Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 5

Our FAM group met in the hotel’s lobby at 7:30am to meet the sales manager for a site visit of the International Hotel and Suites. We went downstairs for breakfast and had a chat about the hotel and he answered any questions we had. Because the hotel was sold out the previous night, he couldn’t show us any rooms that were different than what we had already stayed in. After breakfast a couple of us headed to the pool and relaxed in the hot tub for a bit. A few more of us went shopping in the downtown core at the one mall located in Banker’s Hall. I bought myself a few things and took advantage of the lower taxes in Alberta.

Afterwards I checked out, said my last good byes to the others in our group and headed to the Calgary Airport. Once checked in, I relaxed in the Maple Leaf Lounge as I had Business Class tickets. The cost difference was really nothing, maybe $75. If you think about the cost of a checked bag, lunch and drinks, advance seat selection, better seats on the plane, meal and drinks on the plane, it’s totally worth it. I will fly business class whenever possible or at least pay the extra for premium lounge access.

I was so ready to go home, but sad at the same time.

It was an amazing trip and this experience is definitely going to help me explain this journey to clients. However there are some things I’ve noticed and I have a few big takeaways from this trip.

The food is heavy, vegetarian options are few. For my diet (ketogenic, no carbs or sugars), it would have been impossible to stick to and I basically had to cheat the entire time. The trip consists of extremely long days on the train. The last day into Banff on the train was essentially thirteen hours. You can’t really move around too much and you are exhausted when you get in. A recovery day after the train is a must. I feel that a hike or some kind of real activity was needed the day following the train ride, my internal system hands down is not happy with me that I sat and ate for five days straight pretty well. The rest day will also give you more time to enjoy the Rockies. I’m pretty fortunate to have this amazing mountain range somewhat in my backyard, that being said, for someone visiting, you need a couple extra days in Banff to really see what this area is about.

Pay to upgrade hotels. As much as the Brewsters Mountain Lodge was right in the heart of Banff, I would have upgraded to the Rimrock or the Banff Springs Hotel in a heartbeat. These are iconic hotels with incredible views, the amenities included with these hotels are also a step ahead and well worth it.

Take time and enjoy the ride. There are areas where you have no cell phone service on the train. Really take time and enjoy the scenery around you. It’s times like this that are meant for reflection, inside and out. Seeing the wildlife, the mountains and everything just makes you ponder how really we do need moments like this to sit back, relax and enjoy.

Would I do this trip again? Yes. I personally really enjoyed it. The hosts were wonderful, the food was great, the views were amazing!

As Rocky Mountaineer promotes, it truly was an unforgettable journey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 4

I woke up to a beautiful scene in Banff. It had snowed overnight and the fluffy flakes were still falling. It was beautiful! Everything had a sugar dust coating and it just made me so happy that Winter is just around the corner. We got a bit of a lay in today, not a super early start like the past few days, as mentioned in my last post we stayed at the Brewsters Mountain Lodge. This was a “western” themed hotel, with pine furniture and navajo throws.

I did get up around 8:30am so that I could walk around the Banff shops and get a couple souvenirs. I bought a couple magnets featuring Banff and the Rocky Mountains, and a couple new healing bracelets; an onyx one (for grounding) and a tiger eye one with blue hues. I also bought an aqua aura quartz cluster. It’s so beautiful. People might think believing that stones have healing properties is weird, but I believe in it. Even if it’s the belief of intention, example, putting on a certain bracelet that has “confidence qualities”, I’m telling myself, “I’m going to be confident today”, it works for me.

Afterwards I headed down the street to Provisions General Store. I actually found this place on Instagram and it looked really cool so I wanted to check it out. I bought a “The Adventure Begins” mug lol. Then I went back to the hotel, packed up my things, met up with the FAM group down in the lobby and we boarded a bus. Our first stop was the Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain. I saw a Starbucks and took the opportunity to purchase my “Banff Starbucks Mug”. This Starbucks at the Banff Gondola is actually the highest Starbucks in Canada sitting pretty at 1583m (or 5194ft) above sea level. We all received our tickets to get up the mountain and we rode up the gondola. It was a very small gondola car. It only seats four people. Instead of taking the gondola, you can walk up and/or down the mountain as there is a very good trail. It’s nothing like the Grouse Grind, it weaves quite nicely up the mountain with switchbacks, not natural stairs. Might have been a good choice after all the sitting and food we ate on the Rocky Mountaineer lol, but we were on a schedule. Once we were at the top, the clouds began to lift ever so slightly, revealing a peek of the mountain tops every few minutes. On a clear day, this view of the Banff National Park would have been incredible! I did get some really nice photos of the clouds below us and the peaks of the surrounding mountains peeking through. Once we were on our way down, the cloud layer dissipated and we had a breathtaking view of the valley and the town of Banff. On our way out I bought a magnet of the Banff Gondola and we boarded the bus to head to our next stop.

