Rocky Mountaineer Train Trip - Canada
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
Rocky Mountaineer - Two Days
Does the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train trip through the Canadian Rockies live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
Let's start with the 'Yes'; travelling in Gold Leaf gives you some stunning views due to the upper deck and glass ceiling. Definitely a bucket list item, although depending on your age.
Let me explain why we think this train trip has lost a little bit of its shine.
We did the 'First Passage to the West' trip - marketed as 'Canada's favourite Rocky Mountain getaway. Come for the views; stay for the hot springs.'
Current pricing is CAD 5,400 for two people, that's AUD 6,000, that's AUD 3,000 per day.
Does this deliver the value of a seven-night Alaskan cruise on a premium cruise line, which is currently around the same price?
Let's be honest; this is a bucket list item; the average age is 70+, so the value does not matter.
We took the Vancouver to Banff Eastbound route.
On day one, you must arrive at the station between 6.45 am and 7.15 am for an actual 8.00 am departure.
The arrival hall has a self-service coffee station; sorry, not a barrister in sight.
Stroll outside the train, and capture some beautiful photos before the crowds arrive.
By crowds, we mean that depending on the train's length (we had nearly 20 carriages), each wagon seats approximately 60 people.
From the onboard literature, the maximum recorded was 1,300+ passengers.
The journey starts with an all-aboard call, with a bagpiper playing, which was unique and special.
Here is where the first hick-up started; as we realised the age of the guests, we waited in the rain while the first person was assisted onto the train and transferred upstairs by the internal lift, whilst 60 people queued up to board the carriage. It would have been more efficient to have this guest wait in the golf buggy until the queues had wained or board the guests needing assistance before boarding time.
Yes, the carriages are simply divine; currently, they are replacing the Gold Leaf rolling stock, so we luckily scored one of the ten carriages. These include upgraded fixtures and finishes and are simply luxurious and beautiful.
Once boarded, you walk up the circular staircase (memories of the golden age of air travel with the onboard lounges on the top deck of a 747).
Not sure how you can select a seat; however, maybe your travel agent can ensure you are allocated seats with an entire glass pane; unlike ours, we were assigned the seats with a substantial joiner between windows. At $3,000 per day, I want that whole view experience.
The seats are simply divine, fully adjustable, with fine plush leather, cushioned headrest, ample leg room, and the people in front of you, when they recline, will not encroach on your space.
The service team of four people is impressive, considering they are shared over two levels, the bottom for dining and the top for seating.
The train leaves at 8.00 am; the adventure begins with an overview of the facilities from the ever-attentive team.
The dining room downstairs can only handle half the passengers, so the carriage is split into two groups for dining.
The first sitting starts at 8.30 am, the second at 10.00 am, don't stress, a freshly baked pastry and beverages are served while the first group enjoys breakfast downstairs in the lovely dining cart.
The journey builds like a crescendo, starting with views of a working city. Moving through the suburbs, then onto the plains, while slowly making your way to the mountains.
Breakfast was good; remember, each carriage has its dedicated kitchen, so they cook for 60 per carriage. Don't expect fine dining; it's more banquet style, where everyone's orders are taken and delivered as dishes are prepared.
The tables are shared, four to a table, so you'll get to meet and talk to great people from all walks of life.
Take some time to enjoy the first part of the journey, as the crew will give you the right amount of information on the landscape as you travel through.
Spend time on the open-air platform downstairs; we loved the experience and feeling part of nature and landscapes as you speed by. However, the views are better from your seats on the upper floor.
The bar opens at 10.00 am, and let's say we quickly took the opportunity to enjoy a finely made cocktail while relaxing, watching the world slowly pass by our window.
We didn't particularly like the complimentary wines, so we opted for a beautiful french chablis that was very reasonably priced.
However, at this point, I'm confused why Rocky Mountaineer persists with such below-average wines (average $15 per bottle) when Canada produces some excellent wines.
You are given a unique lunch menu to select your options daily. All meals are locally sourced from areas throughout the train trip. We found it was essential to listen closely to the crew's recommendations to ensure you enjoy the best dishes.
A freshly cooked cookie is served around 4 pm; this was a nice touch.
Day one is very long; by the time you get to your hotel room, it's typically 8.30 pm.
The train rolls into Kamloops at 7.30 pm. When all passengers board the buses, you arrive at your hotel at 8.30 pm. The travel time is about 20 min drive.
One major disappointment was that you could not select your hotel, so our hotel didn't have a restaurant or room service, so if you had the midday lunch, it's now 8.30 pm with no options to eat, and you have a very early start the next day.
The accommodation was disappointing; we stayed at Fairfield Inn & Suites Kamloops (2-star hotel), not Gold Leaf service, in our opinion, at this price point.
Day two is where the adventure truly starts.
Another early start with the bus picking us up at 5.45 am.
We decided to skip the 6.45 am breakfast this day and instead caught up with a nap, although the day starts with some magical scenery, so you have to take it in turns to nap.
On this day, we spent more time outside in the open-air viewing area, which was simply awe-inspiring, and many new friendships were made while enjoying the fresh mountain air and the journey.
Using one of the tips below, we scored a table just for ourselves while sipping a beautiful french chablis and even slowing the meal service. We could not fault the service. The team was amazing!
The train stops just outside Lake Louise for about 30-minutes to offload passengers. Unfortunately, you are stationed behind the mountain, so don't expect any lake views. We were very disappointed with this, as one of the reasons we booked this train trip was because we understood we would also visit Lake Louise, might have been careless on our behalf misunderstanding the route.
We're now down to the home stretch and exhaustedly arrive in Banff after two very long days.
Another 30-minute wait as we waited for the bus to load and drive us to our hotel, which was an 8-minute walk; it would have been nice to be offered the walking option.
By this time, it's 8.30 pm, and in Banff, that means only one thing, everything is nearly closed, and most restaurants close at 9 pm.
Banff is suffering from over-tourism, with a population of 8,000 receiving up to one million visitors per month in Summer.
The locals we talked to in Banff gave us the best advice: to leave and stay in Canmore, only 20-minutes from Banff, with better dining, views, and no tourists.
Most passengers miss parts due to sleeping because of the 12-hour days, so grab naps in the morning; the best views are on both afternoons.
It's a diesel train, so bring some wipes, as your face will be covered in soot from the engine using the viewing area.
Ensure you have sunscreen if standing outside in the view area, as you'll get plenty of sun on both days.
There is always a queue with only two toilets and sixty-plus older people, so try to avoid the pre and post-lunch rush between 12 pm to 3 pm.
Are you getting the perfect table for lunch? Two bench seats at the rear of the dining area seat only two people, ideal for romantics like Sally and myself.
Make sure you find out your eating time and walk down 5 minutes before opening and then request one of those tables, boom, a romantic table for two.
Book a restaurant before getting into Banff as even our hotel restaurant was closed at 8.30 pm.
We will leave it up to you to make the decision. We all have different travel styles and needs, and wants. Definitely 'Yes' if you're looking for a bucket list item and have the means, do it. The rocky mountains are mesmerising. If you're younger, we recommend considering your options and taking an Alaskan cruise; it will provide you with a much better value experience.