By Mira Temkin
Ice capped mountains, lush forest greenery and grazing wildlife pass by as you relax, oohing and aahing aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, Canada’s premier luxury tourist rail. You listen to the fascinating storytelling from the onboard hosts. Then the train slows for a breathtaking waterfall or a lumbering black bear, and you jump up to capture it all in pictures. With overnight stays at Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver, Jasper National Park, Lake Louise and Banff, you feel pampered from sun up until sun down.
The all-dome rail line offers both eastbound and westbound itineraries as well as customized packages to personalize your “bucket list” dreams. Many people add an Alaskan Cruise from Vancouver before or after the train. Once off the Rocky Mountaineer, there are more than 65 exciting package options from walking on a glacier to riding on the Banff Gondola to Yoho Park Tour, Summit Helicopter Flightseeing and more.
The season runs mid-April to mid-October with all daylight journeys so you don’t miss a moment of the exquisite scenery. Guests can choose either GoldLeaf or SilverLeaf Service, which offers different dining options. In GoldLeaf service, white tablecloths, gleaming silver and fresh flowers welcome guests to the dining car. Internationally acclaimed chefs have created menus that reflect the unique character of Western Canada with mouthwatering entrees like Wild Pacific salmon and Alberta beef with locally sourced ingredients. Throughout the day, delicious fresh-baked cookies, trail mix and local wine and cheeses are served, adding to the culinary delights.
Vancouver – Beautiful Harbor City
Thankfully, I had a few days to explore before the train departed. I checked into the world-class Fairmont Vancouver, an oasis in the middle of the city with luxury on every level. For dining, Notch8 offers a huge breakfast buffet, afternoon tea and an early start to Happy Hour.
I explored the city with Vancouver Trolley Company’s Hop On – Hop Off Sightseeing Tour (vancouvertrolly.com), which provides narration in English only. I opted for the Green Route which travels through Stanley Park, the second largest urban park in the world with totem poles, beaches, trails and more. Named after Lord Stanley of hockey’s Stanley Cup fame, the beautiful grounds serve as a quiet respite. Or, go with the Red Route and see the bustling side of this splendid metropolis.
From Bridges to Mountain Skyride, It’s All Aerial!
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is Vancouver’s most famous attraction. Here, you’ll discover nature, culture and thrills, all high atop the rainforest. Walk bravely across the seven suspension bridges, called “reassuringly wobbly since 1889,” the Treetops Adventure and exhilarating Cliffwalk.
Head up to the Skytrain at Grouse Mountain with its spectacular views. Explore the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, even have “breakfast with the bears.” For heart-pumping excitement, don a red survival suit and embark on the Sea Vancouver Zodiac Harbor Cruise.
Your luxury experience begins at the Rocky Mountaineer Train Station, a classic rail building that sets the stage for the excursion with soft music, complimentary coffee/tea and a bagpipe send-off. At the souvenir kiosk, a Rocky Mountaineer backpack called out to me and I carried it throughout my entire journey.
We boarded the train in GoldLeaf service and settled in, awaiting the ride with great anticipation. As the train rolled on, we discovered the open air vestibule, perfect for taking photos and taking in the fresh mountain air.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – A National Treasure
A friendly elk greeted us as we checked into the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, along the shores of Lake Beauvert. Surrounded by abundant wildlife, this luxury mountain resort is situated in Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Run, hike, golf or kayak, then unwind in your inviting cedar chalet.
Walking on the Athabasca Glacier
Along the Columbia Icefields Parkway, your adventure begins with a ride on the all-terrain Ice Explorer, a massive vehicle specially designed for glacier travel. You s-l-o-w-ly make your way down to the glacier learning about its formation, the icefields and their environmental impact. Then you gingerly walk out on a field of white/blue ice and snow and marvel at the awe-inspiring landscape.
Welcome to the “Castle in the Rockies”
In the heart of Banff National Park stands the world famous Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, a year-round luxury resort. Built in 1888 as a Scottish Baronial castle, this amazing complex boasts 11 restaurants, 14 shops and the world-class Willow Stream Spa. We dined at Waldhaus, a traditional restaurant with fabulous fondues, German style. The lovely alpine town is a 10-minute walk with local galleries, museums, upscale shopping and cafes. Check out the Fairmont’s packages, which include the Fairmont Ski School and nearby ski resorts.
All too soon, my adventure through the Canadian Rockies was ending. Loaded down with smoked salmon, Bernard Callebaut chocolates and donuts from Tim Horton’s, I celebrated my inspired memories aboard the Rocky Mountaineer!