We pulled around the Banff Springs Hotel and got a little history lesson on the Fairmont properties. Afterwards we stopped at the Bow Falls Viewpoint. It’s not the grandest of waterfalls, but it’s easy to get to. I imagine visitors to Canada have a greater appreciation for these types of things than I do as we have more stunning waterfalls near Whistler or other parts of the Banff National Park than this particular one.

We then had some free time in Banff for lunch, the quickest thing a few of us could think of was The Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s cheap and reasonable quality food. I had the lunch Manicotti with a caesar salad and spumoni ice cream for dessert. Eating so well on the Rocky Mountaineer for two days definitely makes your appetite larger. Once we finished lunch, we headed back to the coach where we then headed up and over Tunnel Mountain to the Hoodoo Lookout. I snapped a couple pictures but basically had a food coma at this point and was just ready for a nap. After this brief stop we on our way to the highlight of the day, the helicopter tour! It was just outside the Rockies at Kananaskis. It was a quick twelve minute helicopter ride, but I got to sit in the front!! It was a nice ride over the mountains, however the clouds cover came back and we didn’t get any view of the peaks of them 😦 The only thing that really annoyed me was I got a selfie with the cute pilot (Mike) but my stupid iPhone didn’t save it! So maddening.

After reboarding the coach I think we were all super tired. This excursion does make for a very long day. If I was honest. It would have been nice to have an extra day in Banff to break up all the sitting we had been doing over the past few days. One thing I will definitely recommend to my clients when doing the Rocky Mountaineer.

We finally arrived into Calgary around 7:00pm and checked into the International Hotel and Suites. It’s a beautiful all suite hotel that has been updated recently. I had a huge two bedroom suite, one room was a king bed, the other room had two twins. Once we had all checked in and got a bit settled we all came downstairs and were “white hatted” by Tourism Calgary and were named “Honorary Calgarians”. It was kind of a neat ceremony and we were each presented with a certificate and of course a beautiful white cowboy hat which we kept! Afterwards, we went to the Metropolitan Grill for our last group dinner. I had an Angus Burger featuring local Alberta beef. It was really good. The only problem was walking back to the hotel in the cold. It was freezing! When I got back to the hotel I was beyond spent. My head hit the pillow and I was out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 3

Again we had to get up super early to catch the buses for 6:15am. We all converged on the train station and began what the bus driver referred to as the “bus ballet”. Once they finally had all the buses lined up correctly, and drove along side our Rocky Mountaineer train car. This factor was nice as you basically got off the bus and right onto your train, walking no more than ten feet. On my seat was the souvenirs I had ordered yesterday. Kamloops is the only place where they fill those orders because that i where they store them (no room on the train). I bought a Rocky Mountaineer Engineer’s Hat, one of the wine glasses and a set of beautiful magnets. Once we all boarded, they handed our another round of fruit juice and we were toasting to the day while pulling out of Kamloops. I have to say, we had an amazing sunrise pulling out of the city, it was a beautiful view with the river beside us, the sunrise and the glow on the engines up front.

This trip is amazing. If you are the type of person that can just appreciate things for what they are, this trip is for you. You are “unplugged” some of the way (no cell service and of course no wifi available onboard). Not long after leaving Kamloops, we were served fruit salad with a croissant along with coffee, all the while seeing bald eagle after bald eagle among the river’s edge.

Today was definitely more stop and go. We waited for quite a few freight trains today as we don’t have priority on the tracks. Some spots we did wait for two to pass, such as during breakfast service near Prichard Creek. Breakfast this morning was scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, mushrooms, a delicious mixed hash and bacon. The food on this trip has been really good and lush. We weaved along the Shuswap Lake, with views I’ve never seen before. I love the fact I have been to these places so many times, however seeing it from a totally different view!

I really got excited once we got to Revelstoke. Seeing the town for the first time since I lived there was kinda emotional for me in a way. I took some great photos going over the Columbia River of Mount Begbie and the surrounding mountains. It was a highlight as Revelstoke is where I always told myself one day I would be on the Rocky Mountaineer.  Here I was actually doing it! We weaved into the mountains and started our climb up Rogers Pass. We didn’t take the exact same route as the cars, we were on the other side and got to see some sights you don’t get to see if you are in a car. I knew we were getting into the Rockies, so this is where I really started to take everything in. I was excited to see we did go through one of the long tunnels that goes through the mountain, the longest tunnel is the MacDonald Tunnel (about 12kms long), we went through the shorter of the two, which was still about 8kms long. Almost right after the tunnel, we came across the highest bridge of our journey Stoney Creek Bridge which is 656 feet long and 295 feet high! Robyn, one of our hosts let me know there was another creek coming up called Surprise Creek which would give another great photo opportunity, so I stayed in the back open air vestibule for a bit longer.

