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Vancouver to Seattle transportation

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We will be arriving in Vancouver at 6am and catching a flight out of Seattle at 5pm that evening.  Is the Amtrak bus our best option or is there another shuttle service you have used and would recommend?  What do you think would be the latest time we would need to leave Vancouver to arrive at SEATAC by 3pm?

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Definitely NOT the Amtrak bus service - you want to be on the earliest-possible bus which is feasible to board after disembarking, which would be the first QuickShuttle of the day. This is pricier than other bus services, but does add the convenience of having Seatac as the destination as well as an earlier start time than others - it's been US$59pp for a while now, though this and all other prices I'm going to mention will of course have a good chance of going up notably in a post-COVID world if there is any sort of 'social distancing' employed on the vehicles, i.e. selling fewer seats.

 

Other buses - assuming their schedules remain the same - start later than QS, so the savings probably are not worth the risk of using Bolt, Greyhound, or Amtrak bus (and Amtrak buses are as pricey as QS anyway, despite being the worst, oldest, crappiest fleet on the route - there is literally one sane reason to use an Amtrak bus, and that's if you were connecting to a train and want to get you and our luggage 'in the system' so any delays that miss a connection mean Amtrak are liable for hotels and transfers).

 

Personally I'd give very careful consideration to a one-way rental car - while the pier offices don't open as early as you arrive, you could still be on the road well before 9am when the QS Express leaves. If you're the first folks waiting when they open (8am for most of the downtown car rental places) you'll be heading out of downtown before 8:30am - even earlier if you pick up your car at an airport location, as that is south of Vancouver and some operate 24hrs or close to it.

 

Cost for car rentals varies wildly - and booked long in advance look overpriced due to drop fees sometimes being added. But book refundably, keep checking, and as your date approaches you'll find that the companies have a better handle on how well-balanced the demand is for one-way trips so their prices usually drop a lot. In theory you can find free trips - moving a US-plate car back to Seattle has to get done some time - but most likely you'll just see bargain rates. Any time I've looked up pricing within a month or so, finding a car for $100 has been easy - so with as few as 2 people it can be the same or less than the bus, and if you have 3+ people it's pretty much always going to the the cheapest way to go.

 

While you will have to stop at the border, in your own car you can choose any of 4 practical crossings - if you have data on your phone, check the timings as you drive. If not, at the very least you get highway signs telling you the delay at the main 99/I5 crossing (Peace Arch) and Pacific Crossing (the 'truck route') so you can choose to head over to Pacific (about a 10min detour) if the delay there is 15+ mins less than Peace Arch. With any bus, unfortunately you always use the same crossing (Pacific), and while there is a dedicated bus lane it's very short - so car backups of more than 30-40mins mean the buses cannot reach their lane's access point. We've spent over two hours waiting in traffic on a bus before... Plus, the single biggest unknown factor is the other bus pax - if even one of them gets Secondary questioning, the entire bus waits...

 

What time to leave? Simple - as soon as you can!!! Border delays, accidents on I5, Seattle traffic - do not take the risk! We drive this route 20+ times a year, and while we have honed all controllable elements of the trip to near-perfection at least a couple of times annually we hit an unexpected problem that adds delays of 1 to 3 hours to our trip - and every single time those delays are between the border and Tacoma, not the stretch from there to Portland. We have NEXUS - our average delay for immigration is <7 minutes, whereas those without it can generally assume that anything <20mins is a very good border crossing time.  There is rarely a good secondary route if there's a problem with I5, so anything on wheels has to cope with whatever happens - another reason the train is great, but with a morning departure at 6:35am for most cruisers it's just not possible to make it off the ship in time, even for folks like you who dock at 6am rather than the more common 7am.

 

Of course, it's possible some of the bus companies will have folded or reduce services - even Amtrak depends on subsidies from the Provincial/State governments to keep their service levels up - so any method you check into now needs revisited closer to your cruise, even assuming that the cruise is after the current port and border closures cease.

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42 minutes ago, martincath said:

Definitely NOT the Amtrak bus service - you want to be on the earliest-possible bus which is feasible to board after disembarking, which would be the first QuickShuttle of the day. This is pricier than other bus services, but does add the convenience of having Seatac as the destination as well as an earlier start time than others - it's been US$59pp for a while now, though this and all other prices I'm going to mention will of course have a good chance of going up notably in a post-COVID world if there is any sort of 'social distancing' employed on the vehicles, i.e. selling fewer seats.

 

 

Thank you for such a detailed description, that is exactly what I was looking for.  We will definitely look into renting a car.  And you are correct, 7 is more common and after I posted I realized we were 7 not 6 and couldn't find an option to edit, lol.

 

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Posted (edited)
26 minutes ago, zoomzoom13 said:

Thank you for such a detailed description, that is exactly what I was looking for.  We will definitely look into renting a car.  And you are correct, 7 is more common and after I posted I realized we were 7 not 6 and couldn't find an option to edit, lol.

No problem. Assuming QuickShuttle do return to normal operations, their Summer Schedule applies to almost all cruise dates (unless you are on the first few or last few cruises each year) - but given the situation they have not updated their website yet this year, with only the Winter sched listed. So here's a link to last year's Summer sched, which has a few bits of info about the locations as well as the times of the services. Note that when I said 'first QS of the day' originally I was wrong - always forget there's a super-early bus as well as a 'downtown hotels' bus that both run before the first pier service - and should have said 'first express QS from the pier' as this one has fewer stops for the same price, giving you a valuable extra ~30mins or so of padding.

 

I'd still do a rental car in preference, even if it ended up the same price per person, due to the extra flexibility on route and timing - but if you decide you're not keen on driving somewhere unfamiliar, a theoretical 1:30pm SEA arrival time does give you enough padding that your odds of missing a domestic flight at 5pm should be pretty close to zero.

Edited by martincath

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