VIA Canadian. It was encouraging news with the proposal for a passenger train between Detroit and Toronto, which was part of the "Connect Us" plan for the expansion of Amtrak routes throughout the country. However, I'm not optimistic that the proposed route will ever happen.

Another thought, how about a trip east, on the Builder, to St. Paul/Minneapolis. I believe there is a `1.5 hour flight, on Delta, from St Paul/Minneapolis to Winnipeg, MB. Board the Canadian in Winnipeg headed west to Vancouver, BC. Then a Cascade to Seattle to complete the loop. Of course, such a plan would eliminate Toronto. I guess you could fly from MSP to Toronto if desired.
 
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I have been interested, for a long time, in a loop journey connecting the Empire Builder with the VIA Canadian. It was encouraging news with the proposal for a passenger train between Detroit and Toronto, which was part of the "Connect Us" plan for the expansion of Amtrak routes throughout the country. However, I'm not optimistic that the proposed route will ever happen.

Another thought, how about a trip east, on the Builder, to St. Paul/Minneapolis. I believe there is a `1.5 hour flight, on Delta, from St Paul/Minneapolis to Winnipeg, MB. Board the Canadian in Winnipeg headed west to Vancouver, BC. Then a Cascade to Seattle to complete the loop. Of course, such a plan would eliminate Toronto. I guess you could fly from MSP to Toronto if desired.
Not only would that plan eliminate Toronto, but also, IMHO, the gorgeous scenery through Ontario around Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. However, you'd only have to tip one SCA. 😄 Also, if you're going to fly to Toronto, why not stay on the EB all the way to Chicago?
 
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If you wanted to do the Chicago-Toronto part of the loop via Michigan, I’d probably recommend a cab between Detroit and Windsor until the Tunnel Bus resumes operations - the shuttle I used left from Detroit Metro Airport, which would be out of the way from the train (and the fare would be comparable to a cab from downtown Detroit/Windsor). I know Checker Cab in Detroit and Veterans Cab in Windsor cross the border, though you’d have to call for a cab and specifically request one that can cross the border (and may want to see about reserving in advance). Would recommend that over Uber/Lyft because there you can’t guarantee the driver you get has the proper documents to cross the border.
Since I'm not from Michigan, I was thinking that the way I would connect from VIA's Canadian to the Empire Builder would be the VIA/Amtrak Maple Leaf to Buffalo, then the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. (In that direction would probably be at the end of the trip, since my hometown is much closer to the starting point of the westbound EB in Chicago; otherwise, the reverse of those directions might work if hubby & I wanted to do the Canadian first.) I like your creative solution to getting from Michigan to Toronto, though! Something along those lines would be a possibility for us if we wanted to make a stop at the Spinrite Yarn Factory Outlet in Listowel, ON -- although Listowel isn't a stop on the Corridor service Windsor-Toronto (I think), and I'd probably have to arrange to have most of my purchases shipped directly home, as lugging along more yarn than I'd need for a week's worth of crocheting on the Canadian + EB would be a pain
 
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Last night I slept about as well as the first night on the train- a bit rough at first, but eventually fell asleep. Got up and took a shower and headed to breakfast, where I had to be put on the waitlist (though I got to have coffee, juice, and muffins in the Skyline lounge while I waited). When I got back I was surprised to find my bed still down despite putting the “please clean cabin” sign up (my previous car attendant had put it down while I was in the shower, even before breakfast). Tried to locate my attendant and couldn't find him. Eventually found him at the stop in Saskatoon and asked about it and he said that he had not been around due to being on night duty. I would have tried to put the bed down myself, but I recall seeing the Cabin for 2 requires special tools to do so (unlike the cabin for 1 which is simpler).

