By Susan Breslow Sardone
If you're one of those couples that believes the journey is as important as the destination, a trip aboard Via Rail in sleeper-class accommodations can be a perfect start to a Canada vacation.
Our Via Rail train was scheduled to pull out of Montreal's Central Station at 6:30 at night, bound to arrive in Moncton, New Brunswick the next day by noon.
Since we were traveling in Easterly Class, we had access to the Panorama lounge within the station, a comfortable place to relax and enjoy a complimentary soft drink. Earlier, Via Rail redcaps had whisked away our luggage. We'd been advised to pack just a small bag for our overnight on the train and were promised it would be waiting for us.
All Aboard Via Rail
At the appointed time, we boarded the Via Rail train called Ocean, which originates in Montreal and travels east to Halifax, and settled into a Deluxe Double Bedroom, which has upper and lower berths. Our overnight bag was waiting.
We settled in to the comfortable seats that have flip-up armrests and watched the skyline of Montreal give way to passing farms and forests viewed through the window of our private cabin.
Harvey, the cabin steward who kept watch on our car, explained where everything was and how to flip down the beds when it was time to sleep. This Renaissance cabin, introduced in 2005, has a private bathroom (the shower is a surprise, but those accustomed to more elaborate plumbing still may defer a major rinse until reaching terra firma). Towels and soap are supplied.
Easterly Class passengers are entitled to a number of perks that make the trip a bit more luxurious. Dinner and breakfast the next morning are included in the price, as is access to the dome car where a sparkling wine toast sends you on your journey. And you may pick up some Maritime lore and history as you gaze out the panoramic windows. The adjacent lounge has comfortable chairs and is a good place to meet fellow travelers or pick up a fruit or beverage.
Dining on Via Rail
By the time the dining room was ready to accommodate us for the second seating at 8:30, we eagerly dug into a tasty Nova Scotia smoked salmon and crab appetizer with mixed greens, which was followed by a chicken breast with berry sauce, a mound of Prince Edward Island potatoes, and Maritime vegetables. Dessert was a scrumptious apple caramel cake topped with whipped cream.
Diners had a choice of white and red wines as well as soft drinks, fruit juice, milk, coffee, and tea. The beer menu features Canada-brewed Moosehead Premium Dry, Clancy’s Amber Ale, Keith’s India Pale Ale, and microbrewed Garrison Irish red or Propeller Extra Special Bitter.
Sleeping on Via Rail
When we were ready to turn in, a tug converted the foldaway vertical beds to horizontal pallets. Try as we might, we never got comfortable on the narrow beds, and the slippery polyester-clad duvet cover that kept sliding away didn't help. We also felt slightly vertiginous; would a jolt of the train send us hurtling to the floor in our sleep?
In the end, we flipped the bed back up to its wall-hugging position, punched our pillow into a ball over the armrest, used our carryon bag to extend the width of the seat, stretched out lengthwise, and fought with the slippery duvet a few more times until sleep came.
Would I book a Deluxe Double Bedroom again? No. Fortunately, though, I can still travel Via Rail overnight -- and in comfort next time. Some Via Rail trains contain special equipment that merges two rooms into a suite to yield a genuine double bed (see photo) rather than a double decker one.
Called Romance by Rail, it's the best way for a couple to travel. The next time I hear the Via Rail whistle blow, I'll know my private suite awaits, along with luxurious amenities that include fresh flowers, chocolates on the pillow, and a good night's sleep.
Heading to the west coast, Romance by Rail is available year-round on the Canadian between Toronto and Jasper, and between Jasper and Vancouver, in Silver & Blue class. On the east coast, Romance by Rail is available on the Chaleur betweeen Montreal and Gaspé and certain Easterly class trains. As Romance by Rail suites are limited, reserve yours well in advance of travel.