The West Coast Explorer goes East

Our epic train trip!

Train travel – There’s nothing like it!
My sweetheart and I took an amazing train journey in 2014. It started by travelling by VIA train (“the Canadian”) from Vancouver to Toronto. We were very impressed and happy with the experience. The scenery, of course, was spectacular! We saw the majestic Rocky mountains, the beautiful and serenely green prairies, wide open skies and forest groves and much more. The train experience itself is something everyone should try and experience at least once in their life. And VIA does a great job of creating the charm and elegance of train travel from years gone by. The berths we had were comfortable and private, the meals were delicious and elegantly served and the staff were friendly and helpful. A fantastic way to travel!
More info on VIA Rail here: www.viarail.ca/
Cost: Many people have the impression that train travel is too expensive. First, do not compare the cost of the train to that of a flight. A flight gets you from point A to point B but train travel is an experience itself! It also includes your meals and sleeping accommodations (except in economy). Also, while it is not the cheapest options, there are ways to get a better deal. Book in advance and get a discounted fare or check the Fares and Packages page for the latest deals (including specials available on Tuesdays only). Seniors and students and others also get special deals. So plan ahead and you will find it may be more affordable than you think!
We got the “Upper and Lower Berth – Discounted Fare”. You can pay more for the cabins but after seeing them I don’t think they are worth paying extra. For me, having a tiny toilet right in my sleeping/sitting area is not appealing. We shared two bathrooms (one men’s, one women’s) a few feet down the car with just 1-4 other people. These bathroom were spacious and kept very clean. There was also a separate shower room. So I would definitely recommend the berth option over the cabins.
More info on the VIA deals page: www.viarail.ca/en/fares-and-packages
Southern Ontario
We had a really fun visit to Southern Ontario including Toronto, cottage country and Windsor. The small towns of Southern Ontario (Otterville and Kingsville) were delightful. Toronto was super fun with lots to see and great neighbourhoods to explore. We had a nice visit to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) and really enjoyed the neighbourhood we were staying in (Kensington Market area). We used the bike share and that was a fun way to get around. There were lots of great restaurants to try, too.
Amtrak
We used Amtrak trains on the return trip so we were able to compare the two train services. Both had the stronger and weaker points. VIA definitely won for food, comfort and friendly service but delays due to freight rail priority meant we were very late arriving in our final destination. Amtrak on the other hand, puts more emphasis on getting you there on time. They are not providing an elegant travel experience but do try to get you to your destination on time and provide a lot more information to the passengers about any delays. Unfortunately, the food was mediocre to terrible and some of the staff were down-right surly. That said, we still enjoyed our experience on Amtrak overall. And it was a great way to see parts of the US we would otherwise not have seen.
Cost: Amtrak is able to provide more routes and more times to choose from and is significantly cheaper (depending on the rate for currency exchange). So you may decide to use Amtrak for some or all of your train journey (especially when doing a round trip like we did). You can also get a cheaper price by booking ahead with Amtrak so plan ahead and save some money. The “Empire Builder” route can take you from Chicago to Seattle in under 48 hours (barring delays) so this is faster and cheaper than VIA’s Canadian route which takes the longer, more northerly route through Edmonton.
Chicago: We travelled for Detroit to Chicago on “the Wolverine” route and the small towns and countryside of Michigan were really nice. We stayed one fabulous night in Chi-town (must go back), jamming in live blues with Southern food, a walk around the waterfront area where there’s a lot of great public art (including the famous bean) and we even rode the “L”!
Denver: We travelled on “California Zephyr” from Chicago to Sacramento with an overnight stop in Denver. Denver is a nice city with a compact walkable downtown with lots of restored historic buildings and a friendly laid back vibe. We used their bike share and discovered fun places to bike including around Commons Park and a trail along Cherry Creek. The scenery travelling west out of Denver was the most beautiful of all the places we visited on this trip. The train travels largely in the Colorado River canyon and the reds and golds of early fall where an amazing sight!
The West Coast: We switched routes after a stopover in Sacramento. The “Coast Starlight” took us overnight from the California capital through Oregon to Seattle where we switched to the Amtrak bus for the final leg to Vancouver. Travelling along the west coast, the scenery was, of course, beautiful and this route had a little more of the elegance that was previously missing from the Amtrak experience. Many of the train stations we saw along the way were undergoing or have recently undergone restoration. The lovely stations in Denver and Seattle are great examples.
 More information on Amtrak here: www.amtrak.com
 A few more pictures:
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