Went to my early lunch sitting after spending some time in the Skyline car, and had the shrimp+scallops skewer (wanted the turkey but it came premade with lettuce and tomato I did not want). Thought it didn’t taste as good as it did a couple days ago for some reason (though they did give me a lot of vanilla ice cream for dessert which filled me up), and came back to find my bed still down. Found my attendant and he said that my previous attendant said I asked to keep it down, which I definitely did not. Finally the bed put down, and got my phone charged (since there are no outlets in the Skyline car in a good location). Stayed there for a while, and then headed back to the Skyline until I could go to the Park car at 4pm. The scenery through Saskatchewan was pretty much like Nebraska - quite flat - though seeing the vastness of the prairies was quite a sight, even if it might not be the best scenery. Though the Zephyr crosses Nebraska at night, and the Canadian goes through Saskatchewan during the day.

Soon before it was time to hit the Park car, we crossed into Alberta, and the scenery became more interesting. We crossed a large bridge over the Battle River, and it felt like we were way up high from the top of the Park car. My time in the Park car didn’t last long, though, as I had the 5pm dinner reservation. Went back a bit before then to drop some things off at my sleeper, and the call was made pretty much on time (unlike my experiences with 2nd and 3rd dinner). Had the prime rib and mashed potatoes, and got the chocolate mousse cake, which I didn’t up eating since it was rock-hard (unlike the similar-sounding cake I had ordered previously on this train that was much softer).

In the dining car they announced that the train would be making a 3 hour stop in Jasper from 6:30-9:30am (with boarding closed from 8-9), and meals would function a bit differently tomorrow - breakfast from 6:30-8:30 would be continental, and brunch would be served first-come/first-serve from 9:30-1:30, with early diners getting early dinner reservations and late diners getting late dinner reservations. However, beyond that, I had noticed that we were in fact almost in Edmonton, despite that stop not being until 8:50. Asked about it, and that was indeed the case, though we need to wait for #2 to leave Edmonton before pulling into the station. I also noticed that the departure from Edmonton wasn’t until midnight, so we’d be basically sitting there for 5 hours. This was a disappointment - there was no more scenery to be seen, and the Edmonton station isnt particularly close to town (and the announcement adviser passengers to not stray too far). Asked about this, and this is due to the extensive padding in the schedule, which I had heard about - the Canadian used to be only 3 nights, but then CN started inflicting massive delays on the train resulting in the padding being added. Also, when I returned to my sleeper, my bed was already up - perhaps a bit too soon. And for some reason, the outlet stopped charging my phone, and I had to press the Reset button to get it to work). Thought the one benefit of this extended stop would be consistent cell service, though it seemed unusable for a while despite 5 bars and still slow - maybe the trains are overloading the towers with the train stopped…

Had I known about the long, early stop in Edmonton and the different procedure for meals tomorrow I would have definitely taken a later dinner time and enjoyed the Park car more (though I may perhaps hit the bar there, which is fortunately still open through this long layover).. Overall, I’d say this was my least enjoyable day so far given the bed/food situations and the early, long Edmonton stop, though it still beats a normal workday! I figure I may call it a night early so I can make sure I’m up for Jasper - something my car attendant may have anticipated with the early bed turn-down…
 
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During last night’s long Edmonton layover, I in fact ended up going to the Park car for drinks, and that made the time more enjoyable - also saw someone from that Michigan tour group I had previously met down there. After that, I did go to sleep, though I ended up going fairly late (was following some municipal election results back home). Eventually fell asleep - woke up a few times, and finally decided to get up for good around 5:45 with the Jasper stop coming up. As it turned out we had lost time overnight and the Jasper stop was further out than I had guessed, but it did give me time to shower and get the continental breakfast in the diner (which was served like a normal breakfast, albeit with a menu with “continental” being the only option). They actually had a physical menu like that, which was a bit funny.

