In early 2017 I was fortunate to be included in a hosted journey for travel agents by Canada’s world-famous railway company, Rocky Mountaineer, on a journey from Vancouver to Calgary via Kamloops, Jasper and Banff.
There were agents from Australia, USA, Canada and the UK and at the Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver we were piped on board the train by a bagpiper – a unique experience. As we pulled out of the station we noticed a long line of Rocky Mountaineer hosts waving goodbye to us and when we arrived at the first overnight stop at Kamloops there was another group of hosts lined up to bid us welcome.
Rocky Mountaineer offers two levels of service on board the train: GoldLeaf Service and SilverLeaf Service. I was in a group seated in GoldLeaf Service on my first day and my seat well and truly lived up to expectations: it was a large and extremely comfortable reclining seat with the extra benefit of being heated. It gave you a lovely snug feeling as the weather was crisp outside.
Each GoldLeaf Service carriage has four hosts including an on-board culinary team who can tailor-make meals for guests with special requirements or food allergies. Drinks and snacks are served at your seat and meals are served at two sittings downstairs. The carriage has a wheelchair hoist and the hotels where GoldLeaf Service guests stay overnight are likely to have ADA (handicapped-accessible) rooms.
Everybody talks about the astonishing scenery of the Canadian Rockies – and it is indeed.
The second day was my chance to experience SilverLeaf Service. SilverLeaf Service is a single-storey carriage with two hosts and a culinary team member to assist with meals. The food is excellent in both GoldLeaf Service and SilverLeaf Service, but if the budget is available I would always suggest upgrading as the added extras in GoldLeaf Service are very well worth it.
Another great thing about both GoldLeaf Service and SilverLeaf Service is that your luggage is delivered to your hotel room at the end of each day. The following morning it is collected again: you just leave it inside the door before going to breakfast.
Everybody talks about the astonishing scenery of the Canadian Rockies – and it is indeed. But the thing that struck me was that it seemed very familiar: it was like a mix of travelling down the West Coast of the South Island and taking the TranzAlpine through Arthurs Pass and driving through the Waikato countryside and taking the drive from Picton to Kaikoura.
It was familiar New Zealand scenery, just on an immensely larger scale; truly, Rocky Mountaineer is one of the great train trips of the world.
Anyone who has seen any Canadian movie set in the wilderness with moose and elk roaming about and Canadian Mounties coming to the aid of the townsfolk will have a mental picture of what the towns of Banff and Jasper are like. Although I didn’t see any bears or moose wandering through town I did see several elk walking through car parks and minding their own business.
These towns are fun though and full of souvenir stores, bars and restaurants serving local delicacies like elk and bison burgers and various choices of poutine. Try asking the bar or restaurant you are in whether you can have local prices rather than tourist prices, and mention you are on Rocky Mountaineer. It could save you money, as it did for me.
Tips for travel on Rocky Mountaineer
- The luggage allowance is two suitcases with a total weight not exceeding 30kg, and no one piece weighing more than 23 kg.
- The on-board dress code is smart casual, with flat, closedtoe shoes.
- Bring a day bag with you on board the train if you have medication and other important small items you need to access during the day as you won’t be able to access your checked luggage till you arrive at your hotel at the end of the day.
- Kiwis need an eTA visa for Canada. Book online and it costs CAD$7.00 (approx. NZD$7.70)