Via Rail is beginning to offer its new Prestige service on its flagship Vancouver-Toronto train, The Canadian. It’s Via’s version of first class.
The biggest reasons why you might want this option: a double bed and your own private shower.
The Canadian’s previous top tier was the two- or three-person bedroom, where the beds are all singles. In the two-person room there’s an upper and a lower; in the three, two lowers and one upper. They come with their own toilet and sink, but you have to trudge down the hall to use a shared shower.
A typical sleeper car would have beds for about 20 people.
Via says its Prestige compartments are 50 per cent bigger than the two-person bedrooms. A diagram on its website shows a Prestige car with six compartments, which would translate into enough bed space for 12 people.
There’s also a Prestige compartment on some Park cars, the dome cars that run at the rear of the Canadian. Those compartments have been designed to be wheelchair accessible.
Other features of Prestige class: in addition to that private shower, you get your own sink and toilet; an L-shaped couch that folds away at night to make way for the double bed, which faces a window that is 60 per cent larger than the previous standard; wood panelling; a mini-bar stocked with beverages; a flat-screen TV; and priority booking for the dining room.
I travelled Vancouver to Toronto in a two-person bedroom in January 2014 and loved the experience. The single bed was firm, comfortable, and big enough. I had a restless first night adjusting to the swaying and noise of the train, but slept fine on subsequent nights.
The Prestige class double bed and in-room shower look enticing.
But it comes, of course, at an extra cost.
During what Via is calling its pre-launch for Prestige, up until April 30, the fares are a little lower. An agent quoted $5,084.10 for two people travelling from Vancouver to Toronto, which is a 4,466 kilometre journey that includes four nights. On a Tuesday departure, you leave at 8:30 p.m. from Vancouver, and are scheduled to arrive at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Toronto. All meals and beverages are included. But it might be difficult to get a pre-launch discounted ticket. When I called, the agent wasn’t able to offer any travel dates, but said some might become available.
After the pre-launch, the price goes up. I was quoted $6,871.20 for two people in one compartment. (Price includes taxes.)
Train fares, like airline fares, are all over the place, depending on things like time of year, amount of demand, travel points and discount promotions, so it’s a little difficult to compare the price of Prestige class with other sleeping compartment prices. A two-person regular bedroom is quoted at around $3,200 in high season, $2,850 in low season. But discounts are available, especially in low season. Via officials have said they don’t expect to offer discounts for Prestige class.
If you think of the trip as four nights in a hotel room, with all meals included (fairly fancy meals cooked on the train), plus you’re also travelling, with terrific scenery out your window, the cost looks a little less daunting. Sort of.
In contrast, a single Air Canada business class ticket Victoria to Toronto in May would cost you between $1,350 and $4,845. You would not be served nearly as much food or see much scenery. You'd be Air Canada's guest for a few hours, not several days. Just to be practical, Victoria-Toronto economy tickets are being quoted today at between $290 and $370; but there's no leg room, no food and you definitely can't lie flat.
A video tour of Prestige class at vancouversun.com, from last year, when a Prestige class car was displayed at a travel show.
Via Rail’s price list for 2015 but Prestige class is missing
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