Early Tuesday morning, Justin and I got in line one hour before our departure time (8:15 AM) at Penn Station. The funny thing is, despite being an hour early, we still found that the line was already incredibly long.
We were traveling from NYC to Montréal and I had read online that most people find train travel between the two cities both beautiful and relaxing. We were about to find out just how beautiful and relaxing this trip could be…
Now, before you get in line to board the Adirondack to Canada, here are a few things you should know:
+ Right in the middle of the station, there is a desk where you will get tags for your luggage. This is not checking your luggage, but rather just a way for Amtrak to confirm you aren't bringing more luggage on the train than they allow you to.
+ There is NO checked baggage. Whatever you carry on, you will have to handle yourself.
+ I believe the limit is two regular bags no more than 50 pounds plus a carry-on item. (Check with Amtrak to confirm.)
+ Even if you don't have luggage, you will still need to check-in before getting in line. They confirm you have your passport and are allowed to travel across the border. (However, they are NOT the Canadian Border Patrol! You will need your passport and confirmation of both your to and from tickets when you get to the Canadian border.)
One more tip before we get to the actual train ride: You are boarding the train in NYC at Penn Station. People in NYC do very NYC things like offer you roses and try to scam you. Then, when you refuse the rose, they just lay it across you as your hands are preoccupied with coats and tickets, etc, then try to make a scene and embarrass you for dropping said rose that you didn't want in the first place. Thanks NYC scammers. :(
Nevertheless, I persisted. :) Hot tea in my hand and a cup of coffee in Justin's, the beginning of our trip would surely be more relaxing than the long line we were waiting in was…
When you board, they will direct you to a one-way escalator that will take you down to the tracks. People taking the onward trip to Canada will be placed in the rear-est two train cars with everyone else toward the front.
It was recommended that we sit on the left side (facing forward) for the best views. In my opinion, while there were certainly good views on the left side (especially as you depart NYC), both sides are about equal as far as views go. You will see beautiful lakes, streams, rivers, towns, and meadows no matter which side you sit on.
The car we were in was incredibly quiet with hardly anyone talking and no small (non entertained) children in the car. Supposedly some train cars have internet. Ours did up until we reached the Canadian border although it was very slow internet. Either way, I was grateful to have an opportunity to more fully research the places we were going.
We had a tray table, the option to recline a tiny bit (think airplane recline), and a foot rest both on the seat in front of us as well as on our seat (like you have on your recliner at home). Despite feeling tight and confining after a while (it's no bed!), the seats on the Amtrak Adirondack are far more comfortable and provide a lot more space than what you would get on either a plane or bus. I'd even dare to assume that tall people (I'm 5'2") will have enough room to spread out.
Not too long after we left NYC, about two hours into our trip, I started to get hungry. Hotel breakfasts never seem to satisfy. Luckily, on our way to Penn station we had grabbed up a bottle of Polar sparkling water, two croissants, and a mustard chicken and swiss wrap from Pret A Manger. Mmm… :)
The Adirondack does have a food car, but food is very expensive and not that good. If you are taking this journey (or any journey, really!), I recommend bringing snacks. If you can avoid going to the food car for any reason other than working at a table, you should.
Now, with that being said, enjoy all of the fruit and nuts you want during the 7-ish hours before you get to the Canadian Border Patrol office. At that point, you will have to fill out a survey and sign confirming that neither you nor anyone you are traveling with has any of these items. Consider tossing those items in Adirondack bathroom if you can't finish them before the Border Patrol boards. I don't know what would happen if you lied and they randomly decided to search you and your bags, nor do I want any of my readers to find out!
Other things you may want to have on hand for your travels include a good pair of headphones, a back-up battery in case the plugs at your seat don't work, and enough to do to keep you occupied for 8+ hours!
Approximately halfway through the journey, the Amtrak Adirondack stops at the north end of New York allowing all passengers to get some fresh air. Amtrak warns that you are not allowed to leave the platform, though! And there are no places to grab food or shops on the platform.
Approximately eight hours into our journey, we arrived at the Canadian Border Patrol. The Amtrak officials went over the intercom warning us that the train had been turned over to CBP. The train was turned off and the uniformed officers boarded the train to start questioning people. We sat there for three hours while people were being questioned. Granted, I did read someone's blog post about only being held for just over an hour, but that was not the case for us.
Finally, the CBP got to Justin and I. As expected we were asked for our passports and tickets. She confirmed we had no fruit or nuts in our bag, asked where exactly we were going, and then, the clincher, when and how were we leaving Canada?
Our tickets were in our bag over us and Justin was afraid to get them, so we were left searching our email on spotty internet. I pulled up one thing, Justin showed the lady, and she said "where is the date?" *sigh* (It was on the paper, but neither of them saw it, and by then I was getting anxious.) So, finally, I get the actual ticket pulled up and Justin casually hands it to the officer who then moves on after a good fifteen minutes of waiting on us. (Or maybe it just felt that long?)
Now, this is important: DO NOT do like us.
1. Have your documentation ready including both your tickets to and from Canada, your first hotel confirmation, and your passport. It's probably not a bad idea to have a second form of ID on you as well.
2. Answer all questions simply. Yes, no. Elaborate as little as possible. People who lie have long drawn out stories; don't give CPB a reason to doubt you.
3. DO NOT hand them your phone. Your phone can be confiscated and data on it downloaded or used against you. It's better to have printed paper copies of your information with you at all times.
And one more thing: Justin and I were traveling to Canada pre-Trump; things could have changed since then.
After one go-through, CPB began pulling people inside their building for further questioning. The individuals in trouble would gather all of their things and exit the train. Obviously, we couldn't see what was going on inside, but if you look above inside the window you can see the silhouette of either an officer doing questioning or a person being questioned. (And no, I was not trying to break any laws regarding the expectation of privacy. I was just trying to get a shot of the building!)
After our fifteen minutes of stress, I got back to my research.
I marked all of the places my husband and I wanted to travel to on my Frommer's map using the spotty internet as best I could before promptly marking each spot with a gummy bear…
And then eating my way through Montréal. :)
We did not arrive in Montréal until close to 8PM that night.
While I'm glad we took the Adirondack (and I loved the price point!), I think that next time I visit Canada, I will skip the train and go straight to the airport. Somehow sitting for two hours waiting on my plan to board is far better than any sights I could see in north NYC or waiting on CPB to go through an entire Amtrak train of visitors/residents.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever taken a long distance Amtrak somewhere? If so, were you a fan? If not, would you consider it? … What do you think about marking all of the places you intend on visiting with gummy bears and "eating your way" through a city? ;)
Here's someone else's blog post on this topic, for further research.