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Planning our trip on the Canadian


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#1 texline

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 10:43 AM

I have been reading about this train and wanted to take the trip from Toronto to Vancouver in prestige class. Several friends have joined in so now I ready to book.
I have read through forums and I note that lots of post regarding delays. I find all kinds of information but I haven’t found a lot of posts about people in prestige class. I see lots on sleeper plus. I can’t figure out if prestige is only available if you travel the entire distance. I get mixed reviews when people ask if prestige class is worth the price.
I looked at the price of the trip. It is very expensive until I realized I didn’t convert the currency, still pricey but doable.
Now to my question on price and booking. We did find vacation by rails that offered packages that offered a significant price reduction. For a little more than I pay for just the train on VIA, I can get a couple nights in hotels on both ends, some bus tours and a ride on a regular VIA train.
I used Vacation by Rails once. It worked but I wasn’t pleased with it. I asked a travel agent if she could put together something and her initial costs were not great although she is still working on it.
Has anyone done that vacation by rail package? Does anyone have any insight?
I am very familiar with Amtrak and know there are all kinds of tricks to booking to get good fares. I don’t know much about this LD Canadian train. From what I see, they don’t offer discounts to prestige.
I have watched lots of videos and am excited about the ride. Our group wants to do this trip June 2018. Is this a good time for scenic travel?
Any tips or ideas would be appreciated.


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#2 Bob Dylan

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 10:59 AM

Based on what VIA charges for "Prestige Class", most of us consider it overpriced.
( I've been on this Train many times,best deals are in the "off season",ie winter,When the Train is shorter and not as crowded, and going East from Vancouver to Toronto on #2 is what most expierencec riders prefer)

I'd say go with the Package deal that includes the "extras" you spoke of, or just book Regular Sleeper fares (that won't be discounted in June!)that while high,are still much less than the over hyped Prestige Class.)

The delays are due to CN Freight getting dispatching priority, and it's a lock youll be late,arriving whichever direction you travel in.)
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#3 texline

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 12:32 PM

Thanks Bob. I hadn’t heard Vancouver to Toronto experiences so I hadn’t considered it. I will now.
Some of my friends are set on the prestige class as they have read brochures suggesting it is like a cruise. Everything paid for and priority access. I don’t know how big a deal prestige class is over sleeper class, I have no experience with VIA.
I understand the freight issue. I padded the train by a day either way. That is the majority of posts I read. This is just a train vacation for me so more time on a train would seem to be a non issue.
My friends like the Vacation by Rail offer. I am not excited about it. The time we used them, they technically fulfilled all they offered but the experience wasn’t great other than saving some money. That is why I am looking for some better choices I guess.
What is the off season for the Canadian? I have trouble finding it on VIA.
I appreciate the help. I am so lost on this trip. I am so used to Amtrak.







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#4 pennyk

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 01:02 PM

I traveled on the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver in December 2010 in Sleeper Plus and got a terrific discount (before Prestige was offered).  We were delayed almost 8 hours due to a freight derailment, but, all in all, it was a great trip (for the price I paid).

 

A couple of my Orlando friends traveled in Prestigage class a little more than a year ago.  The wife loved it, but her husband thought it was over priced.  I am pretty sure they are quite wealthy, so the cost was not a major factor.


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#5 texline

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 02:15 PM

Thanks Penny
It would be nice to get some value for the dollar. I have found discounts for sleeper plus but prestige seems to be set. We did find another tour company, CanadianRailTours which offers bundles. It is looking like the only way to get break on Prestige is use a tour agency. I am still wondering if prestige is worth it. I wish I could find a more descriptive trip report from a prestige class traveler just to see if they thought it was worth the extra money.


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#6 Bob Dylan

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 03:15 PM

I haven't been in Prestige Class, but based on what they charge, the extra perks such as priority boarding from the Lounge,a wine and cheese reception in the Park Car upon boarding, exclusive use of the Park Car during certain times with reservedcseating in the Dome, and Super Duper High Quality Bedding with a remodeled room with a TV may or may not be worth the extra $$$ charged. YMMV

The best bed I've ever had on a Train or plane was in a Lower Berth on the Canadian which I rode in Feb. from Vancouver to Toronto for $600 CDN 2 years ago.I ate the same food and had the same perks as all other Sleeper passengers.

The "Off Season" in Canada is generally after Canadian Thanksgiving,aka Winter ( October) and excepting Christmas and New Years, runs until May.