After that, I decided to skip deboarding at the Jasper stop as we only had 45 minutes instead of 3 hours, and would have to wait to reboard with gloomy cold weather outside. Figured grabbing a spot in the Skyline dome ahead of the reboarding was a better use of that time. I didn’t regret that, though the reboarding and departure took a bit longer than expected, which made me with I had waited a bit longer to stock up on coffee first (wish I had brought one of my large insulated mugs…) The scenery was the best so far on this trip, and the best I had seen on any train (the Zephyr and Starlight/Surfliner are close, but I’d say this is better). Didn’t get to see Mount Robson (it was too cloudy) but saw many other mountains, Pyramid Falls, and a river that paralleled the mountains for a long distance. We also got some bonus scenery east of Jasper due to our late arrival, which made up a bit for our stop being shortened.

After a while in the dome, I decided to go get brunch as I was getting hungry. Ended up on the waitlist, though was eventually called. Got the “transcontinental” (eggs+meat), which was good. The one thing that wasn’t great was our dinner assignments - we got the dreaded third sitting, even though I came in before the usual time for second sitting lunch. Worse, dinner was on Pacific time (while brunch was on Mountain), which meant it was an hour later, and we have an early arrival into Vancouver. This would be OK if they shifted the sitting times up a couple hours to account for the time change and early brunch, but they don’t. Asked about snacks in the lounge car, and they really just had the fruit/cookies/pastries. This is one area where Amtrak is superior to VIA, as they have the cafe car (perhaps we could go check out what the coaches have, but I’m not sure we’re allowed there and it’s like 20 cars away). The one other option I was given was room service for the 1st or 2nd seating, which I decided to do - though it does mean I have to go back to my room ahead of the seating, which is a bit annoying given I want to hit the Park car at 4pm.
 
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Ann Arbor, MI
I initially decided to do the room service for the 2nd sitting, and made my way to the Park car at 4pm. Enjoyed the scenery from the dome, though started to feel hungry sooner and wanted to go to my room so I could take my mask off - it didn’t bother me most of this trip, but with today’s scenery I’d spent the majority of the time in the domes instead of my sleeper. Went back to my sleeper around 4:45 and was able to do first sitting in my room - had chicken, potatoes, salad, and the chocolate truffle (which was the dessert I had enjoyed a few days ago and not the hard chocolate mousse). When I was eating someone I recognized from the lounge car came by my sleeper and said I could come eat now since here weren’t too many people, though at that point I had already eaten. While I ate I didn’t miss much - most of the interesting celery was visible out my window, and halfway through the meal we began our extended stop in Kamloops. We saw the Rocky Mountaineer pass through - at some point it may be interesting to do that given all the scenery would be in daylight, though their poor refund policy had me hesitant to do that while COVID is still around.

After dinner I made my way back to the Park car, where I saw one of the people from the tour group I had talked to the previous couple nights, Talked a little while more, but then she and others in here group had to go for the 2nd dinner call, though other people I recognized did sit down in the lounge around then. At that point we left Kamloops and I returned to the dome, and the scenery after that point was possibly better than what we had seen earlier in the morning, Our train paralleled Kamloops Lake for a long distance, and we went through a series of tunnels, the first of which brought back memories of the Moffat Tunnel on the Zephyr. Our train made several turns where we could see the other cars turning in a loop, and I was reminded a bit of doing the Tehachapi Loop detour on the Coast Starlight almost 10 years ago.

After the tunnels and Kamloops Lake, it rapidly became too dark to see anything, so I moved to the lower level of the Park car. Ended up getting a couple drinks, and talked to some of the few people remaining and the bartenders about my trip and plans both in Vancouver (which at this point include possibly going to an MLS and CFL game, as well as spending some time by the ocean and checking out the SkyTrain system) and to ride the Empire Builder. I definitely picked the right direction to do this and the Empire Builder - you only get the Kamloops scenery going westbound, and with the schedule change may only get Glacier National Park going eastbound. There was also talk about the tour group, which was apparently organized by a company called Orbridge and included alumni from a number of universities. The bartenders also expressed their dislike for the Rocky Mountaineer, due to being competition and strictly a tourist train…

Had hoped to see some of the people who went to second dinner return, but they did not - given the early morning I don’t blame them, Decided to head back and get ready for bed (and write this). While I was afraid 4 nights might be too much when I booked this (and it would likely be better if they could get CN to treat them better, remove padding, and make it 3 nights again with a later arrival and no 5 hour stops at the middle-of-nowhere Edmonton station), though it ended up being great. Just wish I was still getting to do things with people I saw on the train once in Vancouver…
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Really enjoying your reports, and I agree with your statement that the Canadian should return to its previous Schedule and be treated better by the Dispatchers.

