VIA Rail Canadian + Empire Builder loop trip

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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!🥰
The Salmon House on the Hill is still operating, according to its website. It had a great reputation, but I never got there. It's located halfway up Hollyburn in West Vancouver. My favorite seafood restaurant was The Cannery, right on the city waterfront alongside the industrial piers. Unfortunately, it had to close after the government locked that area down after 9/11.

The Expo 86 site along False Creek is now a beautifully redeveloped area of high-rise apartments, parks, restaurants, etc.
 

Bob Dylan

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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…)
As nice as Vancouver is, you should spend one night in Victoria ( The Empress is THE Place to be seen and have Tea, but plenty of more reasonable places to stay.)

The Ferry trip from Victoria to Seattle is great, wave to my friends in the Gulf and San Juan Islands as you cruise past!
 

thully

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A dining car that doesn't close a half hour before arriving at the terminus? What a novel idea! ;)
Yeah. I was happy about that, and happy they wouldn’t kick us off the train as soon as we arrived. Did not want an arrival like the westbound Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle in LAX… They still could learn from Amtrak with respect to the cafe car - aside from a few-odd complimentary pastries and fruit, there really isn’t a great place to grab snacks for sleeper passengers between meals. Seems like they could offer snacks out of the lounge cars in addition to drinks…
 

thully

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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.
I looked on their website - luggage storage and checked luggage is available. US Customs and Immigration is done in Victoria starting an hour before departure - kind of amazed that they can clear a full boat in an hour. I know they do something like that for Canada to US flights, the Cascades (do they do buses at Pacific Central Station also?), and I did US pre-clearance in Dublin, Ireland when flying back to the US. Figure I may go ahead and do this, but have to decide whether I cut my Vancouver stay a day or two short or come in same day (in which case I’d only have a few hours).
 

thully

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As nice as Vancouver is, you should spend one night in Victoria ( The Empress is THE Place to be seen and have Tea, but plenty of more reasonable places to stay.)

The Ferry trip from Victoria to Seattle is great, wave to my friends in the Gulf and San Juan Islands as you cruise past!
One of the people I saw in the Park car with the tour group was actually from the San Juan Islands, though currently living in Southern California.
 
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I but have to decide whether I cut my Vancouver stay a day or two short or come in same day (in which case I’d only have a few hours).
That's a hard one for sure. If you go for one day, provided you get an early start from Vancouver, you could probably see the not-to-be-missed parts of town , but not The Butchart Gardens. The downtown area around the Inner Harbor is very walkable and would keep you busy - Legislature Building, The Royal Museum, Craigdarroch Castle, and absolutely The Empress for high tea before you board the ferry.
 

thully

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That's a hard one for sure. If you go for one day, provided you get an early start from Vancouver, you could probably see the not-to-be-missed parts of town , but not The Butchart Gardens. The downtown area around the Inner Harbor is very walkable and would keep you busy - Legislature Building, The Royal Museum, Craigdarroch Castle, and absolutely The Empress for high tea before you board the ferry.
Yeah - it seems I won’t get a refund if I leave my hotel early as well. If I went day of, the bus+ferry looks like it takes almost 4 hours so I wouldn’t have a ton of time, though I could do the much quicker seaplane for more money.
 

zephyr17

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Just a couple of random things.

1. Yeah, the fact you are allowed to stay on the train until at least the scheduled 8 am arrival no matter how early it gets in and a full breakfast is now served is great. The first couple of years pre-COVID on the "new" schedule it was only a Continental breakfast, but theyre back to full breakfast service. When I rode westbound in April we arrived in Vancouver around 5 am (the switching and backup move into the station woke me up and I noted the time, but went back to sleep), I ate breakfast in the diner sitting in the station.
2. The coach Skyline does offer cafe type service with snacks for sale much like Amtrak. It is a lot more accessible to sleeper passengers with more normal 8-15 car winter train lengths than the summer hormonal monster 26 car trains. Sleeper passengers are allowed in, but may get the stink eye from the economy pax.
3. The BNSF facility you saw was almost certainly the (ex-GN) New Westminister station, now an BNSF MOW facility. BNSF owns the railroad from the US border to CN Junction at Pacific Central Station's throat. You came off CN ownership at the Fraser Bridge. However CN took over dispatching from the bridge on into Vancouver around 2018, IIRC, but the line is still under BNSF ownership.

