Montreal to Cincinnati by bus/train
February 7, 2018 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Would this be fun?

I'm going to Cincinnati for a vacation (I have friends there) in the spring and thinking of taking a bus/train there instead of flying in order to save money and have a bit of an adventure. Also I'm turning 30 and I guess it would be nice to have some personal time to write and reflect on things.

Would the train/bus trip be pleasant and would I see nice things out the window? The route would probably be to take the train to Toronto and get a Greyhound from there. (I'll probably get a night bus and sleep through most of it anyway). Or would it be dangerous and creepy and boring?

FWIW I have in the past taken a train from Montreal to Vancouver and (5 day trip with no sleeper class) and enjoyed it immensely, but that also had to do with seeing the Rocky Mountains. Would you recommend I just fly and get it over with?
posted by winterportage to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
I take long bus trips sometimes and it's usually AOK. A few things to consider

- When you travel. Super crowded buses are less fun.
- What you're traveling. Some people say to avoid "chinatown buses" because you may wind up with a driver with minimal English if that sort of thing is important to you
- How you feel about bus bathrooms. I do not mind them, some people do. They are of variable quality and cleanliness
- Do not rely on bus wifi to work.
- the bus will stop for breaks and people get off to smoke and come back on smelling like smoke. Again, not a big thing for me but if you're sensitive to that sort of thing, worth knowing.

The only thing I'd really think hard on is the border crossing aspect. I've done this a few times (from VT into Montreal) and it can take a while because sometimes the people who are busing are the people who can't fly which means you get people showing up with a high school diploma and a yearbook as ID and you can sometimes get hung up for a while. So if you're going to be at the border at, say, 9 pm, keep in mind that you may be there until midnight.

You'll see the highway, it won't be that interesting but it will be a nice changing landscape. Less interesting at night to be sure.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

How long is each leg?

IME trains are infinitely preferable to flights. Buses are generally not.
posted by pompomtom at 6:52 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Would the bus trip be pleasant?"

In a word, no. :)

The scenery is pretty nice, if a bit bland by most people's standards. I used to drive from Columbus to Buffalo and back pretty regularly, and it's a pleasant drive. There are a lot of gently rolling hills, and aside from Cleveland, not much actual urban area. And if you take the 271 to bypass Cleveland, you'll pass through a national park, although it's pretty underwhelming. It won't compare to the Canadian Rockies, by any means, but you could do worse.

I've actually done Columbus-to-Buffalo on a bus before. It...just kind of was. It wasn't good or bad. It was just me on a bus. I don't have a problem with making time for myself to reflect on things, though. If you're easily distracted, a bus is terrible.

It should tell you something that I actually kind of like sitting on an airplane, but I don't like bus travel.

A train would be preferable, but Ohio stubbornly refuses to consider even the most basic rail infrastructure, so that won't be an option until at least 2132.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:04 AM on February 7, 2018

On the one hand - I definitely think trains are preferable to buses. There's more freedom to get up and stretch your legs a bit, there's usually a food car on board, and it takes you past more interesting scenery. The buses are stuck to major highways, and in the USA the highways tend to be rather boring and monotonous gray pavement with trees on either side; trains go past fields, past little towns, along rivers, past lakes...

However - I just looked at the Amtrak route map, and it doesn't look like there's an exactly direct train for your particular route. There's more of a direct route to Cleveland, but for Cincinatti you'd either have to go all the way to Chicago and then loop back, or go all the way south to Washington DC and then loop through the Appalachians to get there. And that's going to add some time. (I'm looking at the red lines - the green lines are "thruway connecting services", which Amtrak says "may be provided by train, bus, van, taxi, or ferry", which does not inspire confidence.)

However: the Chicago bit gives me an idea. If you fly into Chicago, and then get the train from there, that'd be a more direct route; the flight to Chicago would be pretty quich, there's bound to be lots of options for flights, and you could even get in the night before you catch your train and give yourself a night in Chicago for the hell of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

The train from Montreal to Toronto is pleasant and much nicer than the view from the 401. I've driven from Toronto through Cincinnati and I didn't find it to be the most interesting scenery. If you are sleeping through it, that might be okay for the adventure aspect. Taking the train the whole way from Montreal to Cincinnati is tricky since you have to either go through NYC or Chicago, but I think it would be more pleasant than the bus.

