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3 November 2022

‘We Would So Do This Again’: A Landsby Customer Review Of The Canadian With VIA Rail

The iconic VIA Rail Canadian train journey between Toronto and Vancouver is one of the most unique ways to travel across Canada. At Landsby, we have sent many people on this trip and we love hearing their feedback. We know that overnight train travel is not for everyone so honest client reviews make it easier for us to help potential travellers figure out if this is for them.

We received this wonderfully detailed review from Wendy Whitehead who recently travelled from Toronto to Vancouver aboard the Canadian with her husband and mother and we wanted to share it with all of you.

Please read below for a review of the trip in her own words.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: We would so do it again!

Written and Photographed by Wendy Whitehead

Firstly, booking our trip with Landsby was a winner. Aurelie and her team were great sources of information and at hand to answer any questions. The trip was memorable and has wetted our appetite for train travel. A wonderful way to see the country while unplugging and enjoying the scenery, food and people.

Travelling overnight by train is interesting and not only do you see the country, but you meet some great people. It’s an experience that is now on our repeat bucket list. My husband and I travelled from Toronto to Vancouver with my 87-year-old mother.

We had time constraints so decided to do the train trip only, without stopping in a location for a couple of nights, which is also an option. Next time we do this trip, we will start in Vancouver and end in Toronto, then we can see the bits we missed while travelling at night and we will opt to get off the train and stay for a couple of nights in Banff (Jasper stop) or maybe Saskatoon.

We started the trip off with a bang and had breakfast at the Royal York Hotel. Why not? We walked across to Union Station and we were greeted by VIA Rail staff. Everyone was very helpful and friendly. Then the real adventure started.

We got on our train car and entered our sleeper, which was set up for day time viewing with two comfortable chairs. Dropped our one carry-on bag of luggage between the two of us…you don’t need a lot on the train, don’t over pack! Then it was time to explore the rest of the train.

Exploring the Canadian train

There is an Activity Car. This is a great place to meet up with people and read the white board to see what is on offer for the day. Talks, informative videos, wine tastings and craft beet tastings are just some of the activities on offer. There are some cards and board games, magazines and books. And there are snacks, fruit, coffee and tea — self-serve — on offer 24 hours a day.

The Observation Car is a domed car which is great to see the landscape from above to get a different view of the country. The windows could use a clean — they were dirty when we left Toronto, but they did clean them in Banff. The seats became a talking point. It becomes a great place to meet people who are travelling and many conversations were had and interesting thoughts and ideas for future travel.

We had a variety of nationalities on board: Australians, a young couple from Korea, a lovely family from Scotland and many Americans and Canadians. I would say about fifty per cent of the group were train travellers and they gave great insight on other train trips around the world. But they all said the same thing about the Canadian: the seats were hard, but the food was excellent.

I love taking pictures, so just a note to you amateur photographers out there – hard to get that super shot that you are looking for. The windows are curved so you get a reflection. You are travelling at 40-60 miles an hour…yes, miles not kilometres, you will learn why on the train. You have the motion of the train to deal with as well. So if you get a couple of good shots, then great. Some end up looking a little like paintings because of the motion. Before my next trip, I will have to do some research on settings, etc.

The Prestige Car is open to all travellers from 4:00 pm and is a great way to see where you have been, as the car has windows all around as well as the observation seating area (they have padded seats). This car is comfortable and upgraded. The staff are just as friendly and knowledgeable with outstanding service. We would often have a pre-dinner cocktail in this car.

We had our room set up with the bunk beds (Sleeper Cabin for 2) and left them set up that way for the whole trip. The only time we were in our room was to sleep. Too much going on to enjoy. The top bunk is quite spacious, you can actually sit up without hitting the ceiling.

Please note that the doors do not have locks from the outside, so only lockable when you are in your cabin. As all the doors look the same from the outside on every car, it might be a good idea to tie a piece of ribbon on the handle so it is easily recognized. We did have one incident of someone trying to get into our room one night — they were in the wrong car. Not a big deal, it can easily happen, and we had joked about it the next day..four in a room would have been hilarious, given the size of the room. My mother had a sleeper room for 2 to herself and left her bed down at all times as well. Also handy if you want to have a quick nap in the afternoon.

Food on the Canadian

We were very surprised at the quality of food on the train. These guys and girls know how to cook! Yum, yum and yum.

Food was hot, good portion size and a varied menu. Breakfast was very good and lunch even included some dishes with shrimp and scallops.

We had a prime rib dinner and you could have cut the meat with a fork, it was tender, juicy and tasty. The last night of our trip was rack of lamb. If you love lamb, then you will love this meal. They even had President’s Choice mint sauce — not jelly! You choose your time to eat on a daily basis every day at breakfast time.

Their wine list is not the best and there are three choices of white and three choices of red. It is less expensive to order by the glass than by the bottle, which is unusual so check your prices.

Scenery, Staff and some Sprucing Up

The scenery is the star of the show and we were extremely lucky to have blue skies and sunshine for most of our trip.

The colours in Ontario were amazing and showing at their best. The prairies were gold and offered views and wildlife in abundance. We were lucky enough to see moose, snow geese, coyote, fox and bald eagles to name a few. They say that only 10 per cent of the people get to see Mount Robson without cloud cover – so were are lucky. It was clear blue sky and totally clear vision of the highest peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Staff on the train switch out in Winnipeg. Being completely honest, the first group of staff, “Victor’s Group” were amazing. Entertaining, informative and top-notch service, they didn’t miss a beat. The second group of staff, the car attendant was excellent but the dining room staff were not on the ball. They wore dirty crumpled uniforms, were not very organized and if they had been the staff for the whole trip, it would have been a big disappointment. After having such a great group the first two nights, we all were talking about the lack of service with the second group.

But that isn’t the whole trip and it has not deterred us from travelling again, just thought it was worth mentioning.

The Canadian, although great, really does need some sprucing up. We weren’t expecting the Orient Express and grandeur but the activity car, dining room and observation car are tired and worn. It isn’t’ the fact that the decor is reminiscent of the 50s (mint green and reds), it’s the fact that paint is chipping, table tops are old, seats in the observation car have rips and no padding.

My suggestion would be to take a sports cushion with you when you are sitting in the observation car…your bottom will appreciate it. It actually became a running joke with all of us. Having said that — please don’t let it deter you from taking the trip.

A few final thoughts about travel on the Canadian train

If you are single and taking this trip, no matter. what your age, it is a great opportunity to see the country and make some new friends. Because the dining is open and you don’t sit at the same table with the same people all the time, you have the opportunity to chat and meet up with many other passengers.

When you stop in Winnipeg, you are very close to the Forks Shopping Centre. It’s a great stop to get out and stretch your legs and pick up some bits and pieces. Edmonton is a three-hour stop but the station is out of town so no where to go there. Banff is an early morning stop if going east to west and there are a couple of smart shopkeepers who opened their door at 6:30 am. It is a great stop to really walk around and enjoy a coffee. Please do note that when you get off the train, it is not like when on a cruise you can get back on anytime. When you leave the train station, you have a boarding time.

It would be wonderful if the Canadian offered a souvenir area that offers Canadian items from each province that is travels through…smoked salmon, Saskatoon berry jam, maple syrup, etc. Some books on Canada would be great as well. There was really nowhere on the stops to get out and shop for those items for those visitors that want to take a bit of Canada home, or try on the train.

Overall, we loved travelling on the train and are starting to think about our next adventure, not just in Canada but in Europe as well. Train travel may be added to many of our next adventures.

Related: Aurélie Gilles, Landsby’s Director of Canadian Travel, also took the Canadian this summer. Click here to read her account of the journey.