Please help me plan a great trip on VIA Rail in eastern Canada
September 3, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Help me create my ideal snow-tipped Anne of Green Gables PEI (luxury) train vacation.

I'd like to take a trip on VIA Rail Canada to the Canadian east coast. Prince Edward Island, land of Gilbert Blythe, Arctic Islands, etc.

I'm single, older, female, and want to be in my own private "room" to sleep. I'm currently in the USA and would love to pick up (and drop off) the train in NYC. I wouldn't mind being there for USA holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

VIA Rail has some good trips but I'd be interested in your reviews. Any suggestions or recommendations?
posted by kinsey to Travel & Transportation around Canada (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the Anne related tourism attractions are closed after mid-October. PEI in general is a pretty bleak place to be (believe me, I lived there for 13 years) in the winter. You should visit between May and October.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also: Prince Edward Island does not have rail, so you'd have to find another method of getting there. Bus service via Acadien is currently shutting down in November.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2012

I can't help you with the train, but I just wanted to recommend checking out Nova Scotia as well....I spent an amazing two weeks going all around PEI and Nova Scotia. I slept in a lighthouse, a train caboose in a B&B composed entirely of train cars, saw whales from my hotel room in Digby and then took the ferry home across the amazing Bay of Fundy (50 foot tides! Amazing!) in a hurricane. I shot maybe 60 or 70 rolls of film and had the time of my life.

My ex's family lives in Hawaii and I had to go every year, and every year I missed PEI.
posted by nevercalm at 2:26 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Via and Amtrak meet up very easily in the NYC/Toronto route. I got on the train in Albany and spent a lovely day 'driving' through NY and crossed the border right by Niagara Falls. You might have to spent the night in Toronto but then it's only a day to Halifax. As mentioned, PEI is not on the line - you'd be best off driving.

As for timing, US and Canadian Thanksgivings occur over a month apart (November vs. mid-October) so be careful with that. Although, the timing of that may work in your favour since everything is still open over the American long weekend.

A final thing to consider if you're in search of snow - the Martimes, being as it were maritime, tend to stay 'warm' or at least without reliable snow until later in the winter. You could get flurries in Halifax in November and December but it won't stick until almost January. And ditto that winter in the Maritimes is not for the faint of heart - being more grey and damp than white and crisp.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:29 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I'm not sure what you mean by Arctic islands? The Maritimes are very far from the Arctic.

Anne of Green Gables was filmed in Ontario anyway.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:31 PM on September 3, 2012

Your route would be NYC-Montreal-Moncton(-Halifax?). No train to PEI.

FWIW, trains in Canada don't really like staying on the tracks in winter. Have a contingency plan for the very real possibility of your train either derailing itself or being delayed/canceled due to another derailment.

A final thing to consider if you're in search of snow - the Martimes, being as it were maritime, tend to stay 'warm' or at least without reliable snow until later in the winter.

That's true of Nova Scotia, but New Brunswick is snow central.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:39 PM on September 3, 2012

Sorry. To be clear I'm more interested in train travel in eastern Canada, as opposed to PEI or AoGG stuff. That was just cultural filler.

Being a silly eastern American, I just assumed it was all in like the same 400-mile radius. Again, looking for more tips on great VIA Rail vacations in eastern Canada. Thanks!
posted by kinsey at 2:40 PM on September 3, 2012

Well, if you want the Maritimes, there is one train, the VIA Ocean, from Montreal through to Halifax.

Usually, the equipment is Renaissance cars, which have nice cabins with a big window and private bathroom, where a comfortable but shallow double couch makes up into a comfortable but narrow lower bunk. There's also an upper bunk, from which you can liberate the pillows and duvet for extra selfish deluxeness if you're traveling alone. The layout of the car means some of these cabins face front, and some face the rear in daytime configuration, so if that makes a difference to you, make sure you book the kind you like. At night, you're going to be riding sideways. These cabins have electrical outlets, so you can keep your stuff charged.

Sometimes they run the stainless steel cars, which are the ones usually seen on the Canadian route from Vancouver - Toronto. These have a different layout, and the cabin-for-one is a fascinating little cubbyhole with a lounge chair and a toilet facing each other all day. At night, both vanish and it becomes a slightly claustrophobic (or perhaps cozy!) closet filled entirely with bed and the ghosts of 30 years of farts. If you need to pee in the night, you better either be athletic and co-ordinated or willing to walk up the car to the public washroom. I believe all these cabins face front, and the bed travels feet first.

If I had a choice on this variety of car, I'd pick a berth rather than the claustrobox. It's not so private during the day, but you don't have to sit there and look at your own toilet, and at night it's all gin and ukuleles just like Some Like It Hot.

This route is a 22 hour trip, dinnertime to dinnertime. There's free wifi in most stations, but none on the actual train. I loaded up a whack of tabs whenever we stopped near an open wireless signal, and kept myself amused. There is no fine dining chef on this route, but depending on the time of year you're planning to go, there's good catered sit-down food and a snack bar.

I don't know how long you're planning to spend on this trip, but I'd recommend at least a couple of days in Montreal and a week to adventure around in Halifax. The VIA station is very near the waterfront and many quaint accommodations. I rented a car and drove up and down the coast to Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg, saw some tall ships, looked at Oak Island, saw some flying skull gravestones, and then drove up through Truro and took the ferry to PEI.

Anyway, yar yar yarbles, trains are fun, the Maritimes are scenic, and everybody on the Island hates Anne of Green Gables with the fiery passion of a thousand subsistence fishermen.
posted by Sallyfur at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

That's true of Nova Scotia, but New Brunswick is snow central.

Nova Scotia resident here. It isn't true in all of Nova Scotia; peninsular areas like Halifax don't get a lot of snow, but the Cobequid Pass/Oxford to Truro region can be almost nightmarish during the wintertime. The Annapolis Valley varies and coastal areas tend towards a slushy snow/rain mix.

The Via train from Halifax to Montreal is a grind. Simple as that. It's not terribly scenic, in part because you only really get Nova Scotia and a small part of New Brunswick before nightfall. You arrive in Montreal at 9am. It is a relatively comfortable ride, though, and Sallyfur does a great job of covering the particulars. It is not a particularly wonderful ride, though.

My advice to you is to book a flight into Halifax in fall, spend two weeks in a rental car and really spread your trip. There are so many picturesque moments (for example: yesterday, I toured Halifax's Farmer's Market on the waterfront before catching some of the world u-18 beach volleyball championships right on the harbour; today, I went to Wolfville and picked apples, pears and peaches and then hit a winery up for lunch and a tasting) that it's really hard to isolate a perfect trip without knowing you. You can get Nova Scotia's, New Brunswick's and PEI's tourism guides and build your trip accordingly.

In the fall, my favourite festivals are: the Mahone Bay, NS Scarecrow Festival, the PEI Shellfish Festival, Halifax Pop Explosion (a small SXSW-type festival) and basically every community has a locavore fall festival which is a culinary delight. There is music in many communities until late fall, Cape Breton is really one of a kind (the Cabot Trail is a must-see) and Halifax is always alive with pubs and local music.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:25 PM on September 3, 2012

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