The Rocky Mountaineer Experience
In May this year I travelled from Vancouver to Calgary with Rocky Mountaineer, who have been operating luxury daylight rail tours through the Rockies for over 25 years. Booking a Rocky Mountaineer trip is hugely flexible - everything from airport transfers to bellboy gratuities, and onboard meal packages can be customised to fit every budget and time constraint.
Image above: Taking a tour of Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf
There are two levels of train service, Silver Leaf and Gold Leaf. I travelled on Silver Leaf which has space for 42 guests in comfortable, reclining, forward facing seats. There are two dedicated hosts per carriage as well as one culinary host. The hosts work together as a team to provide an informative and humorous running commentary throughout the two day rail journey.
On day one, I travelled from Vancouver through to Kamloops through to Jasper on day two. This is known as "Journey through the Clouds" and is a wonderful way to enter the Rockies with the scenery becoming increasingly more spectacular with every mile on the track. Vancouver is a stunning city and the trip kicked off with a night at the centrally located Sutton Place Hotel. This luxury 5-star hotel is right off the main Vancouver shopping district in Robson St, so perfect for retail therapy if that's on the menu. At least one night at Vancouver would be recommended (but preferably 2 or even 3!), as it's an early start on departure day.
The check-in procedure couldn't have been simpler, with the ability to check in at the hotel on the night prior to departure. Each day, our bags were then collected from the departing hotel room in the morning and were waiting in the arrival hotel room at the day’s end, so one less thing for you to think about. We were also given departure times and collected by coach for the transfer to the rail station. The Rocky Mountaineer station is vast in size, an old converted factory, and it has been beautifully refurbished with live music from a pianist, complimentary refreshments, and plenty of comfortable seating.
Image above: Piano playing whilst you aboard Rocky Mountaineer
The scene for the journey is set with a farewell from the entire ground staff at the station, and guests are piped out to the train carriages by a bag piper in full kilt regalia, by this time, excitement is at a peak and tummies are rumbling. The train departs at 8.30 with breakfast served to seats at 8.45. First order of the day is a toast to the journey with a delicious juice cocktail. On leaving the station the entire ground staff assembles along-side the track to wave the guests off. It was about this time I started realising what a special two days this was going to be! A scrumptious breakfast starting with coffee or tea, a warm cinnamon scone and fruit salad followed by a delicious 3 cheese omelette set the scene for the day. RMR is renowned for both its food and service.
With the train travelling at an average speed of 55 kilometres per hour, (the fastest speed being 100 kilometres per hour), the pace is leisurely, but that's the point. The train slows often for viewing, so it’s definitely a case of enjoying the journey rather than racing to the destination. With all that relaxing ahead of us, snacks are served and bar opened at 11am. Full bar service is included throughout the day.
Image above: Dessert aboard Rocky Mountaineer
Our hosts Jen and Bernardo made a mean Bloody Caesar (Bloody Mary with clam juice... tasted way better than it sounded!). This seemed like the perfect aperitif. Lunch was served around 12.30 with a choice of choice of two mains, salmon or beef. I chose the braised beef with asparagus and roast vegetables, along with tomato salad to start and chocolate brownie to finish. The meals in Silver Leaf are pre-cooked but assembled and served at the seat. The food was tasty, fresh and delicious. Our hosts told interesting stories enroute and the train slowed for any photo opportunities or wildlife viewing- we were lucky enough to see one bear in the distance.
Image above: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper National Park
The afternoon moved along with a group of us enjoying the adjacent lounge car with card games. Only groups who book out a carriage generally have access to the lounge car, an incentive to get a group together perhaps! We arrived to Kamloops late afternoon and after a short transfer we arrived at Thompson Hotel where upon arrival at hotel our bags had already found their way to our room, top notch service! Located right in the centre of Kamloops, the Thompson Hotel offers large, newly refurbished rooms with tea/coffee in room and complimentary bottled water. All hotels booked on RMR holidays come with complimentary Wi-Fi which is a big perk.
After a brisk walk around town to alleviate those train legs, it was time to sample the local beer. Canadians are passionate about their beer, and The Noble Pig located close to our hotel was a great place to sample the local brew. We tried a variety of Canadian food specialties to go with the huge array of beers brewed on site. Poutine (chips with cheese and gravy) bacon popcorn (popcorn with bacon, caramel and peanuts) surprisingly good and very moreish with the beer! Also on offer were deep fried pickles, chicken karage, flatbread with goats cheese and fruit compote. Day 3 began with a warm fresh croissant with fruit salad then scrambled eggs with potato hash, mushrooms and bacon, all served on board the train.
The morning passed with scenery changing from the semi-arid valley to more mountainous, accompanied by interesting anecdotes, stories and games from our hosts Bernardo and Jen. Carriage activities were paused for lunch at 1pm – a delicious chicken with mushroom sauce and risotto. By afternoon it had started raining, so visibility was impaired, but as we travelled towards Jasper, the scenery was becoming grander and more mountainous, so we hardly noticed the rain. Prior to a late afternoon arrival into Jasper, we were farewelled by not just our hosts, but also the train manager. The train staff are all so passionate, and with good reason. It was a wonderfully relaxing two days, where guests are made to feel really special. It’s also worth noting that all carriages cater for disabled passengers with wheelchair accessible toilets.
In Jasper, our silver leaf hotel for two nights was Hotel Crimson right in town. Following a full refurbishment 2014, it’s a really lovely fresh modern hotel. The hotel offers several kitchen studios rooms, some with balcony. While the stay in Jasper saw our "Journey through the Clouds" come to an end, RMR have a variety of itineraries for guests to continue on through the Rockies. The program I did was their very popular Western Explorer itinerary. The full Western Explorer itinerary consists of an overnight stay in Vancouver, a two day rail journey, with one night in Kamloops, two nights in Jasper, a half day tour in Jasper, Ice Fields Parkway though to Lake Louise, touring through Banff National Park with one night Banff, touring through Yoho National Park to Calgary and one night in Calgary. The mix of inclusions and free time is spot on, and the scenery, people and food make one of the most spectacular places I've yet had the privilege to visit. Would I recommend it? Oh yes, in fact I am in the process of booking a trip for my Mum. A magical holiday.
Image above: Enjoying the scenery of Horseshoe Lake