Via Rail is Canada’s national passenger rail service, linking over 400 locations coast-to-coast since 1977. Today, the rail service offers a unique opportunity to travel and see Canada’s natural grandeur.
For our journey from Winnipeg to Toronto, we embarked on a lengthy 40-hour train ride in Prestige Class, which is Via Rail’s First Class offering. These luxury cabins debuted in 2014, giving passengers a superior railway experience with ultra-personalized service on their most famous train, “The Canadian”.
Following my recent adventure on the Rocky Mountaineer, as well an epic train journey years ago on the Trans-Siberian Railway, I was excited to continue riding the rails with this extended trip on Via Rail Prestige Class.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Routes
Via Rail has over 400 stations across Canada, with possibilities for both shorter jaunts and extended trips.
There are three main routes connecting Toronto to Vancouver (“The Canadian”), Quebec to Windsor, and Montreal to Halifax (“The Ocean”), as well as “Scenic Adventure Routes” in select remote areas, such as Churchill and Northern British Columbia.
“The Canadian” exclusively links Toronto to Vancouver, with connections in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Jasper, as well as a number of smaller towns and cities in between.
The full route begins at either Toronto’s Union Station or Vancouver’s Pacific Station. Along this route, the railway snakes its way over the Rockies and across the virtually endless prairies.
It takes four nights to complete the entire transcontinental trip, making it Canada’s longest train journey.
For our eastbound adventure from Winnipeg to Toronto, key stops along the way included Sioux Lookout, Hornepayne, Sudbury, and Parry Sound.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Classes of Service
There are four classes onboard Via Rail: Economy, Business, Sleeper Plus, and Prestige.
Only economy is consistent across each route, and the other classes of service vary depending on the destination and route.
- Ontario and Quebec: Business class and economy class
- Western Canada: Economy class, Sleeper Plus class, Prestige Class
- Atlantic Canada: Sleeper Plus class and economy class
- The Adventure Routes: Sleeper Plus class, economy class, and Touring class
Economy class only offers upright chairs with a semi-recline feature, which you’ll need to keep in mind for any long-distance travel. For example, a four-day trip from Toronto to Vancouver may be rather unpleasant if you’re unable to lie down to sleep.
Snacks and drinks are offered for an extra fee, but no meal service is provided.
Sleeper Plus class has numerous alternatives for accommodations, as well as complimentary meals and beverages. Depending on the journey, private cabins for one or two people or semi-private rooms in upper and lower berths can be reserved.
Passengers in each carriage have access to communal restroom facilities.
Lastly, Prestige Class is the train’s elevated luxury offering, exclusively available for trips between Toronto and Vancouver. These cabins offer all the perks of other classes, as well as unrivalled comfort with a private suite, gourmet meals, a full ensuite bathroom, and even a personal concierge.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Booking
You can book Via Rail tickets directly through the online booking engine on their website, or through a travel agency. Pricing varies depending on route and time of year.
Note that travel agencies often buy up Prestige Class inventory during the peak summer period, so you may need to go through a travel agency if you’re unable to book directly.
Booking Via Rail Prestige Class with Prince of Travel to access additional inventory compared to what’s available directly on the Via Rail website.
Click here to book Via Rail (enter “Via Rail” in the Destination field of the form).
For Prestige Class, I paid around $2,900 (CAD) per person for the Winnipeg–Toronto route. If you’re interested in travelling the full route from Vancouver to Toronto on Prestige Class, fares begin at around $5,000 (CAD), and can reach up to $6,000 (CAD) during the summer months.
The same route in economy class starts at $240 (CAD), and jumps to $1,000–$2,000 (CAD) for Sleeper Plus. The Vancouver–Edmonton route typically is the cheapest way to experience Prestige Class, and is also the most scenic route, starting at around $2,000 (CAD).
Via Rail Prestige Class – Departure
Our journey began at Winnipeg’s Union Train Station, a stunning building with a beautiful white and turquoise-domed rotunda, classical detailed arches, and flanking columns.
It was approaching midnight as we exited the departure lounge and climbed aboard The Canadian for our two-day train ride onboard Via Rail’s Prestige Class.
It’s important to note that Via Rail passenger trains share the rail with freight trains, which take precedence. Therefore, be prepared for frequent delays, and it’s best to be flexible with your departure and arrival arrangements, as you could be delayed at either end.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Cabin
The Prestige Class suites are designed to comfortably accommodate two passengers in style, and it was indeed a breathtaking sight as we stepped inside the cabin for the first time.
The cabin was immediately cozy and inviting, attributable to its wooden walls, charming plant décor, and the Murphy bed that had already been proactively prepared for our arrival.
Once converted into the daytime space, the bed folds up, disappearing seamlessly into the wall. When it’s tucked away, a brown leather sectional that looks out through the window takes its place, which boasts uninterrupted views of Canadian wilderness.
There’s a shelf just above the seat that offers some storage space, and then a cabinet that is used to store the bedding during the day.
The cooler cabinet was one of the suite’s best features, and although it isn’t a refrigerator, it definitely keeps things chilly. We requested that the staff stock the space with refreshments so we could enjoy them throughout the day.
There’s a TV just above the cooler, and to its right is a small compartment for hanging your garments. There’s a selection of movies pre-loaded into the entertainment system for you to enjoy during the train ride.
The coffee table in the middle of the cabin doubles as a support for the bed when folded down. The controls for lighting, heating, and calling the attendant are located close to the entrance.
