Amtrak Cascades Line Vancouver to Seattle (Review)

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our quick stay in Vancouver, it was time to make our way to Seattle, the embarkation city for our Alaskan cruise. And what a scenic journey it was!

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

As I mentioned in the introduction for this trip report, I kinda tripped upon the Amtrak Cascades Line as our method of transportation from Vancouver to Seattle. To recap:

My original plan was to just stay at an inexpensive hotel near Vancouver Airport, and then drive the following morning to Seattle. (Our flight wasn’t arriving in Vancouver until like 12:45AM, so I didn’t want to start driving so late at night. But there was one issue. Rental cars were INSANELY EXPENSIVE. A ONE DAY rental from Vancouver to Seattle was going to be $199 CAD (About $150 USD.) I swallowed my pride and made a reservation, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better, and cheaper, way.

And lo and behold, there was! I came across the Amtrak Cascades option! I had read that it was a very picturesque way to get from Vancouver to Seattle, and much more relaxing than a drive. Even though we have Global Entry these days, the line at the Canadian-US border crossing can get very long, so the train seemed like a good option to minimize the delay as well!

Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station

We arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station about an hour before the train departure.

Outside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

We weren’t sure what kind of Canada customs or exit processing there would be. There was a dedicated line for the Cascades line, since it was crossing into the United States. There was also a dedicated line for business class passengers.

We walked around the station for a little bit.

Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

After a short while, they started processing the passengers, including checking our passports and providing seat assignments.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class Review

Amtrak Cascade Line’s business class consists of seats in a 2–1 configuration, which I had learned long before our departure. However, I wanted to make sure that we were on the “coast” side of the train. Since the train was heading south to Seattle, that meant we wanted to sit on the right side of the train to have the best views of the coastline. But, I was never able to figure it out in advance if the coast side was the “2 seat” side or the “1 seat” side.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class configuration Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class

At the check-in, we were assigned seats in the “2 seats” side of the train. I asked the agent if that was the “coast” side, and she said no. That traveling south, that’s the “1 seat” side. Even though it meant not sitting next to each other, we opted for the “1” side. But, as a bonus, she was able to give us two single facing seats, instead of sitting one in front of the other.

Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class

Since we still had quite a while before the train departure time, I went outside and took some photos of the exterior of the train.

Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle

Views from Amtrak Cascades Line, Vancouver to Seattle

This train route has been touted to be one of the most scenic in the world, and I dare say that I have to agree! [Photo overload to commence] View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

It’s worth pointing out that since we were traveling south, and seated on the west side of the train nearing sunset, it was incredibly sunny! Ken wore his hat and sunglasses even on the train!

Sunny side of Amtrak Cascades Line View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Seriously, SO scenic. I couldn’t take my eyes off the outdoors.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

At the Canada-US border crossing, everyone had to stay in their seats while US Customs and Border Patrol officials boarded the train and checked passports. We were stopped for about 20 minutes or so at the border, and then the train continued on.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Photo Tip: The glare from the windows of the train really could have affected our photos if we had not had our polarizer filters on our SLRs! Seriously, if you do this train ride, be sure to have a polarizer filter, otherwise your photos will be filled with glares!

I walked around to some of the different cars and took some additional photos.

Menu on Amtrak Cascades Line Dining car on Amtrak Cascades Line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Advertisements for Amtrak Cascades

As we got closer to Seattle, farmland started to mix in with the coastal views (which were still scenic!)

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

And then, the sun started setting farther below the horizon.

Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line

We arrived in Seattle, disembarked, and took a taxi to our hotel, the Grant Hyatt Seattle. Highly recommend Amtrak Cascades!


Westin Grand Vancouver (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

By the time our flight landed in Vancouver, we transited Canadian immigration and customs, and stood in a long taxi line, it was about 3AM when we got to our hotel, the Westin Grand Vancouver. We were only staying for one night, but they had graciously already pre-approved a (very) late checkout for us of 4PM the next day.

I had long lamented what hotel to stay at in Vancouver. Which was silly because we were going to be there for such a short time. Did we want to stay close to the airport? Close to Stanley Park? (since that was going to be our primary place to visit during our short stay?)

I had been ogling the Fairmont Pacific Rim, but alas, couldn’t justify the price. Although the Westin Grand Vancouver was not terribly close to Stanley Park (we took a taxi there), it was centrally located in Downtown Vancouver and was very reasonably priced.