When you get to Vancouver, if you haven't been over to Vancouver Island to see Victoria, it's really worth the Bus ride and Ferry trip, or if you want to splurge you can take one of the Float Planes for the quicker trip which really gives you more time to see this Gem of a City and the breath taking views of the area!
 
Joined
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Ann Arbor, MI
Went to bed, and it seemed like our train did not move at all for 2 hours - was woke up at 2am when it finally started lurching forward. Woke up again shortly after 5 while making our second-to-last stop in Abbotsford, and ultimately got up a bit before 6 since I wanted to see the Fraser River scenery. Showered, left a tip for my attendant (despite the mixup the morning after Winnipeg, he really helped out with the room service meal last night) and went to the dining car, only to find they had a waitlist. Was surprised - figured many would skip it with the early arrival, but I wanted to have one last breakfast on the train (and possibly see some of the people I’ve met for the last time). Was told that even if we got into the station we could still eat, and ended up waiting and eventually was served.

As we rolled into Vancouver, we passed over a bridge and started to see more populated areas. As we closed in on the station, I noticed the line of aptly-named Cantrail buses (“Can’t Rail”) that substitute for the Cascades to Seattle (and I will be riding, unless I changed my mind and went via Victoria), as well as the SkyTrain which I definitely want to ride while I’m here (and possibly a loop with the West Coast Express that leaves out of the old CP station). Also saw a BNSF facility fo some sort - surprised to see any major freight railway here in Canada that isn’t CN or CP. Did the transcontinental again, and saw the one person who didn’t return to the Park Car after second seating last night in and said goodbye.

Finished breakfast shortly after our train stopped, and went back to my sleeper to collect everything and pack up. Left the train, and made my way to the station to collect my bag. It was chaos just like luggage claim at the airport - I hadn’t seen my large bag since Toronto, and I hoped to see it soon. Luckily I did, and I shoved the duffel I used for the train inside so I could easily wheel it around. Not wanting to repeat my struggles with stairs getting to my Toronto hotel, I requested an Uber there. Got there, and was fortunately able to get into my room early.

All in all it was a great trip. The highlights were yesterday’s scenery around Jasper and Kamloops, as well as the Park car (and the first couple days in Ontario was significantly better than expected). Aside from getting third sitting at dinner a couple times (which I found room service can save you from) and the bed mishap after Winnipeg, my only disappointment was not getting to use the Park car more - both the car itself and seeing the people I got to know in Prestige who usually gathered in there. I do get why people like to book in Winter, though wondering if the perfect balance of weather, sunlight, cost, and Park car access might be to go right before the Park car restrictions start or right after they end. If price is no object Prestige would be the way to go, but price is an object for most people.

While I’m happy to be in Vancouver, I kind of wish I was in one of the tour groups still doing stuff with people I saw on the train instead of on my own (though there are some things I want to do that I may be the only one who wants to, like the CFL game). Looking forward to doing stuff here (and a possible side trip to Victoria, though I’m not sure if that works well as a day trip or if I’d need to change my itinerary to add an overnight), and returning via Seattle and the Empire Builder.
 
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I'm happy that you are allowing yourself plenty of time in my beautiful home town of Vancouver. And Bob Dylan's suggestion about Victoria is spot on. Of his two alternatives, I would recommend the ferry if only for the trip through Active Pass, a tricky S-curve through a narrow passage where, if they are both on schedule, two large ferries pass each other right in the middle of the pass. Lots of horn blowing and manufactured excitement. :) You could combine both methods: ferry over and float plane back, which should land you right in Vancouver Harbor downtown.