I suggest flying at least one way.
posted by TORunner at 7:09 AM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Google says the bus from Toronto to Cincinnati takes about 13 hours. The scenery isn't too bad if you go via Buffalo and Cleveland. Staying north of Lake Erie you'll pass through mostly flat farmland until you hit Windsor/Detroit and you will again hit mostly flat farmland from Toledo down to Dayton with some rolling hills for the last leg of the trip.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:15 AM on February 7, 2018

There is no direct route to Cincinnati. You'd probably be routed through Cleveland and Toledo and on to Chicago, and then to Cincinnati. It would take a ridiculous amount of time.

My son takes the night Greyhound from Rochester, NY to Cincinnati all the time and he HATES IT. It is creepy and gross and stupidly long. For reference, to drive the route in a car, it takes about 8 hours. He's never, ever been on a Greyhound trip that takes less than 12 hours and usually it takes longer.

I've been on both routes that look promising for you, from Toronto to Cincinnati A LOT, and honestly, you really wouldn't be missing anything fun by taking the bus or train. Really. I love Ohio, I love the midwest, but these particular routes are not terribly interesting.

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the highways in this part of the world, fly and be done with it.
posted by cooker girl at 7:37 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Can’t speak to your route in particular, but if you are planning an overnight bus trip, make sure you can sleep on busses. I did a Santa Barbara to San Francisco overnight (about 6 hours) as part of a train journey and it was miserable, and the day after was miserable because I’d only caught about 1.5 hours of sleep — basically when I hit full-on exhaustion. Bus let me off in downtown San Francisco at 0500 and that was a seriously surreal day.

On the bright side, if you want to explore writing in altered states, that’s one drug-free way to get there, I guess?
posted by Alterscape at 7:46 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd take the train the whole way, but that's because I like trains and train travel. If you don't, well, that's probably all you need to know. If you don't know if you like train travel, then this would be a hell of a way to find out.

So if I were going to do this, I'd take the train from Montreal to NYC—via Amtrak's "Adirondack" service, which runs on the same path as the more-well-known "Vermonter", and runs through some very pretty countryside down the Winooski River valley, through Montpelier, etc. (although you won't see much of it on the southbound run during the winter, because it gets dark too early). These trains leave every day, departing Montreal Gare Centrale in the evening and getting into New York Penn in the early morning. There is, or used to be, a fairly annoying customs stop as you cross the border, which means you can't go to bed early, but that may have changed in the last few years.

Then from NYC, after experiencing the awful counterpoint to Gare Centrale that is modern Penn Station, you take the "Cardinal"—another one of Amtrak's named trains—to Cincinnati. This train only operates 3 days a week, and it goes down the NE Corridor to Washington before going out through the Virginia countryside, through the Appalachians and across West Virginia, and drops you in Cincinnati roughly a full day after you get on. I'd get a sleeper berth on this leg for sure, even if you decide to rough it on the Adirondack. (The "Roomettes" are the closest thing the US has to Japanese capsule hotels and are worth experiencing.)

You may, due to the timing of the Adirondack's arrival and the Cardinal's departure, have to do an overnight in NYC between the two. There are worse things in life. If you really want to keep up the railway motif, I'd stay in the Hotel Pennsylvania directly across the street from the station, which was literally built for this purpose.

Of course, all this will end up costing you spectacularly more money than flying, and probably take a long weekend, but it'd be a really nice trip.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:13 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

The Adirondack travels south during the day nowadays, and the views at the end of February are great as long as you sit on the eastern side of the train so you get the views of Lake Champlain. People without US & Canadian passports like me still hold it up for an hour at the border (n.b. you'll need $6 US if you need to get a visa waiver, and you can't use the electronic system).

But it is comfortable and pleasant and my trip cost $79, so not expensive.
posted by ambrosen at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2018

A few years ago I took Amtrak from New York to Montreal and back. It was a cold November but the train was cozy and the view absolutely stunning. I got my ticket far in advance for a great price. It's not the route you would take but I can attest to how delightful and relaxing it was to travel that way.

