Three times a week, VIA Rail’s Canadian train travels between Vancouver and Toronto. Onboard, there's a unique compartment just for couples — and this is what it's like to experience it traveling east from Vancouver.
As you approach Pacific Central station, a stately Georgian structure with Deco-like neon letters spelling out its name, you’re likely to feel a frisson of excitement. Yes, you really are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
While those on a budget can opt for side-by-side seats in economical Comfort Class or adjacent beds or berths in a sleeper car, true romantics and indulgent honeymooners can arrange for Romance by Rail service, a deluxe way to travel.
Get Ready to Board
You’ll need to check in at the VIA Rail station about an hour ahead of time. There’s not much storage space on trains, and cabins only lock from the inside. So if you’re not already traveling light, pack a smaller suitcase with overnight amenities and a change of clothes for the next day. The rest of your luggage will be safely stashed elsewhere on the train, and you collect it when you disembark.
Passengers traveling in VIA Rail's Silver & Blue upper class have a private waiting room inside the station. Light snacks are available. Excitement rises when your train is announced and the conductor leads you to the tracks.
Silver and sinuous, the cars that link together to form the Canadian have a 1950s Raymond Loewy-streamlined look (most are vintage and all are beautifully maintained). Step aboard to depart from the familiar, and enter your new home on rails.
Romance by Rail ServiceDesigned for couples who want a luxury travel experience, VIA Rail's Romance by Rail includes the comfort of a double bed. It's created by combining two separate but compatible units into one (similar to a good marriage).
Within the merged compartments, Romance by Rail occupants also get two narrow closets for hanging garments, two full-length mirrors, two sinks beneath three-sided mirrors, and two separate enclosed toilets (one on either side of the bed).
The shower is, alas, down the hall, but there are plenty of towels and soap provided in the room. And your cabin steward, whom you can summon by pressing a button, can provide more.
The amenity-rich Romance by Rail package provides space suitable for a couple in love. Crisp, clean sheets and a warm duvet cover the double bed, which has a padded headboard straddling two big picture windows. A bottle of champagne in a bucket filled with ice awaits your arrival, as does a bowl of fresh fruit and chocolates.
What’s not provided? Wi-fi. Cell service. TV or radio. And you know something? It’s not so bad to turn off technology and focus on each other. Those of us with the geek genome will nonetheless come prepared with a laptop loaded with music, video downloads, and perhaps a couple of DVDs to make it through the night. Power outlets are provided.
But don't expect the entertainment to keep your attention for long. The gentle rolling, relaxing, rocking of the train can be an aphrodisiac. Sooner or later, it will lull you into a restful sleep together.
Wake Up to a New World
In the morning, when the train rolls to a gentle stop, you’ll wake and lift the blinds on your windows. One early March tableau reveals snow-covered mountains covered with tall pine trees set against a mouse-gray sky. In the foreground, a yellow pickup truck idles, the compositional element that will make for an award-winning photo. There will be more.
A full-service restaurant also helps to differentiate the Romance by Rail experience. Breakfast becomes available at 6:30am and ends when everyone is fed. Order from the menu once you take a seat in the dining car.
Our morning special was a basil-tomato-parmesan omelette, and we had no regrets after tasting the first bite. Before you go, you’ll be asked to choose a lunch seating, either noon or around 1:15. You'll have the rest of the morning to take photos, meet fellow travelers in the observation car, play games in the activity car, or spend time in your private compartment.
Keep your camera handy, though. The panorama ahead reveals miles of evergreens frosted with snow, vast ice fields, and perhaps a few meandering elk or a lone wolf. The massive Canadian Rockies tower behind them, their whiteness and rock in relief so stark they look like paint-by-numbers mountains.
Do check out the domed portion of the observation car. However, as Romance by Rail passengers, you’ll be much happier snapping photos from the privacy of your own cabin. So help yourselves to the complimentary tea and coffee in the Observation Car, perhaps pick up some cookies or muffins. Then head back to your private viewing quarters.
If you planned on going back to bed after breakfast, be prepared to find a new layout in your double cabin: Your attendant will have whisked away the beds and many pillows. In their place are four sturdy upholstered chairs and a table.
As honeymooners, though, it’s certainly your right to let the attendant know to keep the beds as is until after lunch. Or all day, for that matter.
If you’re traveling through, you’ll certainly want to pop into the observation car before dinner for complimentary canapés, cookies, and champagne. Don’t ruin your appetite, though. You’ll be ofered a three-course meal, and it's likely you will find among the menu choices world-renowned and exceptionally tender Alberta beef. Unless you're vegetarians (who are also accommodated), choose it.
A Lasting Memory
From the VIA Rail station to the cabin stewards to the dining room staff, service is friendly, helpful, and professional. The crew is rightfully proud of their train, and they want your experience to be a good one.
The retro look of the train, comfortable double bed, convenient amenities, magnificent vistas, good food, and amiable staff all combine to make this experience so special. No wonder so many couples choose to begin their life together — or celebrate the one they have — in VIA Rail's Romance by Rail service.