A trip across the Canadian Rockies by train was one of the first things on our whiteboard when we were planning our ‘big trip’. And it ended up being the first thing we booked, alongside our round the world flight ticket. We were also aware that this was an experience that features very highly for empty nesters looking to indulge their newly-found freedom to explore the world. So what was it really like? Would we recommend it?
WHAT WE CHOSE: We booked the 2-day Rocky Mountaineer itinerary that starts at Banff (just under 2 hours bus ride from Calgary), stops at Kamloops for an overnight stay in a hotel and then continues to Vancouver. This itinerary is branded ‘First Passage to the West’. There are two grades of service – Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf. We decided on the Silver Leaf service, which cost £888 per person.
GETTING STARTED : We arrived at Banff station to check in, just after 7am. The Rocky Mountaineer’s six hundred passengers, in the most orderly fashion, were arriving in cabs and coaches, being steered gently towards sips of complimentary tea and coffee…and mingling a little. It would be hard to find a less-stressed, more laid back departure lounge…yet still, a harpist, plucking Nino Rota’s Love Theme (yep…we recognised it as Simon Bates’ Our Tune, too….(one there for UK readers of a certain age)) had been engaged to help create an even more celestial setting. But excitement levels rose quickly as the majestic Rocky Mountaineer rolled in…and the red carpets got rolled out. For us!! We could hardly believe it. We clambered aboard, feeling like VIPs from the word go.
SETTLING IN : There was almost a sense of naughtiness, bringing up the rear in carriage 11. A bit like sitting in the back bench seat of the school bus, or even the back row of the movies. But posher.You got to keep an eye on the others ahead, as their carriages snaked round bends in the track and disappeared one by one into dark, rocky tunnels. But you got the best possible human chain of radio alerts as wildlife sightings were conveyed down the line: OSPREYS OVERHEAD!!… BEAR ON THE LEFT!!!…..QUICK…CATCH THOSE EAGLES ON THE RIGHT….!! All of the announcements had camera shutters snapping and provided the passengers with the gentlest of callisthenics on this beautifully sedentary ride. As for the wildlife? They were part of the show, and they knew it … ospreys stretching out ostentatiously above us, bald eagles staring back territorially from their lofty perches, salmon piercing through silver waters like synchronised swimmers. And the BEAR ? He just didn’t care.
We did two photo essays whilst onboard. Have a look here:
WINDOWS ON THE WORLD : The backdrops to our two day ride blended seamlessly from rugged, snow dusted mountain peaks with rushing waters ….to impossible bridges spanning two remote and unreachable points; all triumphs of civil engineering and just as worthy of our gasps…and parched, arid rolling hills as we neared Kamloops. It was easy to stretch your legs up and down the spacious carriage, and breathe the fresh mountain air from the open windows in the vestibule…a chance to stand alone with your partner for a few moments, to chat, and take in the view. Back in the carriage… there were unexpected revelations from our brilliant hosts Travis and Amanda, too, pointing out fields of ginseng … acres of blueberries … and a tale of a trackside farmer, so disenchanted with the train’s jolly whistle that he’d greet it with gunfire shots to the skies … and once thwarted by the authorities, continued his rebellion, farming in full view of passengers. in a straw hat and gumboots. And nothing else.
SO WHO ELSE IS ON BOARD? As journeys go, this was a long stretch … the equivalent of a couple of cross-the-world long haul flights. The seats are so spacious that you wouldn’t have to engage with anyone if you chose … but how much fun it was to eavesdrop or chat: there was a couple from Perth in Scotland, going on to sail to Alaska … four ‘crafty’ American ladies with matching, home quilted bags, on their annual RM pilgrimage … a glamorous young professional couple from New Zealand … the elderly Canadians catching up with their family along the route … English travellers from Stanmore in north west London, swapping the Jubilee line for this magnificent voyage … and the beautifully manicured English lady who, on being complimented on her fuchsia nails, immediately offered me a dab of her varnish. Oh… and the SKINS: two fabulous Australian couples Spending The Kids’ Inheritance NOW.
WHAT AND WHEN DO YOU GET TO EAT? The short answer is: the best on offer … and frequently. And all brought to you at your seat. From a welcome fruity cocktail and cooked breakfast soon after departure, to exquisite lunches featuring salmon, beef, pork and chicken options, to delicate and beautifully presented desserts, all with your choice of wine from British Columbia, alcoholic or soft drink, with tea and coffee to follow. And just as the effects of lunch are wearing off, afternoon nibbles and drinks appear.
SO HOW DID WE FEEL? Privileged. This was a holiday worth saving for; one you secretly knew for years that you were working towards. From the moment we settled into our comfortable leather seats, with unimpeded views from the widest, highest windows and roof above, we felt like royalty. The hosts, Travis and Amanda, along with chef Jordan, had all been expertly trained; and the food, drinks, nibbles and sweet treats just kept on coming. Station and company crews waved us off from Banff and again from Kamloops after our overnight stay, and a fresh team were there, platform side, to wave us into our final destination of Vancouver….but along the route we’d receive and return jolly waves from passers by: from trackside workers to a lady in her pyjamas waving wildly from her balcony outside Kamloops. The overnight transfer was seamless … with our room keys being handed to us on board, and our baggage waiting for us at the foot of the bed … and whisked away again after we’d left in the morning.
Would we recommend it? In a word … yes. Sure, it’s a considered purchase. But seriously, just book and go. You deserve it too.
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Have you travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer? What did you think?
If you haven’t been, has this review convinced you?
Still undecided? What puts you off?
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