Your Window to Canada - 22 hours from Montreal to Halifax
From the time I’ve learnt that that trains run travel through the night and I can wake up with the sun as I arrive at my final destination, I’ve been hankering to squeeze my overnight bag into a cabin.
When searching for a way of getting out into a chunk of Canada I had yet to visit as part of my month-long birthday travels, I came across this seemingly perfect journey from Montreal to Halifax.
When I booked, I hadn’t even been on a train in Canada so this is to fulfil that ambition along with the bigger sleeper train goal. I thought this was more likely to happen on a journey to Scotland but the Caledonian doesn’t run from my current base, Birmingham and to pick it up in the north would mean not enough of an adventure.
So it came to be that to be that I happened across VIA Rail on their discount day, and found a ticket at an incredible $249 each (Approx £170) in mid-November that included a cabin for two and dinner. Well, we’d be staying in a hotel anyway so this way we got to have what I envisaged to be a trip of a lifetime as well as an overnight stay.
In addition, The Ocean train takes me through two new Canadian provinces: New Brunswick and then ending in Nova Scotia.
Getting on was just like any other long journey except large suitcases can be checked in up to an hour before. Although, note, you still have to check in at another desk before presenting tickets at the platform to board! It was good that we had plenty of time to go back and do that and the Canadian staff were as laid back as they come.
We spent all our time utilising the lounge, a benefit that came with our sleeper plus cabin tickets. After 10 days in Montreal - and 5 in Quebec before that – we were excited to get to the train station early and start on our adventure to Halifax.
This super-comfy waiting area had complimentary hot and cold drinks although I still grabbed some soup from Hortons before we got on the train just in case I didn’t particularly like the dinner offering or if it was some time to wait.
I needn’t have worried. Once we’d selected our complimentary magazines – this is when I discovered the excellent Toronto Life publication - and made our way onto the train, we were being asked what time we’d like to be called for dinner. The first serving was as soon as the train departed at 7. We waited till 8.15. It looks like my soup was going to serve as a starter.
We didn't wait for the dinner announcement. We wanted to explore – and find Wi-Fi which is just in the lounge area - so we sat there until we were called in next door to the restaurant carriage.
It was when I was presented with a full on gorgeous menu accompanied by courteous service that I realised just how special travelling on the Ocean is. This is one of those true, it’s the journey rather than the destination moments.
The meal consisted of chowder (no shell fish the waiter announced with confidence – I’m not the only that loves the taste of chowder but dislikes shellfish), followed by a pasta dish with lashings of perfect salad and a fantastic slice of tart that I recall had a maple syrup slant.
I could have chosen several dishes. In that respect it is like an airline in that it they serve firm favourites that most people like.
When we got back to our cabin, our maid had been for the turn down service AKA, turned our sofa into bunk beds. By maid I meant the lady who looked after all our needs on The Ocean. These are some multi-skilled, well trained staff.
We’re both a little bit claustrophobic but I thought I’d be fine on the top bunk, although it was weird sleeping in separate beds. It turned out I couldn’t sleep up there; I awoke soon after lights out and had a little claustrophobic moment. I felt OK once I got my PJs on and we went for a little walk to get some ‘air’ and I took comfort in that I could just get out of the cabin and sleep on an arm chair in the viewing deck.
I was comfortable on the floor once I’d dragged all my bedding down for ample padding. It was nearer to my beloved and being able to see out of the window made a big difference. A new incarnation of this train will probably be organised so both beds have a bigger view.
It all made sense when we awoke before sunrise the next morning. I sat and watched the colours change outside our window as it got lighter. In my PJs cuddling the duvet around me, these 90 minutes were like watching a film and are among the most magical of the trip. I didn’t move. Not even to turn the heating up.
We had some orange juice in our little fridge and snacks from yesterday to keep us going until we wanted to get dressed for breakfast.
There's almost a whole day on the train and after thinking we only had the dinner included, I’m surprised to discover breakfast and lunch is also built into the ticket price. This was again served by the helpful waiter. You know the type; the one that seems to live to just make your day better. I had waffles and bacon for breakfast while we crossed over from Quebec into New Brunswick. Then later what was renamed Billy Idol soup before salmon croquettes for lunch. It’s called Italian Wedding soup but offered to us ‘as opposed to White Wedding soup’ by our entertaining waiter. I’d never heard of it but we spotted it in a supermarket later, so it is a thing.
In addition, the observation carriage had complimentary hot drinks, savoury snacks and biscuits available for the whole trip. We never needed to spend a penny for 22 hours.
The Ocean offered us old fashioned service on an old fashioned train. The little scratches and marks did nothing to detract from its charm. Our cabin for two was indeed small but with some genius storage solutions – enough to satisfy the cravings of this storage geek. I was particularly impressed hanging space was found with three hangers and perfectly adequate teeny tiny toilet with basin. We didn’t look for the shower room that were available to us preferring to fully utilise the towels and basin in our private cabin. There was even a little bag of toiletries waiting for us.
Despite the space limitations, everything had been thought off to make our journey spectacular, comfortable and unique. Even going on the First class Virgin train to Edinburgh for 4 hours has a bit of magic but no train journey will be the same again. Until I undertake another overnight adventure in a cabin for two in Canada. Maybe next time the Prairiesand one or two more unknown provinces?