ROCKY MOUNTAINEER ~ THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME
Are you looking for the trip of a lifetime? One you will never forget that brings you in close touch with one of nature’s greatest achievements in an ambiance of maximum luxury? Then let me recommend one of Canada’s hottest tourist attractions, the unique Rocky Mountaineer experience.
From the White Mountains and Green Mountains of New England to the Alps of Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria, from the Matterhorn to Mt. Blanc and onto Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro… I thought I had had some pretty fabulous viewing. But Rocky Mountaineer takes the viewing experience to new heights. Not only do they take you into the great wilderness of Canada’s spectacular Rocky Mountains, but they do it with such panache that they provide a train trip like no other in the world.
I was completely awed by the pristine, breathtakingly beautiful scenery in western Canada, delightfully pampered by the luxurious service onboard the train, expertly nourished by the talented chef onboard and his team, and skillfully educated and entertained by the Rocky Mountaineer hosts in our car who narrated the trip with a focus on the significance of the rail line to the development of the country. A quartet of excellence.
Let me fill you in on some the aspects of my Rocky Mountaineer experience which impressed me the most …
The journey with Rocky Mountaineer began in one of Canada’s hottest tourist destinations, the magnificent Pacific maritime city of Vancouver, now considered one of the world’s most livable cities. We love visiting this city which has so much charm that it’s one of Hollywood’s favorite places for filming TV series and movies. We enjoyed a few nights in the strikingly modern and very inviting Pan Pacific Hotel with our room, as well as the restaurant where we dined, overlooking the waterfront. As we walked around Stanley Park across from Vancouver’s stunning skyline, it was hard to imagine this ultra-modern yet charming city as it once was … a thriving logging town.
Our send-off from Vancouver was in Rocky Mountaineer’s own large and airy private station. With the throngs of passengers, the sharply-dressed attendants serving coffee, the piano player at one side of this huge station and the bagpipe player at the other side, I truly felt like I was in the midst of an old movie scene reminiscent of an ocean liner departing NYC for London during the grand old days of ocean passages. But despite the crowds, the Rocky Mountaineer speeches to the passengers were well received, the bagpipe player finished his send-off from inside the station, and our train was the first one called to depart that morning. Although there were many cars on our train, boarding was quick and efficient with the many Rocky Mountaineer attendants to direct us.
Once on board the train, I thought I would settle in. But the glorious Rocky Mountaineer send-off wasn’t finished. As I looked out the window, I was awestruck to see a line of human bodies standing facing our train up the entire length of the station. How impressive! These were the employees of the company who had come to wave us good-by, and I waved back to a familiar face waving right at me. What an extraordinary send-off and what an emotional high!
Off we went into the wilderness but, in our “GoldLeaf Service” class of car, we traveled with all the accoutrements of a top hotel … haute cuisine composed of fresh local ingredients freshly cooked to order, healthy snacks always available, and an open bar from 11 am on until the train stopped for the evening when we would be driven to our hotel where we would have dinner and spend the evening.
Our large reclining seats with leg-rest were easily as comfortable as first-class seats on our favorite airline. And the unique and famous “glass-dome” viewing from the GoldLeaf Service carriage windows was extraordinary. Light poured into the car, opening up the space and enabling maximum viewing from the seat throughout the journey. But when we felt the urge to get some fresh air or take some guaranteed unimpeded photos, we would go to the outdoor viewing platform at the rear of the carriage. Maximum comfort and all our needs addressed …
Rocky Mountaineer has thought of everything. But there is still more that I thought was outstanding …
In GoldLeaf service, the indoor viewing area with the comfy seats and glass-dome windows is in the upper level of a custom-designed two-level car. The lower level of the car houses a dining room, a kitchen large enough for a chef, sous-chef and three cooks to work in, two large rest rooms, and the outdoor viewing platform. An elevator operates between the two floors for handicapped usage. An innovative design for maximum comfort and efficiency.
