10 August 2011
The Rocky Mountaineer had us up and out the door of our hotel by 7:30 am. In the end however we ended up waiting around for some time before taking the 5 minute bus ride to the Banff train station. They wanted to make sure that we did not hold up the train as it comes in from Calgary and picks up the majority of passengers in Banff for a slightly later departure time. I highly recommend spending a day or two in Lake Louise and Banff prior to catching the train. Travelling through the Rockies is incredible but stopping to enjoy the scenery for a few days is well worth the time.
There are two types of seating on the Rocky Mountaineer. The first is their Red Leaf service which is a comfortable standard train car where a cold breakfast, lunch and dinner beverage is served to you at your seat throughout the day long journey. The Rocky Mountaineer does not have any sleeper cars as all trips travel through the day and stop in cities along the way for a comfortable overnight stay in a hotel.
There is also a Gold Leaf service which is a double-decker train car. At the top level I enjoyed panoramic views of the mountains, canyons and rivers through the glass domed roof. It was incredible to see the scenery with barely an obstruction to the view. Below the domed roof level was the dining area for the same passengers. Rather than eat in our seats, the Gold Leaf service alternates the front half and back half of the upper area in the dining car, to enjoy a relaxed breakfast and lunch every day. It is an absolute must to upgrade to the Gold Leaf service as it provides, hot menu meals, drinks and the best views of the mountains. Rather than looking out of the windows at trees, I could look through the ceiling at the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
The best side of the train to sit on during the Rocky Mountain portion of the train ride is definitely the left (South) side of the train as you head Westward. The snow covered peaks jump to the sky as you glide along the rails. Although at a window on the right (North) side of the train, I headed quite frequently to the vestibule of our train car where we boarded. The vestibule is a covered open air area which is perfect for taking photos without any glare from the windows. It is also the only place on the train where my camera could track its GPS coordinates to tag its location to each of my photos.
On the first day of our rail journey we enjoyed views of tall mountains and green pine trees throughout the first few hours. We passed first through the Rocky Mountains enjoying both Banff National Park and then Yoho National park. This was followed by Glacier National Park with a very similar set of scenery. This first section occasionally followed along turquoise blue rivers. Eventually the mountains became smaller than the grand ones of the Rockies and by the time we reached the last third of the trip, we skirted 40 kilometres along the shores of Shuswap Lake. The lake was dotted with holiday homes, cottages and campgrounds for people stopping to enjoy one of BC’s largest lakes. The final stretch of terrain along the rails were dry rolling hills covered in brown grass, shrubs and a few trees. Unique to our trip was a brief lightening storm as we approached Kamloops, fairly rare for a city that only gets about 10 inches of rain per year.
We arrived fairly late in Kamloops after travelling for about 11 hours. Our train arrived just before 7pm and by the time we got to our hotel 5 minutes away, we only had 7 minutes before heading off to the Kamloops Convention Centre for an enjoyable dinner theatre show called “Rhythm of the Rails.” Although a bit exhausted after such a long day and gaining an hour crossing a time zone, it was well worth the time to enjoy a spectacular buffet dinner followed by a well sung and performed community theatre musical. I was impressed with the talent and skills of the 5 performers as they wove a story of a teenage boy who took a trip on the train 50 years ago in search of the perfect song. The performance pulled from a variety of songs from the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s to spin the story together in a clever way. Very amusing, funny and cute for a small town performance. By the time we reached our hotel later that night however, I was exhausted and made sure to head off to bed in preparation for an early morning.