Glad you enjoyed your trip, the Canadian is a great ride. Your method of getting from Michigan to Toronto was ingenious.

 
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Yeah - it seems I won’t get a refund if I leave my hotel early as well. If I went day of, the bus+ferry looks like it takes almost 4 hours so I wouldn’t have a ton of time, though I could do the much quicker seaplane for more money.
Well, I'm confident you're going to have fun no matter how you decide. Like everything in life, there are two sides to the coin. Seaplane costs more, but hey! as the say, "You only live once." :) On the other hand, the boat takes longer, but Hey! as they say, "There's always next time." :):)
As we say in Canada.......Bon voyage!
 

thully

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Just a couple of random things.

1. Yeah, the fact you are allowed to stay on the train until at least the scheduled 8 am arrival no matter how early it gets in and a full breakfast is now served is great. The first couple of years pre-COVID on the "new" schedule it was only a Continental breakfast, but theyre back to full breakfast service. When I rode westbound in April we arrived in Vancouver around 5 am (the switching and backup move into the station woke me up and I noted the time, but went back to sleep), I ate breakfast in the diner sitting in the station.
2. The coach Skyline does offer cafe type service with snacks for sale much like Amtrak. It is a lot more accessible to sleeper passengers with more normal 8-15 car winter train lengths than the summer hormonal monster 26 car trains. Sleeper passengers are allowed in, but may get the stink eye from the economy pax.
3. The BNSF facility you saw was almost certainly the (ex-GN) New Westminister station, now an BNSF MOW facility. BNSF owns the railroad from the US border to CN Junction at Pacific Central Station's throat. You came off CN ownership at the Fraser Bridge. However CN took over dispatching from the bridge on into Vancouver around 2018, IIRC, but the line is still under BNSF ownership.

Glad you enjoyed your trip, the Canadian is a great ride. Your method of getting from Michigan to Toronto was ingenious.

It was New Westminster station. As far as the size of the consist, that really didn’t bother me at all, but my sleeper was in car 116, which was only 3 cars from the Skyline, 4 from the diner, and 4 more from the Park car. If my sleeper was in the middle of the consist (or on the opposite end from the Park car), that would probably irritate me a lot more. Didn’t really think about that when booking, though it worked out.
 

Bob Dylan

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It was New Westminster station. As far as the size of the consist, that really didn’t bother me at all, but my sleeper was in car 116, which was only 3 cars from the Skyline, 4 from the diner, and 4 more from the Park car. If my sleeper was in the middle of the consist (or on the opposite end from the Park car), that would probably irritate me a lot more. Didn’t really think about that when booking, though it worked out.
Last time I rode the Canadian ( Pre-COVID)even though it was Winter,there were several Railroad Worker Groups from Canada and the the US riding, so the consist was 22 Cars Long, but fortunately my Car was close to the Diner and the Park Car!
 

jis

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Last time I rode the Canadian ( Pre-COVID)even though it was Winter,there were several Railroad Worker Groups from Canada and the the US riding, so the consist was 22 Cars Long, but fortunately my Car was close to the Diner and the Park Car!
Of the several trips that I have taken on the Canadian, the longest consist was something like 24 cars. But getting to Diner was not an issue since there was a Diner for every five Sleeping Cars. There seemed to be also a Skyline Dome adjacent to each Diner. And of course there was a Park Car (Strathcona Park IIRC) bringing up the hind end.
 
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thully

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On my train, I’m pretty sure there was two diners - diner A and diner B - at each end of the train, with each having a Skyline car (plus the Park car and coach Skyline car). Didn’t walk all the way to the other end so not 100% sure though. Perhaps it is only 5-6 cars at most away, though that would depend on how many coaches there was (since only sleepers use the diners) - I recall there was 22 or 23 cars in total, but not sure of the breakdown. I used diner B, which as about 4 cars away and the one closer to the Park car - would definitely advise anyone booking to get a room close to the diner on the Park car side of the consist.
 

thully

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Didn’t do much in Vancouver yesterday after arrival - was just too tired. Took a nap, grabbed some lunch and dinner (and Tim Hortons) a few blocks from my hotel, and watched some TV. Slept very well for the first time in a while now that I wasn’t on a train and didn’t have anything to get up early for (save for getting breakfast at the hotel).

