Vancouver to Seattle Roudtrip on Amtrak

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West Coast Departures

Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver
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#1
Tulsa, Oklahoma
386 Posts
Joined May 2005
Precruise I have three days in Vancouver. We are planning on taking the 6:30 Amtrak Cascades to Seattle for the day and then returning that night. It will be a long day but I think a nice way to get a bit of the coast line and Seattle. Is there anything you would point out as a problem with this plan? I know we will need a taxi to the terminal which doesn't open until 6 am as the local trains will not be running that early on a Saturday. I am expecting to walk to the Main Street Science Center Station to get back to the hotel. What am I missing?
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#2
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
I have to say that I'd never even consider this trip - you're losing 8 hours in travel time (albeit in about as pleasant a way as you can on the train with nice views!), and your time in Seattle is going to be very. very short.

But assuming you've already weighed the travel time and feel it's something you'll enjoy, errors in your research and tips about the train:

Pacific Central Station opens at 5am, as Amtrak have a recommended arrival time of at least an hour before train departs (you go through US immigration & customs preclearance at the station). In fact you probably want to be there a little earlier than that, since most folks know about the 1hr timeline and getting a water-view seat for the trip is all about beating your fellow pax to the front of the line! VIA staff don't open THEIR ticket office until 6am, but the Amtrak guys will be open at 5am the same as the station building.

Yes, Expo line doesn't start until too late for this train, so a taxi (or walking - depends which hotel you're in) is the sensible option. When you return, unless the train is outrageously late (which does happen - we've had a 2am arrival before...) Expo will be running - but even if it is, you may find a cab better value since depending on hotel it could be as low as $7 total on the meter vs. $2.85pp for SkyTrain. If your hotel is very close to a SkyTrain station - NB: one that's on the Expo Line, not the Canada Line! - SkyTrain may be just as quick or even quicker than a cab but at 11pm or later there's zero traffic to slow the latter down, and door-to-door service after such a long day should be worth a few bucks to you...

Returning on Amtrak, there's no requirement to be an hour early again since you will again do immigration/customs in Vancouver (this time with CBSA), but if you show up any nearer than that you'll have a good chance of missing out on the good water-view seats. You'll just have a small day bag, but many others will be taking checked baggage - and that does have a hard cap of 45mins pre-train for handing to Amtrak staff, so many if not most of the northbound pax will be aiming for an hour beforehand just like the southbound trains.

This leaves you with less than 5 hours in Seattle to Do Stuff - and also with the less-than-ideal situation of both breakfast and dinner on the train. The food's not bad (Ivar's Clam Chowder is in theory the exact same as in their restos) and the beer selection is decent, prices are not too egregious, but it's still two missed meals that you could have had MUCH better by skipping the trip.

Frankly I feel that your plan has a very fundamental error - the return trip aspect. You will almost certainly save money by flying domestic into SEA instead of to YVR, having your first overnight in Seattle, then taking the evening train next day to Vancouver. The only extra effort is getting your bags to the train - but Amtrak free checked baggage allowance is way more than airlines offer so there's no cost. This would gain you the whole morning extra in Seattle, still get you your train journey, save probably $50-100+ per person on plane fare plus half your train fare, and still give you 2 days in Vancouver. It's a better plan in every way, losing nothing and gaining you both time and money savings...
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#3
Tulsa, Oklahoma
386 Posts
Joined May 2005
Thank you for letting us know about the Pacific Station. That was good information as I called there this morning and was told it would not be open until 6:00 am. I was aware of the one hour prior requirement so I asked about that and was told it doesn't apply to the first train out and that I will be fine. I will get there an hour early now just in case.

We are excited for the train ride and find the 8 hours on the train to be the highlight of the day with the 5 hours in Seattle just thrown in. We could have flown to Seattle for a bit less money but we did not want to have to return to Seattle for departure and using two airports raised our fare overall. We have heard that Vancouver is a wonderful city and we wanted the two extra days there. Thank you so much for all that information.

I also had not thought about the getting there early on the departure to get better seats. We have already purchased business class seats but I do understand that they do not assign seats until we check in. We are a party of 6 so to sit together we probably do need to get there early. Thanks again... Great information!!
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#4
1,987 Posts
Joined Apr 2005
I love Seattle (I live here), but I'm not crazy about this plan because of the times, the mandatory buffers and the distinct possibility of not having water-side seats on one or both segments.

I like the idea of flying into Seattle and taking the train up. That works well, and doesn't preclude you from flying home from Vancouver. If you do this, price the ticket both as an "open jaw" (one itinerary for both directions) and as two one-ways. There are quirks of pricing that can make the latter much cheaper at times.

