Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The VIA Rail Business Class Experience

The last time I travelled by plane to Montreal, I was delayed two hours for a one hour flight. After the time spent checking-in, waiting for my luggage and getting a taxi, the whole thing took over four hours. 

Now the train still takes longer - roughly five and a half hours from Toronto to Montreal, but overall it was less stressful than driving six hours.

So when I was offered the chance to travel by train in VIA Rail's Business Class to Montreal, I jumped at the opportunity to give it a review:

WiFi - Internet access was consistent, though spotty and slow at times during certain points in our journey. I wouldn't recommend using Skype, streaming a movie, or plan any major uploading or downloading during your trip. However the complimentary WiFi was fine for casual surfing and one of the main reasons why I was so open to travelling by train. I got quite a bit of work done and there was ample space in Business Class to do so. Bonus: a plug at every seat to juice up all your gadgets.

VIA Business Class Seats - Pretty plush and roomy. It's two per row, facing the direction of travel and you're not awkwardly staring at anybody the whole time. The only issue we had was when the people in front of us decided to completely recline back. Their head was pretty much in my lap and it was sort of a pain to work on my laptop when you're that cramped. But again, it was only when the passengers fully reclined in front of us and unluckily for us - it was for 80% of our ride from Toronto to Montreal. We did a little seat-hopping to work around this. There was lots of room to spread out, as the train was not packed full.

Food - I was really looking forward to reviewing the food, but I think it would be a bit unfair if I did so. The regular caterer had just gone on strike the day we left Toronto, so the level of catering we received would likely be inconsistent with what you might get on your train. Otherwise, I was generally happy with the complimentary wine, cocktails, snacks, cookies, juice, newspapers and hot towels throughout my journey. All of the products served are Canadian including the lovely maple chocolates at the end of every meal. Think real glassware and cutlery - it is a more humane way to travel!
Lounge - The Panorama Lounge in Montreal was a nice way to unwind before the ride back to Toronto. Leather couches and coffee tables are positioned around TVs. You also have access to private washrooms, complimentary water, tea, juices, coffee, magazines and newspapers in both French and English. If you need to get some work down, there is a business area with a computer and of course, free WiFi in the lounge. I'm sad that I was late getting to my train in Toronto because the lounge has been renovated and look like this (see above).

Boarding - In Montreal we had a dedicated boarding area and you get the chance to avoid the crowds. Not too big of a deal in my mind, but it was faster.

Would I travel by train again? Most definitely! Besides getting a ton of work done, I also relaxed - read a bunch of magazines, moved around freely and enjoyed the view. I loved being so close to the water too and hubby and I both got to relax. Usually we drive and both of us are exhausted from concentrating and navigating the whole time.

Is Business Class worth it? Yes! I would always opt to sit in VIA 1 Business Class if I could afford it and definitely if the trip was longer than two hours. The staff are very friendly and I was very happy with the service. You're constantly being fed, offered wine, coffee or water. I felt completely pampered. All in all, a fantastic trip that re-introduced me to the romance of travelling by train.

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