I have taken VIA Rail Canada #14’s overnight route twice. I hereby share my experience of traveling with VIA Rail Canada. I traveled alone and I did not have the luxury to pay for the sleeping car. So, I chose the escape fare (economy car).
Overview of VIA Rail #14 – The Ocean
VIA Rail #14, also known as ‘The Ocean’, is a nearly 24-hour train covers 1,346 kilometers from Montreal, Quebec to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The train leaves Montreal at dusk, and takes you through the small Quebec towns to the Maritimes. In the early morning, you wake up to the coast of the Baie-des-Chaleurs. Across the ocean, you will be in New Brunswick. By the late afternoon, you arrive in Halifax, where your maritime journey begins.
The Ocean is slower than driving from Montreal. It is exciting to see the Quebec countryside, New Brunswick greenish fields, and the long stretch of the coastline in Canada’s Maritimes. Seeing the eastern part of Canada unfold is a great joy of this trip. The 24-hour train trip is apparently not for everyone, but seeing the stunning coastline when approaching Halifax makes the long journey all worth it.
My first trip ended in Halifax. On my second trip, I stepped off in Moncton New Brunswick. Having been on the same road trip twice, here is what I feel about VIA Rail#14.
The best part of this trip is the landscape across Quebec, and the ocean view in Quebec and Nova Scotia. Sure, you can take the plane from Montreal to Halifax, but you will miss many unique landscapes. Seeing the small towns shrouded in the sunset surrounded by mountains was really a privilege. The landscape transforms when you wake up in the early morning to the ocean view of Baie-des-Chaleurs. At dawn, the soft light and the serene beauty it brings is magical, and you cannot take your eyes off it. When the train gets close to Halifax, you will see a long stretch of the coastline where locals play beach volleyball, go beach bumming, and laugh with their families. If you travel from Montreal or Toronto, Halifax is totally a different world.
The Ocean provides comfort seating to its passengers. Hopping on the train from Montreal, I was surprised by the wide seats, extra legroom, and foot rests. The economy class offers seats on both sides, with one seat on one side and two seats on the other. I opted for one-seater, as I needed my own space. The train stopped multiple times but made it to Moncton and Halifax on time.
The train offers free onboard entertainment opportunities. The service car had a large TV screen playing kids movies. Parents bring children to the car and keep their kids entertained throughout the night. On the second morning of my trip to Moncton, a musician played a 15-minute cello for us. There are different entertainment programs throughout the season.
Another good part about the train travel is meeting people. Being stuck in the same space for 24 hours, you are destined to meet interesting travelers and share stories. A young lady I met in the dining car teaches English in the UK. Another passenger I met on the train was staying in the same hostel with me in Halifax, and we shared two meals together. Most of the people on the train were really nice and we shared beautiful moments.
I did not really have a specific negative experience on this train. However, if you travel to Halifax, be prepared to dine with a budget and with Tim Horton’s food. I did not get to eat in the dining car. I purchased breakfast in the service car. They do not have a huge mark-up on the price, but expect to live with sandwiches, wraps, and snacks. As I was getting used to eating rice with vegetables, dining on the train was a struggle for me, but I certainly will not say the food was bad.
Take a shower before getting on the train, if possible. The day I boarded the train to Moncton, it was raining in Montreal all day long. I walked around the city with sneakers, and my sneakers were not waterproof. I only had a pair of slippers with me. By the time I arrived at the Montreal train station, both my feet and legs were soaking wet. I could not shower, so I did a quick change before hopping on the train. It was not a good way to travel with wet feet and wet jeans.
Another unpleasant part is that the 24-hour train ride is pretty long if you have not done much long-haul road trips. Chances are you will get bored and jaded. The simple solution is to take a pit stop midway on your way to Halifax to recharge. Some passengers spent the night in Moncton to ease travel exhaustion and continue traveling to Halifax the next day.
The Ocean was a great experience, but do not expect this to be a luxury travel experience. If you are thinking about a road trip across east Canada by this train, I strongly recommend you do so. I hope this review helps you form a picture of what overnight train trips in East Canada are like, and what you need to prepare for your journey.
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