Banff, Alberta, Canada to Vancouver, BC, Canada 9/17/17
This is going to be a review of my GoldLeaf experience with Rocky Mountaineer (RM), but I feel I need to give a bit of backstory before I begin. My trip with RM was very customized, based upon a prior trip my husband and I had taken in 2011.
In 2011 we did a 7-night round-trip Calgary escorted coach tour from Globus Tours called Great Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. This took us, with an awesome guide and driver, from Calgary, to Lake Louise, Jasper and Banff and then returned us to Calgary. Along the way, we had many scenic stops for great sights, lovely Fairmont hotels, and many included side trips. Some fellow travelers on our coach tour ended their Globus trip in Banff as they had the Rocky Mountaineer train to Vancouver included as part of their package, and a few of us had the short 1.5 hour coach ride back to Calgary Airport to conclude our tour. We felt that Lake Louise and Jasper and all the included major sights were necessary to do only one time, but we loved Banff and planned to return there for more time in the future. I will include a link to my Globus tour review.
So, to begin our anniversary Rocky Mountaineer trip in 2017, we flew to Calgary for one overnight at the Fairmont Palliser. The Fairmont, booked thru RM, was absolutely luxurious and we loved our night there. We also got some complimentary chocolate covered strawberries delivered as a gift because we’d told RM that it was our anniversary trip. Our general opinion of Calgary is that unless you’re attending for one of their big famous events, like the Calgary Stampede, it’s not necessary to do more than one night there. We walked around downtown on our one evening, but didn’t see any major sights this trip.
We had rented a car to drive to Banff, so we did that our second day. In Banff we stayed at the Rimrock Resort. We LOVED having a mountain view room at the Rimrock Resort. The room was spacious and comfortable, and RM included a gourmet breakfast on our one full free day there. So, just a side note, we stayed at the famous Fairmont Banff Springs the first time, where we had a small and old room in a beautifully historic hotel. We would suggest the Rimrock Resort over the Fairmont every single time for anyone going to Banff. It is slightly up the mountain from town, but it’s easy to get transportation on the complementary city bus. Its easy to take a scenic walk thru the Fairmont and not necessary that you sleep there.
During our full day of sightseeing in Banff we went to the Cave and Basin National Park, the Cascade Gardens by the Park Headquarters, and the Banff National Park Museum in downtown Banff. It was snowing a bit on our sightseeing day, so we didn’t venture out far from town. It was a lovely and educational day though, and we returned our rental car in town late that afternoon and took the complimentary bus back to the Rimrock Resort.
That evening, the night before our scheduled train departure in Banff, we got a friendly call from the RM representative in the hotel, and we were advised we could check in with her down on the lobby between 5p and 6p to get our train tickets for the next day. During our meeting with her, she advised us which hotels we would be staying at in Kamloops and Vancouver, and gave us luggage tags for our bags that we were instructed to put on our bags before morning, as luggage is trucked separately from the train and they need those tags to keep it all straight. Further, if you WANT luggage handling in the morning, you can have your bags ready to go at 5:45am. If you want to haul your own bags down from your room, that’s OK also, you need to be in the lobby by 6:40am. That was fabulous and convenient, and we were all set for our next day. Breakfast is included on the train, so there is no need to worry about eating at the hotel that early.
A RM representative with a large comfortable coach pulled up to our hotel at 6:45am and got the luggage sorted, and check in and gave train tickets to anyone who hadn’t stopped into the check in desk the night before. Then he loaded us all onto the bus and we were off about 7am. He gave us some interesting narrative and a tour around Banff on our way to the train depot, as he said it was more fun to tour around and look at things than sit at the station. He was right, but it was funny because it was dark and snowing a bit. He also advised us to know our train car number from our train ticket voucher and to look for very large banners with numbers on them to help us find our correct car on the platform.
IMPORTANT – There is no overhead storage on the train, as the train ‘roof’ is a glass dome. It’s great for scenery, but be mindful that you need to bring only a very small tote bag with your valuables, paperwork and prescription drugs with you. In particular, the top to bottom under seat height is only 8 inches, so even my very small rolling carryon was too large for under the seat in front of me. Remember, your luggage is traveling separate from you, so be sure to bring a small soft-sided tote or backpack with you for your train carryon.
