A Little Luxury

I spent the weekend and most of last week in Toronto on a course for work. It was a tough course and I still have the exam to write, but it was nice to be in the big city again.

One of the nicest parts of the trip though was VIA1.

If we’re going somewhere close and we choose to take the train instead of flying, the rules of government travel allow us to take the train – business class. I like the train anyway. It takes a little longer to get where you’re going but it’s so much more comfortable than a plane and you don’t have to show up hours ahead of time.

In fact, about 3 or 4 years ago I did a post about rail travel in general, pointing out how train travel was a much more human way to travel. I got a lot of interesting comments about why people do or do not travel by train, so I forwarded the link for the post to VIA rail. I never got a response, but about 6 months or so later VIA rail came out with their fabulous new slogan: A More Human Way to Travel. Coincidence? Maaaaaaybeeeeee.

I’ve never traveled VIA business class though. I always thought, “Meh, so I get a little more leg room….is it worth the extra money?”

Well, let me tell you, it’s totally worth the extra money. First of all, instead of lining up while you wait for your train to arrive, business class passengers get to hang out in the Panorama Lounge! A totally separate room, with comfy leather sofas, subdued lighting, soft music. There’s a fridge full of complimentary cold drinks and a hot drink machine, a handsome variety of newspapers and a selection of magazines.

You get to board ahead of everyone else and they actually heave your bags up the steps for you. Before the train has even taken off, one of the two staff dedicated to the VIA1 car comes around offering you a little snack from the snack basket. Once the train is underway, they come around offering drinks – booze even – for free!!

And then they give you a hot towel to wash up with before lunch is served.

There’s a hot meal included in the fare. They bring around a menu so you can choose from 3 options. A whole variety of special request meals are also available. And the food is served on real, ceramic dishes with little stainless steel flatware. And it comes with wine – all the wine you want. It’s still travel food, and I wouldn’t rush back to eat it if it was in a restaurant, but it beats airplane cuisine all to heck.

And when it’s time for coffee and tea, it comes with a little chocolate.

But aside from all the food and drinks, it’s also very quiet and empty in business class. No kids kicking the back of your seat. No babies wailing for the entire 5-hour trip. No sweaty person with a loud iPod squeezed in next to you taking over your armrest.

Nope, I had 2 seats all to myself. Luxury. I can’t think of a better way to travel —  unless it’s one of those rock-star buses where you can stretch out and sleep in your very own leopard-print water bed in the back. while groupies feed you peeled grapes.

But VIA 1 is good.

Too bad the government won’t spring for anything above a standard hotel room. Once I did a course where the hotel room was included – a first class suite at a Hilton. The room was amazing, but I’d still rather stay at a Fairmont.

Fairmonts are usually older, elegant properties and the staff is trained for optimum client service. They make you feel like royalty.

Ah…it’s been a nice week.

What’s the most luxury you’ve ever experienced while traveling or otherwise?

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38 responses to “A Little Luxury

  1. Rail is the way to go, unfortunately as I understand it rail in Canada is expensive and not very convenient. I love intercity trains here in Korea, very cheap and efficient. I can take the KTX (high speed train 300kph) to busan for about $90 – that’s normally a 10 hour drive.

    And the regular class tickets are quite comfortable, though I haven’t had an opportunity to try out busienss class.

  2. Yes sadly the train IS expensive here. The GOtrain system in the golden horseshoe is actually pretty cheap when you consider that for 28 dollars on the weekend you can get a return ticket from St. Catharines to Union Station. Turns out to be cheaper then the fuel in a car. Just not as convenient.
    Flying from Toronto to Montreal is fast and cheap all things considered.

  3. i’ve been flying with porter airlines lately and it is an amazing way to travel – very civilized. you still have the ickiness of air travel, but they make it up to you with a comfortable lounge, fancy pants coffee bar, snacks, macs everywhere to surf the net and newspapers galore. and the staff wear really old school uniforms. classy-like.

  4. Your delightful Via trip sounds like the way I was treated when I flew to Australia.

    Air Freaking Canana screwed up my connecting flight. I had to spend an extra night in Vancouver, and it took a day away from my vacation. I gave them just the proper ammount of righteous indignation, that they bumped me up to First Class.

