In early July (2021), I was fortunate enough to be offered a Bucket List opportunity to experience a Rocky Mountaineer (RM) train tour on their First Passage To The West, Banff to Vancouver itinerary. These are my Top Reasons why YOU also need to experience the West by train:
On our first day, we travelled from Banff to Kamloops and seeing the Rockies from the train was amazing! The mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the towns – everything we passed through was so picturesque and we were fortunate to have a clear day. We travelled along the Bow Valley, to Lake Louise, went through the Spiral Tunnels, had great views of Castle Mountain, Mount Temple, Cathedral Mountain and more. I drove from Ontario to BC last summer so I have seen the Rockies and Spiral Tunnels from the road, but experiencing them from the train was a wonderful & unique perspective.
The Welcome packet describes a lot of the detailed history and information of your route, as well as provides a full spread map with route markers.
One thing to note is there's no WiFi on the trains so you disconnect from your electronics and enjoy the stunning surroundings.
They will make announcements if someone spots an animal up ahead so people can get in position for photos. Unfortunately, we were not blessed with a lot of wildlife, although others saw bear and elk. Spring & Fall are better for active wildlife appearances.
THE UNIQUE JOURNEY
Rocky Mountaineer offers 2 levels of their train experience: GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf. The big differences between them are the train cars/seats, the dining experience and the hotels. I was fortunate to ride in the GoldLeaf train car :)
For our departure day, we boarded our shuttle bus around 7:15am from the hotel to the train. At the train station, we were welcomed with the full 'red carpet' treatment, boarded our rail car and left around 8:00am. The first thing that strikes you as you ascend the small spiral staircase to the upper level, is the full glass dome where you can see EVERYTHING!!! This is worth the difference as the SilverLeaf car is one-level and a partial dome.
The GoldLeaf seats were very comfortable (think Bus. Class on a plane) and even had their own comfort controls for reclining & heat as well as a foot rest control. There was lots of leg room and a hook to hang a sweater/jacket or mask. The seats in SilverLeaf, as with the food & amenities on the train, are the same except they don't have the same comfort controls.
Both levels of service offer an outdoor viewing platform, however the GoldLeaf car has a larger one with room for several people at a time. I spent quite a bit of time out there and it was fantastic (& windy)!
It's fascinating to hear & see the history of the railway firsthand and the Rocky Mountaineer trains are popular sight with the locals waving as we passed by. There's even a lady, Doris, near the town of Canoe, who religiously waves to the train from her yellow house.
Once we arrived in Kamloops for our overnight stay (around 6pm), the RM crew were very efficient giving out the room keys as they had already checked us in. We were quickly loaded onto motorcoaches and transported to our hotels. For GoldLeaf Service, we overnighted at the Delta Marriott Hotel on Victoria. SilverLeaf were in a different hotel as they are in most stops, i.e., GoldLeaf would be 4* to 5*, and SilverLeaf would be 3 ½* to 4*, depending on local availability.
SERVICE is definitely Rocky Mountaineer's middle name! From the full porterage of your luggage to the friendly, attentive staff to the non-stop dining options, you can literally sit back & enjoy this 5 star experience and your only concern is which photos are the best ones to post!
THE FOOD & DRINKS
Quite simply, the food aboard this train is first-class! Our breakfast was served at our seats, around 9am, to allow us to not miss any of the amazing views as we left Banff. Breakfast started with a tasty smoothie & croissant and then orders were taken for hot meals delivered to your seat. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available all day, no matter where you sit.
Later on, a delicious full, hot lunch was served downstairs in the dining section with large windows and full ‘white linen’ service. The GoldLeaf is a two-level car with a separate dining area at the lower level so passengers go down and have their main lunch in shifts. The SilverLeaf passengers eat all meals at their seats which can be good if you are a photographer and want to set up your camera.
The drink menu is very extensive with a great selection of local & international wines, spirits, beers and cider, as well as coffee, tea and non-alcoholic drinks. Sipping that glass of wine while relaxing in your seat and watching the beautiful views pass by is a terrific way to spend the day!
There is no shortage of drinks or food all day and then about an hour before Kamloops, we were served a delightful 'Happy Hour' selection of cheese, crackers & fruit at our seat.