Secondly, don’t expect power outlets at your seat. Some train cars have them, and some do not. You are never guaranteed to have a seat WITH the power, so bring some kind of power pack onboard with you if you feel you will need it.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINEER TRAIN RIDE
Our train left Banff promptly at 8a. We bought a GoldLeaf train car package, which is a double decker train car, with sightseeing and assigned seats on the top level, and a full gourmet kitchen on the bottom level. Each GoldLeaf car has four attendants, plus the chefs. Two of the attendants work upstairs, getting you drinks and snacks and providing commentary, and two work the dining room downstairs. As you board in the first morning, half the train car (the front half) goes straight down to breakfast about 8:30am, and the other half gets pastries and coffee or other snacks right away and then eats breakfast second. That way, nobody is ever starving with such an early wakeup and a long delay for breakfast. On the second day, they switch, so then the back half does breakfast first and the front half gets snacks. Believe me, you’ll never go hungry on the train. They seem to feed you constantly!
The seating in the lower level dining is communal, meaning there are mostly four top tables where couples are assigned together randomly, so you make new friends of your fellow train car passengers. They are also really great with dietary requests and allergies, as they ask lots of questions on the first morning and adjust your food and snacks accordingly.
The same scenario happens at lunch time. Half of the train goes down first while the other half gets wine and cheese and nuts snack, and then reverse on the second day. Beverages, coffee, tea, juice, wine, beer, hard liqueur, etc. are flowing freely throughout the train ride, and the scenery is breathtaking.
Between the upstairs and the downstairs is a spiral staircase, but also an elevator for those that need it. The restrooms are downstairs, and also the outdoor viewing platform is accessible from the downstairs. They discourage walking from car to car though, so the only downfall is the lack of exercise for the two days. For sure you can go up and down the stairs and out to the platform as much as you wish though.
If you wish to shop for Rocky Mountaineer logo souvenirs, you are given a booklet and an ordering paper on the first day. If you want something, you fill it in and give it to one of your attendants by noon the first day.
Kamloops is the town about halfway between Vancouver and Banff where the train stops overnight and you get an included hotel stay. All of the hotels in Kamloops are considered 2-star, and they are NOT pre-assigned as you book your trip with Rocky Mountaineer. They assign your hotel rooms before you arrive in Banff (or Vancouver if you are going reverse), and you are given your hotel room keys ON THE TRAIN before you depart it at the end of your first train day. You are then provided transportation to your hotel. Your bags are waiting for you in your Kamloops hotel room (SO DIVINE…loved this perk). Dinner is on your own, and you’re assigned a time for pickup the following morning for your train. You will leave your bags in your room and someone will pick them up to haul away again for you separate from the train.
We were assigned the Coast Hotel, which was not impressive in itself, but we were given the honeymoon suite, which was massive, due to our anniversary again. So, the general idea we got after talking to our fellow passengers the next day is that even though all of the hotels in Kamloops are moderate, those in GoldLeaf service got assigned to larger suites and room types within these moderate hotels. It was all very organized and done very well. We arrived on time into Kamloops, about 7pm maybe, and walked to a restaurant for dinner and then back to an early sleep and didn’t really see any sights, per se, in Kamloops. We heard the riverfront park was nice for walking, but we were nowhere near it, so we can’t comment.
As we arrived into our seats for the second day in Kamloops, we had little Rocky Mountaineer bags sitting on our seats with our souvenirs we had chosen in them. We had the option of keeping them or not, so it’s always best to check off things you MIGHT want so they can be delivered from the warehouse in Kamloops, so you don’t miss out. Then, throughout the day, the attendants checked in with us with their credit card machine and made sure we wanted to keep everything, and took payment at our seats. Very handy!
FINAL TRAIN DAY
The ride from Kamloops to Vancouver is scenic in a different way than the mountain parts, but still pretty. We mostly traveled along various rivers, which were very nice. It takes a long time to transverse thru the outer suburbs of Vancouver though, so that was slow and not pretty towards the end of our trip. I would almost suggest starting in Vancouver and heading East for this trip as a preference because of that, because you’d be eating breakfast thru the boring part, but it would also be less magical than starting thru the beautiful Rockies right off the bat. Your choice there. Both ways are obviously great.
There is a comment card given on the final day, and also an envelope for tipping. They are not pushy about it, but I’m sure we all feel SO grateful after our exceptional service that we all want some guidelines on tipping at the end of the journey. The envelope for GoldLeaf suggested $70 to $90 per couple as a good tip amount.
We stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, as it’s just the very best hotel for cruisers. We were heading off to a cruise the next day, so we chose GoldLeaf specifically to get this hotel at the end to be honest. Anyway, there are lots and lots of busses going to various hotels lined up at the Rocky Mountaineer train depot for our train that had many cars. We had to listen carefully to our instructions, as some hotels had coach transfers, and others had taxi transfers. Some hotels have your bags waiting for you in your room when you arrive, and others have the bags at the hotel, and still others had their bags IN the depot on carts that you need to gather and take to your taxi. The Pan Pacific is one of Rocky Mountaineer’s big partner hotels, so we lucked out and our bags WERE waiting in our room. Such a lovely perk, again.
The Vancouver Lookout, which is a sightseeing tower in Downtown Vancouver, was included in our RM package, so even though we had been up there before, we decided to grab a quick sandwich for dinner and head up there for a bit of walking and viewing before sleep.
All in all, a trip we would definitely suggest to others, but we would suggest they do the Globus Tour or other escorted tour WITH the Rocky Mountaineer added in. After talking to some fellow passengers on the train, we got the impression that many of them had more of a point to point hotels and transfers package for Lake Louise and Jasper and Banff preceding their train ride, and we feel they missed some of the best sights in the Canadian Rockies because of it.
Also, know that whomever you book with, there are sometimes options to pay for upgraded hotel rooms along the way, so if you don’t want just the standard parking lot view room, ASK as you book! And if you’re reading this review, obviously you know that you should book whatever train, tour or cruise combination through the Canadian Rockies you want with Suzy Cruisy! I’ve done all the cruise and tour options and can give you the best advice.
More info on Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer has two different classes of service. They have SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. I talked extensively about GoldLeaf, since that is what I had personally booked. However, because I’m a travel agent, I also asked about SilverLeaf, and asked to tour a SilverLeaf car. In Kamloops on the second morning, when the entire train was sitting idle waiting for the coaches to arrive, they assigned me a train attendant and off we went.
SilverLeaf cars are single level cars and they’re connected onto the train near the locomotive. They have glass domed roofs for viewing, and a comfortable train car seat with lots of leg room. However, they are low, because they’re single level. I can’t stress enough how busy the Canadian rail lines are, and how many freight trains we passed or had to pull over onto a siding for. On the GoldLeaf car, we could look over the top of many of these freight train cars from our elevated seats. In the SilverLeaf, your view would have been blocked quite often.
Secondly, SilverLeaf has gourmet boxed / catered meals delivered to the train each morning, rather than fresh cooked meals. And lastly, there will be a slightly lower service level, overall, as SilverLeaf has only two attendants per car rather than four. So, even though there was the same complimentary beverage service, it likely took twice as long for you to get a refill since your attendants would be working through many rows of seats.
Silverleaf cars have a vestibule in the back with a window that opens rather than full on standing platform like the GoldLeaf cars have.
On to the GoldLeaf train car versions. We were assigned a GoldLeaf “B” type car. These are cars that have lots of storage cabinets in the bottom level and less kitchen space. They also have a smaller viewing platform on the front of the bottom of the car. Each train that runs has at least one GoldLeaf “B” type car, as the entire train needs stuff that is in that storage. So, a train could have a locomotive, a bunch of SilverLeaf cars, and only one GoldLeaf car, and that GoldLeaf would be a “B” car. Our B car had very comfortable seats, but no power outlets. There were also no arm rests between the two seats, which made the seats wider and more comfortable.
We actually had quite a few GoldLeaf cars on our train consist, and all the rest of the GoldLeaf cars in our train were “A” type. These are more recently remodeled, have power at the seats, LED color-changing lighting in the ceiling strip, and larger kitchens downstairs. The seats look more like airline seats than ours did. They also have a large viewing platform on the back of the train car, which was connected to our smaller B car front facing platform giving us the choice to stand on either platform that were connected.
You never have a choice of what seat you will get, or which type, A or B, you will get. They are both great! It’s really all about the service and the scenery on this train. RM has about 50 train cars overall, and they send three off at the end of every Summer season for refurbishment, and get three fresh ones back. So, you’ll never be on something that feels old. Every car looked clean and lovely, and they clean the windows before every trip.
Note that Rocky Moutaineer does multiple different routes that I didn’t do. I’m sure all of them would be equally fabulous, but the one I did was the most common.
Thank you for reading!