Tag Archives: Canadian Rockies

Rocky Mountaineer Awes IRT Advisor — & Not Just ‘Bearly’

3 May
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Rocky Mountaineer onboard staff are young, cheerful and knowledgeable. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

“Bear!” someone shouted.

“Yea, right,” I thought, groggy from my early morning wake-up call. “Just another overly-excited travel agent.”

But then I saw him.

The shaggy, brown animal lumbered right outside my Rocky Mountaineer window, oblivious to his human admirers. I felt as if I could reach out and pet him—maybe even give him a good belly rub to wake him from his winter nap.

And that’s what’s so incredible about the Rocky Mountaineer. You’re in the middle of the Canadian wilderness while traveling in a cocoon of great food, service, scenery and conviviality.

And so it went for my two-day, one-night, all-too-short Rocky Mountaineer ride.

Two things stand out most to me about my trip to Canada last May:

• Western Canada’s scenery is stunning — just as advertised.

• The dynamic Rocky Mountaineer staff knows its stuff, whether it’s Canadian railroad history, animals and birds, or how to put folks at ease.

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View of the Fraser River from Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf Dome. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

From the moment I arrived at Vancouver’s bustling station, I knew I was in great hands.

Once aboard the train, I was shown to my seat at the second-level panoramic window of my GoldLeaf car. Over the next two days, I’d see eagles, ospreys and — bears.

I was traveling with a group of N. American travel advisors, many of whom had never ridden a train.

I’ve traveled by conventional trains in France, England, and Japan — but never on a first-class train like the Rocky Mountaineer. Having joined the Society of International Railway Travelers’ in December 2016, I was looking forward to my first first-class train ride.

RM GoldLeaf rail car_exterior_Photo credit_Vincent L Chan

Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Dome carriages offer great views. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

GoldLeaf service is the train’s highest level. And as far as IRT is concerned, it’s the only way to go.

Why?

It’s a smorgasbord for the senses. For example:

  • SEE: GoldLeaf’s gigantic panoramic windows curve up to the ceiling, giving you a mountain goat’s-eye view in almost every direction; travel in late spring, and you might spot bald eagles, mountain goats, moose, and even black and brown bears, as I did, emerging from hibernation.
  • FEEL: GoldLeaf’s wind-in-the-face, outdoor observation decks — accessible exclusively for GoldLeaf passengers — bring you in direct contact with the Canadian wilderness;
  • TASTE: The fabulous, nothing-could-be finer dining room is just a short walk down the elegant spiral staircase. There, you’ll be served breakfast and lunch.
  • LISTEN: The typically younger, 20-something attendants are top-notch and constantly active. They take turns pointing out historic sites, scenic landmarks and animals. They also distribute all-included snacks and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
  • RELAX: GoldLeaf seats are utterly relaxing. You can adjust the seat backs to several positions and control their radiating heat. You can even rotate your seat 180 degrees to make a miniature seating area for 4 people.

(Besides GoldLeaf, there’s also the single-level Silver service, which is less expensive.  But don’t even ask us to book it for you. You haven’t come all this way to have at-seat, airline-style meals and no full outdoor platform.)

Rocky Mountaineer_GoldLeaf observation deck REV

Yet another reason to opt for GoldLeaf: Rocky Mountaineer is one of a handful of IRT’s ‘World’s Top 25 Trains‘ offering “wind-in-the-face” outdoor views. IRT Photo by Nora Elzy

Meanwhile, back in GoldLeaf, I absolutely loved the outdoor observation deck at the end of the car.

I was able to enjoy the full beauty of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains; the winding path of the Spiral Tunnels; and the beautiful, sometimes turquoise, snow-melt rivers along the way. If you travel in the late spring, you’ll have a great chance to see such wildlife, and — if you’re as lucky as I was — even bears.

In fact, there’s no bad time to take the Rocky Mountaineer. Should you travel in the summer or fall, you’ll still be privy to stunning natural scenery, whether that means more greenery, higher river levels, or stunning fall foliage.

