This was my first luxury train trip with Rocky Mountaineer, so I had no idea what to expect from this Canadian-based company. In mid-September of 2015 I joined Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West. This historic route takes guests from Vancouver, British Columbia to Lake Louise and Banff in Alberta, showcasing some of the most beautiful scenery and ending in Canada’s First National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also fall, which meant I was able to experience the changing of the seasons. As I am from California, I give a hat tip to Canada, as Mother Nature has blessed her with the ability to show off its seasonal colors like a peacock strutting its tail feathers. So let’s step aboard as I share what the train journey is like and what guests may expect as they ride along on First Passage to the West.
Luxury hotel stays
While many guests assume that they will be sleeping overnight on this two day train trip, their assumption would be wrong. Instead, Rocky Mountaineer has made the wise decision to offer guests the luxury of stepping off the train and getting a good night sleep in a wonderfully comfortable bed. This option is particularly appealing to me because your hotel stays are included in the price of your luxury vacation. Be this a short romantic getaway or an extended vacation, Rocky Mountaineer is able to create fully customizable vacations tailored to your wants and desires.
Did you know that over 50% of train guests add an Alaska cruise to their rocky mountain adventure? Typically, Rocky Mountaineer partners with Holland America on these vacation extensions, but other cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, sell the train journeys as well. I’ve sailed with both cruise lines and can assure you that your first class adventure will continue in a seamless experience.
Regardless of your rail package, you should expect logistics to be taken care of. From a welcome letter from Rocky Mountaineer in your hotel room, to optional luxury excursions pre and post trip. Rocky Mountaineer representatives meet guests in the hotel lobby the night before the First Passage to the West journey begins. At this time guests are given their boarding pass noting type of service, be it GoldLeaf or SilverLeaf service, and their hotel and seat assignments. For this article, I’ll be referencing GoldLeaf Service.
Custom-designed, bi-level glass-dome coach with seating up top and meal service below.
Gourmet hot breakfast and three-course lunch, served on fine china, featuring regional cuisine.
Welcome aboard toast, complimentary wine, beer, cocktails or non-alcoholic beverages.
Morning scones and afternoon wine and cheese.
An outdoor viewing platform – great for snapping photos, filming videos – or- if you’re like me – you can go outside and sing along with John Denver to Rocky Mountain High and no one will be the wiser!
Complimentary transfers to hotel with luggage delivered to your hotel room.
There’s also the option to upgrade to GoldLeaf Deluxe Service at your hotel. Upgrades include options such as larger hotel rooms with premium views. Did I mention there is a chateau option?
Authentic genuine Canadian hospitality
The GoldLeaf Service from the privately owned luxury train company is top notch, with friendly hosts that makes you feel like a welcome guest in someone’s home, rather than a passenger on a coach. (Sorry Amtrak, it’s not you, it’s me. I just didn’t know what I was missing until now.) The term “seeing is believing” is actually quite an understatement here. There’s not a bad seat in the house (or should I say train) as the scenery comes to you. You’ll glide by rivers, travel deep into spiral tunnels and pass by Craigellachie, a historic spot where the last spike was driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway route.
One of the highlights for me was the engaging story telling along the way. The Canadians are very good at honoring their history. Our hosts had a deep knowledge of the area, geology and history that transported me to the gold rush era and made legendary characters come to life. They were also much better at spotting wild life along the way. Insider tip: if you travel in fall or early spring you are apt to see more wildlife and shoulder season pricing is a better value on this iconic Rocky Mountain route.
The other highlight on board this luxury train was the food. Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin works culinary magic in the kitchen. With local cuisine and several meal options, including vegetarian, meals are plated at your seat and taste as good as they look. Surrounded with sunny, green vistas and iconic Rocky Mountain views it’s hard to put your camera down, but you’ll be glad you did.
Need to know:
Coaches are state-of-the-art with comfortable, reclining seats. Twin seating on each side of the coach ensures all guests have a great view out the glass-dome windows. Wheelchair lifts are available at all stations and GoldLeaf Service dome coaches are equipped with elevators. I personally spoke to a California woman traveling with her senior citizen father and she couldn’t say enough about the helpful staff on board the train.
No hiking boots are required! I jest, but it’s true. You can hike all you want in Banff or Lake Louise, but you don’t have to hike if you don’t want to. Rocky Mountaineer leaves it to you to decide on the level of activity you desire for your vacation. Sit back, relax and take in the amazing scenery – the Canadian Rockies are waiting for you.
If You Go: Rocky Mountaineer (877) 460-3200
Disclosure: I was hosted by Rocky Mountaineer, Fairmont Vancouver and Delta Banff Royal Canadian Lodge on my stay while visiting Vancouver to Banff, Canada, however, all opinions are my own.
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