By Product Manager Katie
Every time we sell a Cruise & Stay holiday with a Rocky Mountaineer train journey included in the itinerary, I always get excited, because there is just something so special about this trip. So, when I got offered the chance to experience the train for myself, I was absolutely over the moon (or over the mountains, should I say).
I set off to Vancouver, where I would embark the Rocky Mountaineer train on a journey called First Passage to the West. This is certainly one of our most popular itineraries, however, most of our guests take the train in the other direction to end up in Vancouver to board a stunning Alaska cruise!
Vancouver is a beautiful city; they really take pride in the trees and how fresh and alive they keep the surroundings. Vancouver gave a small glimpse of what lay ahead on my journey, because as I looked out past the waterfront, the skyline featured some impressive mountains. There is an activity I would recommend for anyone beginning their Canadian adventure in Vancouver: FlyOver Canada. This is a ride created by the same people who designed Sorin at Disney World, a tame simulator that gives the illusion of flying over the vast Canadian landscapes, and it even features an appearance from the Rocky Mountaineer train itself! I was so impressed that we will be including tickets to this activity on all our Cruise & Stay packages with a stop in Vancouver. After a couple of nights exploring the city, it was finally time to board the Rocky Mountaineer train and see what this whole trip was about. My suitcases were collected from my hotel, and I was given luggage tags that would see my luggage through the whole train journey. The next time I saw my bag it was waiting for me in my hotel room in Kamloops!
THE START OF AN ADVENTURE
When I arrived at the Rocky Mountaineer station, the train stood with grandeur. There were red carpets laid at each of the carriage doors, and large flags hung from the train where people were gathering to take photos before boarding. The first thing that struck me was how large the train is; the carriages are mostly two floors with large domed roofs, so they really are massive! When first boarding the train, I was greeted by our carriage attendants and shown to my seat. I was very lucky, and I was travelling in GoldLeaf, the upgraded carriage onboard the train. My seat was a large comfy leather seat with electric controls to recline and adjust its position, but what I wasn’t expecting was the additional feature of it being heated! As the train began to roll away from the station in Vancouver towards our mountainous destinations, the team of train hosts began their work. First up was tea, coffee and croissants served upstairs in our seats as we became acquainted with the train. Not long afterwards, I was shown downstairs to the dining area. This is where the GoldLeaf service shines brightly; this carriage is split across two floors, with the dining area on a separate floor from my seat. It was good to have different places to go throughout the day, which breaks up the journey nicely.
A DAY TO REMEMBER
Breakfast onboard the train was amazing, and if you see the tiny galleys the chefs work in, you will be more than impressed. The dining tables were set up with tablecloths and silverware. The menu had an impressive variety of breakfast options such as eggs benedict, cheese and spinach soufflé, and pancakes. The service and the quality of the food was faultless, and I would say cruise line quality, this is high praise for me because cruise lines, in my opinion, have the highest standards of food in the travel industry. I couldn’t make up my mind between the eggs and the pancakes, so they brought me both – just an example of how attentive the onboard service truly was.
After breakfast, I headed back upstairs to watch the scenery as it began to change. If you are travelling from Vancouver to Banff, you will start in a flatter landscape that develops to become more and more mountainous the further you travel. If you undertake the trip in reverse, you will start in the mountains and journey to the coast. I really loved watching the scenery become more and more dramatic so I would personally recommend taking the route I took, so start with an Alaska cruise then join the Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver through to Banff and fly home from Calgary.
This goes without saying, but the scenery was just incredible and is what this trip is all about. You are travelling through amazing feats of nature. The train moves slowly; it is not like a commuter train, it takes its time to meander around the mountains. At first as you begin to see some mountains and snow everyone gets excited and so quickly tries to take photos and get their shot. Then two hours later you are completely submerged in the scenery, and you can take amazing photos from any angle!
Lunchtime onboard the Rocky Mountaineer is a treat, the food is of a very high standard, with a good variety so there is something for everyone. The lunchtime service is set amongst a now beautiful mountainous backdrop, and I was served bread, followed by a table- shared starter, a la carte mains, and a dessert. I was onboard the train for a whole day, so the lunchtime dinner service in GoldLeaf is a great opportunity to have a change of scenery, and there is a different, more social atmosphere as people move into the dining area.
Another benefit of the GoldLeaf carriage is the outdoor viewing deck, this was one of my favourite spots on the trip and it’s the perfect place to go for photo opportunities. The train came to a stop so that we could wave to another Rocky Mountaineer train coming in the opposite direction. We were all hanging out of the train ready to wave, and all of the GoldLeaf customers on the other train were out waving at us from their viewing platforms, it was really special.
A common misconception about Rocky Mountaineer is that you sleep on the trains, but that is not the case. You are only onboard Rocky Mountaineer during daylight hours. The train will stop at specific stations overnight and the passengers are taken to their respective hotels. This whole operation is amazing and Rocky Mountaineer have got it spot on! As I got off the train, I was handed my room key for the evening, took a short coach ride to my hotel, and went straight to my room to find my luggage was there waiting. The next morning, half an hour or so before I set off for the train, somebody came along to collect my bag and take it to the next hotel!
The two days onboard the train were perfect for me. I watched as the mountains became larger and larger and the landscape became increasingly vast. I saw waterfalls, rivers, rapids, glaciers, mighty birds, reindeer and even a bear! I honestly could go on about how amazing it all looked, but it is definitely one of those things you do have to see in person to get the full impact.
ENDING ON A HIGH
Finishing in Banff was a highlight of the trip, I absolutely loved it. Standing on Banff high street, and looking to each end, it is just perfectly framed by two giant mountains. The town has a ski town vibe with cosy firepits and wooden lodges. Banff is just a short drive from Lake Louise, which is a complete must-visit. Lake Louise is one of the most photographed landmarks in Canada because it is just so beautiful. Lakes in Canada are absolutely nothing like lakes in the UK – they are humongous. The most iconic thing about Lake Louise becomes apparent while I was still onboard the train and approached Banff National Park – the water became a bright, beautiful turquoise blue. Before I set off on the Rocky Mountaineer, so many people referred to it as a bucket list trip. So, is this a trip that I think you need to add to your bucket list? Absolutely! If you are an adventurer, explorer, if you love nature and scenery, then this is a fabulous way of exploring a breathtaking part of the world.