Written by Jen. Photographed by Tracie.
Tracie and I recently got the opportunity to go on a week long cruise in Alaska. More about that adventure coming up in our next few posts. The ship sailed out of Vancouver, B.C., so the first part of our Alaskan journey was getting from Seattle to Vancouver.
Having had good experiences with Amtrak in the past, we both agreed that taking a train to Vancouver would be an ideal way to start our trip. Fortunately for us, Amtrak was happy to sponsor us for the trip, and it should be noted that we did not receive any sort of payment or additional compensation, just our train tickets. Tracie and I both feel positive about collaborating with companies that we fully endorse on our own and as a travel blog team. And since we both love going by train, which is a unique, offbeat method of travel, working with Amtrak was a no-brainer for us.
For this railed journey we awoke nice and early, around 6am to make our 7:20am Amtrak Cascades train. We had debated training up to Vancouver the night before our cruise, but wanted to maximize the amount of time we’d have daylight for photography purposes.
Checking in for a train ride always seems so much more relaxed to me than checking in for a flight. Yes, there are still lines and baggage to deal with, but the charm factor of most train stations far outshines any airport I’ve ever been too. Seattle’s King Street Station has recently undergone some renovation and looks fantastic.
There really is something nostalgic and romantic about train travel. It is palpable in the stations and on the trains. Particularly so in the bistro/cafe cars, which you must check out on your next train journey if you’ve never done so or haven’t travelled by train before. We were only in our assigned seats for a few minutes before we got the itch to explore. Trains trump planes on this front as well. We grabbed some coffee and breakfast in the cafe car and took our goodies to the dining car where we snagged a table with a lovely, large window. This was our home base for nearly the entire ride, giving Tracie a great vantage point to capture the scenic journey. The dining car is often abuzz with conversation and good energy as many passengers are often on their way to or from some sort of get a way or vacation. I know we were certainly in high spirits as our Amtrak Cascades train carried us closer to our cruise adventure.
The Amtrak Cascades route between Seattle and Vancouver is famous for its scenery. Tracie had always heard about the trip and was excited to finally get the opportunity to take it. She had expected parts of the journey to be beautiful, but was surprised to find that most of it was very scenic, particularly the long sections along the coast of Puget Sound with views of Washington’s many islands.
For much of the journey, the train tracks sit right on the edge of land just above the beaches. Being so close to the water, we saw several coastal birds, most notably Blue Herons. Early on there were the occasional dog walkers and clam diggers, not deterred by the grey Northwest morning. Later, as the sun began peaking out, we passed parks where people were enjoying beach activities like building sand castles, beach combing, and kite surfing. We also trained by a few beach front communities, like White Rock where we saw all manor of beach recreation happening. Many of the kids and some of the adults stopped their activities to wave at the train and its passengers, another charming component of train travel.
The Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle to Vancouver took us almost five hours, not bad at all, considering we were both spared the stress of driving and traffic. The customs process is dealt with on board the train and then at the arrival station. On a previous bus trip across the border, the process took ages and of course required getting off of the bus and waiting in immense lines. Tracie has crossed the border countless times by car, always dreading the long waits at customs. Just like all of my previous crossings of the border by train, this one was much less stressful than crossing by car or bus.
We arrived at the Vancouver station by mid day. We snapped a few more pictures of the trains and the station and then hopped in the taxi queue. Tracie and I were ready to go from one nostalgic means of transport to another, and embarked the MS Volendam, ready for an adventure at sea. Riding the rails and the waves in a single day seemed a pretty cool start to our vacation.
*All opinions and photos are our own and based on our experience aboard Amtrak Cascades. Our train journey was sponsored, but we were not financially compensated for this post.
Written by Jen. Photographed by Tracie.
Julie K. - SO glad I found this blog as we are traveling from Oklahoma to Vancouver this July for this exact cruise! I have a family of 4 and we are on a budget so we are looking for best price options on travel. I am looking to fly into Seattle the day before our cruise, staying the night and then taking the Amtrak Cascade into Vancouver the morning of the cruise. Here are my concerns and questions…
1. I am nervous about taking the train the day of the cruise. What if we have delays? I don’t want to miss the cruise but I really want my family to experience the train during great daylight and flying in another day or staying in Vancouver the night before only adds to the expense of our trip. Should I be concerned or taking the train morning of is fine? Embarkation is at 4:30pm.
2. Where should we stay the night in Seattle? Would prefer to stay downtown close to the train station but hotels downtown are more expensive than being close to the airport. We plan on doing the rail system to and from to save money and I want the kids to experience city modes of transportation as we live in a very rural part of Oklahoma.
Thank you so much for any help! I’m anxious to read your excursion experiences!
traciehowe - Hi Julie,
I’m glad you found this blog too! Before answering your questions, I just want to be clear that I obviously can’t guarantee anything in regards to travel logistics. That’s always the challenge in traveling though, right? There are always unknown factors to consider!
With that said, here are my thoughts:
1. First, is embarkation really at 4:30pm? That was always about the time we would have to be on board to set sail, but I thought there was an earlier time to get checked in. Maybe it’s different for your cruise, but I would double check.
