/ On The Road
On The Road — By Andy Hayes on August 18, 2010 at 11:54 pm
Filed under: Canada, rail trips, top-feature

The Ocean: Riding the Canadian Rails

I love riding the rails.  There’s just something about the experience that is wholly more satisfying than an airline flight. Maybe it’s the expansive windows, the sound of the wheels clacking on the rails, or maybe just the comfort of being able to get up and move around during the trip.  Being based in Europe, I’m no stranger to rail travel, but I had have heard that rail travel is on the upswing in countries like Canada.  Thus it was an understatement to say I was really excited to take VIA Rail’s “The Ocean” service from Montreal, Quebec (map) to Halifax, Nova Scotia (map).

The Route

This is an overnight train, so you’ll be spending a lot more time in transit than a flight.  But that’s ok – that’s the point actually.  It’s an enjoyable trip, thankfully free of the hassle, stress, and rush of train travel.  The rails traverse approximately 1,346 km (836 mi) from Montreal’s central railway terminal, up along the St Lawrence Seaway, and down through New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia.  The Ocean has had a number of names over the years, including the Maritime Express, and is even featured in a few Canadian folk songs.

While a portion of the trip will be in the dark, here are are some of the stops along the way that you get to enjoy from your picture window in between Montreal and Halifax:

  • Amqui, Quebec (map):  This town is noteworthy as it is a former meeting place of the First Nations people. In their language, amqui means ‘place where one has fun’
  • Petit Rocher, New Brunswick (map): Known as a little sea village where you can relax and enjoy the relaxed lifestyle of New Brunswick.  (Plus, it has kind of a cute name, right?)
  • Amherst, Nova Scotia (map): Amherst sits on the Chignecto peninsula, a narrow strip of land that hooks Nova Scotia onto mainland Canada. The town is known for its incredible Victorian architecture.

Note: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are a different timezone than Quebec.  Before going to bed on the train, be sure to change your watch or you might be a wee bit early for breakfast!

Food and Drink

Speaking of food, that’s definitely part of the whole experience.  The Ocean cuisine really puts its focus on a specific theme:  the Maritimes.  So, there is definitely some French influence there, as well as lots of seafood and some comfort foods thrown in the mix.

For those of you with reservations to the dining car – which is included in some classes of travel – you’ll have dinner in the evening on departure, breakfast on the second day, and then lunch before arriving into the city in the late afternoon.  Examples of our menu:

  • Dinner:  The starter was an amazing chowder, followed your choice of chicken/beef (vegetarian choices as well).  The lasting memory here was, naturally, the chocolate cake.
  • Breakfast:  Morning options are pretty straightforward; you can have a fruit-n-cereal breakfast or a egg/bacon/toast breakfast.
  • Lunch:  Probably the best meal for me; a tasty salad, several choices of entree, and then a fantastic date square for dessert.

My only regret was that often my first choice on the dining car menu wasn’t available – which at times, such as dessert, meant there was only one choice.  For those in sleeper touring class, the park car at the back of the train has tea and coffee at all times.  There are also stations to purchase snacks and more food should you be hungry outside of the time you’ve reserved to eat, or if you don’t have access to the dining car.

The train also has a couple of bar areas where you can purchase wine, beer or spirits.  To give you an idea of costs, a glass of wine on board (typically from Nova Scotia or another Canadian province) is $6-7.  It isn’t allowed to bring aboard alcohol and consume it in public areas.

This was my view when I woke up in the morning.  Woah!

About Those Sleeping Classes

I’ve mentioned the classes of travel, so let’s get into the details of what each provides. Summer trains have three cabins of service.

Economy:  This is not unlike your typical airline seat.  You’ll have decent legroom though, and again those great views.  In this class, you’ll get great fares but need to purchase blankets, food, etc.  For those of you on a budget I think it’s a great deal because you can bring with you the things you don’t want to pay for.

Sleeper Class:  This class affords you a “berth” or a small cabin that you may share with others depending on the size of your party.  You’ll have beds that fold down, as well as small but very useful shower, and other nice little touches like bottled water, ear plugs, etc.

Sleeper Touring:  The premium on board class, you get the berths like in sleeper class, but you also get access the Park Car – which must be the coolest thing ever.  More on that in a minute.  Sleeper Touring tickets also give you access to the lounge in Halifax/Montreal and free meals in the dining car.

Note there is no Wifi service available on board in any class, unlike trains mainline trains in Ontario and Quebec.  Also, there are lots of cubby holes and spots for luggage, but if you are bringing large bags (anything larger than what would fit in an airline overhead), you’ll need to check them, so be sure to separate out your toiletries and bunny slippers before you get to the train station.

The Park Car

So, what is the park car? That’s the car with the “bubble” on top where you can sit and watch the train speed through signs, bridges, and towns.  It is a fantastic view and any train lover – of any age – should come and hang out here.  The Park Car also has lessons about Maritime culture and stories/folklore about the towns as they pass.

The car is at  the end of the train, so it is a little bumpy at times.  For me, though, I found the rocking relaxing – perfect in the evening before dinner, or in the morning after a good cup of coffee (free refills in the Park Car).

Hooray – we’re in Halifax!

Essential Information

VIA Express deals
Find great discounts every week with VIA Express deals

VIA Rail – it is truly the most enjoyable way to travel in Canada, and they provide service to most cities across the country.  I can’t wait to book another railway trip on one of their other “epic” services, such as the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto.

To learn more about The Ocean and to book travel for your next Quebec/Nova Scotia experience, visit VIA’s Main website, www.viarail.ca.  You can also look up more information about this specific trip on “The Ocean” official webpage.

Disclosure:  Portions of this trip were sponsored by VIA Rail.  The opinions expressed here are of the author not the company.

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Tags: Canada, rail trips, top-feature

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