Looking back, I had a bucket list before there was the term bucket list. High upon it was a scenic and comfortable train travel through the highly touted Canadian Rocky Mountains from Banff to Vancouver. It’s no longer on my bucket list as I recently experience a near flawless journey.
Often you get what you pay for, and this was evident in booking the highest of three levels of service of Rocky Mountaineer travel. Gold-Leaf Service is the best, with Silver-Leaf and Red Leaf Service following close by. With the Gold-Leaf Service, the experienced traveler receives a private double decker rail car with a minimum of 4 attendants for the 60 passenger car: two devoted to your observation deck requests of continuous open bar beverage services, and two on the first level serving two open seating’s per day of full breakfasts and lunches, on a two day trip.
The open seating dining, invites you to meet and discover more about your fellow congenial passengers. My four different dining companions with their varied histories, added reality and spice to the variety of scenery passing by the picture windows.
While the dining service was fast and efficient, I never felt rush to finish dining and conversations, so that the dining level could be prepared for the next service. How the chef does all that he does in an abbreviated kitchen with a few accomplished helpers is a marvel. It’s almost as impressive as the sight of the towering Canadian Rockies, as the 400 passenger train snakes its way through passes and tunnels, over bridges and besides thunderous rivers. I enjoyed the Beef Short ribs, the Cedar Planked Salmon, the Untraditional Fish and Chips, Pancakes and Eggs Benedict. Bloody Marys’ may be requested for breakfast and 4 wines are offered at afternoon lunches, and throughout the afternoons viewing from your observation deck assigned seat.
Photography aficionados will have no problem filling their days with expansive and majestic scenery, either from their double domed Gold-Leaf Service car, or from the outside open air observation vestibule, which offers fresh air views from either side of the train. Guests may want to bring along a good book, or knitting, or just leave the worldly cares behind and let the Canadian Rocky Mountains waft over them, as informative crew intermittently describe the history of the passing landscape.
Also with Gold-Leaf Service you can be assigned the best of hotel accommodations in Banff, and Vancouver, before and after your trip and the overnight lodgings half way through the journey at Kamloops. While up the mountain side from Banff the Rimrock Hotel and Vancouver’s city centered Sheraton Wall hotel both offered me upscale accommodations. At Kamloops the new contemporary Sandman Signature Hotel was a surprising treat of an accommodation. With Gold-Leaf Service your luggage arrives at your hotel room before you do, making the transition from travel to overnight stays a more lux experience. I booked an extra night on the start of my trip in Banff and an extra day in Vancouver before returning home. I highly recommend this, after traveling so long and far to these attraction packed cities.
Thanks to Discover Banff tours I booked a day tour over to Lake Louise – an iconic image of the Canadian Rockies not to be missed. There are strenuous high mountain hiking trails to test your endurance, or you may want to just stroll lake level, or pause and take in the meeting of lake and mountain. I topped off my day with a late afternoon meal at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louse patio dining, with beverage and meal. Hard to discern whether it was the amazing view or the delicious food and drink that was so enjoyable. In any case a most pleasurable memory to place in my bucket. I only wish I had booked an additional day in Banff so I could have taken the full day tour up to the ice fields, and mountain lakes with wildlife viewing possibilities. But I was so glad I did get to experience part of Lake Louise.
I had an extra planned day in Vancouver and booked a Sea to Sky Gondola tour at a mountain site by Howe sound about 45 miles north of Vancouver. Again a congenial guide took us to Horseshoe Lake for a brief stop before a stop at Shannon Falls, a lunch break at the top of the Gondola (again views not to be missed and a high altitude hamburger – one of the best), with accompanying suspension bridge and then a tour of the old Britannia mineral mine. An unexpected bump in my travels was when United cancelled my return flight from Vancouver, and I had a 12 hour delay before the next available Red Eye flight. Making lemonade out of these lemons I stored my luggage for a fee and took the airport train back into downtown Vancouver for my own walking tour using the very busy hop on hop off bus. I visited the art museum with a lunch, the observation deck at Top of Vancouver, and then to Granville Island where I imbibed and toured the Liberty Distillery, learning and tasting how top shelf Gin and Vodka are made. Then off to the harbor again with their active water taxis, before taking the train back to the airport to wait for my return flight.
It seems when you check one activity off your bucket list, it gets replaced with another one. In my case, Rocky Mountaineer has more routes other than the “First Passage to the West,” which I took. They also have connections to Jasper, Lake Louise, Whistler and Seattle and from 2 day trips to Circle Journeys of 9 days. I found that one of those trips slipped into my bucket.
For detailed information and booking look at:
http://www.rockymountaineer.com/en_CA_BC/ and http://www.banfftours.com/specials and http://www.viator.com/tours/Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky-Highway-Day-Trip-from-Vancouver-Shannon-Falls-Britannia-Mine-and-Gondola-Ride/d616-3914SEASKY and http://thelibertydistillery.com/