    Holy crap! It was like day and night. Lobster and Beef Bourgignon. 3-4 flight attendants for mabye 20 people, bending over backwards to make you comfortable.

    Shaving kits, bigger toilets. All kinds of perqs. Not to mention huge comfortable seats that reclined back like dentists chairs so you can sleep.

    Of course, I will never EVER afford that on my own. But I’m glad I got to taste it at least once…

    By the way, I saw David Suzuki was a few rows back from me. This was 7 years ago…I guess when he still did this sort of thing…

  5. Business class to Australia with those new seats that lie completely flat. That kicked major ass. Champagne and horizontal sleeping…

  6. I haven’t taken the train in a long, long time, but I used to travel by train between North Bay and Toronto all the time. It was definitely more comfortable than going by bus OR plane. Even coach on the train is more comfortable than most other forms of travel…

    However, the most luxurious travel I have had was when travelling on business from Ottawa to Saudi Arabia about 15 years ago. For some reason, my company decided to spring for a limo from our houses to the airport in Montreal, and First Class air travel from Montreal to Frankfurt, Germany (from there, the best option was business class to Riyadh, but that was still acceptable at the time). I thought what you see in the movies about First Class was over the top, but, we were served champagne before take off, our meal was roast beef – carved and served at your seat from the rare/medium/well done part of the roast – served with roast vegetables, warm bread, etc., with selections of fruits and cheeses as well as cakes and tarts and whatnot for dessert. The seats were very spacious, with lots or arm and leg room, and I recall a fair amount of reclining space, but how far back, I don’t really remember at this point. I was in my mid-20s and just blown away by the whole thing. It was a magnificent travelling experience that I have never been able to repeat, unfortunately. If I ever had the money, I would definitely travel first class again… and again…

  7. I’ve taken Via1 for business (when I wasn’t a SAHM) and you are bang on, they were fabulous and it was much better than flying.

    My two best travel experiences happened while on business. Both times I was bumped up to gorgeous suites because the hotel/resort was fully booked for conferences. My rooms were bigger than the one bedroom condo I was living in at the time, I didn’t want to leave!

  8. Sean – I don’t find the train all that expensive. There are always deals and discounts and you can collect Preference points which add up really quickly for free travel. You can also use Airmiles. And I find the train very convenient compared to flying or driving. Between major cities anyway. If you’re trying to get to Bohunk Saskatchewan it’s probably a different story.

    Lebowski – Like I said to Sean, I guess “expensive” is relative. I’ve never paid full fare since I always take advantage of the specials – which are pretty much ongoing. The GO train goes to St. Catharines now?? Cool.

    Dr. Monkey – They may have to if fuel prices keep climbing and if they ever want to get in on this whole “greening” lark and if air travel keeps getting more and more absurd. Rail travel doesn’t jibe with the fast-paced North American lifestyle though. Even here it’s mostly old people and students who take the train.

    Meanie – I took Porter a couple of times and you’re right it was nice – as long as it’s a short trip. The planes are so tiny and thin. The ½ inch between me and the clear blue sky kind of freaked me out.

    Friar – I’m sure David bought some carbon off-sets to make it all okay… I don’t think I’m going to take regular VIA anymore. The price difference isn’t that much. With air travel however, it’s a big leap from cattle car to semi-civilized travel. It must be nice to have money, eh?

    Jazz – Did you take one of those? I reckon it would be totally worth it whatever the price to be able to lie flat for a trip all the way to Australia. And the champagne of course…

    Finola – Cool. Did VIA rail steal a slogan from you as well?

    Slyde – Hi! Welcome to the blog. I’m not even sure if they have such luxurious first class accommodations any more. First class used to be divided by a door and no one could get in, but now it seems to be part of the same plane and the seats didn’t look that much bigger. Last time we flew (last month) all I could see them getting that was special was the champagne and the in-flight “comfort” kit (pillow, eyeshade, etc) . Now they’re even charging extra for the emergency exit and bulkhead seats and treating those like first class seats.

