Jagged white peaks speckled with pines, stretches of parched terrain alongside vast lakes, glacial blue water sliding into creeks, and black ridges iced with snow. These are among the images that stick with you when you travel through the remarkably diverse landscapes of western Canada. And there’s no better or more relaxing way to see these panoramic spectacles than onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train.
I traveled on the train from Vancouver to Calgary via the GoldLeaf Dome service, which is the best service available on the train. The Rocky Mountaineer is not a sleeper, which is even better. You aren’t stuck in your car all night in a tiny sleeping berth. You simply spend leisurely days traveling through some of the most striking scenery you will ever see, followed by comfortable nights in a hotel with a large bed and a hot shower.
The next level down of service is called RedLeaf, and while I’m sure it is very comfortable, I highly recommend springing for the GoldLeaf service. The bi-level GoldLeaf Dome coach of the Rocky Mountaineer is indeed shaped like a dome, so that there is lots of glass for prime viewing. The best location is in the back because you can then stand in the covered open-air vestibule at the end of the train and take photographs without the obstruction of the windows. The seats are assigned, so you would have to request this location.
Rocky Mountaineer is a truly luxurious train. The chefs are top-notch, and you couldn’t ask for finer service. The mimosas flowed, and we enjoyed meeting new people in the dining car for breakfast and lunch, where we were served gourmet creations, including a chocolate-shaped train car for dessert.
Our attendants on board seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs. They were friendly and gave us a running commentary about where we were, what we were seeing, and the historical significance of the varied locales. It was actually much like traveling in the first class cabin of an airplane with comfortable reclining seats and snacks and other amenities offered periodically. Of course, unlike an airplane trip, we also learned a great deal about Canada and saw much more than clouds at eye level from our windows.
Our particular trip from Vancouver to Calgary took us through jade green forests filled with giant Christmas trees, the barren brown desert of Kamloops, and the other-worldly white rock mountains of Banff National Park. We saw bald eagles flying alongside the train and bears frolicking next to the tracks. It is the kind of experience that can be enjoyed by all age groups, although very young children might get restless sitting on a train all day.
Rocky Mountaineer maintains a relationship with Fairmont Hotels, so they often arrange for guests to stay at these properties. In Kamloops, we enjoyed a dinner theatre show before retiring to a modest hotel. This is a small town, so there are no extremely luxurious properties there, but our hotel was perfectly fine for a one-night stay.
Packages include limousine pick-up from your hotel and transport to the Rocky Mountaineer train stations. One of the best parts was the luggage service. Each night, our luggage was transported for us from the train to our hotel rooms. By the time we checked in, our bags were waiting for us.
Themed journeys, such as wine tours, are now available, and there are other itineraries in addition to the one I took, which is a four-day/three-night journey. I also took the three-hour tour (each way) from Vancouver to Whistler and back, which travels through different but equally beautiful terrain. There is a two-day trip from Vancouver to Banff and a few other routes, including an eight-day circle from Vancouver through Jasper and back to Vancouver.
Rocky Mountaineer is especially great for people who love to look at the outdoors without traipsing through it or for people who have been working hard and want an unusual but relaxing escape. Of course, people who like to do more than sit can add a train journey at the beginning or end of a more active trip. Relaxing on a luxurious train while looking at beautiful scenery and eating gourmet cuisine might just be the perfect way to end an action-packed vacation.