After getting said breakfast (and noticing a lot of families with kids there - didn’t really think Vancouver was a popular vacation spot for that…), I set out to change my roomette reservation since there was a lower fare available (and I thought I had lower level and wanted to see if they had upper) . After the automated callback hang up on me once, I did the room change online - it gave me the room next to the one I had as well as well as a voucher.

Called back to change my bus ticket to the ferry and apply that voucher to the difference - the agent I got thought they couldn’t book ferries, but when I gave them the corresponding station codes they were able to do it and apply the voucher. May want to call the ferry company and confirm what I need to do for check-in and luggage (and make sure I can get on board with my Amtrak e-ticket). I didn’t book anything from Vancouver to Victoria yet - while I could book the BC Ferries Connector via Amtrak and use that voucher, the earliest departure is 9:45, arriving in Victoria at 1:30, and I kind of want to get there earlier (shooting for 10am since that’s when the Clipper luggage check opens). Figure I’ll play it by ear - may just Uber from Vancouver to Tswwassen, buy a ferry ticket there, and cab from Swartz Bay to Victoria if I don’t want to deal with luggage on transit. Did look at the seaplane, but I may have too much luggage for that, and the 10am arrival is sold out…

Ate some leftovers from last night for lunch, bought tickets for the Vancouver Whitecaps and BC Lions games, and mostly just hung around the hotel. May walk to the bay shore in a bit before I have to head to the stadium for the Whitecaps game.
 

thully

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I’m at the downtown Residence Inn on Hornby. Looks like a 25min-30min walk, though I could catch the bus to get me at least part of the way or a short Uber…
 
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Great location! Just walk south on Hornby and turn right to walk under the Burrard Bridge and head along the waterfront. You'll eventually get to one end of the park, which is huge, about 1,000 acres. There's a restaurant and brew pub shortly after you enter the park, and just a bit farther along the seawall there's the Second Beach food concession where they used to sell the most delicious fresh fish and chips I've had anywhere. Let's hope they still do. And still further along is the up-scale Stanley Park Tea House.

Just before you get to the park, you'll pass the Sylvia Hotel on Beach at Gilford Street. They have a nice bar with picture windows looking out over English Bay. In 1952, I, along with my brother and parents, stepped off the CN transcontinental from Toronto and stayed in the suite on the second floor for two months while my father looked for and purchased a house. I was 12 at the time.

Also, at the foot of Hornby Street is the False Creek Ferry dock, where you can board for a short trip to Granville Island. The farmers market there is a gourmand's delight. Lots of great eating choices in the market and surrounding it. If you're looking for souvenirs to take home, check out he Quebec maple syrup. It comes in different sizes and grades. I recommend the #3 grade; it's cheaper and has a stronger flavor, being from the third tap of the tree. Also, the five-year old Quebec cheddar cheese is pretty much unbeatable IMO. The eight-year old is at least twice as expensive and not that noticeable an upgrade. These items normally can be taken across the border, but I would check with the vendors to be sure of the current rules.

You can also take the ferry on a round trip tour up to the headwaters of False Creek for a unique view of the skyline from the water. The little ferry boats are straight out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
 

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I’m at the downtown Residence Inn on Hornby. Looks like a 25min-30min walk, though I could catch the bus to get me at least part of the way or a short Uber…
As GAT said, be sure and eat some Fish and Chips while you're there! They just taste better in Stanley Park!😊
 
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WWW

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Wished that this VIA = EB rail link was a complete loop by rail -
but alas way too many bus shuttle taxi uber lyft connections -
The Amtrak Seattle-Vancourver (v-v) is basically a bus trip -
Even when the train ran it was no where making convenient
cruise ship connections.
Connection to the Rocky Mountaineer was a whole nother deal.
 

thully

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You could do it all-rail before COVID (and should be able to again in September) using the Cascades and LSL+Maple Leaf to connect between the endpoints. If you want to go by Detroit/Windsor, the only gap would be between Detroit Amtrak/Windsor VIA (though in my case I chose to do a shuttle for the Windsor-Toronto part since I was coming from Ann Arbor and concerned about misconnecting with VIA in Windsor). You would have to stay in Toronto and either Vancouver or Seattle overnight (if those aren’t your starting points), but it could (and will be again) doable. While I’m missing out on the Cascades on this trip (and VIA corridor, though I did that in June so not as disappointed), the ferry (which can be booked with Amtrak, so you could call it an Amtrak Thruway Boat) should be an interesting substitute.
 