Dinner at the hotels is not included in the tours, however they feed you so well on the train that you probably won’t need it! If you are hungry then the hosts will make suggestions on where to go for dinner, and/or what you can go see for local exploring.
THE HOSTS & STAFF
We had an amazing hostess and host, Leigh & Marty. The RM hosts are very entertaining and happily share interesting history, local stories and sprinkle in some humour. Even during meals, we were introduced to the chefs & kitchen team. The hosts & staff wore masks the entire time but we were allowed to take them off while in our seats. They will do everything they can to make your journey as pleasant & enjoyable as possible.... what I expected from Rocky Mountaineer.
Unfortunately, due to the BC wildfire situation at the time of my travel, I was only able to complete the first leg of the trip by train and we had to take a motorcoach for the Kamloops to Vancouver leg. Although we did not get the views and experience that we would have on the train, our hosts at Rocky Mountaineer did their best to ensure we were treated well and enjoyed that part of the journey as much as we could, and provided us breakfast, lunch, snacks, games and local history on the bus.
Gratuities are paid at the end of your journey and are suggested at CAD$25/day per passenger payable on your credit card or cash. There are also some souvenirs that can be purchased from your seat using your CC. Everything is very 'touch free' for extra safety.
THE HEALTH, SAFETY & ACCESSIBILITY
Rocky Mountaineer has done a great job in getting their crew & guests ready for travelling this season. Most of the FAQs are addressed in their 'Preparing To Go' webpage but here are a few highlights about their Covid measures and other guest requirements:
COVID Safety Protocols - As part of their ongoing efforts to keep passengers safe, you will have to complete the “normal” COVID Health Questionnaire, a Rapid Screening Test, remain in your assigned train car, remain in your assigned seat (i.e., no seat hopping) and wear your mask every time you leave your seat. In addition to this, they have wipes available should you wish to sanitize your area, however there is also someone on the train whose specific job is to clean everything throughout the journey.
Check-In & Pre-Night Screening - You will receive instructions prior to your departure date on how to check-in online, pick up your luggage tags, complete the COVID Health Questionnaire, and pre-register for your rapid (self administered nose swab) screening test. We went to a meeting room at one of the Banff hotels for our tests within the allotted time the night before. Your test results are sent to you by email or text.
Mobility & Dietary – RM has worked hard to ensure that their experience is comfortable & easy for those with special requirements & preferences. Every car has a wheelchair accessible washroom. The upper level in GoldLeaf is accessible by an elevator/lift for those with mobility issues or in a wheelchair. If needed, they can remove seats within the car to make room for your own chair, or can arrange a transfer chair if you have some mobility. For dietary restrictions, the kitchen can accommodate all types of requests (but you do need to complete the Guest Profile on the RM site ahead of time) as they find you by your seat number.
Occasionally with travel, things will happen that affect your trip like it did with this one and not being able to do the 2nd day by train, and you just have to go with it and sometimes the unexpected results is something new, such as a new friendship with another traveller.
If this is a Bucket List trip for you, then you need to keep it on your list! Although it is expensive in comparison to other trips, the experience is incomparable to any other trip I have taken to date and will be one that I will remember forever! I would say it's even better with friends so you can each sit on opposite sides of the train and enjoy the views out of their window too!
If you’re thinking about this trip, or just have some questions, please reach out to me and let’s talk....I can watch for exclusive offers for you as well!
This is a good add-on with an Alaska cruise starting/ending in Vancouver, or just a special trip to include when experiencing the Banff area or the Vancouver & Van. Island.
PRE-STAY IN BANFF AREA
After flying into Calgary, you can spend a few nights exploring the Banff and/or Canmore area. Here are some of the activities you might enjoy & that I can include in a curated itinerary for you:
Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Emerald Lake, Lake Louise Gondola, Lake Minnewanka boat tour, photo opp at Two Jack Lake, hiking at Johnston Canyon. Dining/shopping around Banff at 3 Bears Brewery, Farm & Fire or a post-dinner cone at Cow's Ice Cream!
POST-STAY IN VANCOUVER AREA
Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Stanley Park, Granville Island or renting a car & driving up the Sea to Sky highway to Squamish/Whistler. Or taking the ferry across to explore Vancouver Island!
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