I also would heartily endorse the idea of a one-day car rental to dip down into Washington - there are excellent scenic opportunities in Skagit, Whatcom and Island Counties including Deception Pass, the Chuckanut Drive and Hwy 20.

Barring either, Vancouver is a fascinating city surrounded by natural beauty and three days isn't nearly enough to scratch the surface. Come see us in Seattle some other trip.
#5
4,367 Posts
Joined Dec 2014
Thoughts....
  • @x2tpd: When are you planning this trip? I recommend looking up sunrise and sunset times to assess value of window seats vs more time to explore the city.
  • I was at the Pacific Central station at 4:50am last Sunday for Greyhound. I'm saw Amtrak staff already at there posts when I arrived. I wonder if things are opening times are different for different days
#6
4,367 Posts
Joined Dec 2014
Originally posted by VibeGuy
I also would heartily endorse the idea of a one-day car rental to dip down into Washington - there are excellent scenic opportunities in Skagit, Whatcom and Island Counties including Deception Pass, the Chuckanut Drive and Hwy 20.
Warning about car rentals on weekends (especially long weekends).... the border lines can be long (hours).
#7
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by x2tpd
Thank you for letting us know about the Pacific Station. That was good information as I called there this morning and was told it would not be open until 6:00 am. I was aware of the one hour prior requirement so I asked about that and was told it doesn't apply to the first train out and that I will be fine.
You fell foul of one of the annoying aspects of Canadian-ness: We-Are-Not-American-ism. Everything the VIA person told you was true - from a certain point of view! - but left out the actually-relevant info for you, because you called the official station number (answered by VIA personnel) and not the Amtrak 1-800 number.

Everyone at that station is 100% aware that Amtrak also run their operation from the same building, and cannot possibly fail to know that (at the very least) Amtrak folks show up earlier than VIA do (and as xlxo noted, some bus services also go early enough that the station has to open their doors even earlier than 5am).

Failing to even mention Amtrak operate independently and that you should contact them about their hours was a d*ck move - and based on my personal experiences with VIA unfortunately it's not uncommon to find a**holery from their customer 'service' folks. Specific to at least this station, I also know that VIA refuse to allow Amtrak use of their baggage carts - they stash them behind locked gates so that Amtrak personnel can't get at them!

Not that I want to put you off spending time in Vancouver, but since it seems the train ride is the main thing for you, have you considered a way-more-scenic ride through the mountains instead? Rocky Mountaineer pulled their Whistler-only service a couple of years back but still stop there on their 3-day ride through the Rockies. If you're big enough trainiacs to spend a long day riding to Seattle & back perhaps you'd enjoy this trip even more than hanging out in our fair city for 3 days...?
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#8
Oklahoma City
8,058 Posts
Joined Oct 2000
Originally posted by martincath
Returning on Amtrak, there's no requirement to be an hour early again since you will again do immigration/customs in Vancouver (this time with CBSA), but if you show up any nearer than that you'll have a good chance of missing out on the good water-view seats. You'll just have a small day bag, but many others will be taking checked baggage - and that does have a hard cap of 45mins pre-train for handing to Amtrak staff, so many if not most of the northbound pax will be aiming for an hour beforehand just like the southbound trains.

.
We will be on the Seattle to Vancouver run in a few weeks, prior to our cruise. How is baggage handled - can be carry it on ourselves or must it be handled by Amtrak? Likely will have one large and one carryon roller bag.
#9
1,987 Posts
Joined Apr 2005
Have I just been exceptionally fortunate with border crossings lately? Even when I can't use NEXUS due to nonmembers in the car, we have been consistently between 5-15 minutes either direction and Peace Arch has generally been the smart money. We generally cross around 9ish one way and 7ish the other.
#10
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by DaveOKC
We will be on the Seattle to Vancouver run in a few weeks, prior to our cruise. How is baggage handled - can be carry it on ourselves or must it be handled by Amtrak? Likely will have one large and one carryon roller bag.
You can carry on pretty good-sized bags - and if you do carry on you can roll up just before the train leaves if you don't care about which seats you get. Amtrak luggage sizes are listed here. If you do check bags, nobody gets off the train in Vancouver until they start announcing carriage by carriage (Bus Class first) - all checked bags are already sitting next to the train for you to take through CBSA yourself by the time the first carriage is called, they've got the process very fine-tuned.
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#11
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by VibeGuy
Have I just been exceptionally fortunate with border crossings lately? Even when I can't use NEXUS due to nonmembers in the car, we have been consistently between 5-15 minutes either direction and Peace Arch has generally been the smart money. We generally cross around 9ish one way and 7ish the other.
I assume you listed northbound first since longer to the border from Seattle than Vancouver?

