Back in April 2017, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Canada through work and experience one of the incredible Rocky Mountaineer train journeys – First Passage to the West. This is a luxurious 2 day journey from Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise with a stop in Kamloops overnight.
A Bit About The Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer currently operate 3 different routes and you can take these in either direction.
First Passage to the West (Vancouver – Kamloops – Banff/Lake Louise)
Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver – Kamloops – Jasper)
Rainforest to Goldrush (Vancouver – Whistler – Quesnel – Jasper)
Both ‘First Passage to the West’ & ‘Journey Through the Clouds’ are 2 days journeys with a stop overnight. ‘Rainforest to Goldrush’ is slightly longer at 3 days journey with 2 overnight stops as opposed to 1.
There’s also no luggage taken into your carriage; it all goes by coach ahead of the train and is already in your hotel room waiting for you when you arrive. The overnight hotel is booked by Rocky Mountaineer as part of their package, so they already know which hotel you’ll be staying in. All you need to take into the train is anything you need during the day ie. phone, camera, medication.
As part of our pre-arrange FAM trip, we flew into Vancouver where we had 24 hours before picking up the Rocky Mountaineer. As above, we had 2 days on board the train and an overnight stay in Kamloops before arriving into Banff (via Lake Louise) the following day.
We had additional time in both Banff & Calgary at the end of our stay before going back to the UK but the most important part of the trip was to experience the train journey.
The Rocky Mountaineer is unlike any other train I’ve ever been on – it’s focus is luxury travel regardless of whether you travel in Silverleaf or Goldleaf Service. The standard and service in both of these classes is second to none and the amazing hosts cannot do enough for you. Their courteous, incredibly helpful and they genuinely want you to have an fantastic experience onboard.
With the idea of luxury in mind, the train travels at a much more relaxed pace than other passenger trains – you don’t want the scenery rushing past you, you want to be able to lose yourself in it. If required, the train is actually able to slow down slightly, for example if wildlife is spotted further up the tracks, so that passengers have the possibility of catching a glimpse. Details are radioed through to staff throughout the train for these to be announced to passengers. We were lucky enough to see a mama bear & her cubs at the side of the tracks as we sat having lunch!
All your food & drinks are included throughout the journey and drinks (both soft and alcoholic) are unlimited.
The food is outstanding and you certainly won’t go hungry whilst you’re onboard – the hosts take great care of you.
Having worked in travel, I was being asked about Rocky Mountaineer as a company, their routes, the classes they offer and the scenery on an almost daily basis and it was requested in the majority of itineraries that I put together for clients. To be able to experience this first hand was unimaginable and was an undoubtable advantage when it came to discussing the options with my clients.
Service Levels Onboard
Above, I mentioned Silverleaf & Goldleaf Service – these are the 2 levels provided by Rocky Mountaineer.
As part of our FAM trip, since we were a group of travel agents, we were able to experience Silverleaf on the first day & Goldleaf on the second – this is not standard practice. When you book Rocky Mountaineer as an independent client, you will be seated in whichever service you book for the duration of your journey.
Let me tell you a little about the differences so you can make your decision:
From the moment you take your pre-allocated seats, you’re treated so well. The seats are so comfortable and slightly wider than the train seats in the UK. The tray tables in Silverleaf service are seat-back but there’s so much legroom and space between you and the table that you don’t feel jammed in.
The carriages in Silverleaf are one level with full sized picture windows so you don’t miss any of that beautiful scenery.
The vestibule area has a small roll-down window to allow you to take some photos without the reflection from the main windows. This is popular though and so there can sometimes be a bit of a queue and the vestibule isn’t huge.
The hosts are very attentive, give you commentary along the route where required such as famous landmarks & historical areas and will let you know whereabouts you are if it’s relevant – it’s not a constant stream of chat for the entire journey.
Breakfast & lunch are served at your seat throughout the day in Silverleaf and at various stages the hosts do come round with snacks, scones etc to keep you going.
Breakfast is served about 20 minutes after boarding the train as it’s an early start. Drinks are available all day long and the trolley service passes through constantly offering refreshments.
The Goldleaf carriages are dual-level with stairs and lift access. Seating is located on the upper deck and the dining car is below. The top of the Goldleaf carriage is almost like a glass dome so you have un-rivalled, panoramic views of the scenery that you’re passing through. The windows run from the seat right up the centre of the roof with nothing to block your view or get in the way of your photos.