And since you seem to like like dining experiences (as I do), I highly recommend one dinner at The Observatory on the top of Grouse Mountain (about 3700 feet above the ocean almost directly below). I haven't been back to Vancouver in several years, but the food used to be very good, and the current published menu looks just as appetizing. If you are there during the twilight hours, you will have spectacular views of the city lights coming up and the sun going down over Vancouver Island. The gondola ride to the top is free if you have a confirmed dinner reservation.

Sorry.....I just can't avoid my enthusiasm when it comes to Vancouver (even though I now live in beautiful San Francisco).
 
Joined
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Messages
572
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I'm happy that you are allowing yourself plenty of time in my beautiful home town of Vancouver. And Bob Dylan's suggestion about Victoria is spot on. Of his two alternatives, I would recommend the ferry if only for the trip through Active Pass, a tricky S-curve through a narrow passage where, if they are both on schedule, two large ferries pass each other right in the middle of the pass. Lots of horn blowing and manufactured excitement. :) You could combine both methods: ferry over and float plane back, which should land you right in Vancouver Harbor downtown.

And since you seem to like like dining experiences (as I do), I highly recommend one dinner at The Observatory on the top of Grouse Mountain (about 3700 feet above the ocean almost directly below). I haven't been back to Vancouver in several years, but the food used to be very good, and the current published menu looks just as appetizing. If you are there during the twilight hours, you will have spectacular views of the city lights coming up and the sun going down over Vancouver Island. The gondola ride to the top is free if you have a confirmed dinner reservation.

Sorry.....I just can't avoid my enthusiasm when it comes to Vancouver (even though I now live in beautiful San Francisco).
Also, if you want to see Victoria, you could go over on your final day and then take the 5:00pm fast ferry from downtown Victoria to downtown Seattle. It takes a little less than three hours (very scenic) and it would get you there the evening before you board the EB (or earlier if you're spending time in Seattle).
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
24,881
Location
Austin Texas
I'm happy that you are allowing yourself plenty of time in my beautiful home town of Vancouver. And Bob Dylan's suggestion about Victoria is spot on. Of his two alternatives, I would recommend the ferry if only for the trip through Active Pass, a tricky S-curve through a narrow passage where, if they are both on schedule, two large ferries pass each other right in the middle of the pass. Lots of horn blowing and manufactured excitement. :) You could combine both methods: ferry over and float plane back, which should land you right in Vancouver Harbor downtown.

And since you seem to like like dining experiences (as I do), I highly recommend one dinner at The Observatory on the top of Grouse Mountain (about 3700 feet above the ocean almost directly below). I haven't been back to Vancouver in several years, but the food used to be very good, and the current published menu looks just as appetizing. If you are there during the twilight hours, you will have spectacular views of the city lights coming up and the sun going down over Vancouver Island. The gondola ride to the top is free if you have a confirmed dinner reservation.

Sorry.....I just can't avoid my enthusiasm when it comes to Vancouver (even though I now live in beautiful San Francisco).
Is the "Salmon House" still Open? Best Salmon I've ever had, but that was back in the 80s when I lived there for a year, and early 90s when we visited for The Worlds Fair!🥰
 
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Ann Arbor, MI
I definitely want to get to Victoria - how much time would you recommend there? I could just go the day I go to Seattle, though I may be able to shorten my time in Vancouver to add more time there. Also, if I take the fast ferry to Seattle, is it possible to check my bags there early so I can explore the town without lugging them around? It seems that I can actually buy the ferry ticket through Amtrak and thus change my Can’t Rail bus reservation into a ferry without penalty (if you can’t rail, a ferry seems to be a better alternative than a bus, particularly if I want to do Victoria anyways…)
 
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I don't know whether you can check your bags early, but the ferry lays over for about seven hours in Victoria, so it just might be possible. I would call the ferry office for details and about how/where you clear US Customs and Immigration.
 
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