The private ensuite bathroom is truly remarkable. The toilet and sink are positioned together, while there is some storage space with charging ports and a hair dryer above the sink, as well as a basket of assorted shower amenities further above.
When it comes to the shower, a two-piece door opens up for you to enter, and openings in the floor allow the water to flow out.
While the temperature was difficult to control and quickly became either too hot or too cold, the water pressure was surprisingly excellent. And of course, I could hardly believe that it’s possible to shower on a train in the first place, so I naturally took great pleasure in making full use of the shower on both nights.
We went to bed relatively soon after boarding, but not before I was finished marvelling at my surroundings due to excitement. We passed through Manitoba during the night, and fell asleep to a captivating thunderstorm lighting up the skies.
By the time we woke up, we had already arrived in Ontario, and it was time to explore the rest of the train.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Dining Car & Park Car
There are three main areas on Prestige Class where passengers can spend their time: the suite, the dining car, and the Park car.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the dining car, which is also shared with passengers in the Sleeper Plus cabin.
The car is mostly arranged with four-person seating, so you’ll frequently be sitting with other travellers on the journey. You’re encouraged to socialize during meals, and we certainly did our fair share of chatting and getting to know our fellow passengers on this trip.
The Park car is the very last car, which was two cars down from our room in Prestige Class. This is essentially the hub of daily life on the train, where you’ll find comfortable leather couches on both sides and a bar with unlimited drinks available, including alcohol.
Heading up the stairs is where you’ll find the viewing deck, with a full glass ceiling affording limitless panoramic views.
VIA Rail Prestige Class – Day 1
We headed down to the dining car for our first breakfast of the journey. I kicked things off with fried eggs, crispy bacon, and shredded-potato hash browns, and my partner Jessy ordered the vegan scramble.
After a leisurely morning enjoying the views in the Park car, we headed back to the dining car for some lunch. I opted for tomato soup, followed by a juicy and tender signature burger, while Jessy had the quinoa salad.
The highlight of our lunch was the chocolate cake and ice cream served for dessert.
We then headed back to our suite, where we snacked throughout the afternoon on a charcuterie board alongside a few glasses of wine and some cocktails. We took the time to simply relax, enjoy the views, and sneak in a nap or two.
As we approached 5pm on Day 1 of our journey, we had a quick 30-minute stop in the Township of Hornepayne, Ontario. This was the only chance we had to stretch our legs, as the other stops took place during the night or early in the morning.
I couldn’t help but marvel at just how large Ontario is, as we essentially spent an entire day and a half crossing just one province, with plenty of distance to go. As we boarded back onto the train, we continued the journey southward to Toronto.
It was now time for dinner service, which began with shared appetizers of bacon wrapped dates and French onion soup, followed by our main meals. I opted for the pork loin, and Jessy had the chicken cutlets.
The pork loin was tender and delectable, and among my favourites of the meals so far.
I was feeling pretty full at that point; however, I managed to find enough room to wrap up my dinner with another delicious dessert, a soft and spongy slice of cheesecake, adorned with the word “Via” in strawberry sauce.
After a fulsome meal, we headed back to our suite for the remainder of the evening, where our Murphy bed had already been prepared for us. I fully relished the experience of taking another shower, and then we kicked up our legs as nighttime fell.
Via Rail Prestige Class – Day 2
Waking up on Day 2 at around 9am, we only had around four hours left in the journey until we reached Toronto. We headed to the Park car for some Nespresso, juice, and packaged pastries, as brunch is served just prior to the 1pm arrival in Toronto.
The Nespresso was far superior to the drip coffee supplied in the dining car, and the staff were very courteous and willing to assist us with whatever we needed, whenever we needed it. This included our time at the bar, sitting in the Park car, or bringing anything to our room.
Just before lunch, we took a walk through the rest of the train cars just to explore the entire train. In the Skyline car, which is a communal area for passengers in all cabins, there were tables set up for board games or chess.
The Skyline cars looked different throughout the train, and had a much more old-school interior design than the Park car.
For brunch service, I ordered the waffle alongside fried eggs, ham, and hash browns. It was a soft and sweet conclusion to our meals onboard Via Rail Prestige Class, and Jessy noted that her southern scramble wasn’t too bad, either.
Overall, we found the food onboard to be adequate, but not exceptional, especially considering the high price of Prestige Class. As a point of comparison, it was subpar to what we had on the Rocky Mountaineer, which was much more in line with what you’d expect on a luxury train.
As we pulled into Toronto, I reflected on how quickly the time passed on the train. Throughout the journey, I found myself readily falling asleep and napping on several occasions, and it was nice to travel in such a relaxing manner.
Travelling by train is a much slower, intentional way to travel. You still wind up at your destination, but without the hustle and bustle that’s typically involved with flying or driving.
I’d liken Via Rail Prestige Class to taking a cruise on land, where conductor does all of the hard work, and your job is simply to eat, sleep, and relax amidst the free-flowing food and drinks.
Via Rail Prestige Class is better suited to a particular type of older and wiser traveller, who wishes to traverse vast distances at a leisurely pace in very comfortable surroundings. It’s definitely not the fastest or the cheapest way to travel, which is what most people prefer.
Since I’ve now checked off both of Canada’s most luxurious train journeys from my bucket list, I’m ready to see what else is out there in the world of luxury train travel.