Those are almost always good times to cross. Before 7am the number of open regular gates can be low, but even back when CAD was close to or above par with USD it's 8am before Vancouver traffic starts hitting the border hard. Pre-NEXUS, we asked the CBP guys what was the best time to cross and they all said the same - after 7am, before 8am and never a long wait. Vancouverites are the laziest people of any city I've ever lived in when it comes to getting up in the morning - it's why there are vanishingly-few good breakfast restos open before 9am! - so even though the border is just minutes away from large urban areas almost nobody except truckers is on the road much before 8am.

Northbound is usually quiet until at least 10am, peaks around noon, drops again toward 2ish, starts peaking again and generally is suckiest 5pm until at least 7 or 8pm. So whether it's 9am or 9pm you cross VG, it's generally a good time with almost all gates open but few fellow travelers.
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#13
Oklahoma City
8,058 Posts
Joined Oct 2000
Originally posted by martincath
You can carry on pretty good-sized bags - and if you do carry on you can roll up just before the train leaves if you don't care about which seats you get. Amtrak luggage sizes are listed here. If you do check bags, nobody gets off the train in Vancouver until they start announcing carriage by carriage (Bus Class first) - all checked bags are already sitting next to the train for you to take through CBSA yourself by the time the first carriage is called, they've got the process very fine-tuned.
Thanks for the information - our bags should easily qualify. Now, we are in Business Class, so do we get assigned seats or is it first come first served?
#14
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by DaveOKC
Thanks for the information - our bags should easily qualify. Now, we are in Business Class, so do we get assigned seats or is it first come first served?
Assigned like everyone else. Back in the day you could prebook bus class - we did it ourselves - but based on many posts over the last 2-3 years you can't do it any more.


Since Bus class is 2:1 seating, you still need to be early if you want to sit next to your traveling companion (this is also the side on the water - single seats are on the far side).
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#15
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
^Just realised I used the same term as you in a different way Dave, so for total clarity - your seats are assigned (as opposed to being able to sit anywhere you like onboard) but the assignation happens first-come, first-served by Amtrak staff as you 'check in' for the train at the station.
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#16
Oklahoma City
8,058 Posts
Joined Oct 2000
Originally posted by martincath
^Just realised I used the same term as you in a different way Dave, so for total clarity - your seats are assigned (as opposed to being able to sit anywhere you like onboard) but the assignation happens first-come, first-served by Amtrak staff as you 'check in' for the train at the station.
Thanks! That really does clarify it for me.
#17
Tulsa, Oklahoma
386 Posts
Joined May 2005
Originally posted by xlxo
Thoughts....
  • @x2tpd: When are you planning this trip? I recommend looking up sunrise and sunset times to assess value of window seats vs more time to explore the city.
  • I was at the Pacific Central station at 4:50am last Sunday for Greyhound. I'm saw Amtrak staff already at there posts when I arrived. I wonder if things are opening times are different for different days
We are going on September 9th .. thank you for the info
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#19
Oklahoma City
8,058 Posts
Joined Oct 2000
Just got a notice from Amtrak - our business class seats cancelled and now rebooked as regular ones. Is there a big difference??
#20
YVR & PDX
3,873 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Unfortunately yes - the only time I've ever experienced that is during the annual servicing of the TALGO rolling stock. For a short time each year they run regular Amtrak carriages instead - so if you've ever taken a normal 2-deck Amtrak train you know what you'll have to deal with.

There's more legroom on these than the coach seats on the TALGOs, but the carriages tend to be much older with less comfy seats so unless you're basketball-player-tall, the TALGO coach seats are better. There's also a greater chance of delay as the TALGO carriages lean so they can safely corner faster - regular Amtrak carriages used to add about 20-30mins, but I haven't experienced a non-TALGO trip since all the track improvements (which included making a few corners smoother) were finished.

It's possible that there's some issue with just business class carriages of course, but the timing is right for the annual service - it's usually in Sep/Oct that the swap happens.

Edit - check pricing! They probably rebooked you on the most expensive Coach tickets. If Saver is still available you should ask to rebook at those rates instead (technically if you COULD have booked Saver at the time you booked Bus Class they should rebook at the lowest rate, but depending when that was unless you took a screengrab it might be hard to argue...)
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