In a recent column, I mentioned that Bonnie and I were taking a week-long train trip through the Canadian Rockies. Turns out we didn’t. We only spent two days on the train, and only about three hours of that was in the Rockies. I didn’t intentionally mislead you. I just didn’t understand the nature of the trip for which we had signed up.
We arrived in Vancouver on Monday May 23, checked into our hotel, had a nice dinner, walked a bit through the downtown area, and went to bed early.
By 8 a.m. the next morning, the Rocky Mountaineer was pulling out of the trainyard with about 300 passengers. Each “Silverleaf” car (which was the level we chose), held up to 54 passengers. Our car had 52. We had mostly free run of our own car, and could go out onto what they called an open-air vestibule — a small platform where the cars joined together which had chest high walls to protect you from falling out. This gave you fresh air and an unobstructed view of whatever we were passing, and there was a rush to get there when an upcoming photo-op was announced. We weren’t allowed to travel between cars. Our car had windows that extended about eight feet high on both sides with two spacious seats on either side of the center aisle.
Breakfast, lunch, two separate snacks, and all beverages (including alcohol) were included. We ate at our seats. You could refuse, of course, but I suspect everyone put on a few pounds during the trip. I did, to my great disappointment. I’ve intentionally lost more than 50 pounds over the past 14 months, but gained six of that back on our trip.
The “Goldleaf” cars, which I read about and saw through the windows, but wasn’t allowed to enter, cost about $1,000 more per person than we paid, and were double-decker affairs. The bottom level of these cars were sit-down dining tables, and the upper levels had fancier seats and an unbreakable glass ceiling, giving you a much clearer view than we got from just the windows on the side of our car.
The first day on the train took us through fertile farmland along the Fraser River. The terrain was similar to what you’d see in Washington or Oregon. Every ten minutes or so, one of the hosts would get on the microphone to alert us to something interesting coming up. Perhaps the biggest osprey nest along the route, perhaps the site of a particularly bad forest fire, perhaps it was an especially interesting bridge. Periodically we’d get a history lesson of this area.
Since we were running late (freight trains had priority over passenger trains and we got pulled over a few times to wait), they served us a small dinner snack as well. We spent 11 hours on the train on Tuesday. At the end of the day, we waddled off the train at Kamloops, a mid-sized city I’d never heard of. Our hotel reservations had been made as part of our tour. We could have signed up for the two-star hotels, three-star hotels, or the four-star hotels (I’m pretty sure Kamloops didn’t have any four-star hotels), and our luggage was in our rooms when we got there. The luggage had not traveled on the train, but rather was trucked. The trucks were faster than the train, and before we got off the train, they handed each of us our room keys and told us what bus to get on to get to our hotels. Very well organized.
Wednesday morning, our luggage was picked up from our rooms, and we were bused to the same railroad cars, same seats, that we had occupied the previous day. Although they used a different menu for the daily fair, far too much food and beverage was again served. We got to the mountains fairly early, but these were not the Rockies. This was the Coastal Range. About 1 p.m. in the afternoon, they announced we were officially in the Rockies. The trees were very different. We began seeing snowbound peaks.
The tracks traveled quite close to Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We had a good view of it. This was the only time where we felt having the better view from the glass-top train cars would have been worth it. But this moment was over in ten minutes or less.
When we pulled into Jasper national park after about eight hours on Wednesday, we saw the end of the Rocky Mountaineer. We had five more days in the Rockies, but the rest of our travel would be by motor coach. Exactly what our excursion was after we arrived at Jasper depended on which travel agency we had used to connect with the Rocky Mountaineer. We were with Fresh Tracks Canada and had no major complaints with the itinerary or the service.
Other travel agencies scheduled different excursions in Vancouver and different methods of getting the passengers from Jasper to Calgary. It would have been nice to see a side-by-side comparison of what the different organizations offered, and at what price, but we didn’t find anyplace where that information was available.
Next week I’m going to talk about the last several days of our trip — two days in Jasper, one in Lake Louise, two days in Banff, and our trip to Calgary. It’s not my usual subject matter — and for sure I’ll get complaints because it’s not about video poker, but that’s what it’s going to be. I’ll be back to a “regular” column in two weeks.