I'd do some more research before I paid several thousand dollars for a ride and perks that I could get for several hundred dollars even if they are Canadian Dollars.

As Green Mained Lion says, Value received is in the mind of those who pay the tab!😉

Edited by Bob Dylan, 18 October 2017 - 03:19 PM.

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Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#7 texline

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 05:52 PM

Thanks Bob. I have heard the lower berth is the ticket. I think if it were just me and the wife, sleeper-plus would probably be fine. Some of the people going with us might like all the extras.
I was doing searches for any travel blog on prestige class without much luck. I didn’t realize until I started looking into this last spring that prestige class is fairly new. The ones I read were people paid by VIA to ride and write. I found a few that were more focused on the views and not so much the train. I did find an abundance of the train was late.
I am getting the picture that seating in dome is tight. One reason I like riding sleeper on the Coast Starlight is I never have had a problem getting a seat in PPC whereas I have had plenty of times on other routes where the SSL is packed. If the Canadian has that problem then I need to consider that.
My friend saw the free alcohol but you can only drink so much. And I learned as a teenager never get drunk on a train. Do sleeper plus pax have access to same booze and are the prices ok? And other than the wine and cheese send off do they offer tastings or some kind of entertainment? Are the SCAs doing anything more for prestige pax?
If I can get a feel for the pros and cons, I can get my group to think about those extra bucks.


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#8 zephyr17

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 06:45 PM

I ride the Canadian regularly about once a year.  I ride Sleeper Plus in a roomette (I refuse to call it "cabin for 1").  I don't do a berth because I like having a door and a power outlet.
 
Via Rail Canada has a very simple fare structure compared to Amtrak.  There are 2 fare "buckets" regular and discount, for summer, winter and shoulder seasons.  There are also the super discount Sleeper Plus sale fares (formerly "Discount Tuesday" but they are offering those for sleepers every day of the week now) that are offered on specific city pairs on specific days for specific accomodations (usually berths but not always) roughly 4-6 weeks in advance of departure that are the cheapest available fares.  Those are hard to plan with, but if you are flexible and can travel at relatively short notice, a good deal.

 

Prestige is offered between at least all major points (Vancouver, Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto) and I think between any points, really.  There is a lot of turnover in Jasper and Winnipeg in all classes.  Whether there is availability is another question.  I am pretty sure Via blocks a certain number of accomodations for through passengers just like Amtrak does.
 
I would not take Prestige if the main reason were the "perks" rather than room, because the perks aren't that much different from Sleeper Plus in reality.  The main one is you have exclusive access to the Park for certain hours during the summer season.  The rest of the year (and I highly recommend taking the Canadian on the off-season rather than summer for a number of reasons), all sleeper passengers have access to the Park, although the first couple of rows in the dome are reserved for Prestige.  The other real perks are complimentary booze and hors d'orves before dinner.  That makes for damned expensive booze and snacks.  There is no separate menu for Prestige in the dining car, the meals are identical (and included) for Sleeper Plus.  In theory you have dining car seating priority as Prestige, but I have never had a problem getting the seating I wanted as a Sleeper Plus passenger (although remember I do travel in the off season).

 

Also, note in the summer season, the train will carry at least 2 other Skyline domes for Sleeper Plus passengers, plus one for the coaches, so if you are restricted from the Park, you still have dome access.  As a practical matter, even before they introduced Prestige, in the summer most sleeper passengers just went to the nearest dome anyway (the train is 26 cars long!) and did not bother to go to the Park unless the Park was the closest.  So I don't think that is really that much of a thing.

 
The real differentiator is the (relatively) large room with a bed that comfortably sleeps two people and has its  own shower as well as toilet.  It is the only bed for two people on the train.  And a flatscreen TV.  If you want to pay the price difference for the bed for two, or your own shower, that is something only you can determine.  Frankly, if I did not have bedmate I absolutely had to sleep with, which is not a perk that Via provides, Prestige would be an absolute non-starter, because the main thing you actually get is the big bed.
 
I would be very dubious about getting a deal from a tour operator.  You need to make very, very sure that it really is Prestige.  Via is very protective of the Prestige fares.  I would be quite suspicious that the fares were actually for Sleeper Plus if they were that much lower than Via's fares.  Full disclosure:  I don't take or like tours.  I am an independent traveler by nature.

