Kieran Travels on the Rocky Mountaineer

Staff member: Kieran Healy // Trip date: May 2011

Rocky Mountaineer - Vancouver-Kamloops-Banff-Lake Louise-Calgary

Aerocar Private Transfer

After a long flight from Melbourne to Vancouver via Sydney and San Francisco it was a pleasure to have a private transfer from Vancouver Airport to my downtown hotel. Upon exiting the arrivals hall at the airport the sign for the Aerocar Transfers is obvious; next to the taxi stand. When I arrived there were a limousine and an SUV waiting however my booking, made from Australia, was for a sedan. The SUV driver phoned to arrange a sedan for me and I waited around 5 mins for this to arrive. Upon arrival I handed the driver my pre-paid voucher, they handled my luggage and I sat back and relaxed as I was comfortably driven to my accommodation at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Upon arrival the driver handed me my luggage and I was ready to check in.

Vancouver Trolley Co. Hop on Hop off tour

To catch the tour bus I headed down to Canada Place at the Vancouver Waterfront, a short walk from my downtown hotel and nearby 3 major hotels: The Fairmont Waterfront and Pacific Rim Hotels and the Pan Pacific Hotel. The tour runs 2 routes- the Blue Line and Red Line- each focusing on the 2 major tourist areas in Vancouver. I started with the Blue Line which took me through the downtown area and down to Granville Island before heading back through Yaletown, Chinatown and Gastown. After completing this loop I then took the Red Line, taking me through the trendy West End, Stanley Park, and English Bay before heading back through the downtown area to Canada Place. Each route took around 1.5 hours to complete, with many stops along the way where you can hop off. The drivers gave live commentary throughout and were extremely knowledgeable and entertaining.

Deluxe Vancouver City Tour- West Coast Sightseeing

Having pre-booked this tour through Rail Plus, I had arranged to be picked up from my hotel at 10:00am and had my prepaid voucher in hand. The bus arrived on time and after handing my voucher to the driver we picked up some more passengers and then headed to Canada Place for the start of the tour. Our guide gave us a map and a short outline of the areas we would be seeing on our 4 hour tour. We headed off and the first stop was at the Stanley Park totems. Along the way we were given an interesting history of Vancouver and some of the more prominent buildings. After a short stop at the totems we then headed around the park and on to Granville Island for our lunch stop. Granville Island has one of the best markets in Vancouver and it was easy to find a nice place for lunch and browse through the numerous stalls. The hour and a half break went quickly and before we knew it we were off for the next part of the tour. This part took in Yaletown and China Town before making its way through Gastown. Our last stop was at the Vancouver lookout, to which entry is included in the tour. Upon our arrival we were met by a lookout guide who escorted us up to the lookout and gave us a birds-eye tour of Vancouver. After this tour our driver dropped us back at our hotels.

Rocky Mountaineer- First Passage to the West

Day 1: Vancouver to Kamloops

.Having had pre-tour accommodation pre-booked through Rocky Mountaineer, our luggage was collected from our room and we were transferred by motorcoach to the Rocky Mountaineer Station, on the outskirts of the city. Upon arrival at the station the Rocky Mountaineer train is sitting ready to go. It was an early start with check-in starting at 7am for a 7:30 departure. The Rocky Mountaineer station is well set up with separate queues for GoldLeaf and RedLeaf check-in and a merchandise stand with clothing and souvenirs. Upon check-in each passenger is given a boarding pass which details your coach and seat number along with the name of the hotel you will be staying at in Kamloops. Once check-in is completed the Rocky Mountaineer staff gather everyone over and welcome passengers with a call of "all aboard".

Vancouver station jpg

Finding your coach is easy and you are welcomed on-board with a smile and directed to your seat. I sat in the GoldLeaf section and the seats are incredibly comfortable. The big advantage of GoldLeaf service are the dome windows which are impressive, to say the least, when you first see them. These windows give a fantastic view and really separate this scenic train from a regular train.

As the train pulls out of the station you are introduced to your train hosts and handed a glass of sparkling/juice to toast the adventure on which you are embarking. The GoldLeaf carriage has 2 levels; your seat is upstairs and downstairs is the dining area. As the dining area holds half the passengers from upstairs there are two sittings for meals (breakfast and lunch). On day 1 I was in the first sitting and headed down for breakfast after about half an hour. The dining cart is stylish and comfortable and has a small galley. It is a great chance to meet other passengers and enjoy some terrific food, with a number of menu selections available all of which were wonderfully presented and very tasty.