RM GoldLeaf rail car_lower level_Photo credit_Vincent L Chan

Table setting in GoldLeaf Dome downstairs dining room. Rocky Mountaineer photo by Vincent L. Chan

All meals and drinks are included when on board the train. There are two seatings for breakfast and lunch in the elegant, downstairs dining section. I particularly enjoyed receiving a small menu at each meal with at least four choices from which to choose.

As a breakfast-lover, this presented some difficult choices! Pancakes or a freshly prepared parfait?

The Rocky Mountaineer also accommodates dietary restrictions, as long as you alert us at time of booking. In my case, that meant receiving gluten-free toast.

• • •

As if all this weren’t enough, the Rocky Mountaineer is adding seven brand-new GoldLeaf cars to its collection. Built by Swiss rail car company Stadler, four cars were added last month, with three more coming in 2020.

What’s special about these cars?

RM GoldLeaf rail car_upper level_Photo credit_Vincent L Chan

Big News! One of Rocky Mountaineer’s new, enhanced GoldLeaf Dome cars. Rocky Mountaineer photo by Vincent L. Chan

While all GoldLeaf carriages are fabulous, the new cars offer “dimmable” upper domed windows to moderate incoming light, redesigned galley kitchens to better aid staff with meal preparation, and enhanced ride quality.

• • •

So what does all this mean to you?

First: the Rocky Mountaineer is wildly popular, so the sooner you book, the better.  Book by the end of August to ensure you receive the best possible promotional goodies.

Second: the best itineraries sell out first. Rocky Mountaineer offers a dizzying array of options. Based on our 35 years of experience, we recommend one in particular: our Ultra-Luxe Canadian Rockies Adventure, with upgraded hotels and all private touring and transfers. It’s equally great for multi-generational family groups and vacationing couples looking for an extra-exclusive Rockies experience. Check it out here.

If you’re ready to book right now, click here.

You can also e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com, or call (800) 478-4881 within the U.S. or Canada. Elsewhere, call +1 (502) 897-1725.

• • •

Nora Elzy is a Luxury Travel Associate with The Society of International Railway Travelers. She joined our team in December, 2016. She is a graduate of Centre College. Among her international travels was her study abroad in Japan.

Mountaineering in Luxury: Canadian Rockies by Train

10 Oct
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The author enjoying the fresh air on the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf dome viewing platform. IRT photo courtesy of Rachel Hardy.

“Fifty Switzerlands in one” is how legendary British mountaineer Edward Whymper (conqueror of the Matterhorn) allegedly described the Canadian Rockies.

Whymper’s assessment is spot on – but Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer lavished me with added benefits: cozy nights at historic four-star hotels and gourmet meals and snacks.

Most important, though, were two days’ worth of panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies from the comfort of my  double-decked Gold Leaf dome car.

My itinerary was the Canadian Rockies Highlights, running between Calgary and Vancouver. It’s one of more than 65 Rocky Mountaineer packages.

I spent my first night at Calgary’s luxurious Fairmont Palliser Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1914 as a way-station for weary travelers on their way to the remote Rockies.

After exploring Calgary, we boarded our coach to Lake Louise.

Winding through the Coast Mountains. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Winding through the Coast Mountains. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

For some, bus tours conjure up visions of cramped, nausea-inducing drives that are light on photo opportunities and heavy on boredom. I’m thrilled to report this was NOT the case.

Never were we in the bus longer than 45 minutes at a stretch. And our entertaining guide made those stretches fly by.

The day’s highlights included a thrilling 12-minute helicopter ride over the edge of the Rockies, a ride on the Banff gondola, and stops at Lake Minnewanka and a platform overlooking the otherworldly rock spires called ‘hoodoos.’

The author, bundled in her winter coat and hat, at Lake Louise. IRT photo by Belinda

The author, bundled in her winter coat and hat, at Lake Louise. IRT photo courtesy Rachel Hardy.

The next night we spent at the stunningly aquamarine Lake Louise. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lake is picturesquely framed by the towering glaciers that feed it and give it its uncommon color.

Dozens of hiking trails crisscross the surrounding area, giving me an opportunity to stretch my legs.

One highlight of our afternoon coach tour was the Spiral Tunnels, a marvel of railway engineering. We also basked in the majesty of the natural rock bridge at Kicking Horse River before overnighting in Banff.