 

June is a good time for scenary, but so are 11 other months.  The big advantage is the days are really long.  The downside is the train is a mobbed, 26 car hormonal monster filled almost exclusively by tourists, many of whom have never traveled by rail and may be very perturbed at being 10 hours late.  I prefer the off season when it is a normal 8 car train, probably not filled to capacity, and populated at least partly by people who are using it for transportation.  It is much more laid back.  The disadvantage to the off season is the days are shorter in fall and winter (also, it can be pretty cold in Saskatchewan, though the train is nice and cozy).

 

I further recommend that you travel eastbound, Vancouver to Toronto, rather than westbound.  Eastbound you hit the Rockies the first day, the train will not have had as much opportunity to get delayed and if you do you are still more or less in or around the mountains all day.  Westbound, you get to Jasper in the afternoon (the timetable says 1300, 1pm, but after a couple thousand miles on CN the timetable is pretty much an optimistic fiction).  If the train is significantly late, your time in the mountains will be cut short.  An offsetting factor is in June the days are super long, with the sunset in Jasper on June 21, 2018 at 10:21 pm.

 

So only you can decide.  I will say that by and large Prestige is on the same train, with largely the same services.  The experience the Prestige passengers have didn't look a lot different than mine, except I don't get offered the hors d'oerve plate before dinner and I buy my own liquor.  Make your decision on the room.  Is that big bed worth thousands to you or isn't it?


Edited by zephyr17, 18 October 2017 - 06:55 PM.

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#9 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 08:31 PM

I went on the Canadian about the time they were about to roll out Prestige Class. My wife and I went on our "honey moon". I use quote because while we were celebrating our official marriage, we had been living together for 7 years at that point, and the only reason we didn't get married was health insurance was cheaper if we weren't. Obamacare flipped that around, so we got married. 

 

But it was the fondest time of my life, nonetheless. Perhaps it was because it was a time I was recovering from... jeeze: simplified time line: 10/20/14- we got married, 11/18/14: Our store was completely gutted, along with the rest of the Columbus Farmers Market Building 4, by a fire, 12/26/14: we received a check for property damage from fire; 1/14/15: We booked Sleeper Plus through the discount scheme, securing a "Cabin For 2", which is usually a Double Bedroom but we lucked out and got a Compartment. 

 

2/26/15: Took a NEC Regional to Washington, connecting with the Capitol Limited, for a connection to the California Zephyr in Chicago, eventually ending up in Frisco. Spent 3 nights in Frisco, had a lovely time, avoid Alliotto's, its a tourist trap, 3/4/15 caught the Coast Starlight to Seattle, and stayed in the Best Western Pioneer Square for one night, and took the Cascades to Vancouver. We embarked on the Canadian on 3/6/15, and were scheduled to arrive in Toronto on Tuesday the 10th, stay at the Royal York, and take the Adirondack the next day, arriving home late on 3/11. Remember that date, because that didn't happen. 

 

Midway trough Saturday 3/7/15, our train manager announces that the there is a bridge fire in Ontario and we are going to be annulled in Winnipeg. VIA will be pay for airfare on to Toronto, along with a substantial refund, accommodation aboard the train Sunday night, a tour of the city of Winnipeg, and lunch at the Speghetti factory. I immediately informed the train manager, in the politest terms, that I thought that was very nice of VIA, but I don't fly. She got back to me an hour later with two options: 1) I could take a bus to Toronto, VIA would happily pay for that, or 2) I could stay at the Radisson Canada Inn on VIA's dime until the next Canadian pulled in on Wednesday. No brainer, right? As I said, my business was a pile of cinders, so my time was worthless at this point.

 

This completely changed my life, and I have been in touch with an immigration lawyer, still pending an intended move to Winnipeg at some point in the not too distant future, I hope. The climate is MARVELOUS. I grant I am obviously insane (and have a serious thyroid condition, but I digress). When I arrived in Winnipeg, my thought was, "What can I do in Winnipeg for 3 bloody days?" A hell of a lot, actually. Which is why I keep suggesting those who take the Canadian lay over there. In fact, on Wednesday morning, I was not entirely shocked to find out that the Canadian would not be running through to Toronto that Wednesday. VIA agreed to pay for my hotel room until Sunday, but informed me that this would be the end of their (excessive) generosity. I had the option of waiting until Sunday, although by this point it was not guaranteed that the train would run, and they weren't willing to commit to a specific date. Options included 1) taking a plane to Toronto, 2) Taking a Bus to Toronto, 3) Stay on VIA's dime until Sunday, or 4) Take the Canadian back to Vancouver. Keep in mind, I didn't have my glasses, I couldn't rent a car one way across the border, and there is no bus to Fargo.

