Families Travel! Taking the Kids to Vancouver on Amtrak

Canadian-born Seattle resident Connie Wanklin-Iskra, her husband Matt, son Makhno (almost 3) and daughter Naomi (6 months) decided to enjoy a car-free weekend in Vancouver, BC. So, over the long US Memorial Day weekend, they decided to take the Amtrak train‘s route to Vancouver for a two-day trip.

“We wanted to stay longer, but felt we might need a day to recover when we returned,” Wanklin-Iskra says. “Which was definitely the case.”

They boarded the Amtrak in Edmonds, Washington at 8:07 a.m. and arrived in Vancouver, BC, almost four hours later. The train was $70 round trip for each adult, half-off for Makhno and free for her daughter (and other children under age 2). Once in Vancouver, it was non-stop schedule of fun. Let’s find out what they did and  what they enjoyed about their train trip to Vancouver, BC.

1. What did you do in Vancouver, BC when you arrived via Amtrak?

Customs in Vancouver was a bit of a wait  — a good twenty minutes which feels like hours when carrying and infant and pushing a tired toddler in a stroller chanting “go, go, go.” Makhno did not enjoy this much, BUT it wasn’t as long as it might have been at the border in a car.

After that we took the SkyTrain a couple of stops into downtown Vancouver and walked to our hotel.

I tried to find a hotel close enough to the SkyTrain, as we brought the Ergo for the baby and the jogging stroller for our little guy. The hotel (Best Western Chateau Granville) was a splurge for a suite with a King size bed and a couch bed. But the room and living room really helped with putting kiddos to bed.

My son Makhno likes to walk but the stroller had storage, and it’s also good for naps and a safe place to put the baby. Makhno fell asleep walking from the SkyTrain to the hotel, YEAH!!! We pushed him into the hotel and into the room and just relaxed until he woke up.

Then we walked to Granville Island and took the rainbow Aquabus ($10 roundtrip for two adults), which he loved. On Granville, there’s a Kids Market with an indoor play area, climbing slides and more. But admission to the play area is $6 and our little guy, while a monkey pants, would probably get overwhelmed so we kind of discouraged it (better for ages 4 and up). The climbing area did have a small free slide, which satisfied him. The Kids Market also has all kinds of Loonie-powered vehicles that you can sit in, but Makhno is really happy just to play-drive, so again — no cost.

We went outside and despite a drizzle, there’s a play boat the kids can sit in and pretend to drive, right outside the Kids Market. Also ducks on the water to watch and chase.

Then we went to Granville Island’s Crystal Ark, where they have all kinds of smooth rocks. Makhno picked five green ones, for which they charge six cents a gram (similar to the Scratch Patch in Seattle).

Afterward, we went and ate in the Granville Island Public Market, which offers something for everyone.

2. What did you do the next day in Vancouver, BC with kids?

On Sunday we took the SkyTrain to the waterfront and the Seabus (Our son’s really into transportation!) across to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay Market, another cool destination.

At Lonsdale Quay, they have an indoor play space with a slide and ball pit, but this one’s free and smaller. Makhno actually remembered it from the last time we were there and he was only 20 months then. We had lunch– all of the market food courts are very kid- and budget-friendly; you can have anything you want. I found some excellent sushi, which I’ve been yearning for (and it’s much cheaper in Canada, I think).

We took the Seabus back across. We then thought we’d try to walk to Stanley Park, also hoping to get a nap in. We enjoyed an AWESOME green space with neat sculptures to climb, as we walked along the Coal Harbour waterfront towards Stanley Park.

Sculpture in Vancouver, BC

Didn’t make it to the park, as we had to head back to the train (this time we were going to try and get there an hour early). Got him finally into the stroller and he fell asleep.

We stopped in Gastown (lots of cool little shops, and a steam clock) for a “treat” when he woke up at a place called Trees Organics Coffee House. It apparently has the best cheesecake in town, but we got some excellent cookies and hot chocolate, then took the SkyTrain to the train
station (located across the street from Science World).

3. Is there anything you wish you had done in Vancouver, but didn’t do?

I’d like to take Makhno on the gondola up Grouse Mountain. One day we might even try the Grouse Grind, a local cult power hike of switchbacks that goes up to the top of Grouse Mountain. In the future we might like to try bring bikes, you can check your bike on the train (for a fee).

4. What did you bring with you on the train ride with kids to Vancouver, BC?

We used one large traveling backpack and one smaller day back. We probably brought a few more clothes than needed but with little kiddos, you never know! We also brought more books and things to do then we might have needed but again with kiddos you never know. Having a couple novel things can come in handy.

The jogging stroller was great too. It might have been hard to get on city buses but worked fine on sky train, with plenty of elevators to get on. We also brought our own snacks for the train, which was a good call.

Of course you can’t bring fruit across the border, especially from Canada to US. Though we had done a pre-trip run to the general area, we still managed to miss a turn on the big day. So we definitely recommend the practice run if you are unfamiliar with the train station location.

5. Did you like the Cascades train, overall? Would you have done anything differently?

The train made the journey really enjoyable for everyone. Easy to take kiddos to the washrooms which were very roomy and clean, with a change table and room to move.

I could pass the baby back and forth and nurse if needed. She slept in my arms. The best part…no crying!!!!  Well, at least on the way there.

We returned in the evening, so everyone was getting tired. If you have a baby you will be holding her or him the whole time — which is great — but can also be tiring. Of course if you have an infant car seat this probably would eliminate this problem.

On the flip side, my toddler would’ve slept in the car on the way home from Vancouver, but was too wound up on the train to settle down to sleep. He fell asleep from the train station to home, in the car!

Crossing the border was also easier on the train with less waiting. On the way home the border officials board the train at Blaine on the way back to Seattle, to ask questions and check your documents, so you just wait in your seat which is pretty relaxed.

Thank you, Connie! I can also vouch for this kid-friendly trip by Amtrak. We love to score seats on the western side of the train back to Seattle — and look out the windows at the sunset and rocky Washington shores.

120x60 Westin

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Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • Hara

    Is riding the train with kids in the summer a fun trip, or are there too many travelers to get seats together? Did you make reservations for your tickets and get to select your seats?

  • Lora

    Hara, yes, I think it is fun, and I’ve never had a problem getting seats, although I have encountered sold-out trains. Sometimes families (particularly if you can convince a kid to get into a stroller) can check in early and get preboarding. But even if not, they do try to seat your party together, unlike the airlines, who’d like you to pay for that convenience. Some trains even offer movies. Always popular!

  • Leah Adams

    I LOVE taking the train with my kids. When they were toddler and preschool age, it was a great way to interact and keep them busy. Driving as a solo parent is really hard. They seem to get restless so quickly, and stopping at every rest stop makes the trip really long. On the train there is so much to do and see, we rarely needed all of the books and activities we brought with us. Three cheers for trains!
    .-= Leah Adams´s last blog ..Felting a Sheepskin, Minus the Skin =-.

  • Shirley

    I love riding the AMTRAK! As a single passenger, they always seat me in a single on the east side of the train on the southbound trip. I don’t really care for this, but understand their need to seat families together. However, I have usually then just taken a seat at a small table in the dining car on the west side and then I can also have my knitting on the table and look out at the beautiful scenery.