    Betsy Mae – Most of us would never get to experience how the other half lives it if weren’t for business travel. It’s so hard to go back to poor folk travel after that, though, isn’t it?

  9. Your post reminded me that I needed to book a train ticket for a trip to Toronto at the end of May. I never book business class because it has always been so expensive, but I thought I’d have a look just for kicks. Well! I guess there’s a sale on, and I booked far enough in advance that the “supersaver” business fare was only $162. Not super cheap, but better than the $300+ that it’s been in the past when I’ve checked. Luxury, here I come.

  10. I like the train even with the common folk!
    We do the Senior’s “Take a Friend for Free” since He has reached that age. A trip to TO with the 2 for 1 deal is cheaper than the rental car and gas we used to pay for. Even the over night trip to Halifax was great fun – perhaps not ideal for a business trip but for those of us on a low budget adventure definately fun. We enjoyed our neighbours – most of them and ignored the rest of them.
    When my brother wasy dying I managed a charter flight to Edmonton and a Full fair flight back. My younger brother, a frequent flierAND stunningly good looking ;o) took me to the airport for my return flight. He asked if there was a closet on board for my garment bag and when he was advised no asked if it could be “hung in First Class, please” Perhaps it was because he was pleasant , or because he is a cutie or maybe it was, as the attendant indicated, that I had paid “full fare” for my flight but I was offered a seat in first class. I was whisked onto the plane , greeted by name and directed to my seat. A linen napkin was flicked open onto my lap as I settled in and I was asked if I preferred my juice before or after my coffee!
    I don’t remember much after that as I slept my way home but at the time I was very thankful and impressed.
    My travel leans toward hostels over first class hotels but I’d take a Westin ‘Heavenly Bed’ again over anything else I have encountered.

  11. Hubby and I stayed at the ‘Codes Mill Inn and Spa’ in Perth for part of our honeymoon and the suite was very luxurious. But the best part was the giant whirlpool hot tub in the bathroom that had different coloured lights. It was like you were sitting in wonderful hot water in the middle of a light show. Soo nice!

    (Unfortunately the Inn will be closing soon, which is a shame)

  12. Rail is the ONLY way to travel to and from Montreal or Toronto from Ottawa. Love. It.
    And, government rules for travel also say that for any travel longer than 9 hours, I get to be a pod-person up front in biz class. This makes my long trips to Beijing much more tolerable. Real sleep on a semi-real bed.
    Oh, and the free booze… mustn’t forget that 🙂

  13. I love travelling by train! It’s my preferred way to get to Montreal and if I have time, I’ll take it to go to Toronto (though I have to admit, taking Porter to YTZ is pretty slick if you’re going somewhere downtown).

    I’ve written about VIA a couple of times. The first (http://wp.me/paLka-J) was about my trip from from England via Montreal in 2003 and recounts an amazing train manager who turned a bad experience some other passengers were having into a positive one that caused me to write to the president of VIA Rail (and I even got a reply). The second (http://wp.me/paLka-hE) was about my first trip on VIA’s Renaissance equipment last year — if you haven’t taken a trip on that equipment, find out when it’s running on your route because it’s a notch up from the LRC equipment.

  14. I love the train too. And so do the girls. A couple of years ago, I bought a car from my m0ther in Windsor. The girls and I took the train down and drove the car back. Every time we go to Windsor now, they ask if we’re taking the train and are disappointed that we aren’t. I’d like to, but fuel for my small car is less than 3 train fares, and we have a car for getting around Windsor to visit family and friends. I would like to try Via1 though.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll be sent on a course to TO sometime.

  15. I love traveling VIA1 and had forgotten about how very nice it is. I just sent an email to my husband suggesting we consider this as a vacation idea for the summer. Thanks for giving us another idea.

  16. Jennifer – That’s a very good price. I’ll have to go early and book my trips for the next year. Don’t forget to pre-book your vegan meal – they need 48 hours notice.

    Jay – Hotel beds are usually pretty damn good – a lot better than what us regular folks can afford for our own beds…which is silly really since we spend so much damn time in them. Really we spend more time in our beds than in our cars and yet spend so much more money on our cars.

