Take the bus to Montreal. It’s direct, it’s frequent, and it can be done last-minute. While riding the Jazz Train is still on my bucket list, we headed up to Montreal over the Fourth of July long weekend by Greyhound, which was relatively efficient and a great deal. Here are the details:
On the weekend we chose, July 1-4, the once-daily 10-hour Penn Station-Montreal Amtrak route, roughly $150 round-trip, was already sold out. Holiday weekend, it figures.
Greyhound it was, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect for 8 hours in a vehicle, definitely an improvement over a car, since Montreal is more of a biking, walking, and transit city where I’d rather not search for parking. Here are the details:
Greyhound has 12 daily departures direct to Montreal from NYC, roughly on an hourly basis. We chose the 11pm departure, which arrived late at roughly 8am.
On the return trip to New York there are 13 daily departures on a Sunday, with most buses either before 9am (for daytime arrivals) or after 9pm (for overnight, arriving in the early morning). We chose the lone 5:15pm bus, arriving at 1am.
Port Authority is one of my least favorite places in New York City, but I will begrudgingly admit that it is convenient. Its dungeon-like bus loading areas enter and exit directly into the Lincoln Tunnel, saving time in traffic.
On this particular evening, which was Friday, July 1, i.e. Canada Day, we were roughly 45 people back when we arrived at 10:15, 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. As we waited the line behind us doubled, and then wrapped around the back wall and tripled. Amazing. There were about 150 people in line for Montreal.
Luckily, we caught a seat on the first bus after a lengthy process in which a Greyhound attendant checked each and every passenger’s passport and travel documents and stamped their ticket. He informed me that the bus company is fined thousands of dollars for each infraction at the border, so they carry out this a pre-departure check.
Paola bought us those funny travel neck pillows that everyone has these days, only ours were made of memory foam and fleece-lined. Bus seats aren’t the most comfortable, but they’re bearable if you can lean or sleep on your fellow passenger and have some neck support.
We stopped briefly in Albany at 2am to refuel, which was announced in advance, and I felt we had stepped back in time to the 1980s. Everyone filed off the bus, waited in the fluorescent glow of the bus terminal, and then filed back on.
At 5am, we reached the Canadian border. Little did we know, we would spend the next two hours there waiting to go through customs. Three customs agents in a little shack processing bus after bus of travelers, 50 passengers at a time. As the sun came up we waited, and waited. It took an hour and a half in line and then 30 minutes to get through at the border, after unloading all of our belongings and taking them inside.
The Gare d’Autocars sounds classy in the way that French can when you don’t speak it. It’s right next to downtown Montreal and on top of the Berri-UQAM station, which is the central node in Montreal’s subway station. It’s clean, light-filled, new and easy to reach from anywhere.
Given the pergatory-like feeling you get in Port Authority, it’s never too fun to arrive early for a bus. Montreal’s station is light, clean, has amusement park-like line dividers, and is a pleasant experience. We arrived 30 minutes early for our 5:15pm departure and were in an even better position than we had departing New York. A quick document check and we were off, together with a dozen choice Canadian craft beers from Dieu du Ciel as souvenirs.
Believe it or not, the return trip only lasted 8 hours. We arrived at the US-Canada border and the new and well-staffed Customs and Border Patrol post processed us quickly and efficiently with 5 agents on staff and others standing by. We were asked to leave everything on the bus, which probably saved us another 10 minutes at the border.
If border crossing was a hockey match, Team USA won this one.
Our preoccupied bus driver, hoping to make it home to catch his last train home, brought us safe and sound into Port Authority at 1am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. This left us enough time to rush home and get a normal night of sleep before work on Tuesday morning.