Alicia travels through the Rocky Mountains

Staff member: Alicia - Consultant for Great Train Journeys // Trip date: Jun 2014

 

CALGARY

I arrived in Calgary airport late in the afternoon with my colleague Nicki (travel buddy for the week). We were in Canada to experience the Canadian Rockies Highlights 6 Nights / 7 Day package that included travel on the Rocky Mountaineer between Banff - Vancouver.


For our first night in Calgary we stayed at Ramada Calgary Downtown, this was a nice moderate hotel located in central downtown near to Stephen's Mall and entrances to the Plus 15 walkway. The following day we didn't have anything pre-planned and given we needed to meet others in our travelling party later that day we decided to check out the city by foot. We were booked into the Fairmont Palliser Hotel for one night before departing on the Rocky Mountaineer, we decided to leave our bags here for the day before checking in later in the afternoon. Our first day in Canada and we were spoilt with a glorious sunny 16 degree day, with only a small number of hours to spare we walked north along Barclay Mall eventually arriving at Prince's Island Park and the glistening glacier fed Bow River. Later in the afternoon we would check into the Fairmont Palliser (Fairmont Room), celebrating its 100th birthday this year this hotel is located around the corner from Calgary train station and a short walk via the Plus 15 walkway to Calgary Tower. Included as part of our package the Calgary Tower gave 360 degree views across the city that extended to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the west, given the clear day it was a perfect view.


Our Fairmont Room featured two very comfortable queen sized beds, the room was elegantly decorated and equipped with comforts from home ie. Complete set of toiletries, walk in wardrobe, plush Fairmont robes, business amenities and desk. I would recommend guests sign up for the Fairmont President's Club prior to departure to receive a host of exclusive benefits and privilege's including complimentary, in-room high speed internet.


CALGARY - LAKE LOUISE via BANFF


The next day was cool but sunshine greeted us again and we were all excited for the activities planned for today. Our luggage was collected from our room and transported to the lobby in time to meet our motorcoach tour through to Lake Louise. Approximately 8am several Brewster's motorcoach's arrived, the driver's announced their final destination and we were all to board. Our luggage was deposited nearby and it should have been a straightforward process to board, however, because a lot of luggage was not tagged it made it difficult for the motorcoach driver to check off our names. We experienced a short delay whilst this was resolved.


The drive through to our first stop for the day, Kananaskis for the Summit Helicopter tour was comfortable and the driver entertained us with informative commentary. The Summit Helicopter provided a great introduction to the Rockies, a 12 minute ride delivered spectacular views across mountains still capped with snow and partially melted lakes.
Our day continued at a good pace and before long we were in Banff National Park with a stop to view the Hoodoos, a lunch break in Banff (with ample time to wander Banff Avenue), Surprise Corner (great view of Fairmont Banff Springs), Bow Falls and finally our next included activity, the Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain. The short ride (8 - 10 minutes) took us to amazing birds eye views across town with the snow-capped Mt Rundel in perfect view. Departing Banff we joined the Trans-Canada Highway again for the 1hour drive through to magical Lake Louise.

 

LAKE LOUISE - BANFF via Yoho National Park


A night at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was beautiful, waking in the morning (again to sunshine) and a view over the lake (frozen) was like something from a fairy tale. Our Fairmont Lake View Room included two queen sized beds and ample space to move about. A single chair and otter-man, a desk and walk-in wardrobe complemented the elegantly decorated room. We decided to make the most of our morning, check out was 12pm and we were departing Lake Louise at 2pm. We left our luggage in our room and this would be collected and delivered to the motorcoach that would take us to Banff later that day.


I personally love nature and differing environments, Lake Louise albeit frozen and the mountains surrounding it was amazing, I could not stop admiring the detail and differing colours of the rocks. Despite all the snow surrounding the lake we still had enough time to safely walk around part of the lake. With careful footing we completed a walk as far as the frozen waterfall & avalanche warning signs in approximately 2hours return.


Promptly at 2pm our motorcoach tour to Yoho National Park & onto Banff was ready to depart. Our luggage had been transferred onto the coach and before departing the driver checked off our names. Yoho National Park was a short drive again following the Trans-Canada Highway into British Columbia. Our driver provided really good commentary; I particularly enjoyed listening about Canadian National Parks department and their efforts to protect wildlife. Arriving in picturesque Emerald Lake we had approximately 45 minutes to wander about, take photos, get a coffee and appreciate the scenery.
Our last stop of the day was at the Kicking Horse River and the Natural Bridge. The river had a steady flow and was the clearest water I'd ever seen, it was not hard to imagine how stunning the flow of water would be as more snow melted and fed the river. By the end of our day I felt like I'd enjoyed a practical geography lesson.


Tonight we would stay in one of the 700+ rooms at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Exiting the coach I could not help but notice the statue of William Cornelius Horne the American specialist hired to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway that would bring the tourists to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Located inside the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is information about this man and his impact on the region. I'd recommend anyone staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel to take some time to have a look. Our room for the night was a Deluxe Room that featured a view over the woodlands and surrounding valley. Included were two queen beds and the room was similar to a Fairmont room, however there was additional space for rest and relaxation.

