Luke travels on the Rocky Mountaineer and The Canadian

Staff member: Luke // Trip date: May 2012


VANCOUVER

I arrived into Vancouver Airport in the afternoon and had pre-booked a scheduled coach transfer through Areoshuttle. Their collection point is right outside the exit of the airport so very easy to locate. Getting the coach transfer was a very affordable option; however it only runs hourly so I did have to wait a little bit for the next one to arrive. If there had been at least one more person with me, I would have definitely booked a private transfer instead; as there were always cars standing by so I could have easily caught one as soon as I left the airport.

For my first night in Vancouver I stayed at the Sandman Hotel Downtown. This is a really nice moderate hotel, and only a short 10 min walk to the central business and shopping district and Gastown. The following day I took the Hop On Hop Off Trolley tour that allowed me to see quite a lot of Vancouver such as Canada Place, Granville Island and the impressive Stanley Park. It was the perfect thing to do for someone that only had limited time in Vancouver and wanted to see as much as possible. I have been told numerous times about how beautiful Vancouver was through many friends that had lived there over the years; and they weren't mistaken. The next day I went on the Grouse Mountain & Capilano Suspension Bridge tour. I particular loved taking the SkyRide up to Grouse Mountaineer; as the views of Vancouver were amazing. I also got to see two grizzly bears and throw snow at Leah, my work colleague and travel buddy. I booked these tours through Rail Plus.

We were booked into the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for one night before departing on the Rocky Mountaineer. This historically charming hotel was a pleasure to stay at. The other two main Fairmont hotels in the city are the Fairmont Waterfront and the Fairmont Pacific Rim. All the agents that I travelled with couldn't stop raving about the Pacific Rim, which certainly didn't sound like your typical Fairmont hotel; often being described as ultra-modern and chic. The Fairmont Waterfront is a cross between the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and the Fairmont Pacific Rim, and would be a great place to stay for anyone travelling on a cruise due to its convenient location. I was lucky enough to see one of the Holland America Line cruise ships depart from the Canada Place cruise terminal. It was such a magnificent sight and as I watched it sail off (sadly not at sunset), I thought about how perfect a holiday it would be; one that incorporated both a luxurious Alaskan cruise and the equally luxurious Rocky Mountaineer. I just have to say, kudos to Rocky Mountaineer for offering such a large selection of packages that now combine the two and that Rail Plus can book for you.

ROCKY MOUNTAINEER

For Day 1 of the Rocky Mountaineer, it's quite an early start. Usually too early for me, but I sprung out of bed like a jack in the box, I was just that excited. I met everyone in the foyer of the hotel where we were to be transferred by motorcoach to Rocky Mountaineer's very own train station. Everything was organised at the hotel, we checked in receiving our boarding passes and our main luggage was taken away. Once we arrived at the station, we were greeted by a number of smiling staff, including the President & CEO of Rocky Mountaineer Randy Powell, who I was told comes down to wave off the passengers on every departure. I was in SilverLeaf for Day 1 and as I boarded the train and sat down, I instantly noticed how big the windows were and how comfortable the seats felt; two very important factors to consider when you are to spend the most part of two days sitting down and looking out your window. Soon after the train departed, we were served a hot, delicious breakfast. The two dedicated attendants introduced themselves and began commentating about the train and the various landmarks that we would pass along the way. As well as being compellingly informative, they certainly did not shy away from the jokes either. I had no idea how entertaining I would find the experience on a purely amusing level. The highlights of Day 1 included seeing the rushing waters of Hell's Gate in the Fraser Canyon and the steep slopes and rock sheds along the Thompson River. Although we were only to reach the actual Rocky Mountains on Day 2, I thoroughly enjoyed the diverse scenery and the overall experience of Day 1. As for the wildlife, I only saw a bald eagle and a few ospreys. Although it wasn't as much as I anticipated, my eagerness to see more wildlife (particularly bears) only intensified; and I can happily reveal that by the end of the trip, I was in no way disappointed in the wildlife department. As we were arriving into Kamloops, we were given our room keys for our overnight stay; making the whole process incredibly streamlined. Upon disembarking the train, the motorcoach bus that would transfer us to our hotels was only a few steps away. The icing on the cake was that our luggage had already been delivered to our room and there awaiting us was a lovely little gift that Rocky Mountaineer had left on the bed. There isn't too much to do in Kamloops, but it really is a blessing in disguise, considering the very full day we had just had; I didn't want to feel obligated to do any more than just have a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant and have an early night.

