Each Rocky Mountaineer dome car offers a strategic viewpoint to photograph that passing bear, eagle’s nest or snowy mountain peak. Rocky Mountaineer
By Alison Gardner, Editor, Travel with a Challenge
In a sleepy early morning stupor, I thought my taxi driver must have dropped me at an airport, not a train station. Efficiently checked in and shown to my GoldLeaf dome car seat aboard the Rocky Mountaineer as the sun’s first rays crept over one of Jasper’s many mountain slopes, all the trappings of a First Class airplane seat greeted me. There was the full recliner with enough leg room to delight a lanky basket ball player, a pillow, drop-down foot rest, and a net seat pocket stocked with emergency instruction card, sales catalogue for purchasing a range of attractive souvenirs, and an inflght – oops! – on board magazine packed with articles about the history, wildlife and geography along our route. There was even a sack to take care of motion sickness which, I know from personal experience as a child traveling many a train, is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Jasper’s historic railway station is a five-minute walk from the town’s lively, visitor-friendly main street. Rocky Mountaineer
Before leaving the Jasper station, our cheerful onboard attendants for the two-day journey, Charity and Susan, swept down the aisle counting heads to make sure all their charges were aboard. They then launched into a classic airlines safety briefing that included identification of all emergency exits, location of the train car’s bathrooms, a description of the meal and drinks service, and a reminder of the strict no smoking policy. As if on cue, the train’s Guest Services Manager emerged up the spiral staircase into our observation car to offer free Nicorette gum to any smokers and give his own speech of welcome.
Just as I was searching around for the non-existent call button and my private movie screen, Charity and Susan returned from our personal dining room below with trays of orange juice mixed with with sparkling Okanagan peach juice to salute the anticipated journey together. We were off, heading west in the majestic shadow of Canada’s northern Rocky Mountains.
Whisked downstairs for our first hot breakfast complete with white cloth napkins and traditional silver service, it seemed I had barely managed the fresh fruit plate, warm croissants and half my ham omelette before Susan announced we had entered the historic Yellowhead Pass. That meant we were already leaving Alberta and entering British Columbia. By the time I had finished my second cup of tea, we had also glimpsed two black bears, several mountain sheep and an elk with her calf, all at eye level.
Clearly this was not going to be one of those sleepy journeys where vacationers find themselves with plenty of spare time to polish off a weighty novel or indulge in back to back movies at 35,000 feet!
GoldLeaf dining service from Jasper to Vancouver includes two breakfasts and two three-course lunches aboard the train. Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer operates a fleet of over 90 rail coaches including nine locomotives, all of which are used on its routes in Alberta, B.C. and to Seattle, Washington. The nine locomotives were originally used by Canadian National Railway (CNR) until 2001 then were refitted for use by Rocky Mountaineer.
Of the passenger coaches, 29 are RedLeaf Service coaches and four are SilverLeaf single-storey domed coaches originally built in the 1950s. These classically-styled railcars crossed the continent countless times when they were used for CNR’s transcontinental passenger rail route. There are also 16 GoldLeaf Service dome coaches custom-built for Rocky Mountaineer in Colorado. The first dome coach was introduced in 1995, with the newest one added in 2007. Each dome coach takes more than a year to build. Coaches are constructed with shatter-proof glass overhead, and fully-equipped stainless steel kitchen galleys and fine dining restaurant on the floor below.
GoldLeaf Service includes comfortable dome car seating above and a fine dining experience directly below. SilverLeaf Service includes single-level dome viewing and hot meals served at your seat. With RedLeaf Service in the single-storey cars, guests receive meal trays in their seats. Rocky Mountaineer
At 3,954 meters/12,972 feet, Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, so tall that it hosts its own constantly-changing weather system. Rocky Mountaineer
As the morning unfolded, we soon discovered we had not only two attendants to answer our every need, but Charity and Susan were also our invaluable guides keeping us informed of upcoming points of interest so we could have cameras ready if we wished. Tales of remarkable aboriginal and settler history as well as nuggets of information about the wildlife, botany, ever-changing geology and geography along the route were both entertaining and educational.
An invaluable silent partner on the journey proved to be the train engineers spotting wildlife many cars ahead of us, alerting the attendants in each car via headsets, so they could announce on which side of the train we should keep a sharp look out. By the time our dome car near the end of the train reached the right spot, sometimes the animal had already slipped away, but more often, there it was, unperturbed by the frequently-seen train passing through its territory. Because the Rocky Mountaineer exclusively carries vacationers who have traveled from many continents to experience western Canada’s wildlife, the engineer is happy to slow the train for the best possible view. Of course, the occupants of each car want that best possible view for themselves so he does have to keep moving to provide equal opportunity for all.
Outdoor viewing platforms encourage shutterbugs to take plenty of photos on either side of the car. Rocky Mountaineer
Six black bears, including three cubs, were among many wildlife spottings before our call to lunch. As though trained to show its best profile, one mature cinnamon-colored bear stood sideways, balancing all four paws on a small rock no more than 20 feet from our dome car. On another occasion a jet-black adult bear a similar distance away rose to full-height on its hind legs and calmly watched our train slide by. I would not have been terribly surprised to see this strikingly handsome animal wave!