GoldLeaf meal jpg

The journey on day 1 takes you from Vancouver through the Fraiser Valley and into a semi-desert area before heading into Kamloops. Once out of the city area the landscape is impressive, of particular focus is the raging waters of Hell's Gate and the numerous Eagles and Osprey circling the skies. All throughout the journey the train hosts give a thorough commentary covering Canadian history and wildlife and the importance of the tracks you are travelling on. The Canadian Pacific Railway was an important element in the federation of the Canadian provinces into a nation, linking Ontario and the prairies with British Columbia. The rail line now is mostly used by freight trains with the Rocky Mountaineer being the only passenger service from Vancouver to Banff and Calgary. As a result of sharing the line with some huge freight trains, the schedule needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We arrived into Kamloops, the tournament capital of Canada, around 1 hour behind time. To be honest, no one was concerned as, even though it is a long day (our arrival was at 6:30pm) the time passes quickly.

Kamloops Stopover

Upon arrival into Kamloops some locals dressed as Mounties wave you in to the station. In GoldLeaf you are handed your room key for the hotel you are staying at and are informed of the bus you need to take to get to your hotel. Disembarking from the train, there are buses lined up ready to transfer you to your hotel, each with a number. I was in bus number 2 so I hopped on and was taken to the Thompson Hotel for my overnight stay.

This hotel is of moderate standard and has sufficient amenities for a short stay. When you arrive at your hotel there is a sign in the lobby telling you the time that your transfer in the morning will depart. As you have your key you can go straight to your room, where, for GoldLeaf passengers, your luggage is waiting for you. I was also booked in for the Rhythm on the Rails dinner and show in Kamloops. A bus takes you to the venue and the departure time is also posted in the hotel lobby.
After having a quick freshen up, I headed down to take the bus to the show. I had prebooked this but tickets can also be bought on the train, subject to availability (this night all tickets were sold out prior to departure). If you do not do the dinner and show option then there are numerous restaurants in Kamloops for you to have your dinner.

Gold Class jpg

The Rhythm on the Rails experience starts with a buffet dinner which included a very good spread of food. I had low expectations but was very pleased with the quality of food. After dinner a show is put on by a group of university students. It tells the story of a young man trying to write the perfect song. He takes the train from Vancouver to the Rockies and along the way falls in love and has some interesting adventure. It is a fun show full of classic hits from the 60's and 70's and the crowd was really involved. After the show you are transferred back to your hotel and ready for a good night's sleep.

Rocky Mountaineer

Day 2: Kamloops to Banff

On the second morning your luggage is collected from your room and you are transferred to Kamloops station to embark on day 2 of the journey. You have the same seat as on day 1 but those in sitting 1 for the meals are now in sitting 2 and vice-versa. I was now in sitting 2 and as the passengers headed down for the first sitting, we were given a pastry and coffee or tea to tide us over.

The scenery on Day 2 is very different to Day 1 as you head into the Rocky Mountains. It is here that the dome windows are a real benefit as you get a great 360 degree view of the landscape. Day 2 was full of sunshine and the landscape still full of snow. As you climb and climb into the mountains there is the ever-present anticipation of seeing a bear. It is mostly black bears in this area but we were lucky enough to encounter a great Grizzly bear along the way- this made everyone's day. We also spotted some elk and mountain goats. After a big lunch I took advantage of the open-air vestibule to get some fresh, mountain air. It is a great place to take photos and the chill really wakes you up.

GoldLeaf jpg

As mountain upon mountain appears in front of you, it is awe inspiring. Even more amazing is the way in which the builders of the railroad were able to put the route through this region. Another highlight on day 2 are the spiral tunnels where the train heads into one mountain, climbing all the time, does a loop, comes out and heads into another mountain before looping again and heading back on the original course, though the rail line is a lot higher than before. These tunnels allow the train to climb at a safe gradient and are an engineering marvel.

Towards early-evening the train passes through Lake Louise before arriving at Banff. Here most passengers alight from the train, assisted and waved off by the attentive hosts. The train then continues through to Calgary with the remaining passengers. As at Kamloops there are buses waiting to take you to your Banff accommodation if you have a transfer included as part of a tour or have pre-booked a transfer. The appropriate coach number is advised before disembarking the train and all you need do is find your bus number and hop on.

Banff Springs jpg

Yoho National Park Tour

Rocky Mountaineer packages generally include the Yoho National Park Tour that takes customers from their Banff accommodation to Lake Louise (or vice-versa). After a leisurely breakfast our bags were loaded onto the Brewster's bus and away we went to experience this 3 hour tour. The tour took us from Banff, back into British Columbia and then through the Yoho National Park until we came to Lake Louise. Wildlife-spotting was the order of the day and, even in the snowy conditions there was plenty of activity. The tour guide gave a thorough commentary throughout the tour and there were photo stops along the way, notable at Emerald Lake where we remnants of a February avalanche (namely hundreds of trees) were still evident on the frozen lake. At the end of the tour we were dropped off at the Chateau Lake Louise where those staying could check-in and those just there for the day were free to explore the picturesque lake and glacier.