I booked a Deluxe Corner Suite, with view.

Upon entry to the room, there was a bathroom door straight ahead, and a living room to the left.

Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

The living room was nice, but oddly shaped and not as spacious as I expected.

Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a small nook in the hallway with a closet, coffee supplies, and a small fridge.

Coffee Nook | Westin Grand Vancouver review

The bathroom was spacious and had a separate tub and shower.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

There was also plenty of counter space, which is greatly appreciated.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

The bedroom was a decent size, and had wraparound windows.

Bedroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

The windows were gorgeous and allowed for great views of the city, but it was summer, just shy of the solstice, so the days were LONG and the sun was up early. And the room darkening curtains had some unfortunate gaps, especially in the corners. Not usually a problem when we travel, but when you’re not getting to bed until after 3AM.

edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a door to a small balcony next to the desk in the living room.

Door to balcony in Deluxe Suite

There were some fantastic views of the Vancouver skyline from the balcony. And if you peak far in the distance, you can even see the coast! (er, the bay?)

Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony

One minor complaint about our stay is that the elevators in this hotel were HORRENDOUSLY SLOW. There were only two, and the hotel had at least 30 floors, if I recall correctly.

But, the hotel location was great, and I was so appreciative of the late checkout that they allowed. Since our train to Seattle wasn’t leaving until 5PM, I didn’t want to have to pack up and put our luggage in storage before heading out sightseeing for the day. I’m never a huge fan of having to put my luggage in storage after checkout and before moving on to our next destination. So, the late checkout gets a big thumbs up from me!

Have you visited Vancouver recently? Where did you stay?


 

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Review (First and Business Class) – JFK-YVR

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our long, but lovely layover spent in the British Airways lounge at JFK, it was time to board our Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver!

You can read more about why I sat in business class and Ken sat in first class in my previous post, but here’s a quick excerpt for the lazy:

I had originally booked two business class tickets on Cathay Pacific, knowing that they usually open up first class availability at the last minute. The idea was that I would switch our seats from business class to first class. About two months before our departure, ONE first class seat opened, and I jumped on it, booking it in Ken’s name. And I kept checking and checking for one more seat to come available. There were four open seats in first class according to ExpertFlyer (meaning that only two seats were booked, one of which was Ken’s).

Long story short, a second first class seat NEVER opened. I checked all the way until the morning of our departure. The flight did, in fact, go out with FOUR empty first class seats. Ken and I had talked about it, whether we both just wanted to sit in business class together, but I told him I really wanted him to experience Cathay Pacific First Class. So, I sat in business and he sat in first.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Review – JFK-YVR

My business class seat was fantastic. I sat in the “front row” of the business class cabin, which the ticket counter agent was kind enough to do so Ken and I were really only one “row” apart, even though we were in different classes.

Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER

The business class cabin is set up in a 1–2–1 configuration, and I had a single seat. I snapped a photo of the middle seat configuration as well:

Two center seats of business class configuration on Cathay Pacific 777–300ER

The TV screen was at an angle, but popped out for viewing.

TV screen Cathay Pacific business class

The remote control and TV controls were above the seat, which I much appreciated after constantly adjusting my seat by accident thanks to the poorly placed seat controls on Air Berlin’s Business Class.

Seat controls Cathay Pacific Business Class

There was also a small, convenient table between the seat and the window.

Cathay Pacific Business class seat

The food was decent, but to be honest, I was getting pretty tired by the time food was being served. It was a 10PM flight departure, and I had already been, ahem, imbibing quite a bit at the lounge, so I was feeling pretty sleepy 🙂

I opted for the Potato Leek and Vegetable Strudel. I thought it was quite tasty!

Cathay Pacific Business class menu JFK-YVR

My starters were placed on my tray first.

Meal tray on Cathay Pacific Business Class

Followed by my main dish, the Potato Leek Strudel.

Main dish in Cathay Pacific Business Class

After dinner, I reclined my seat, put on my headphones, and started watching Selma. I fell asleep shortly into the movie (which is no indication of how I felt about the movie! Tiredness was just winning out at that point!)

I woke up to some turbulence and turned on the airshow, which showed that we were over Montana. I peeked out the window and saw some lightning in the clouds far off in the distance to the south.

Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR

Cathay Pacific First Class Review – JFK YVR

Ken thoroughly enjoyed his first class seat! Toward the very end of the flight, the flight attendants even let me come up from business class to join him in his “guest” seat for a cup of Hong Kong Milk Tea.

