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I want to go from Vancouver to Seattle over the Easter weekend. I plan to leave Vancouver late Thursday or early Friday and come back to Vancouver Monday evening. I'm looking for the options I have to get there and their advantages and drawbacks, especially during the busy Easter weekend.

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You basically have three options:

  • Amtrak. Take the Cascades train from Vancouver to Seattle in about four hours. The big benefit here is that the train isn't nearly as affected by car traffic at the border, which can be very lengthy especially going into the US. This is because you actually clear US immigration at the train station in Vancouver before boarding the train. The down side to that is that you have to arrive earlier than you think, to be sure that you have time to clear immigration. Another down side is that it's expensive. The cheapest ticket I could find was $41 each way, and for a more reasonable schedule you may pay more than $60 each way. These prices are likely to go up as the dates approach. Also note that you have to be careful when booking on Amtrak as most of the schedules they offer for this route are actually on buses.
  • Bus. Several bus services (Bolt, Quick Shuttle, and such) offer service between Vancouver and Seattle, for as little as $15 each way. The down side is that you are subject to traffic jams at the border. While the bus companies generally factor border waits into their schedules, if it's unusually busy, you might find yourself arriving later than you expected. A typical trip is also about four hours.
  • Drive yourself. If you can cross the border at less busy hours, you can avoid the traffic jams and complete the trip in as little as two and a half hours (assuming you aren't speeding). Late night on a weeknight would be such a time. And, gas is cheaper in the US than in Canada, (even though it's more expensive in Washington state than most other places in the US) so you have an opportunity to fill up your car both on the way down and on the way back. If you have a NEXUS card you'll skip most of the traffic at the border anyway. Aside from traffic at the border, the big down side is that you have to figure out where to park your car in Seattle.
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    Something to watch out for if you pick Amtrak: the stretch of rail between Everett and Seattle gets closed occasionally due to mudslides, particularly in winter and spring. You may find that your train ride has turned into a bus ride. – Mark Mar 23 '15 at 0:04
  • Note that the Vancouver route for Amtrak is the Cascades, using Talgo trains that are more modern and faster than the double-decker SuperLiner seen on other west coast routes. – Basil Bourque Mar 23 '15 at 7:24
  • Wow, if $41 is considered expensive for an international train journey between two major cities on a busy weekend, you're lucky, lucky people! Here in the UK with our privatised rail it's common to spend double that for a advance ticket for a one-way 4hr journey, or for commuters to spend that amount daily... – user568458 Mar 23 '15 at 10:09
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    @user568458 UK trains are expensive but your comparison is misleading. First, UK one-way train tickets are ridiculously expensive compared to the corresponding return ticket: it's common for the one-way ticket to be 90%+ of the return price. Second, UK rail tickets are not demand-priced, so you pay just as much on a busy weekend as you would at any other time (except during the rush hour). The only difference with busy weekends is that there's a fixed number of discount-price tickets available in advance and they're more likely to have been bought as soon as they went on sale for busy times. – David Richerby Mar 23 '15 at 11:00
  • @user568458 Vancouver and Seattle are about 140 miles apart, and it's a very busy crossing. For the longest time (i.e. before 9/11) there was almost no formality at the border. When I drove through here before 9/11, for instance, I was not even asked for documents in either direction! It's tightened up since, but the heavy traffic suggests that transportation prices will be lower. – Michael Hampton Mar 23 '15 at 15:25
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In addition to Michael's answer:

  • it's (in theory) also possible to hitch-hike. You could hitch to the border, walk across (or journey with the kind soul who picked you up), and continue on.

    If you're worried about walking across the border - I've done it myself in the past and while you may get some additional questions, it's entirely possible - there's even a pedestrian lane.

  • In addition, there are flights - airlines like Air Alaska have flights between Vancouver and Seattle. Of course this close to the date, prices may not be ideal, but it could be time-saving.

  • There's also the ferry. This is likely the slowest option, but you can get a BC Ferry to Victoria from Vancouver, and then down from Victoria to Seattle. Scenic trip, however!

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    And seaplane too (Victoria-Seattle), with Kenmore Air. – Basil Bourque Mar 23 '15 at 7:35
  • For the ferry, isn't it metro+bus from Vancouver to the ferry, ferry across, bus down to Victoria, then ferry onwards? (Both are lovely and scenic crossings though!) – Gagravarr Apr 5 '15 at 17:17
  • @Gagravarr yes, I was just summarising the route, technically you'd need to get to a skytrain/bus station first as well. – Mark Mayo Apr 5 '15 at 23:32
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There is finally, finally a seaplane from Vancouver Coal Harbour to Seattle Lake Union (it started Apr 26, 2018). It is not cheap but it exists. The company is called Kenmore Air (despite the name they are not actually flying dishwashers). A major problem is the very stingy and stringent baggage allowance

Floatplane passengers are limited to 25 lbs. (11kg) total baggage weight per person, regardless of the number of bags. All items are weighed and count toward the allowance — including hand-carry items such as purses, laptops, backpacks, etc.

Excess baggage is one USD per pound and that's just standby -- a guaranteed 50 lbs. (23kg) or less bag is -- not specific for this route but other routes have it at 75 and 150 USD. In one direction.

  • How does this answer the 'Easter weekend' part of the question. Great information but not relevant to the question. – Willeke Jun 9 at 6:35
  • The seaplane doesn't get into traffic jams and since you are crossing the border at Lake Union which has really low traffic, it will be very fast. – chx Jun 9 at 6:54

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