Tour Hotels

Throughout the tour I was lucky enough to stay at Fairmont Group properties apart from 1 night in Vancouver (and the stop-over in Kamloops). The Fairmont properties are some of the best hotels in the world and each has its own old world charm and unique characteristics. These hotels were originally built along the Canadian Pacific Railway route to give passengers the best of lodgings for their journeys and still have strong ties to the railway and to Rocky Mountaineer in particular.
The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was a brilliant place to start my tour. It has a magnificent lobby and bar and every service you can imagine. Located centrally in downtown Vancouver it is a short walk from most of the major sights in the city. One notable feature is that they have 2 hotel ambassadors- Labradors who passengers can take for a walk or to play fetch within Stanley Park.


The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel reminded me of Edinburgh castle. Banff, named after Banffshire in Scotland, has a strong Scottish influence and this hotel is monstrous giving the appearance of a castle rather than a hotel. Driving up to the hotel, the first time you see the building and the mountainous backdrop; it is hard not to say 'wow!' The hotel is an easy 10min stroll into the main town and is the ideal location for a stay in Banff.

Lake Louise Chateau jpg

The iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is one hotel that is not to be missed. It is huge but its most impressive asset is not seen from the outside but the inside. Built on the banks of the glacial Lake Louise, this hotel has a view that money cannot buy. As you enter your room, the curtains are drawn so that, as you open them, you are hit by the amazing view of the lake, mountains and glacier. The village of Lake Louise is some distance from the hotel and lake so it is imperative that this hotel is your choice when visiting this beautiful natural attraction. The hotel caters for everything and has a general store, designer shops and a 24hr deli, along with another of those hotel ambassador who is more than willing to play fetch all day- you will find his bed in the lobby.


Although Calgary is not the most beautiful town in Canada, the Fairmont Palliser Hotel is one of its gems. This hotel has a very old world feel with the lobby being one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. This hotel is connected to the Rocky Mountaineer station in Calgary and so is very convenient. It houses a beautiful bar and restaurant with bison being the local specialty.


All of the Fairmont hotels cater for their guests needs wonderfully well. The concierges and porters are friendly and exceptionally helpful, checking in and out is smooth and trouble free and all rooms, apart from being wonderfully furnished and offering the best in toiletries and amenities, also have access to wifi (apart from the Banff Springs which has wifi access from the lobby and several other public areas). One tip I would give is to sign up to the Fairmont Presidents Club- along with a number of other features, membership (which is free) entitled you to free wifi access. I signed up online just before leaving home and was very pleased I did so- you can find out more details from the Fairmont website.


Apart from the Fairmont hotels, I also stayed 1 night at the Georgian Court Hotel. This hotel is available to Rocky Mountaineer package guests who are travelling in RedLeaf. It is a very well maintained hotel located on the eastern side of the city, opposite the Olympic Stadium. The hotel has all your major facilities and in-room amenities and offers free wifi access to all guests. The restaurant food was of a very good quality and the staff are attentive and helpful. Although not in the same category as the Fairmont's, it was certainly a very comfortable hotel.

Calgary Airport Transfer- Sundog Tours

As I was flying out from Calgary back to Australia, I booked a shuttle transfer before I left. I provided my flight time and hotel and the shuttle was booked accordingly. On the morning of departure I confirmed my pick up time and the bus arrived to the minute. After handing over my pre-paid voucher I sat back and relaxed as the bus took me and a number of other passengers on the 20 minute drive from downtown Calgary to the airport. The bus dropped me off at my airline's check in counter - it was simple and trouble free.

Summary

The Rocky Mountaineer is a journey that everyone must do if travelling to Canada. It takes in the beautiful scenery stretching from the Fraiser Valley into the magnificent Rocky Mountains. The train, particularly in GoldLeaf service, is an experience in itself, but coupled with this natural scenery and wildlife it is truly unmissable. Rocky Mountaineer packages are the best way to experience the best of the Rockies, most taking in Banff, Lake Louise and Calgary, and it is well worth taking a package that includes Fairmont hotels. These hotels are known for their exceptional service and quality and are attractions in themselves- even if you do not stay at these properties, they are all worth a visit for a cup of tea or a lovely dinner. My trip was a treat from start to finish and I would encourage anyone who has not taken this great train journey to do so.

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