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Field Report: My Round Trip on the Bolt Bus

May 19, 2014

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I was invited on Tourism Vancouver’s 24 hour, Seattle Media Road Trip tour of Vancouver, BC last week, which included round trip passage on a Bolt Bus. While most of the items on my trip couldn’t necessarily described as falling under the category of Cheap Bastard deals, the Bolt Bus definitely did.

After years of writing about Greyhound-owned bus service that offers tickets from Seattle to Vancouver and from Seattle to Portland for as little as $1, I was thrilled to finally get a chance to take it out for a test spin.

Trust me, I know buses. I grew up in Southwest Florida where I often had to ride Greyhound and Trailways buses across the state. You may even recognize me. I’m the guy who always ended up with the drunk sitting by him…the entire ride. I’ve also spent plenty of time riding Greyhound across the Australian outback and local transport buses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. So, I’ve seen the worst and the best.

From the moment I stepped on the bus, I saw the Bolt Bus was closer to the better end. The dark seats were well-maintained, the upholstery was intact (don’t laugh, you’d be surprised at what I’ve seen over the years), the air conditioner worked efficiently, the foot rests were pretty comfortable and the seats reclined. There’s also a bathroom in back. There’s no sink, but there is a well-stocked bottle of hand-sanitizer.

Of course, it could be argued that everything is in good repair because there’s less wear and tear. While buses do often leave Seattle to Portland or Vancouver routes full, there aren’t as many stops as on a regular Greyhound bus. In fact, the only other place the Vancouver bus stops is Bellingham. That means less in and out for passengers, less brushing up against seats and less wear and tear.

The ride is also smooth.

The biggest bonus may be on the technology side. Not only does the bus offer free wifi, but it also has an inflight entertainment system, of sorts. If you have a laptop, iPad, Iphone or other wireless device with a screen, you can also view movies. Some are free, others aren’t. I’m not sure why, but the cost for pay movies is a whopping…19 cents. And there are electrical outlets to recharge at most seats.

After having said all the great things about free WIFI, I also feel the need to point out that we did have access problems on the trip. Although it worked fine from Seattle to the border, it conked out once we crossed into Canada. As it turns out, the back-up battery powering the network ran out of juice, leaving everyone high and dry. On the plus side, the situation was fixed and we had no such problems on the way back.

The other big attraction is the price. Although they are hard to get, one or two seats on every bus go for $1. They’re hard to get because they’re usually the first seats sold on a given trip.

Prices vary depending on ability, of course, but the highest one way fare on the Seattle to Vancouver run is around $18. (Just try to drive to Vancouver and find parking on that). On a recent day in mid-June, I found one way tickets for as low as $9 and round trip tickets for as low as $21. I also saw one-way tickets to Portland on the same day for as little as $10 and round-trip tickets for $22.

That’s great, of course, when you’re traveling by yourself or a partner, but when you’re traveling with a family of four, a car trip may start looking a little better, unless you can get a really good deal on the bus.

Prices are based on online purchase. If you go to the bus stop and there’s a seat available, you’ll have to pay $25.

It’s also worth noting that if you join the Bolt Bus loyalty program, you’ll get a free trip after your eighth ride with no restrictions. That’s not too shabby.

In fact, if I had any complaint, it would be with the windows. Because there are a lot of graphics on the bus windows, there are times when your view out can be blocked.

I know a lot of the country you pass through on a bus isn’t all that exciting, but isn’t travel all about being able to look out the window and see what’s going on around you?
Still, based on the price, the Bolt Bus is a great deal…especially if you can get a $1 seat.

By the way, in case you were wondering, here are the places I visited/things I did during the Seattle Media Road Trip :

The Cliff Walk at the Capilano Suspension Bridge
Grouse Mountain
Beaty Biodiversity Museum (this was so cool)
Sea Vancouver Zodiac Tour of Vancouver (excellent)
Granville Island Visit
Liberty Distillery Tasting (try the gin)
Lunch at Edible Vancouver
The Kids Market at Granville Island
Science World (very cool)
Fly Over Canada (a bit pricey, but lots of fun)

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but I’m still wondering why the US Customs agent chose only me to ask if I was carrying any scud missiles into the country…..

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