 

Truth was, I chose option 3. I wasn't ready to leave the city yet, and if it hadn't been for various responsibilities at home, I may never have left. On Sunday, 3/15, I was informed that the train had been suspended indefinitely (Actually, I'm pretty sure it was earlier, and not to put too fine a point on it, if it seems like VIA was being incommunicative, its not true- they kept giving me constant updates, I am leaving this out for brevity). They would happily accommodate me, at no charge, on the next Toronto-bound Canadian, but were no longer willing to comp me on a hotel room. They would happily fly me to Toronto (still!), or bus me, or accommodate me back to Vancouver. No longer sure of when the next train was, and not really able to afford a hotel indefinitely, I took the train back to Vancouver, arriving slightly early (as per the card, although obviously, late), stayed the night in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, took an early bus on 3/19 to Seattle, took the Coast Starlight (IIRC the Empire Builder was running days late with no guaranteed connections) to Sacramento, caught 3/20's Zephyr to Chicago, 3/22's Lake Shore to New York, and I honestly don't remember how I got back to Trenton (I think I spent the night in Penn Station, and caught an early NJT NEC train, because I knew for certain the RiverLINE and the 409 bus would not be running... Or maybe I took an NJCL to my parents and stayed the night with them and bummed a ride home- honestly don't remember. What I do remember is arriving home 3/24/15, 13 days late, and honestly, trained the heck out. I haven't ridden a LD train since. It wasn't VIA, that was lovely, it was the five day slog home, on Amtrak, with the SAME BLOODY MENU EVERY DAY, and nobody cooking the steak to the simple standard of Brown and Blue. (This was at a low point in Amtrak cuisine.)

 

But anyway, the Canadian trip was an adventure of a lifetime, and all three major cities (Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto) are worth a visit and a SELF GUIDED tour, because tour groups don't show you what makes the city special. If you do layover in Winnipeg, you MUST eat at the Peasant Cookery. I have eaten in fine restaurants worldwide and that is the best I have ever eaten in. Prairie food is my all-time favourite.


Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
Most important: Keep it Simple, Stupid!
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#10 railiner

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 12:16 AM

In trying to determine if Prestige Class is worth it or not....I have heard some good points made in previous posts against it.   But if you are only going to ride it one time, and can afford it, why not experience the very best the VIA Rail has to offer?   

Think of it as the rail equivalent to the Etihad Airways "The Residence".... :)


metroblue?

okay on the blue!

#11 willem

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 08:38 AM

Thank you, zephyr17 and Green Maned Lion, for the detailed discussions.
 

We booked Sleeper Plus through the discount scheme, securing a "Cabin For 2", which is usually a Double Bedroom but we lucked out and got a Compartment.

 
What is the difference between a "Double Bedroom" and a "Compartment" if they are each a Cabin For 2?
 

This completely changed my life, and I have been in touch with an immigration lawyer, still pending an intended move to Winnipeg at some point in the not too distant future, I hope.


That must have been some successful stay in Winnipeg. I hope you complete your move soon and it works out better than you anticipate.



#12 Bob Dylan

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 09:09 AM

As usual, most enjoyable report Lion.

My only question about your plan is about the Canadian Winter in "Winterpeg", as the natives call it.

In the Summer ( July)it is indeed a great place ( as is Edmonton,Alberta, another unknown Gem but even Colder!).

I considered staying in Canada when I resided there in the early 80s, but the economy tanked and my wife and I came back to the states since Canada put a hold on granting Landed Status ( same as our Green Card)so couldn't legally work.

I still visit whenever I can ( my late wife ashes reside in Oakville,ON).I consider Vancouver the overall best City in North America, and even with all our faults,Canada the second best country in which to live after the US of A! YMMV
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#13 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 09:43 AM

As I said, I have a thyroid condition. I wear shorts and light-tees (undershirts, actually) until the weather gets below 50, keep my house at 58 in the winter (out of respect for the plumbing and my wife, who isnt so afflicted) and the steam register in our bedroom is shut off year round. It has to get below freezing for me to consider something more than a long sleeve shirt. In our current employment situation, my wife works, and I nap in the back of my van, engine off, all winter long. Coldest days, overalls, flannel shirt, and sometimes a blanket.