    Pauline – Why is it closing? Do we have too much luxury in our lives? I had a giant whirlpool tub in the Hilton that time, too. No coloured lights though. That would have been funky.

    Trashy – I’ve never travelled for more than 9 hours on government business. Did you get the fully reclining seats, too?

    Alison – In the summers VIA lets kids under 11 travel for free!! At least they always used to have that. I haven’t been able to take advantage of that one for a while. You should check into it. I think you have to go regular class though. Still, for a short trip it would be fun.

    Salayna – Where are you going to go? I’ve heard the overnighter to Halifax, first class is pretty awesome, too.

  17. Slyde – limos charge by distance, not by time, so if you’ve got heavy traffic to the airport, it can actually be cheaper to take a limo. (Or so I hear)

    A couple years ago I was sent to a conference in London, Ontario, and I took the train down (via Toronto) and the plane back (direct). The price for VIA 1 was within a dollar or two of the airfare. The plane ride actually wasn’t the least bit painful (it helped that I had no checked luggage).

    The train ride, on the other hand, was a bit tough. While I had wanted to get some stuff done on my laptop, it was my first train ride since I was too young to remember, so I spent a lot of time just looking out the window. (I had ripped the White Album from my LP and was breaking it up into individual files, so I now associate “Martha My Dear” with riding a train)

    I also read the free newspapers, which took a bunch of time. But the most disruptive thing was that I couldn’t get any work done because they kept interrupting me with free food.

    The free wireless didn’t work very well, either (and it was down in the lounge at the station in Toronto), which was probably a net boon to my productivity after deducting the time spent trying to get it working.

    And while the fare was the same, work paid for my travel time, so taking the train was actually much more profitable for me!

    – RG>

  18. @XUP

    I read an interview with David. He admitted to travelling to Oz…a LOT. But now he feels he can’t do it anymore, in good conscience, because of it’s environmental Impact.

    Fine for him…he got to see it to his heart’s content, before maknig this decision.

    I hope to see it at least once or twice, before I die.

    Sorry, David.

  19. Ah, travel by train. I have some very nice memories of travel by train from my distant youth. I also traveled by train in Europe many years ago. I can’t remember the last time I traveled by train. I often see huge signs advertizing travel by train, but each time I do the mental math I choose to drive a fuel efficient car and save the cash.

    Maybe I need to splurge a little and go for a long trip on a train.

  20. When my kids were about 8/9 we spent spring break in Florida with the grandparents. On the way back we just about missed the connection and ended up upgraded to what was then called ‘First Class’ by United Airlines.
    Pure heaven. And the staff kept the kids happy and supplied with treats while I sipped champagne and orange juice. Sigh.
    I love trains, I really do.

  21. I love to use trains when available; it really is much more relaxing than taking a plane. The big difference for me is that you don’t have to get to the train station hours ahead of leaving and then go through ridiculous security, all to sit in a little cramped seat and treated like you are bothering the flight attendants. We took the EuroStar recently from London to Brussels in business class and it was awesome. So, nice and comfy, plus they serve decent food with actual silverware that you could use without breaking. And you just feel more relaxed when you get to your destination. We’re planning on taking it to Paris next month.

  22. *sigh* I WISH we had a solid rail system. When I can, I happily take a train over a plane, but unless I’m hitting Boston or DC, it’s just not feasible.

    Plus I find the security checks involve was fewer body cavity searches.

  23. Grouchy – I can’t tell if you’re advocating for or against rail travel.. And what’s wrong with subscribing?

    Friar – Oz is a long, long way away. I think you’d have to get one of those first class air seats like Jazz mentioned where you can stretch out and sleep. I’ve never been either, but it would be a fun place to visit.

    OCDriver2010 – Seriously, train travel is not expensive. You have to browse around the site to find the specials. Like right now, book something before the end of the month and get 60% off. Then there are always specials in the summer and early booking discounts and airmiles you can use. It’s still going to be more than driving your car, but it will be faster and soooooooooooo much more relaxing and pleasant. And in the winter, you don’t have to worry about the weather either.

    Mary – ??? the first class upgrade was on a plane, right?

