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Transportation: From Montreal to Halifax—An Overnight Rail Adventure

It was only 8:30 p.m., not even dark outside our big picture windows, but already, our beds were made up and waiting for us. We did not mind. These were fun beds behind curtains, a kind of kid’s cozy hideout fort. For two nights, my 17-year-old daughter and I were going to be sleeping in upper and lower bunks in a train corridor aboard the Ocean, the overnight VIA Rail train from Montreal to Halifax and back.

After a bowl of seafood chowder in the dining car, and some zany television in the Mural Lounge, we were more than ready to climb into our berths with comfy mattresses and extra pillows to play cards and read our magazines. As I turned off our Art Deco-like nightlights and snapped our curtains shut in the 1952 vintage car, I had visions of the kind of train escapades in Some Like it Hot with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. But nothing interrupted the rhythmic chug chugging of our night’s sleep. We awoke to free coffee and bagels in the panoramic lounge and a welcoming hot shower in the shower room at the end of the car.

After last week’s horrific events affecting airplanes around the world, kids (and parents) are understandably reluctant to board a plane. How can we ease our children’s fears about flying? We can talk about the greater security precautions, the safety of our Canadian airspace, the fact that this orchestrated co-ordinated hijacking effort has never been seen before, and will probably not happen again. But in the end, we find it difficult to convince ourselves of such certainties.

Luckily, there is still another option to get around North America—to take the train. And it’s never been more economical for families. Until December 15, kids between the ages of two and 11 can travel free with an adult on any Saturday (or Sunday on a long weekend). Adults can save too based on availability—up to 35 percent round-trip (25 percent one way)—by booking ahead at least five days.

If you want to do train sleepovers, there are several options. You can grin and bear it in your train seat (although on our train, one very lively three-year-old was keeping the whole car awake) or you can opt for the more expensive double or triple bedroom with a closed door and your own washroom facilities. (Single bedrooms are not recommended for families as the beds slide or fold over the toilet during the night—an impossible situation for a kid that has to “go quick” in the night. And they reminded me of space capsules.) It can be expensive to sleep in a berth or bedroom, but you save a hotel room, and for kids, it’s an adventure in itself.

We were glad that we chose the in-between priced berths that converted into train sofa-style benches during the day. The mattresses were comfy—and roomy enough for a parent and a toddler to share if necessary. The spacious washroom facilities in the hallway included a make-up table. And the train staff was great. Our porters hunted out extra blankets and shampoo, encouraged us to jump off at a stop for exercise and fresh air and even took goofy photos of us. Kiddie packs were handed out to younger children containing crayons and coloring books, a map of Canada and animal or train cutouts. Our 27-hour journey between Toronto to Halifax passed quickly and we definitely had time to debate a dozen teenage topics.

Some other fun train adventures for families include VIA Rail’s Bras D’Or journey through the heart of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Between Halifax and Sydney, until October 17, families will be treated to live Celtic music, stories and sing-alongs. On some trains with baggage cars, such as the Western Transcontinental through Ontario to B.C., you can now take along your bike, canoe or kayak and be dropped off at pre-arranged wilderness spots. Check out www.viarail.ca/adventures for expedition tales from other passengers.

Another train journey that’s celebrated around the world is the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver through Kamloops to Jasper, Banff or Calgary, Alberta. Called “the most spectacular train trip in the world,” this daylight train trip stops for a sleepover in Kamloops so that you don’t miss the fabulous mountain scenery.

Though most kids won’t ooh and aah with the rest of the passengers at the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, they’ll be content to look out for elk, moose and bear (we saw several glossy black bears right along the track), spot the whitewater rafters on the Fraser River, and spookily ascend upwards in the winding tunnels through the Rockies. No problem obeying the two rules of the railroad according to steward Alex: “Wave at absolutely everyone you pass along the way,” and “If you see wildlife, shout!” During special December holiday trips, Santa comes on board.

For VIA Rail Canada fares and schedules (there are so many variables dependent on when you want to travel and the ages of your kids), call 1-888-VIA-RAIL (842-7245) or visit www.viarail.ca.

For Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, call 1-800-665-7245, visit www.rockymountaineer.com or contact your travel agent to book Signature Vacations’ economical Two-Day RedLeaf Rail Tour. Prices start under $600 for two days of breakfasts, lunches and snacks, commentary, scenery and overnight accommodation; kids 11 and under receive a 50 percent discount.





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