We then came out to the beautiful Kinbasket Lake. The fall colours were really in full swing here along with the glacial blue hues to the lake made for stunning photos. We passed right by the campground I used to camp at, bringing back even more memories. The tracks into Golden are rocky, many little jokes about how the train got it’s name haha. It’s a bit of a rough ride in a couple places, I also noticed this on the stretch before Banff.

We really saw a lot of wildlife along this stretch of our journey, the white mountain goats on the crags above the Kicking Horse Creek, and the absolute highlight – the spirit bear (also known as a Kermode Bear) we saw getting out of the Kicking Horse Creek after fishing! Yes! We all saw a spirit bear!! The most amazing thing EVER! I’ve seen the cub in Whistler this Summer, however I hardly call that a “wild” sighting, this one however, we were all shocked and so excited!!

I took some amazing videos of our train making it’s way up the canyon, and took some beautiful pictures. We then came around the corner in Field and found there was a train on our track, we basically had a Mexican Standoff with a CP train, he ended up backing up (which was crazy as he was such a long fright train) but he did. While this was happening, we saw our first black bear! He scurried right beside us and I got photos and video this time!

We again had to wait a bit as the next part of our journey was the historic Spiral Tunnels. There were three fright trains in front of us, and they were going slow. At this point we were served our lunches, quite a bit later than yesterday as this part of the journey takes longer than day one. We then arrived at the Spiral Tunnels, it was interesting to ride them on a train. I remember years ago stopping at the side of the road with my Dad watching the huge trains go though, wrapping around itself as it went through the mountain. We weren’t a large enough train to see that, but it was really neat to experience none the less. We did see a fright train following us that did wrap over itself though once we were at the top. Because we were following two trains, we were crawling towards Banff, we lost daylight soon after, not before taking in a moment with the mountain views of Yoho National Park and the snow starting to fall. It was a magical moment.

Daylight quickly was lost and we were served more snacks and beverages. I had so much coffee and Bailey’s this trip, I’m sure I polished off a bottle myself 😉 Right before Banff we were served cookies and one last drink. They gave us a briefing on Banff and came around with a lovely card signed by our hosts for our journey (Chan, Robyn and Hugo). They were amazing and most guests including myself shared hugs with them. This truly was a great experience. I would 100% recommend this trip to anyone! We all said our sad good byes and we boarded our bus that took us to our hotel (Brewsters Mountain Lodge). The check in was a bit different from the stop in Kamloops, we did line up at the front desk. Once we got our keys we headed over to Magpie and Stump’s across the road. We had one in Revelstoke, so I was craving a taco by the time we got off the train. It was Taco Tuesday so we ordered a bunch and I had a Bulldog (a margarita with an upside-down Corona). By the time we had finished, I was shattered. It was definitely time to go to sleep.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 2

We started off today early… 4:45am early.

We met Anthony our Rocky Mountaineer FAM Host in the hotel lobby at 6:10am. Once we were all assembled we were given our boarding passes, luggage tags and we were off to the Rocky Mountaineer Station. We were supposed to be a little earlier than the rest of the guests because they incorporated a train inspection of the GoldLeaf train. I’ve already seen it, but it was a nice start to the day. The only issue was that we were given the wrong vouchers and we were waiting for the correct taxi company to arrive. They didn’t show up in time, so we boarded a bus that was heading to the station instead. Because we were early, I made sure to get a photo of the locomotive this time as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get a photo of it anywhere else on our journey.

We then assembled inside the station for the “All Aboard” call. It’s kind of a tradition. Afterwards we boarded our respective trains. It was so nice to get onboard and relax. We left the Rocky Mountaineer Station at 7:55am and were on our way to Kamloops. We were all served some fruit juice and had a welcome toast. As we were toasting we slowly moved by the “wave off”, just over one month ago I was waving off a Rocky Mountaineer train, now I was on the receiving end this time.

