I recently completed a little planes, trains, and automobiles (ok busses) adventure to Vancouver, BC via Seattle. It wasn’t the most direct route to Vancouver, but it enabled me to utilize the companion certificate that comes with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card from American Express, experience a new train route, and best of all, visit family…especially our 2-year old nephew. His new best friend, LOL Elmo, joined us for the trip.
You can probably pick up a sample of the accommodations in that photo. The coach chairs were big and comfy. Here’s another photo courtesy of Amtrak Cascades.
Business Class is offered on the route, and I caught a glimpse of the car on my way to the cafe. Seating is 1 x 2, with wider chairs, newspapers, and fewer people. We paid cash for our tickets $40 or so each way. Business was only a little over $20 more based on some internet searches. It was sold out for our particular ride. If you use Ultimate Rewards and transfer them into Amtrak Guest Rewards, you can buy these tickets for 1500 points in Coach, and 2000 in Business each way.
The travel experience itself was leisurely and comfortable. In addition to big cushy chairs, there was wi-fi that I wouldn’t bet money on, but did work, and power outlets. Life was good. In short, I quite liked the train, even if it did probably take longer than driving. We traveled early and enjoyed the breakfast sandwich, coffee, and….well…wine. Hey, MrsMJ said surprise her, so I did….with a half-bottle of Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay we saved for a little later. There was a selection of regional craft beers too, but even I have my limits. You clear Canadian immigration at the train station in Vancouver. There were 4 agents working, and we were through in about 45 minutes after arriving. There was still quite a queue behind us, so I expect it took an hour or a little more for folks unlucky enough to be in the last car. If you are returning to Seattle via train, you pre-clear US immigration at the station as well. We took a different way back.
There are only two Cascades services each way, so we purchased bus service through Amtrak for our return. I have to tell you that I was not looking forward to that, but it was the best way to maximize time in Vancouver and still make our redeye out of Seattle Sunday evening.
You board the Cascades motor coach service outside the main entrance of the station towards the north end, so there’s no need to go inside unless you need to pick up your ticket. In the end, the bus was on time, and actually gets you back to Seattle about 1 hour faster than the train. The downside, no cafe car, and you have to do immigration at the border stop. Busses have their own line, and it wasn’t excessively busy heading south this Sunday afternoon. The whole thing took about 45 minutes from beginning to end and we were back on our way to Seattle for an on-time arrival at King Street Station.
Tips to Make Your Amtrak Cascades Experience Better
Get to the station a little earlier than you might otherwise for a train. Unlike the open seating situation I’m used to in the northeast, Amtrak actually assigns seats for the Cascades routes. I don’t know if it’s a boarding crossing and keeping a little better handle on who is onboard or not? They have sticker charts like the old days at the airlines. I say get there a little earlier than normal so you can assure yourself a seat on the lefthand side of the train when heading northbound. The scenery is beautiful all around, but especially so when facing towards the bay and the Pacific beyond that. I missed a lot of great photographic opportunities because I was on the wrong side of the train. While there is not a tremendous increase in amenities for Business Class, I think the low price differential is worth it for the bigger chair and a shorter line to get your seat assignment….. way shorter.
If there’s anything I miss about DC vs Atlanta, it’s the absence of frequent and reliable rail service to cities in the region. Amtrak Cascades was a great way to get to and from Vancouver from the Seattle area, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the service again. Sometimes it’s good to slow down a little bit.
-MJ, July 9, 2014