If there is one trip where the age old saying, ‘it’s about the journey not the destination’, rings true, it’s aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. From hearing stories of the people and places along the tracks to the larger than life scenery that actually takes your breath away for a moment, to food to the warm-hearted hosts, this once-in-a-lifetime journey through the Canadian Rockies combines all of the right ingredients to deliver something special.
1. It’s the definition of travelling in style
This is no ordinary train ride. Not only does the Rocky Mountaineer travel through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, you’ll do it in comfortable, reclining seats, with massive windows, and leg room to rival Business Class on any airline.
The train offers two classes of travel, SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. While SilverLeaf is exceptional in itself, upgrade to GoldLeaf and you’ll get heated seats, a separate dining car and even an outdoor viewing platform to feel the fresh mountain air on your face.
2. You’ll want for nothing
From the minute you’re collected at your hotel to your final farewell at the end of the journey, the Rocky Mountaineer has a way of predicting your every need before the thought even enters your head. From taking care of your luggage from one hotel room in Vancouver to the next in Kamloops some 350 kilometres away, to handing out hotel room keys before you’ve even left the train; when travelling with Rocky Mountaineer you’ve no need to think about anything, really. You’re fed, watered, entertained, informed, and so much more, all there is for you to do is sit back and take in the views.
3. One word: Service
Canadians have a way of making you feel welcome that’s at once enthused and authentic. Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer this is taken up a level. From the station staff in Kamloops to the hosts onboard, the chefs to the train managers, no one is too rushed to answer your questions, and they’re all too happy to help, regardless of your needs. The fact that everyone seems genuinely happy to be at work, and despite the seasonal nature of the work, staff return year after year, shows a loyalty to the company that clearly translates through to the guest experience.
4. It’s like dining on haute cuisine for two days straight
“People who love to eat are always the best people”. This Julia Child quote is printed on the back of every menu you’ll find onboard, and it sums up the experience perfectly. When head chef Daniel Stierhof is asked why the food onboard the train is such an important part of the Rocky Mountaineer experience, his response is immediate, “the food is what connects customers to landscapes outside the windows”. Everything served onboard comes from farms, dairies and suppliers along the tracks from cheese in the Fraser Valley to Alberta beef.
Then there’s the food service itself. In GoldLeaf, breakfast and lunch are served in two seatings, the front half of the carriage goes first on day one, the back half goes first on day two. While at first you may imagine going first is the best option, when it’s your turn to go second you’ll soon discover the magical pre-breakfast scone and coffee, and pre-lunch wine and cheese you’re served upstairs in your seat. When the lunch sitting is a three course affair that takes the better part of two hours, this snack service is the perfect way to carry you through ‘til it’s your turn for the real deal.
5. Wildlife sightings galore
Canada is home to myriad wild animals, from foxes and marmots to mountain goats and grizzly bears. And the Rocky Mountaineer takes you right through plenty of wilderness where these animals live. Because the train season runs from Spring through to Autumn, animals that usually hibernate in the winter are active, meaning sightings aren’t a rarity. Plus in each carriage of the train, your host wears an earpiece to communicate with other carriages. This isn’t only used for service reasons, but also to call out any wildlife sightings down the train. “Grizzly on the right!”, was probably the most exciting callout I heard while aboard, but there were also black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, deer, elk, eagles and more.
6. It's a front row seat to a surprising number of unique landscapes
If you’ve ever seen a photograph of this train, you’ll be expecting snow-capped rocky peaks and valleys blanketed with Douglas Fir and Red Cedar trees. What you may not realise though, is that these iconic landscapes are only half of the beauty you’ll see out the train windows. Travelling eastward from Vancouver, you’ll pass through fertile farmland in the Fraser Valley, spot Mt Baker across the border in Washington State USA, and wind through semi-arid desert plains and mountain valleys on the rise up to Kamloops. One thing is for sure, there’s never a boring view!
If there is one thing that truly sets this train journey apart from any other, it’s the onboard entertainment. While you’re gazing, jaw-dropped, out the window at the passing spectacle, you’re also being told stories. Of the workers who laid the tracks, about life in the towns you pass by, and of the locals who’ve been waving to every train for the last 20 years. You’ll learn about how Bighorn Sheep live in groups of females or males, mixing only during mating season, of a legendary Grizzly bear in Banff nicknamed ‘The Boss’, or how the mouth of the Adams River is Canada’s largest Sockeye Salmon spawning area, welcoming some 3.4 million fish each year from as far as Japan, Alaska and Hawaii. These stories provide context, context that translates into memories.
8. The destinations you can reach
It may be about the journey, but when you’re pulling into places like Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper/world-travel/canada/jasper and even Whistler, the destination can’t be left out. These mountain towns deliver everything from breathtaking scenery (breathtaking because of the crisp mountain air, as well as the incredible views), to charming communities you’ll find difficult to bid farewell. You’ll find delicious local food, quality distilleries and breweries, quaint boutiques, and of course all of the outdoor adventure activities you can imagine.