 

ROCKY MOUNTAINEER


Day 4 and the day we'd all been waiting for to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer. Our luggage was again collected from our room (promptly at 6:15am) and as we were travelling in Gold leaf our luggage would be delivered to our room in Kamloops that night, had we been travelling in Red leaf we would need to have packed an overnight bag to take with us on the train.


All guests met outside the Shops Entrance where a Rocky Mountaineer representative met us. We were provided with our boarding pass and additional luggage tags (1 x Kamloops hotel & 1 x Vancouver hotel), our luggage was brought down and we were able to attach the tags before we boarded the motorcoach transfer to the station.


Inside the newly renovated Banff station was a comfortable waiting area, tea & coffee was complimentary and some seating was available. We waited roughly 45minutes before the train arrived, to pass the time most people chatted amongst themselves, read a book or stepped outside to watch one of the longest freight trains I've ever seen pass. I'd suggest packing a snack (muesli bar) as there is nowhere to purchase food at the station prior to boarding should you feel hungry.


Rocky Mountaineer staff announced with plenty of time when the train would be arriving, we all had time to get our position on the platform for the pictures of the front engine (for photo buffs do this on day 1, it's not possible to get a picture on day 2 in Kamloops). Personally greeted when boarding the train, I easily located my Gold leaf seat complete with a pillow, foot rest, ample leg room and room to store small bags (handbag size) beneath it. Immediately I noticed the panoramic bi-level dome car, not even departing the station I could already appreciate the view.


Our hosts for the day were introduced and after a brief safety message we departed. It was the start of what would be a memorable day travelling on one of the world's famous train journeys. Departing Banff were blessed again with sunshine and it was not long before we were moved downstairs to the dining car for breakfast where hosts awaited and guided us to our seats. From the menu I had the choice of four options, I would normally have eggs but decided for a change I would have pancakes and was not disappointed. Delicious fluffy pancakes served with maple syrup & berries set the standard for the quality of the meals available on-board over the two days.
When we departed from Banff the commentary started almost immediately. Seated in Gold Leaf we enjoyed entertaining commentary through-out the day whether you were seated in your seat or the dining car, the panoramic views that provided the best opportunity to look for wildlife, we were fortunate to see 2 bears (Grizzly's) before early afternoon and a Bald Eagle flying parallel with the train later in the day. Over the course of the day highlights included the Continental Divide, Upper/Lower Spiral Tunnels, Kicking Horse River, Rogers Pass, Craigellachie & Sicamous.


After a great night's sleep in our Kamloops hotel it was a motorcoach transfer back to the train that would stop directly outside our train coach, where the red carpet and friendly staff welcomed us back on board. Today Nicki and I were in the 2nd sitting for meals, it was roughly 10am before we would start breakfast. Rocky Mountaineer staff offer a snack for those who are hungry, we enjoyed tea/coffee/juice with a cinnamon scone served with butter & jam. The scenery today was dramatically different to that of day 1; today we followed Kamloops Lake and eventually the somewhat turbulent Thompson & Fraser River's before our arrival into Vancouver. Highlights for me included an Osprey Nest where we could see its little chicks, Big Horn sheep, Cisco Crossings and Hell's Gate. On arrival in Vancouver several motorcoaches were waiting to transport us to our hotel, shortly before our prompt arrival staff on board announced which motorcoach number we would be travelling in depending on the Rocky Mountaineer contracted hotel you were accommodated at. I did notice those who did not have a transfer included or pre-arranged were waiting in a rather long line for a taxi (even though there were many at the station). I'd recommend booking a transfer with Rocky Mountaineer, these can be added to any itinerary and Rail Plus can confirm these.


Known as the "Castle in the City" our accommodation for two nights was at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Located in the heart of Vancouver it provided easy access to public transport, shopping and entertainment precincts. Our Deluxe room comfortably fitted two queen beds and plenty of additional space. Refreshments were available upon arrival in our room and a turn down service was offered also.


VANCOUVER SIGHTSEEING


Vancouver is a city with activities to suit everyone, I 'd recommend a minimum of three days; one day to explore the city, a day to enjoy the surrounding mountains and another day to enjoy a water activity. In our two days we visited Capilano Suspension Bridge, enjoyed a bicycle tour of Stanley Park, toured Granville Island Markets, Vancouver Lookout, Fly Over Canada and Grouse Mountain. I really enjoyed all these activities, my favourites being; Capilano Suspension Bridge, Stanley Park, Granville Island Markets all of which can be confirmed through Rail Plus.

 

CONCLUSION


My first time to Western Canada albeit short was an incredible experience. Every day there were highlights that have made for some wonderful memories. Overall, the Rocky Mountaineer package was extremely well planned and organised that I now feel I experienced a lot during my visit. I now understand exactly why Rocky Mountaineer has been awarded "World's Leading Travel by Train" eight times. Please remember that Rocky Mountaineer packages can be tailored to suit your preferred needs. Most packages include only 1 night in Banff and Lake Louise, two of the many beautiful places in Canada, I'd suggest additional nights be added so you can enjoy all that there is to offer.

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