Cathay Pacific First Class Guest Seat Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Milk Tea

Although, I had snuck up there briefly to talk to him before, and snap a picture of him cozy in his bed-in-the-sky. (Full disclosure, he’s not actually sleeping, just pretending for the photo)

Sleeping in Cathay Pacific First Class

Here were some photos he took of his bed. And seriously, how can one person have SO MANY CABLES AND ELECTRONICS next to him on his seat?

Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed

Ken is a fairly picky eater. Basically, if there’s any “fancy” sounding ingredients, it’s pretty much safe to assume that it won’t be anything he’ll want to try. So, this gorgeous looking ramen bowl didn’t get eaten much. (Sorry, we didn’t get a picture of the menu, so I’m not sure of its precise name).

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

He did indulge on the bread though!

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And dessert too.

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And check out the fancy sink in the first class cabin lavatory. Since there were only two passengers in first class, and two lavatories, each passenger basically had their own bathroom. 🙂

Cathay Pacific first class lavatory sink

Ken didn’t sleep as much as I did on the flight, so he enjoyed flipping through the inflight entertainment system.

Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class

Also worth pointing out were the seat massage controls available!

Seat massage first class Cathay Pacific

Once we landed in Vancouver (nearly 1AM PDT), we transited immigration and customs, and then hopped in a taxi to our hotel, which I’ll review next in this trip report!

British Airways First and Business Class Lounge at JFK (Serving Cathay Pacific Passengers)

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015


For the first leg of our trip to get to Seattle for our Alaskan cruise, Ken and I had a short hop flight on American Airlines from Washington, DC National Airport to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Since our Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver was leaving out of JFK, we had to take a taxi from LGA to JFK. It was a flat rate, around $40 I think, and relatively quick despite being the beginning of rush hour.

We had booked a fairly early flight from DCA-LGA to allow for flight delays and traffic delays to get to JFK, but as it turns out, everything went perfect. No flight delays, barely any traffic. So, once we arrived at JFK, we had to wait a while before the Cathay Pacific ticket counter opened before we could check in and proceed past security to get to the lounge. (We had been unable to check-in online!)

Check-in counter for Cathay Pacific and other international departures Check-in counter for Cathay Pacific and other international departures

Can I just point out that the location of the TSA screening line was SO ridiculous at JFK. It was actually on some sort of ramp, so everybody’s suitcases would tip over backwards while waiting in line. And, as the bags came off the conveyer belt and onto the rollers, the bags would drift backwards. Not very well designed!

After we made it through security, we made our way to the British Airways international departures lounge, which first and business class Cathay Pacific passengers are allowed to use.

The lounge is split into two sides: The First Class passenger side and the Business Class passenger side.

As I alluded to in our introduction post, I had originally booked two business class tickets on Cathay Pacific, knowing that they usually open up first class availability at the last minute. The idea was that I would switch our seats from business class to first class. About two months before our departure, ONE first class seat opened, and I jumped on it, booking it in Ken’s name. And I kept checking and checking for one more seat to come available. There were four open seats in first class according to ExpertFlyer (meaning that only two seats were booked, one of which was Ken’s).

Long story short, a second first class seat NEVER opened. I checked all the way until the morning of our departure. The flight did, in fact, go out with FOUR empty first class seats. Ken and I had talked about it, whether we both just wanted to sit in business class together, but I told him I really wanted him to experience Cathay Pacific First Class. So, I sat in business and he sat in first.

Anyway, all this to say that we had access to BOTH sides of the British Airways lounge. The first class side (Ken as a passenger plus me as his guest), and the business class side (which both first and business class passengers can access.)

So, first we went to the first class side, assuming it would be nicer. It was quiet and clean, with a decent spread of food. I’d say about 70% of the seats were full, so there wasn’t a huge issue with seating. But the biggest problem was the absolute SWELTERING heat in the lounge. It was early June, but it really wasn’t THAT hot outside. maybe like the upper 70s. In fact, it was downright pleasant outside for summer weather. So the heat in the lounge was downright perplexing.

British Airways First Class lounge | Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at JFK British Airways First Class lounge | Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at JFK

Food spread at British Airways first class lounge at JFK
Food spread at British Airways first class lounge at JFK

So, Ken ventured off to check out the business class lounge side while I saved our seats in the first class lounge.