Still, keep in mind that going through customs, taking a taxi (possibly through traffic), walking through the terminal, going through security, and then finally boarding the ship may take longer than you expect. I don’t know exact times, but to be safe, I would personally stay in Vancouver overnight. Do you have the option to fly into Vancouver instead? Sometimes that’s cheaper and you wouldn’t necessarily have to stay overnight in either city, saving you more money. BUT, if you still plan to take the train, if it’s the earliest morning train, it would probably be fine. Just look at the arrival time of the train and give yourself a lot of extra time… just in case.
2. If you’re going to stay in Seattle on a budget and close to downtown, I would highly recommend doing an Airbnb rental rather than a hotel. Actually, even if you stay in Vancouver. I just did a quick search for both cities and found entire homes for $100 or less! In Seattle, try looking on the south side of the train station to start. You can arrange a taxi to take you to the train station, get an Uber, or take a bus (pair GoogleMaps with the OneBusAway app).
It’s hard to know what you’d be comfortable doing, but remember that the beginning is also a part of your trip. Do you want to spend that part worrying that you might not make it to the cruise on time? Or do you want to spend a little more money to have peace of mind while enjoying yourself? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions! Have a great trip!
Julie K. - Thank you for that great advice! I think I’ve decided not to chance it and save the train for another time. Just don’t want to chance it on this cruise of a lifetime with my family. Thanks so much!
traciehowe - You’re welcome! Did you decide to stay overnight in Seattle or Vancouver?
steph and zach dorworth - So wonderful that you chose to ride the train to your cruise destination instead of flying. It’s almost like a trip in itself because you get to see so much scenery! Amtrak sounds very accommodating and the path you took sounds dreamy. Love that it was so close to the coastline so you could see the beaches and birds! Glad you enjoyed your travels!
traciehowe - Thank you Steph and Zach! It is indeed like a trip within a trip. Very relaxing too! :D
Wendy - I am planning to look for Alaska cruises so I will be on the lookout for your post on it.
We like doing train rides too, and especially those that also include commentary on the sights and areas we pass through. We have done several. On our recent train journey through the Verde Valley, Arizona (which I will be writing about this summer), our ticket included all food and drink in a plush dining car. I can’t tell if your train offered that.
While I am not sure we will take this train ride, since we have a RV, it sounds like the views were breathtaking.
It’s great that they do the customs process on the train!
traciehowe - Thanks, Wendy. This particular train doesn’t have a fancy dining option or commentary. Since you’re doing an Alaskan cruise, I would suggest choosing one that stops in Skagway and taking the historic train as an excursion. I haven’t done it myself, but I hear it’s very nice and may have commentary as well because it’s very tourist oriented.
All of my Alaskan cruise posts are already published. You can find them by selecting “Alaska” in the destination archives. :)
Linda - We have taken the Amtrak train between Vancouver and Seattle. We also found it was a great way to go. I loved doing customs right on the train. The views along this stretch were great.
traciehowe - Oh, so you’re familiar with it then! It’s such a pleasant way to get up to Vancouver, isn’t it? Skipping the car line at customs was amazing!
Sherianne - I have been watching the flights to Vancouver and they seem really high. Love the idea of flying into Seattle for a few days and taking the train up to Vancouver. Bonus that it’s scenic, such a great solution!
traciehowe - Yes! That’s definitely a fun option rather than flying straight to Vancouver! I hope you get a chance to try it.
Vanessa Chiasson - So glam! And such incredible views. As someone who always gets motion sick when I try to read or do other things on a train, being on a trip where staring out the window is the perfect thing to do would be so wonderful!
traciehowe - It did feel rather special, Vanessa! I get motion sickness too. I had to make sure I stayed facing the front most of the time. ;)
Mags - I love train travel, but I’ve never taken Amtrak. I really want to do a journey like this. Thanks for sharing.
traciehowe - Thanks, Mags! Amtrak is the way to go. At least in America!
Dorene - It’s no surprise you had outstanding views along the way to two of my favorite cities. Great pics! Some of them look like you are floating on the ocean. I agree its worth it for the 5 hour journey and beating traffic. The traffic and stops at the border can be challenging some days by car.
traciehowe - Thanks, Dorene! Yes,I agree. I would much rather be sitting on a train enjoying the view than stuck in border traffic! Those lines can be painfully long sometimes.
Kirstie - I want the Amtrak Cascades route too. I am sure that everything was so breathtaking. The coastal scenery is just beautiful. I am usually sleepy while riding vehicles going to long distances but I doubt I’ll sleep while on that train!
traciehowe - Thanks for your comment, Kirstie. Yes, I was tired, but the scenery definitely kept me awake!
Indrani - Train rides have a charm of their own, one gets the real sense of a journey. Amtrak Cascades seems to be a good choice of mode of travel. The windows are so big and you got a good window seat. excellent captures.
traciehowe - Thanks, Indrani! I agree with your sentiment about trains. I just wish all trains were created equal!
Renata - Love this! Love this since the train and most of all the views seem to be really grand. But love this mostly since you are promoting public transportation which I always took in the US – and when I told people they looked at me in admiration as if I’d told them I had wrestled a bear.
Yes, there is public transportation (even in the US) and no, it’s not terrible and full of ex-cons; it’s a sustainable way of travelling – and they pamper you with great views!
traciehowe - Haha! Yes, Renata. I’ve even taken buses and ferries and subways without being harrassed or kidnapped! ;)