I have also taken Greyhound on day trips, if not overnight, and had really positive experiences in terms of meeting people and feeling safe. An overnight trip would likely be physically exhausting and uncomfortable but it'd be part of the experience, right? You can't beat the price either! I've met kind people from different walks of life and appreciate the chance to connect; it also made me super aware of my privilege. There are always horror stories of people being molested or even assaulted on the bus, and that's something to be aware of and consider. However, I think a lot of people complain about Greyhound for what are ultimately classist reasons so take that with a grain of salt. (I don't see any of that here -- I just say it if you hear a lot of negative assumptions from people who haven't actually traveled by bus before!)

If you have the time and resources, I absolutely second Kadin2048's great suggestion to take Amtrak from Montreal to NYC and then from NYC to Cincinnati (and then fly back home if you're pressed for time!)
posted by smorgasbord at 9:04 AM on February 7, 2018

If you have time and like train travel, Kadin2048's suggestion sounds good. I've never done the NYC-Cincinnati leg, but I have done NYC-Montreal a couple of times and it's very pretty/pleasant, but slow (nearly twice as long as driving). So you need to have time to make it worth your while.

EmpressCallipygos's suggestion to fly to Chicago and train from there sounds good, too, though I'm not sure the Chicago-Cincinnati train would be especially scenic - much of Indiana is pancake-flat. But adding a day or two in Chicago to your trip could be fun, again, depending on how much time you have.

I would not take the bus from Toronto to Cincinnati if I had another choice. Greyhound is mostly tolerable, but it can be worse than that, and I've heard horror stories about crossing the border on buses.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:10 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Overnight bus hauls from the East Coast to the Midwest are no fun for nobody. I still have blurry memories of inexplicable lengthy layovers in the filthy Toledo bus station starting at like 5 a.m. One time, I think it was in Rochester, in the middle of the night, we pulled in to the bus station for the driver to use the facilities, and he said, "EVERYBODY WATCH THE SIDE OF THE BUS TO MAKE SURE NO ONE STEALS YOUR LUGGAGE." That kind of trip.

There's been considerable improvement in comfort on the Northeast Corridor bus route hauls, but I don't think that's really trickled down to trips outside the region.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2018

I live in Cincinnati and have to agree with cooker girl--there is no direct, or even interesting bus or train route from Montreal to Cincinnati. Although there is plenty to like about Cincinnati, mass transit options aren't one of them.

Take Air Canada from Montreal to Toronto to Cincinnati, you'll save yourself probably a whole day of travel time, and honestly, the Greater Cincinnati airport is pretty easy to navigate.
posted by codex99 at 12:28 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I took the Greyhound from Toronto to Cincinnati for years, and vice-versa. There are two routes: routed through Detroit, with stops in (possibly) Toledo, Cleveland, and Columbus, and routed through Buffalo, with stops in Erie and Columbus. Both suck to a certain degree, with nothing to see, but the Buffalo route at least has a Tim Horton's in the BUF station. It takes 12 hours. It's cheap. Bring podcasts if you do it. Just...don't expect it to be fun.

P.S. Cincy is one of the most expensive cities to fly to from, well, anywhere in North America. If you do choose to fly, you can land in Dayton and ideally have a friend pick you up or rent a car and drive the hour to Cincy.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:36 PM on February 7, 2018

P.P.S. I would honestly only take Amtrak if you're seeking an extended "Amtrak experience." There is absolutely no reason to take the train between Toronto and Cincinnati, considering they simply don't connect that way, and NYC-Cincy is an absurdly circuitous route. You could, however, take VIA Rail to Windsor, take the tunnel bus (it'll be a bridge bus these days, because the tunnel is closed), and hop on a bus at wonderful old Rosa Parks Bus Terminal.

But, honestly, no one in the world ever imagined a person would want to go from Toronto to Cincinnati. I'd either fly to Dayton and have your scenic time in and around Kentucky, or be cheap and take the non-scenic bus.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:40 PM on February 7, 2018

We (Cincinnati) had some of the highest flight prices because the airport was a Delta hub with almost no competition. Now that we aren't a hub, competition has come in and prices have fallen quite a bit (although that might not be true of International flights).

In the end this is going to come down to if you value your time (airplane) vs. getting the cheapest possible fare (bus).
posted by mmascolino at 6:21 AM on February 8, 2018

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