I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip on Via Rail from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Vancouver, British Columbia. Via has some amazing deals available this year, offering fares that are 70% off the regular price. The train fare was less than it would have cost to make the trip on the Greyhound bus!
After a visit with family in Saskatchewan, my daughter and I greatly enjoyed the train trip home to Vancouver. The train we took was Via Rail’s flagship Western Transcontinental, the Canadian. It travels from Toronto to Vancouver and Vancouver to Toronto three times each week. The total trip takes four nights and three days. The Saskatoon to Vancouver portion of the trip took about thirty-six hours.
We left Saskatoon at about 10:30 p.m. on Monday, and arrived in Vancouver at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Kamloops and Vancouver are the only scheduled stops in British Columbia, but passengers can also start or end their journey in Valemount, Blue River, Clearwater, Ashcroft, Boston Bar, Hope, Chilliwack or Abbotsford.
We spent most of our time in the observation dome for the British Columbia portion of the journey. The scenery was breathtaking! The trip from Jasper to Vancouver, or the reverse, would be worth taking just for this reason alone.
Top 10 reasons to take Via Rail
1. It is the most relaxed way to travel, by far. It is free of the stresses of reading maps, dealing with highway traffic or the endless lineups and constraint of traveling by air. Via’s slogan is “A more human way to travel.” This is definitely true.
2. Meet and socialize with other passengers. People from all parts of Canada take Via Rail. There are also many American and international passengers. We found the best places to chat with people were in the dome car and the dining car, since you are seated with strangers if you don’t have a party of exactly four people.
3. The opportunity to enjoy spectacular scenery. A large part of the trip through the Rockies is only accessible by rail. The highway was not always built along the same route as the train tracks, which were completed much earlier than any roads through the mountains. Canada is a very large country and traveling by train is a great way to see much of it in a short period of time.
4. Passengers have the opportunity to move around and change seats whenever they like. The observation domes are popular viewing areas, as well as the lounge below the dome. The freedom to stretch your legs and take a walk is wonderful – no seat belts!
5. If traveling with family or friends, the train allows you to spend quality time together – dining, playing cards or games, and enjoying the scenery from the dome. We met several families that were three generations traveling together, similar to trips on a cruise ship.
6. Comfortable sleeping arrangements. If passengers purchase the Sleeper Touring class, their ticket is for a cabin or an upper or lower berth. The berths are seats during the day and covert into beds for the night. All meals are included in Sleeper Touring class. If traveling in economy, which we did, your ticket is for a seat only. The economy section of the train was not very crowded and all groups of two, or single passengers, were able to have two seats to themselves, to fold down in a makeshift bed for the night. We found it to be quite comfortable.
7. Delicious meals and snacks available. As mentioned above, if traveling by Sleeper Touring class, all meals are included, with different dining times available in the dining car. In economy class, meals can be purchased in the dining car. There are also light meals (burgers, sandwiches, etc,) available in the lounge car. We used both these options and also got off the train for an hour in Jasper and purchased some food in a grocery store.
8. Organized activities for kids. The Canadian has an on-board Activity Coordinator that provided a scavenger hunt, coloring and craft supplies, and movie viewings in the lounge car. Many kids also enjoyed the observation dome and playing games at the tables in the lounge.
9. Attentive service by amazing on-board staff. Each staff person we dealt with provided excellent service. This is more often the exception rather than the rule with customer service and it made the trip extremely enjoyable. i.e.: On our first night, there was a light that happened to shine right over our seats, making it difficult to sleep. When a staff member noticed that it was bothering us, she taped a large paper bag over it, since she couldn’t turn it off.
10. Clean, comfortable services throughout the train. This included the economy seating areas, washrooms, lounges and the observation dome seating area. There were cold drinking water dispensers, hot water (for tea/coffee), and magazines/newspapers available in the lounge car at all times. The snack bar was open from 6 a.m. to about 11 p.m. each day.
The trip home to Vancouver on Via Rail was one of the highlights of our holiday this summer. We look forward to the next time we can travel by train.
*Information provided by the brochure and route guide from Via Rail Canada and viarail.ca.