Across Canada on the VIA Rail
VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian is a cross-country passenger train that travels between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Toronto. The train runs all year round and is very popular in the summer months when Canada’s wildlife can be spotted from the dome and panoramic cars throughout the train. In the winter months, it’s a treat to view the glistening snowfall on the landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, the plains, and the towns and cities of the country.
My family and I opted to spend part of our three-week winter holiday on board the VIA Rail. My kids were eager to see their sleeper room and the rest of the train, and since this was our first overnight train trip we were all excited for the experience.
We boarded our train in the later part of the evening. The crew was wonderful; they got us boarded, had our baggage in our room waiting for us, and already had our beds turned down. It was close to bedtime for the kids, so we all watched a movie and fell asleep to the back-and-forth swaying of the train.
The next morning was exciting. The sunrise was a brilliant pink and orange mixture of clouds and sun that eventually gave way to a snowy day. After a delightful breakfast, we headed up to the 360-degree-view dome cars. Here anyone can sit and take in the views. We were on the first leg of our trip into the Canadian Rockies and got off the train in Jasper for three nights before completing our cross-country trip. VIA Rail allows sleeper class passengers one on/off pass; passengers can decide where they’d like to get off the train and spend some time, then, depending on the train’s schedule, they can get back on the train to finish the trip.
Three days later, we boarded our train for the second leg of our journey across Canada. In the Jasper depot Barry, our train’s service coordinator, greeted us and made our dinner reservations for the evening. We boarded, found our rooms, and headed to dinner where Barry met us with a large, friendly smile and offered to take our dinner orders. His excitement for us to be on board was infectious and made us feel at home almost immediately. Dinner was delicious and we ate every bite, including dessert.
The train was our home for the next three days. One would think we’d be bored with nothing to do, but to our surprise there were some great activities to keep us entertained. Martin, the train’s activities director, held a beer and wine tasting for the adults. For the kids, there was an array of games, books, movies, and even a scavenger hunt set up to keep them busy. There are also the dome cars, where passengers can sit high above the top of the train and see the passing landscape, and the Park car on the end of train, where passengers can sit and visit with one another. The kids and I also sat and played cards or watched movies; it was a great time together.
The food on the train was no small feat. We were completely impressed with the kitchen’s ability to serve such great meals three times a day to more than 200 people. VIA Rail has a new menu that highlights the regions the train travels through. We had some outstanding meals, including bone-in rib-eye steak, a rack of lamb, fresh local fish, and polenta.
Our sleeper cabins were quite comfortable. Though small in comparison to a hotel, they had everything we could need: a sink and vanity for getting ready in the morning, a private toilet, and a wall between the kid’s cabin and ours that opened up to give us a larger space during the daytime when we all were hanging out together. The train also included a nighttime turndown service, when our porter would come through and prepare our rooms for sleeping.
VIA Rail is a great way to not only see the country but also experience a relaxing way to travel. If you are not in a rush and don’t particularly enjoy the hastiness of an airport I’d suggest giving train travel a try.