The tray tables in this service level are stowed away in the arm of your chair and you’re welcomed into the carriage by the hosts to find a lovely leather-bound Rocky Mountaineer notebook & pen on your seat.
Once again, the hosts couldn’t be more attentive and again, provide a commentary where required and are always happy to answer any questions you might have.
The Goldleaf carriages are more spacious so there’s room to walk around within the carriage itself. You’re able to go right to the front and look out over the Silverleaf carriage ahead if this is how your train is set up.
The hosts will also make your drinks at the bar area rather than pass through with a trolley and these are delivered directly to you at your seat.
Breakfast and lunch are served downstairs in the dining car in Goldleaf Service. Passengers are given designated sittings for each meal, for example, seats 1-18 will be in the 1st sitting and the remaining passengers are in the 2nd. The dining car itself is booth-style seating which gives you an opportunity to converse and get to know your fellow passengers a bit more if you choose to, white table linen and more excellent service and incredible food.
Honestly, the food is to die for – you would never think you were eating on a train. It’s beautifully presented, hot and delicious – just as you would expect from luxury travel.
One of the highlights of the Goldleaf Service though is access to the viewing platform. Secured on each side, this allows passengers to get some fresh air and take their photos from, essentially, outside the train. I spent a lot of time out here because it was just amazing to be able to lean on the railings and watch the breath-taking scenery go by. There’s plenty of space too so you’re not all crammed together if there are a few people doing the same.
The Overnight Stay
For our particular route, our overnight stop was in Kamloops.
As I mentioned earlier, your luggage is taken by coach and is already waiting for you at your hotel. As the train pulls into the station in Kamloops, the hosts already have your room keys and will give these out to you before you disembark the train and board the buses which will take passengers to their hotels. It’s a luxury service, they think of everything and it really is seamless.
Your train ticket will also tell you which hotel you’re staying at and when you receive your paperwork, you’re provided with luggage tags specific to that hotel for you to attach before boarding the train.
The rooms are as you would expect and provide everything you need for a one night stay – good size bathroom, super comfy bed and usually a TV in the room. Now, if you’ve been to North America before, you’ll know the script on their beds. If not, this will come as a nice surprise. Canadian (and American) beds are larger than in the UK and most rooms are advertised as a double/twin and so more than likely will have 2 beds anyway and they are massive! As I was sharing a room, naturally we had a bed each and you could have got another 2 people in beside me – best sleep ever.
Kamloops is not a big town and all of the hotels are about the same standard, our equivalent of a good 3*. Some have bars and restaurants on site but after your day of eating onboard, it’s unlikely you’ll want anything else!
In case you are still peckish though, I would highly recommend Brownstone Restaurant on the main street. It’s a super cosy restaurant with an outdoor patio and the food is absolutely amazing. Their chef is extremely talented and they make almost everything on their menu in-house – breads, pate, cheese – you name it, there’s a good chance they made it! Everything is local produce and they do great cocktails too!
Arriving at your destination
When you arrive into Banff or Jasper on whichever route you take, as with the overnight stay, buses are waiting at the station to take you to your hotel. Please be aware though that the Rocky Mountaineer only include certain hotels within their package and will not drop you off at a hotel they don’t service. If you’ve booked a hotel independently which is not on the Rocky Mountaineer Hotel list, you will need to take a taxi from the Rocky Mountaineer station as it’s slightly out of town.
As we were travelling as part of a FAM trip, ours was slightly different and we were dropped at The Moose Hotel & Suites which is 4* hotel about a 5 minute walk to the centre of town and right on the main street, Banff Avenue. The Moose Hotel & Suites is also right next to the Elk+ Avenue hotel which is on the Rocky Mountaineer hotel list.
The Moose Hotel & Suites really is lovely. It’s lodge-style (as are most of the hotels in the Rockies), the rooms are really spacious, there’s plenty of storage and they’ve got big bathroom with brilliant showers.
If you want access to a gym, there’s one on-site, as well as the most scenic sauna, jacuzzi and heated outdoor pool I’ve ever been in – you look right out onto the mountains in all directions.
If you want to see the Canadian Rockies in style, then Rocky Mountaineer is the way forward, literally. Style, class & un-paralleled luxury in North America.
There is a fairly substantial supplement for Goldleaf service (a few hundred GBP) but I assure you, it’s worth it 100%.
Travel like a trainAnon.