First Timer - Cascades Vancouver-Seattle

Discussion in 'Amtrak FAQs & First-Time Rider Info' started by JiveBunny, Jun 3, 2019.

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  1. Jun 3, 2019 #1

    JiveBunny

    J

    JiveBunny

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    Hello there! I'm visiting Canada from the UK and have our tickets booked for the early morning Cascades service from Vancouver down to Seattle. Is there anything I need to know? Do they have security checks as with an airport? (We will have suitcase plus handbaggage as we will for the plane to Vancouver.) Do we need to be there particularly early? My only other rail journey in the US was an internal one (the Downeaster) so thought it was worth checking these things!

    Finally, does this train have the glass viewing carriages?
     
  2. Jun 3, 2019 #2

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

    Conductor

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    Starting with the last first: The Cascades (normally) operate with Talgo equipment, which does not have the large double-deck "Sightseer Lounge" found on the Superliner equipment used on most Western US Amtrak trains, nor does it have the classic "dome cars" still found on the Canadian operated by Canada's VIA Rail. However, the seats are comfortable and the windows are plenty large enough; you'll have great viewing opportunities. For the best views, try to secure a seat on the ocean (west) side. The Cascades do not have a full service dining car but there is a "Bistro" cafe car which serves hot and cold items; the clam chowder is worthwhile if you can secure a cup before they run out! Adjacent to the Bistro car there is a car with tables and seats where you can enjoy your purchase as you would in a diner, or you may take it back to your seat (seats have tray tables). There are standard US 110 volt power outlets at your seat, although a "power strip" with a short extension cord might be advisable as they are near floor level.

    US Customs has an office at the station in Vancouver, so you will clear customs at the departure station before boarding. Allow extra time for that; 45 minutes or so should be sufficient. Also keep in mind that if you are checking luggage to Seattle the luggage must be checked in (after clearing Customs) 45 minutes prior to train departure. There is no fee for checked luggage on Amtrak (not yet, anyway...casts wary eye at current Amtrak management!); just allow the extra time. For Immigration clearance, normally you fill out your form on board and an Immigration officer rides the train and checks your credentials on board as you near the border. Business Class passengers get priority processing through Customs as well as larger (2+1 as opposed to 2+2) seats on the train; it may be worth it to upgrade just for that reason (it is to me!), especially going northbound. Northbound all processing is done upon arrival and coach class passengers must wait in their seats until business class passengers have been unloaded and processed. You didn't mention whether or not you are returning to Canada by train.

    It's a nice little trip with a lot of scenic views; I've done it twice northbound and once southbound (second return was via ferry from Victoria BC). Have a great time!
     
  3. Jun 3, 2019 #3

    JiveBunny

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    JiveBunny

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    Thank you, this is so helpful! It was the Sightseer that I was thinking of! We are heading southbound, so hopefully the processing won't be too bad. We are flying out of Seattle so only crossing Canada>US (and we already have the ESTA needed).

    Is it necessary to check luggage or can we carry it aboard and onto the rack as we did with the Downeaster? I'd rather not check and save time waiting at the other end if possible. Although part of me is sure that a Tuesday morning 6am train in October couldn't possibly be busy enough for that to be an issue...

    The extra 45 mins - do you mean that we should get there at least 45 mins before departure, or is this added on to the 30mins normally recommended? We are staying a way from Pacific Central so it makes a difference :)
     
  4. Jun 3, 2019 #4

    JiveBunny

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    JiveBunny

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    Also - and sorry if this is a daft question, but I've only crossed borders in Schengen countries before - by 'customs', is this simply whether we have anything to declare, or is it a full security check as in an airport?
     
  5. Jun 4, 2019 #5

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

    Conductor

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    Customs will ask if you are declaring any items, and they have the right to open and inspect your luggage if they choose. But that's rare unless you set off some red flags somehow. They may have your luggage sniffed by a dog for drugs and/or ammunition/weapons. But don't expect to have to take off your belt and shoes or go through a scanner as at an airport unless you do something to make them mad.

    Forty-five minutes prior to the departure of the train should be fine unless you're checking luggage. And, no, you don't have to check luggage; there is plenty of space for carry-on items.
     
  6. Jun 11, 2019 #6

    greatwestern

    greatwestern

    greatwestern

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    I travelled on the early morning Cascades service from Vancouver BC to Seattle just last Friday (7th June).

    You actually fill out the customs form at Vancouver station (they had a supply of them at a desk) prior to presenting yourself to the Amtrak ticket inspection and then the immigration officer. Remember that you cannot take fruit/meats across the border and if you have any other foods tick yes in the relevant box.

    I had some chocolate bars so I ticked yes to food and was the asked by the officer what sort of food and she actually wrote "chocolate" on the form.

    I arrived at the station at 5:30 for the 6:35 departure and there were already queues. If you are booked business class there is a separate (shorter) queue although as a non USA/Canadian passport holder you will be effectively directed into a sub-queue and processing is slightly extended.

    Once you arrive at the Blaine land border (you can see the car entry booths from the train) the train stops and border officials come across the tracks and onto the train where there is further (brief) inspection at your seats of your travel documents.
     

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