    Kimberly – Europe has kick-ass rail service. I think it’s a lot more popular there than here. And the trains are so much nicer. I’d like to hear about your experience travelling to Paris.

    Elly Lou – Hi Elly Lou!! Thanks for visiting my blog. Our rail service is on life-support too – heavily subsidized by the government. People are just in too much of a rush to take a little extra time to travel somewhere. Flying from Ottawa to Toronto takes an hour, plus you need to add another hour to that for all the checking in stuff. It costs around $500 return (more or less). The train is less than $200 return (first class) and takes about 4 ½ hours with virtually no check-in time. Busy business people – which is where the airlines make the bulk of their money, just don’t have time to sit on a train that long, I guess. If VIA can find a way to speed up the service between Ottawa/Toronto/Montreal (express routes maybe??) they could rock the travel industry

  24. XUP – Well, if you like getting work done, against. If you like getting enough multi-course meals to keep you occupied during a long trip, for. If you like to procrastinate with things like newspapers and multi-course meals, either way I guess.

    Nothing’s wrong with subscribing, just when I want to subscribe to the comments and I hit the button that doesn’t do that, it’s annoying. (Is it just me or does every other blog have the two “notify me” checkboxes in the opposite order from the last?)

    – RG>

  25. I prefer the train over flying. I hate flying. I also like staying at Fairmont Hotels too. My favourite one is the Chateau Lake Louise. I stayed there when I worked for CP (back in the old days) for $20 and I was a starving student. It was heaven and I felt like royalty…for one night.

  26. My husband and I are big fans of luxury hotels, so it’s hard to pick one, but if I had to, the winner would be the Regent Esplanade in Zagreb. Originally built to service passengers arriving on the Orient Express, stepping into this hotel is like stepping back to an era where the word luxury really meant something. Every detail is done right; the thick, crisp linens, the wonderful lavender toiletries, the thick crystal chandeliers, the Persian rugs, the attentive staff. I can’t wait to go back!

  27. I once, many years ago, was moved into a Wardair first class seat. I forget the details, but I think it involved a crying baby and a bulkhead. The flight attendent may have taken pity on my poor tired looking self when she offered me a seat behind the curtain for giving up my bulkhead seat. There was no one in 1st class so I had the place to myself. When the meal came, it was a 1st class one, that included caviar and champagne – “you might as well have it since you’re the only one here” she said. She came back a few times so I could finish the bottle of champagne.

    @ realgrouchy, I also seem to have subscribed to new posts, was a little confused as to how that happened…
    but it’s all good – straight to my inbox at those ungodly hours XUP posts!

  28. Violetsky – Wardair??? How old ARE you?? Ha ha. Also, I pre-schedule my posts to those ungodly hours because it seems to be a good time to catch a lot of people

  29. Via 1 was my favourite way to travel to Toronto and Niagara Falls (relatives there) in the 90’s. I mostly drive there now. It’s still my preferred way to get there for business travel, but I’ve found that Toronto trips seem to spring up without leaving the requisite time to get to Toronto on the train.

    One big advantage is that it puts you downtown, not out in the lunatic fringe where the airport is.

  30. i triple love travelling via1. won’t be happening any time soon in the new job, but very glad i had the chance to exprience is a couple of times. condering the amount of flying i have done, i nhave never gotten that call up to first class though. maybe one day i will see what that’s all about.

  31. Violetsky – Ya, and I knew what you were talking about!!

    Squid – Porter airlines flies to the Toronto Island airport which is right downtown, so they’re doing really well, I think. Maybe I’ll see you on VIA1 some time on the way to Niagara.

    Smothermother – From what I’ve seen of first class (passing by on the way to the poor folks’ seats) it doesn’t look as exciting as it used to anymore

  32. This post reminded me to check out Via as a possibility in my summer travel plans with my children, and it turns out that taking the train for one leg of our travels (through the rockies even) will cost a bit less and solve quite a few logistical difficulties, as well as being an adventure for the kids. Thanks for the reminder – I always prefer the train.

  33. Gokalie – I should be getting a kick-back from VIA for reminding people to take the train. Book it before Friday and save 60%!! Also, I think kids still travel free in the summer, right?