Late in the afternoon, we arrived at our overnight destination of Kamloops in south central British Columbia, cautioned by our ever-attentive ladies to watch for “train legs”, being a bit wobbly or dizzy after stepping onto terra firma for the first time since 8 a.m. Before disembarking, room keys were distributed, with the briefing that, after our 10-minute bus ride from the train depot to the Rocky Mountaineer-owned hotel in Kamloops, we should bypass the front desk check-in altogether and go straight to our rooms where our luggage would be awaiting us. Always sceptical as to how my luggage can be at my destination in such a timely fashion, I learned that train passenger bags don’t come by train. They travel by road on an 18-wheeler truck which takes significantly less time to navigate between points than the leisurely meandering train.
Next morning we were directed to one of several busses outside the hotel (while leaving our luggage in the room to find its way to Vancouver by truck), returned to our assigned train cars and found ourselves seamlessly rolling along the rails by the time we could consult the gourmet breakfast menu. Luxury travel seems to involve an acceptance that all will unfold as it should with only minor attention to detail on the part of the guest.
From their compact stainless steel kitchen, a team of culinary wizards produces delicious hot meals for two GoldLeaf Service dining cars. Rocky Mountaineer
Before lunch, the train slowed to pay homage to the deep-canyon marriage of the Thompson and Fraser river systems which had been our companions off and on since the Rocky Mountains. At the village of Lytton, the crystal clear green Thompson River disappears into the muddy brown waters of the Fraser. Why the distinct difference in color? While the Thompson River passes through Kamloops Lake where its sediments have plenty of slow-down time to drop to the bottom of the lake, the Fraser is an unusually long river to have absolutely no lakes on its 1,375 km/870 mile route to filter away the sediments. Hence it must remain fast-flowing and muddy from start to finish.
The train crosses the Fraser River, BC’s longest river from headwaters near Mount Robson to its mouth at Vancouver. Rocky Mountaineer
As the sprawling suburbs of Vancouver gave way to the city itself, a gift of oatmeal-raisin cookies still fragrant from the kitchen oven heralded the imminent disembarkation of guests from the Rocky Mountaineer Jasper to Vancouver train. Clearly, we all felt that the end had come sooner than anticipated. In just two days, bonds had been created, highlights shared and travel stories exchanged. However, it is always best to end a journey with a sense of regret that it is over, surely the sign of a successful adventure.
Spring, summer and autumn each have their compelling vistas, but autumn with its brilliant-colored backdrop of turning leaves is my favorite season to take a train journey from either Banff or Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, across British Columbia to Vancouver. Rocky Mountaineer
Alison Gardner traveled the Rocky Mountaineer Journey Through the Clouds route between Jasper and Vancouver, with an overnight stay in Kamloops, B.C. This two-day/one-night, all-daylight train journey ensures that not a moment of the spectacular varied scenery and wildlife will be missed.
Rocky Mountaineer, www.rockymountaineer.com, operates the world-renowned First Passage to the West (between Vancouver and Banff or Calgary), Journey Through the Clouds (between Jasper and Vancouver), Coastal Passage (between Seattle and Jasper or Banff), and Rainforest to Gold Rush (between Whistler and Jasper) routes all featuring the breathtaking scenery of British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies combined with superb onboard service. Each route includes an overnight stay in comfortable hotel accommodation en route. A fifth option is the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb, a three-hour train journey between Vancouver and Whistler, highlighting Pacific coastal sea and mountain scenery.
In 2013, Rocky Mountaineer was honoured with a seventh World Travel Award, in the category of “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train”. Votes are cast globally by industry professionals in 919 different categories with 3,600 nominees. The winners, announced in London, England, were determined by thousands of travel professionals from 183,000 travel agencies, tour and transport companies and tourism organizations in over 160 countries.
Jasper and Jasper National Park, Alberta: Whether leaving from or arriving in Jasper as part of your Rocky Mountaineer Journey Through the Clouds experience, plan to spend a few days in this colorful year-round vacation town and take advantage of outdoor explorations within the UNESCO World Heritage Jasper National Park. We invite you to read our web magazine’s richly-illustrated feature article about this Canadian Rockies gem to see why.
Vancouver is one of the world’s most favored visitor destinations around which to create even more vacation memories. Check out our web magazine’s articles on Vancouver’s Highlights (activities, hotels and eateries), and the enchanting historical “destination within a destination” at Granville Island. You will find enough unusual recommendations to keep you around this great city destination for a week or more.
Provincial Tourism Websites
Travel Alberta: www.travelalberta.com.
Tourism British Columbia: www.hellobc.com.
Lovers of railway vacationing will enjoy three other train travel features in the Travel with a Challenge collection:
A train journey through Mexico’s dramatic Copper Canyon, four times the area of Arizona’s
An Eastern & Oriental Express train journey from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand, recreating the days when colonial empires flourished together with luxury travel, and
A UNESCO World Heritage miniature railway challenges the picturesque elevations around Darjeeling in India’s Himalaya Mountains.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.