By the time we arrived onboard the train, we were definitely ready to enjoy breakfast. Lest you wonder whether the lower level dining room would diminish the viewing experience, let me reassure you that each table has a large window designed for maximum viewing. Not too surprisingly in this aura of excellence, service is elegant and comprehensive. Shortly after boarding the train our first day, we were invited along with half of the guests seated in our upper level viewing car to go down to breakfast in the dining room. Those who remained upstairs in the viewing car were served freshly made scones, orange juice and tea or coffee to stave off their hunger as they waited for the subsequent seating in the dining room, while those of us in the lower level dining room ordered from the menu and enjoyed our breakfast.
The breakfast menu is extensive with 6-7 selections, each of which appealed to me. The platters are artfully plated, the wait staff work hard to respond to all needs, and the meals are always balanced. I loved beginning my day with the chef’s offerings of fresh fruit and freshly baked pastry to begin the meal.
The lunch service follows a similar pattern. Those of us who were invited to eat breakfast for the first seating were also invited to eat lunch for the first seating as well. And lunch was an delicious three-course event with a menu frankly that would satisfy most anyone for dinner. An impressive selection of local wines was also offered.
The following day, the seatings are reversed, so the second day of our trip, Denis and I were in the second seating for breakfast and lunch.
Regularly enhancing and illuminating our top-notch viewing, our Rocky Mountaineer Hosts onboard our car would take the microphone 5-15 minutes or so away from arriving at one of the landmark sights and regale us with a story about that upcoming sight and tales of Canada’s “old west”. We learned about the historic importance of the railway in a very entertaining way as the narration for landmarks like Hell’s Gate or Mt. Robson would normally be peppered with some spicy human interest stories involving intrigue or fortune-hunting to whet our appetites. As we arrived, the conductor would slow the train down, giving us all an ideal shot at photo ops. Our hosts would also do their best to point out animal sightings and our obliging conductor would slow down once again to allow us to enjoy the views of the wildlife. Viewing par excellence.
And oh those views! From the majestic snow-covered mountain peaks to the fast-flowing rivers with their whitewater rapids to the steep gorges and beyond, they passed by in awesome succession. They are the heart and soul of Rocky Mountaineer, and they lead the quartet of excellence I mentioned previously in making a Rocky Mountaineer journey the trip of a lifetime.
Add to that scenic wonder the overwhelming significance of the work done by those men who tamed this wilderness sufficiently to lay the track for the railway that served to make the all-important connection between the Pacific coast and the Atlantic … and you have another profound reason to take this journey.
As the afternoon progressed, the cocktail hour kicked up. For me, the choice was easy – I’m a Bloody Mary gal. Pair it with a dish of dried wasabi peas, and I’m in cocktail heaven.
Lest you think that the superb service was limited to the dining room, let me give you some examples of Rocky Mountaineer’s top-drawer service throughout the journey. Shortly before our evening arrival at the train station where we would be disembarking, one of our onboard Hosts would give us each our hotel room key for the evening. With the key in hand, when we arrived at the hotel, we did not need to check in. We simply went straight to our room where our luggage would be waiting along with bottles of water and anything else we would need for the evening. The next morning, we would leave our luggage in our room with no need to checkout, and our luggage would be picked up and hand delivered to the room of our hotel for that subsequent night.
As for the hotels where we stayed – where available, we stayed at luxury class hotels. My favorite on this trip was the fabulous Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge with its classic Canadian cedar chalets. Our spacious chalet offered stunning views over Lac Beauvert and the Canadian Rockies. I understand their golf course is rated as the best in Canada, and friends traveling with us told me their Spa is awesome.
This particular Rocky Mountaineer trip, entitled “Journey through the Clouds”, which went from Vancouver to Jasper via Kamloops, is one of four routes offered by the company. It was our second journey as guests of Rocky Mountaineer ( Rocky Mountaineer ~ The Art of Scenic Travel ).
When I next feel the need to return to the glories of nature and be pampered as I allow myself to be utterly absorbed by the views and informed and entertained by the narration, count me in for a third trip! And I think next time I’ll extend my stay for a glorious week in Banff and a drive once again along the famous Icefields Parkway, or maybe I’ll add an Alaska cruise ( Rocky Mountaineer Packages ).
If you are interested in hearing more about the fabulous food onboard Rocky Mountaineer, please stay tuned for my upcoming article on Rocky Mountaineer Cuisine.
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Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with travel, accommodations and some meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.