A Ride On The Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer offers the luxurious Goldleaf Service, with its glass-domed coach

Talk about a front-row seat at a really big show. It would be hard to upstage the spectacle that unfolds as you journey by rail on the Rocky Mountaineer through the wonders of Canada’s West, spotlight on the superstar Canadian Rockies.

In fact, according to Joan Lovell, Virtuoso travel agent at Cadence, the Rocky Mountaineer adventure is “a trip that seems to be on a lot of bucket lists.”

It’s “a unique experience that’s a very upscale way to see the Canadian Rockies,” Lovell adds. “It’s big with seniors, who can view all this from their nice big seats. I tell clients it’s for ages 25 to 95—and it works for some children and teenagers, too. It’s easy to do, and perfect for putting together with an Alaska cruise.”

Long famed for its four scenic routes between British Columbia and Alberta—and more than 45 vacation packages—the Rocky Mountaineer shows off signature eastbound and westbound itineraries known as First Passage to the West (Vancouver-Banff or Calgary, two rail days), Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver-Jasper, two rail days), Rainforest to Gold Rush (Whistler-Jasper, two rail days), and Whistler Sea to Sky Climb (North Vancouver-Whistler, 3.5 hours on the train). Routes are often combined and packages customized in a grand variety of options, one being the highly popular addition of an Alaska cruise at the beginning or end of the rail vacation.

Now comes a newsmaking route christened Coastal Passage, connecting Seattle to Vancouver and the beckoning Canadian Rockies as the first-ever Rocky Mountaineer itinerary to depart and arrive in the U.S. Packages will serve up stays in Seattle, Vancouver, and either Banff or Jasper. Of four trips in 2013, the first are East to West: Banff or Jasper-Seattle on Aug. 21, followed by Jasper-Seattle on Aug. 22. Then it’s West to East: Seattle-Banff on Aug. 24, Seattle-Jasper or Banff on Aug. 25.

The new program features three days on the train, traveling the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest and on to Vancouver. With it comes luxurious GoldLeaf Service—top of the line with its upper-level glass-domed coach for panoramic viewing, plus a lower-level dining room where delicious multi-course breakfasts and lunches (wine and beverages included) are ordered from a varied menu. Vegetarian and light choices are on the list, but who would want to miss the wild British Columbia sockeye salmon? Service options on other routes include SilverLeaf (debuted this year), with single-level domed windows and hot meals served at your seat; and RedLeaf, with single-level picture windows and chilled meals served at your seat.

While each service category includes comfy accommodations, it should be pointed out to clients that GoldLeaf treats passengers to properties they will long remember, such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, a storybook stone castle set in the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—near the fun resort town of Banff and with a world of outdoor activities at hand; Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a French-accented charmer overlooking a stunning vista of Lake Louise, backdropped by snow-frosted mountains and a glacier that, via its melting silt, tints the waters a striking turquoise; and (among other hotels in Vancouver) the elegant Fairmont Pacific Rim, whose guestrooms and restaurants (the restaurant known as ORU is a don’t-miss) are sophisticated enhancements to an ever-delightful city.

Clients may rest assured that there will be no struggling with luggage; bags are seamlessly transferred between train and hotels. The entire process, in fact, is smoothly professional, and a courteous, knowledgeable staffer always seems to be at hand to field a question. Nor must clients be glued to their seats for safety. Rocky Mountaineer has an easygoing gait that allows for comfortable walking about.

“This vacation is a one-stop shop and very simple to present to clients,” Lovell points out. “For the most part, it’s two or so days on the train and you can build an itinerary around that within a package that includes hotels and some sightseeing, with a choice of different service levels based on the client’s budget. Also, the company keeps adding new options, such as wine tours and golf offerings, which means you can do a lot toward making it your own personal itinerary. Rocky Mountaineer is very good at this.”

Lovell notes that “each day is completely different—mountain vistas one day and rainforests the next, with wildlife sightings as you go. Probably my fave feature of the train is the large open-air platform between cars that allows you to get great pictures.”

Vicki Higashi, travel agent with Argo World Travel, is similarly a fan of the open-air platform (“You can be listening to the commentary and taking pictures”), and she, too, lauds “the many components and price categories to choose from when suggesting an itinerary.

“A client group of four senior couples wanted to experience the Canadian Rockies, but no one wanted to be a van driver. They took the GoldLeaf Service and loved that all of the components were included—hotels, food, and the rail experience.”

While costs obviously vary depending on the customization of a package, pricing of the new Coastal Passage, three rail days and two nights, starts at $3,073. From Seattle to Banff, or the reverse, it encompasses GoldLeaf Service; two breakfasts, two lunches, and one dinner; hotel nights in Vancouver and Kamloops; rail station transfers in Vancouver and Kamloops; and (northbound only) a Seattle city tour.

Clients with ample time and budget might relish the considerably longer ride from sea to shining sea. Aptly dubbed Coast to Coast, the 2013 journey was advertised as 17 days but has been modified to 16 days.