Once we were out of New Westminster, we were served a warm cinnamon and raisin scone along with a fruit salad and coffee. This was the start of the never ending food. About twenty minutes later we were served an omelette with apple chicken sausages with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. It was really interesting to see a different side of travelling out of Vancouver through the Fraser Valley. Once 9:30am hit, coffee and Bailey’s were free flowing as we were going through Mission. The scenery along this leg of the journey changes quite a bit, from the farm land of the Fraser Valley, to the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate and Cisco Crossing in the Fraser Canyon to desert near Kamloops. British Columbia is very diverse in the way of ecosystems and microclimates.

We actually did really well on this trip. Typically fright trains have right of way and priority. However we only stopped and waited once for about fifteen minutes for a train just outside of Cache Creek.

Food just came coming, we were given snacks and had a Whistler Beer. We were given a delicious tomato salad with a mustard seed dressing followed by “lunch” which I had Braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes and root vegetables. It was amazing. This was followed by more coffee and Bailey’s and a brownie cake. The scenery from the train was amazing. Hearing the stories and the history of the railroad and the area made the trip that much more memorable. I was just taking every moment in. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this journey so far. It’s truly amazing. Today we saw some bighorn sheep and many eagles along the river. We reached Kamloops ahead of schedule due to no delays with fright trains. We were welcomed into Kamloops by two volunteers on horseback, waving us “welcome”. This time the transfer situation was much more streamlined. We were given hotel keys before we even left the train. When we did leave the train, we were steps away from our bus that took us to our hotel, The Thompson Inn. Our suitcases along with a note and some chocolates were waiting for us in our rooms. This alone makes the Rocky Mountaineer stand out and truly sets them apart from any other tour company I know. Their customer service is outstanding.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Keep Calm and Ride the Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 1

I am so unbelievably excited!

To be invited to experience the Rocky Mountaineer is an amazing opportunity. To me this is a bucket list trip. My aunt was actually involved with them and helped develop their first reservation system. So the Rocky Mountaineer fascination for me goes way back. When living in Revelstoke, BC for a time, the train would constantly go through. I always told myself, one day I would be on that train. Well my day has come. Tomorrow morning, along with eleven other travel agents, we will be doing the Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West in SilverLeaf from Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB with an excursion extension ending in Calgary, AB.

Tonight we started our familiarization trip at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver, BC. This is one of the hotels that Rocky Mountaineer uses for guests who are adding pre-hotels in SilverLeaf service. I love the Starwood Brand group of hotels. I am a Starwood Gold Preferred Guest and always love staying at these properties. I am also a member of their “Pro” program which is for travel professionals.

I checked into my room (2352 in the North Tower) and got settled in. The towers are beautiful and the rooms are spacious. The Sheraton Wall Centre is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and offers amazing views of the city. We did a site tour and viewed a few of the other room categories, the North Tower is definitely more newer and all rooms are larger. South Tower has undergone major renovations, however standard rooms are smaller.

After a great group dinner, a few of us chatted for awhile before heading for a very much needed sleep before a VERY early start tomorrow morning, we are meeting our Rocky Mountaineer Host downstairs at 6:10am!

 

Rocky Mountaineer Train Inspection

IMG_6109

Ok, I can’t begin to tell you how much I truly love my job!

All these amazing opportunities to see the different travel products we sell is awesome!

Today we woke up crazy early and got to the Rocky Mountaineer station around 6:30am, just as the sun was rising.

We got to tour a GoldLeaf Service train and a SilverLeaf Service train, seeing things in person actually helps you sell the product way better as you can more easily explain it to your clients.

GoldLeaf service – Beautiful bi-level cars, completely domed on top, and yes the windows are UV tinted. Not as much headroom as a SilverLeaf car, but very nice. There is power outlet at every seat (on the cars that they have been upgrading), so your cell phone or camera will never be without a full charge. Seats are automatic and even have heat! Dining car is the level below, very nice setup and cute menus. Food looks amazing and the hosts are extremely friendly.

SilverLeaf service – I can’t wait for my trip in October!! I’m travelling SilverLeaf from Vancouver to Banff and really excited now for my trip. The menu looks fabulous and lots of headroom in this car. Has a slight dome feature, very bright and wouldn’t feel claustrophobic in there at all! Again, the newer, refurbished cars have power outlets, and still very comfortable seats. The food service is at your seat, however it is still plated on actual plates and you get real silverware, not like an ecomomy plane at all (maybe first class plane service lol).

It was also exciting to see the behind the scenes and all the travellers arriving and getting excited. The “All Aboard” was called and the bagpiper piped everyone onto the platform. Within 30 minutes, everyone was onboard and the train leaving with us all waiving it off.

I’m so excited to be offered the opportunity to experience this once in a lifetime trip. The Rocky Mountaineer is really a Canadian bucket list trip. I’ll be writing all about it in October, you can be sure of that!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.