On Day 2 I was in GoldLeaf; and the very first thing I noticed was the extraordinary glassed dome windows. Throughout the trip, I began to realise how important having the dome windows were. Especially when the train approached a tunnel, which meant a stunning snow-capped mountain; and all you had to do was look up to see the most breathtaking sight. I was particularly impressed by the attendants as the service was just brilliant, and one of them had taken it upon himself to learn every single passenger's name, a sign that the staff were willing to go above and beyond. The two deliciously gourmet meals (breakfast and lunch) we had in the elegant separate dining level were delightful. Throughout the day, it was also great having a little more room to move around - I spent quite a bit of time out on the vestibule, which allowed for great photo opportunities. I really enjoyed seeing the Kicking Horse Canyon, the Spiral Tunnels and, of course, the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Throughout the trip we saw quite a lot more wildlife - I saw two bears and a bunch of elk. It doesn't sound that much, but I was still very satisfied. There's just something incredibly thrilling about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat.

BANFF

We were transferred by motorcoach to the Fairmont Banff Springs after our wonderful journey on the Rocky Mountaineer had finished, which is located in the heart of the Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I wouldn't blame you for thinking you had just been transported into a fairy tale upon arriving at the hotel, which is essentially a big castle. At one point in the night I just wondered the maze-like halls, letting my imagination run wild. I'd recommend spending 2 nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs if you have time, the Rocky Mountaineer packages can be easily amended to cater for this.

LAKE LOUISE

The following morning we headed towards the iconic Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau, stopping off to visit Emerald Lake and the Spiral tunnels along the way. Once again, I was in awe of the beauty of the hotel and its surroundings as soon as we arrived; there was even a musician playing the harp at one of the many restaurants we ate at as we passed time until our rooms became ready. I finally was to get into my impressive Lake View room, and the wait was well worth it, mainly due to the gorgeous views. The lake had not yet thawed though, which usually happens in June/July. I had a really pleasant walk around the lake, walking past frozen waterfalls and many mountains. It made me wish I wasn't on a working holiday, but on a honeymoon or something, as I honestly cannot think of a more romantic place in the world, other than Paris I guess.

CALGARY

I was sad to be leaving the majestic, picturesque Rocky Mountains, but the end was an unfortunate inevitability. The next 2 ½ hours were spent on a coach travelling from Lake Louise to Calgary. We were staying at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel, which certainly was equal in quality to the other hotels, just lacking the uniqueness that had made the previous hotels so special and unforgettable. If you have booked to stay at a Fairmont property, I highly recommend signing up as a member to the Fairmont President's Club; which is free to do and you receive such benefits as complimentary Wi-Fi, heath club access and complimentary use of the BMW vehicles for transfers, among many other things.

THE CANADIAN (VIA RAIL)

As we had to get back to Vancouver, we thought the only appropriate way would be by train again. So we booked the Red Arrow bus to Edmonton to catch Via Rail's The Canadian the next morning. It was great being able to see not only undoubtedly the best part of Rocky Mountaineer's First Passage to the West route, but the Journey through the Clouds route as well. I'd had in my mind that the scenery was at its best between Kamloops and Banff, however it was just as spectacular between Jasper and Kamloops, if not more so. I also saw five more bears! I was booked in a Cabin for One, which was understandably small; but cosy. For the majority of the trip I had pulled out the bed as it was just relaxing being able to lay down and once again watch the wonderful scenery go by. Although when the bed was out it did cover the toilet that is also inside the cabin, I had decided to use the shared facilities, which were very clean and spacious. I was most impressed by the shower, which was surprisingly big and the water flow just as good as any hotel. When I wasn't in my cabin, I was up in the dome car as it was a really nice place to unwind. It was also a good place to be when the friendly attendant came by with complimentary champagne and snacks. Throughout the trip, we had a very tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner - all included in the sleeper class fare. Although not as gourmet as the meals I'd had on the Rocky Mountaineer, they were still miles above the standard of meal I'd be used to having back home - and I rate my cooking! The most significant factor to consider when travelling on any overnight train is whether it was easy to sleep on; and thankfully I slept like a baby.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I had had such an incredible time travelling throughout Western Canada, particularly the Rocky Mountaineer. I now understand exactly why Rocky Mountaineer has been awarded "World's Leading Travel by Train" six times. Please remember that if it's not travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer that first grabs your interest, you shouldn't be travelling to Canada without visiting Banff and Lake Louise, possibly two of the most beautiful places on earth; and the Rocky Mountaineer is the absolute best way to get there.

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