Delicious lunch in the Gold Leaf dining room. (Photo by Rachel Hardy)

Delicious lunch in the Gold Leaf dining room. (IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy)

The next morning, we began our two-day adventure aboard the Rocky Mountaineer with a champagne toast by the train’s warm and professional on-board staff.

Within the hour, they invited us down to the car’s dining area, where we enjoyed a hot gourmet breakfast prepared on board. Eggs benedict, mozerella omelettes with smoked bacon, and roasted almond granola parfaits were among the menu choices.

As we finished our meal, a lucky few spotted a large black bear amidst the morning fog.

Back up top in the full-length dome, we enjoyed unparalleled views. We saw plenty of wildlife, including bald eagles, big horned sheep and caribou.

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The outdoor viewing platform was the place to be. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

Our three dedicated hosts made sure we never went thirsty. The Rocky Mountaineer’s well-stocked bar includes top shelf liquors and spirits, local craft beers and regional wines (all included in the fare) as well as many nonalcoholic choices.

Our hosts entertained and educated us along our route. Highlights today included the Continental Divide, Kicking Horse Canyon, and Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven.

Rocky Mountaineer steward poses for a quick shot. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Rocky Mountaineer steward poses for a quick shot. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

And although it was quite chilly outside, the Gold Leaf dome’s open-air viewing platform offered us an unmissable opportunity for photography. And it was great knowing that hot toddies, tea, and hot chocolate were waiting for us when it was time to thaw out! Many hours of comfortable Rockies sightseeing later, we arrived at our overnight destination of Kamloops.

The culinary team aboard the Rocky Mountaineer stayed, for the most part, out of sight. But our on-board meals in the first-level dining area were so impressive that the executive chef and his dedicated staff were never far from our minds.

An emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and regional cuisine fit perfectly with our surroundings.

The three-course lunch menu was completely different each day. It included entrée favorites like wild salmon with shaved fennel and roasted potato salad and Alberta beef short-ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

And though the staff prefers to know about dietary restrictions ahead of time, they excel at “thinking on their feet.” They’ll bend over backwards to make your meal just as you like it.

Gluten free, vegetarian, and ‘light choice’ options came standard on the menu, but they’re eager to accommodate any preference or food allergy you have.

Shadows lengthen late in the day as a Rocky Mountaineer attendant looks from the viewing platform. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Shadows lengthen late in the day as a Rocky Mountaineer attendant looks from the viewing platform. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

The second day aboard the train was every bit as exciting as the first. Dramatic changes in scenery unfolded outside our windows, as the desert-like environment around Kamloops gave way to mountains, river canyons, and fir forests dotted with the beautiful gold of changing larch trees (fir trees that ‘think they’re deciduous’: they lose their needles annually after turning a stunning shade of yellow).

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There’s no better way to photograph the soaring Rockies than from the outdoor viewing platform. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The Coast and Cascade Mountains and the Thompson River afforded nonstop beauty, but the dizzying heights above Hell’s Gate — the narrowest portion of the Fraser River and an extreme obstacle to early river explorers and marine wildlife alike — was our favorite sight of the day.

Our bellies full of delicious food and our memory cards full of scenic images, we disembarked in Vancouver for one last hotel stay at the fabulous Fairmont Vancouver before returning home in the morning.

For more information or to book, contact The Society of International Railway Travelers. Email tourdesk@irtsociety.com or call (800)  478-4881; (502) 897-1725. The Society of International Railway Travelers®’ curated list of Rocky Mountaineer itineraries is here.

For Ms. Hardy’s “Rocky Mountaineer Travelers’ Tips,” please click here.

We welcome Rachel Hardy to Track 25.  Ms. Hardy, IRT’s sales & marketing associate & our newest employee, is a graduate of College of Charleston in political science, has traveled thousands of miles — from backpacking  with a Eurail pass across Europe to luxury hotels in Rome and India. Her favorite recent travels include an adventure cruise in the Peruvian Amazon, “ice-hiking” in Chilean Patagonia, and a Micato safari in Kenya. Her first train trip was the Empire Builder, and she first rode the Rocky Mountaineer and Canadian when she was 8. 

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