Winnipeg and I are meant for each other.
Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#14 texline

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 11:41 AM

Thank you AU friends. This is great information. Some of my travelers are seasoned Amtrak vets so this will be good to share and see what there thinking is. Some are not and I have a feeling will want that nice bed and the extras. But this is very good stuff, I can do a lot better on planning.
I did contact a local travel agent and ask if she had access to better pricing. She said she did and sent some pricing and it appears that she can do just as well as the rail tour companies.
Now I have a bit more to go on and back to research mode. I think as far as prestige class, my group can consider the pros and cons pointed out in this thread as they are all valid and decide if it is worth it. I will be back to ask about lodging and places to check out for sure. This whole thing started as an Empire Builder trip until someone shared a video VIA made and my wife said we have got to ride that train. Now look what I got myself into!


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#15 zephyr17

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 12:11 PM

Thank you, zephyr17 and Green Maned Lion, for the detailed discussions.
 

We booked Sleeper Plus through the discount scheme, securing a "Cabin For 2", which is usually a Double Bedroom but we lucked out and got a Compartment.

 
What is the difference between a "Double Bedroom" and a "Compartment" if they are each a Cabin For 2?
 

This completely changed my life, and I have been in touch with an immigration lawyer, still pending an intended move to Winnipeg at some point in the not too distant future, I hope.


That must have been some successful stay in Winnipeg. I hope you complete your move soon and it works out better than you anticipate.

The Compartment and Double Bedrooms are different private accomodation types that sleep 2.  The Compartment is larger and went at a higher price back in the rr-operated days and in prior years with Via before the current reservation system.

 

The various accomodation types were fairly standardized, thanks Pullman, (there were outliers, like the "Master Bedroom" on the Pennsy and Southern) and most travelers back in the day until the decline and near-disappearance of passenger rail service knew what they would get when they purchased a Compartment as opposed to a Double Bedroom.

 

Via elected to simplify and de-"railroad" their accommodation types in their system down, partly because no one knew what a Compartment or a Drawing Room was any more, to Cabins for 3 (Drawing Room), Cabins for 2 (Double Bedrooms and Compartments), Cabins for 1 (Standard Roomettes and Duplex Roomettes).  So both Compartments and Double Bedrooms are sold as "Cabin for 2" but the Compartment is a better accommodation now available for the same price.

 

You can make your own luck by calling Via to book your reservation and requesting room "F" in a Manor car.  Those are Compartments.  The rest of Cabins for 2 in the Manor are Double Bedrooms.


Edited by zephyr17, 19 October 2017 - 12:20 PM.

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#16 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 01:35 PM

Note that the only real difference is about 2-feet of additional space between the wall and the bed and, I think, a slightly larger, but still tiny, restroom.
Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#17 willem

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Posted 19 October 2017 - 03:23 PM

Thanks again, zephyr17 and Green Maned Lion, for the education.

 



#18 texline

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Posted 20 October 2017 - 07:29 PM

So far the travel agent has put together a package with a ride on the Corridor business, The Canadian prestige, four nights hotel, some tours and a boat ride for the cost VIA wanted for just the Canadian train trip. We went with Vancouver to east. This is one time I will buy travel insurance.
Now for a question that I have read about so much: tipping. On Amtrak I do tip but I don’t know VIA. Any suggestions?


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#19 zephyr17

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Posted 20 October 2017 - 09:42 PM

I tip the same on Via as I do Amtrak. Canada has pretty much the same tipping culture as the US. Remember the onboard service staff turns over completely at Winnipeg.

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#20 Maglev

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Posted 21 October 2017 - 10:48 AM

So far the travel agent has put together a package with a ride on the Corridor business, The Canadian prestige, four nights hotel, some tours and a boat ride for the cost VIA wanted for just the Canadian train trip. We went with Vancouver to east. This is one time I will buy travel insurance.
Now for a question that I have read about so much: tipping. On Amtrak I do tip but I don’t know VIA. Any suggestions?


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The pricing information you have given is very valuable, as it is very different from purchasing travel on Amtrak.

 

For me, the price of a bed for two is worth it--I hope to take this trip in a few years.  Please give us a trip report, since as you have noted they are lacking on the travel forums.


Northeast corridor Heritage, Amfleet and Acela, CN Super Continental, Broadway Limited, Lone Star, Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, Southwest Limited, National Limited, Champion, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Wolverine, Crescent, Empire Builder, Cascades, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Cardinal. 




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