Here is Brigitte's feedback from her train trip with VIA Rail to Kingston, Ontario during COVID-19.
A destination to discover
We are sometimes looking for new ideas to get away for a long weekend. It’s so good to be able to get a little break here and there between the long holidays. Well, when possible. We’ll be able to do it again soon.
There are the classics, such as the Mont-Tremblant region, Quebec City and Ottawa, with their many opportunities depending on the season.
For one day only, apple or pumpkin picking has its heyday every fall.
I recently discovered a very nice city. Less than three hours from Montreal, accessible by car or train, Kingston, Ontario has everything you need for a brief and happy change of scenery.
Kingston and area
I had heard about this destination from other Milesopedia members who had been there in the past. It was touted for its location on Lake Ontario, its Britishness, its walkability and its nearby excursions. I’m thinking particularly of the Prince Edward County wineries and the Thousand Islands cruise from Gananoque. One of our members talks about this in her article on Ontario.
However, it will have to be postponed, because in these times, we have reduced our escapade to its simplest expression. A visit to Fort Henry, a tram tour of the city and a ghost tour are all worth the wait. We’ll be back.
The train journey
As I often find myself the one driving, I was delighted to learn that train travel from Montreal’s Bonaventure station was an option to consider. For me, getting carried around was like being spoiled. A departure at 8:55 for an arrival at 11:39.
Like for the hotels, the fares were lower, so I was able to afford business class, including the meal, on which I used my American Express Cobalt™ Card to earn Membership Rewards.
You should know that this trip in Economy fare costs less than $100 and that there are also family, student and over-60 packages.
Parking your car
Parking in the city centre for a few nights is not free and I would say rather expensive. However, we can leave our car in the incentive parking of a metro station, without it costing us a cent.
However, you should be aware that this is a pilot project that has its own rules.
- Register your vehicle by filling out the online form on the exo.quebec website.
- Once registered, you have 24 hours to retrieve your vehicle.
So I registered every morning.
The site also specifies that:
Please note that the form must be submitted before 7 pm on weekdays or before 3 pm on weekends and public holidays in order to park your car the same evening of your registration.
COVID-19 measures at VIA Rail
About 30 minutes before the departure of the VIA Rail train, passengers began to line up. About 40 people that morning.
If you are inBusiness Class and waiting at the VIA Rail lounge, the attendant will notify you when the time comes. You will have priority boarding.
The two-metre distance in line was not respected to the letter despite the markers on the ground. But everyone wore the mask at the station and during the trip.
In addition, staff asked each traveller when boarding questions about their health and to hold out their hands to get antiseptic gel.
Every other bench at the station had been removed in order to enforce distance. The seats in the VIA Rail lounge for Business class were also limited, as were those on the train.
Business class service on VIA Rail
The VIA Rail Business class lounge at Bonaventure Station is comfortable. It offers a variety of free juices, waters and soft drinks that everyone takes from the fridge. There were three of us for about fifty spacious seats.
No coffee or tea during this time of COVID-19.
Various newspapers and magazines were available and the TV screen broadcast the news. WI-FI is free of charge as is the use of a small business center with computer and printer.
This space for Business class travellers cannot be compared to that of airport lounges. There is no food supply, even in normal times.
The Kingston lounge was closed.
On the train, in Economy class, an employee is walking around with a cart of beverages, snacks and light meals for a few dollars. American Express, Mastercard and Visa credit cards as well as gift cards are the only forms of payment accepted.
In Business Class, we are initially served free water, juice and coffee in disposable glasses or cups. A croissant sealed in plastic wrap is then brought in with its jam. A meal will be served later.
There were six of us in the car in Business.
For those passengers who are disembarking in Kingston, the meal is served approximately 45 minutes prior to arrival, while those continuing to Toronto will eat after Kingston. It’s a good idea to think about it when you take the 8:55 train. That makes for a rather early lunch.
The beverage menu includes Canadian wines, beers and soft drinks.
Three choices of meals were offered on the way out and on the way back: a cold dish of salads and roast beef, a pasta dish (vegetarian) and fish.
Let’s just say that on the way there, I passed GO for wine… at 10:30 am. I waited for the afternoon.
As for the food, I think there is room for improvement, at least for the dessert.
I enjoyed the ride with the hum of the train in the background, the comfortable leather seats, the legroom and the rest, the WI-FI and the power outlets to charge our devices, no matter what class.
As a bonus, the meal, the wine and the work table in Business class.
I also remember the kindness of all the workers I met at Via Rail: from the ticket office to the staff on the platform or during the service in the train. Friendly, smiling and… bilingual. You can tell when people love their job!
I would take the short trip back in Business class but with a schedule that would allow me to not have to swallow the meal too early and say no to the Canadian wine. You should also know that the railway company has a loyalty program that allows you to earn and redeem points for each of your trips.
I would do it again anytime to go further, to Toronto for example… and why not to Prince Rupert? Shall we go?