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I’m absolutely following this trip report. On November 16th a 6.19 pm, I’ll be boarding the Coast Starlight for a ride up the coast to Seattle, then a midnight bus to Vancouver the next day, then The Canadian to Toronto 4.5 days later, then a Corridor to Montreal, and the Ocean to Halifax A day after that. At that point, I will consider my train bucket list complete, and take a series of flights from Halifax, to Boston, To Denver to San Fransisco and then to Monterey

i didn’t make the Orient or the Siberian Express, or that train across Australia, but I made all the Amtrak ones…and now the CanadIan.
 

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What a great report! Thanks for sharing. Very intrigued by all the thoughtful details you provided. This trip is on my bucket list too. Really have to applaud your creativity - you have me beat there. Sure hope the tunnel bus returns soon.
 

thully

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On Friday afternoon, I walked down to Sunset Park Beach, which was kind of nice - though I didn’t spent that much time as I wanted to get to the Whitecaps game. That was fun - Houston was leading 1-0 most of the way but Vancouver scored twice in the last few minutes (with the winner in stoppage time) to win it. It was a fairly easy walk to/from the stadium - just a straight shot down Davie to Pacific Blvd and the reverse.

On Saturday, I took the short Aquabus ferry ride to Granville Island, and got something to eat. The Public Market was interesting, albeit crowded. Saw a few cheese places, but didn’t see the exact cheese @GAT was referencing at any of them. In any case, I may try to come back during the week when hopefully it will be less crowded. Walked around the rest of the island, which was interested - I did think it may be a more enjoyable experience if they didn’t have cars there, though.

After that, I went back to the hotel and made my way back to the BC Lions game. That was fun, though the game was a blowout (back won 46-14), and the entrance to watch on-field warmups for my club seats was difficult to find (meaning I lost a good chunk of time there). I also got some small cuts on my foot trying to enter my seat from the top. So it could have been better, but still managed to get in a game there.

On Sunday, I spent most of the early day doing laundry, and disposing of my Canadian change in the process since ideally I don’t want to have any left over. I had wanted to go dip my feet in the water, though the cuts made me hold off on that. Nevertheless, in the afternoon I still went for a walk towards Stanley Park along the shoreline - saw English Bay Beach, which looked a bit bigger than Sunset Park Beach, as well as Second Beach, following the Seawall. Saw the large pool next to the beach, as well as the concession stand (which despite Google saying closed at 6, actually seemed to stay open until at least 7). Might want to come back and check out the beach/pool a bit more - also may want to look at bike rentals to see the entire Seawall (seems like a similar length to the loop around Mackinac Island which I’ve done before). Ended up walking all the way back towards my hotel, with a stop at a grocery store and pharmacy.

One thing I still have yet to do is take transit - while the SkyTrain system looks good, I haven’t had to go anywhere where it is the best option to get there. As for the buses, for most of my trips (like up to Stanley Park) I’d have to walk at least half of the distance to/from the bus stops anyway. Guessing they’re more useful for people coming from outside downtown. Also may explain why they’re so big on bikes here, with all the protected bike lanes and bike paths. I do want to make a point of at least riding the SkyTrain - something I have tentatively penciled in for Wednesday when there’s a good chance of rain. Want to try and get the West Coast Express as well out of the old CP station along the Fraser River, though would have to return downtown via another means since it only runs inbound in morning and outbound in the evening. Could get off at the last shared station with SkyTrain and take that back, though I kind of want to do the whole thing (in which case I’d take buses back - doing the last WCE to Mission and the 701 express to SkyTrain in the evening seems like the best way to do that).
 
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