Within a few minutes, I get a text from Ken. The below photo was attached along with the caption, “See if you can come find me on the business class side.”

Outdoor seating area at British Airways JFK business class lounge | Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge

I was all like, “Huh?” I gathered up my bags and headed to the business class side. It took me a few minutes to figure out where on earth he could be in an outdoor seating area, but I finally found it!

We sat down on the lovely outdoor couches and enjoyed the gorgeous June air while we waited for our late night Cathay Pacific flight. It was truly a perfect spot to lounge.

Ken at outdoor seating area at lounge Melissa at outdoor seating area at lounge

Now that we weren’t completely sweating like we were on the first class side, we were able to sit back and enjoy the lounge.

There were multiple buffet and alcohol stations throughout the lounge.

British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK | Serving Cathay Pacific passengers Alcohol at British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK Alcohol at British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK

The food and snacks servings were decent.

Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK

The business side was more crowded and definitely more bustling than the first class side, but there was almost a festive atmosphere in the lounge. There was a LOT of seating in the lounge, but most of it was full, as it seemed this was prime departure time for a lot of the flights that can use the British Airways lounge.

Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK

Even the outdoor area, which was completely empty when Ken and I first found it, started to fill up quite a bit!

Outdoor seating area at British Airways business class lounge at JFK

I visited the “pub” area of the lounge many, many times during our several hours at the lounge. It had self-serve beer on tap!

Pub at British Airways Lounge at JFK Pub at British Airways Lounge at JFK

There as also an abundance of shoe art on the walls:

Art at British Airways Lounge at JFK

And a decent-looking area for kids:

Kids play area at British Airways business class lounge at JFK

Ken and I tend to be fairly introverted, but the outdoor space at the lounge lent itself so well to socializing. We chatted with a dude from Sweden for quite a while, and many others who sat for a while outside on the couches. It really made our layover fly by!

For what it’s worth, the lounge offers a pre-departure supper for first class passengers.  But, Ken had filled up on snacks, so he wasn’t hungry for the supper.

Pretty soon, it was time to board for our 9:55PM departure to Vancouver. We took care of some adminstrative things in the lounge, like calling AT&T to add the “Canada” plan to our cell phones, and then we headed to the gate for boarding.

The gate area was a complete zoo, so I’m glad we had had some nice quiet time in the louge before our departure. Before long, we boarded, and pushed back for an on-time departure.

The next post in the series will cover our experiences in Cathay Pacific Business Class and Cathay Pacific First Class.

Naples and Pompei, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The last stop on our Mediterranean Cruise was Naples, Italy. We were nearing the end of our two week trip abroad, and we were pretty worn out and tired. We walked around Naples for a little while (no photos, gasp!) and then went on an afternoon excursion (purchased through the cruise line) to Pompeii.

Like Rome and Florence, I had been to Naples and Pompeii before on my 1997 trip to Italy. However, this was Ken’s first time there. And I felt like I had a much greater appreciation of Pompeii this time, compared to when my 16-year-old-self viewed Pompeii as not much more than a big pile of rubble.

On our drive to Pompeii from Naples, our guide pointed out Mt. Vesuvius:

Mt. Vesuvius in Naples, Italy

As we walked up a steep hill toPompeii I thought about my previous time there, when I was 16, and I remember being totally bored. It’s a huge, ruined city. “More of the same,” I remember myself saying as we walked around the huge city of ruins. Luckily I had a greater appreciation for it this time around!

Walking up hill to Pompeii entrance

For the most part, I’ll let the pictures do the talking here!

Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion

This dog kept following our tour group around! Adorable!

Dog inPompeii

Luckily, Pompei was not crowded at all. It was so nice to walk around and have space between the people, and not have crowds in every photograph, unlike the previous day in Rome, and our awful experience at the Vatican Museum.

The only crowd we really saw was this line of people, waiting to get into the ancient brothel in Pompei. It still has inscriptions and drawings of …, ahem, menu service offerings on the wall inside.

Line outside the ancient Pompei brothel

The early October weather was just gorgeous for walking around!

Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei

Our tour was thorough, but only took about 90 minutes. After the obligatory waiting around in the gift shop after the tour was over, our bus departed and headed back to the cruise ship! We had had a great time on our trip, but we were ready to get back home!

We had one day at sea on the ship after Naples, and then we ended the cruise where we started – in Barcelona. From there we headed straight to the airport and started our journey back home!