Things to Know Before You Board the Rocky Mountaineer
Featured destinations: Canada
Published 24 June 2016
The Rocky Mountaineer is one of those trip-of-a-lifetime gigs for most. Nearly everyone we chatted to onboard this Canadian icon had been planning their train journey for months – even years in some cases. That, or they were celebrating a special event, from wedding anniversaries to milestone birthdays to honeymoons. In any case, we’d only been planning our trip to Canada for a few weeks, so had absolutely no idea what to expect.
The simplest way to describe the Rocky Mountaineer is like being inside a top-notch restaurant on wheels, one that serves up fine food with hearty side dishes of postcard-perfect mountain or canyon views, as well as more destination knowledge than you can blow a whistle at. The best way for you to understand it though, is to experience the ride for yourself – preferably in the splendour of the impeccable Gold Leaf Service. And, before you do, make sure you remember these essential travel tips:
Prepare to have your stomach stretched
It doesn’t take long for you to receive your first meal onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. You’ll board the train at the crack of dawn (well, around 7am that is), and within half-an-hour of your departure you’ve got your first snack. The proper meals, breakfast and lunch, are served in the lower level of the carriage and in two sittings to accommodate the 70-odd passengers seated in the upper tier. But there’s no need to worry about going hungry if you’re not in that initial sitting. First of all, on the two-day trips (From Vancouver to Banff on First Passage to the West or from Vancouver to Jasper on Journey Through the Clouds), you’ll take it in turns. So if you’re in the second sitting on day one, you’ll be in the first sitting on day two. Not that it matters much, because while you’re waiting for those in the first sitting to finish their meal, you’ll be rewarded for your patience with fresh-baked scones or cheese and wine. Bliss.
As for the main event, well, you’re truly spoilt. Breakfast and lunch both have three delicious courses, whipped up by Chef JP and his team, and are accompanied by either teas, coffees and juice or a delectable choice of wines. If somehow you’re still peckish after all that, there’s fruit aplenty and the well-stocked bar upstairs. Be warned though: you may need someone to roll you off the train at the end of the journey.
The best views are from the vestibule
…Despite having great views of the scenery from your seat. In Gold Leaf the roof is a glass dome, affording indisputably fantastic views, but step out onto the open-sided vestibule and you’ll really be able to experience your surroundings. Feel the dusty heat as you chug through the canyons, the spray of the mighty Pyramid Falls and the might of the towering Rockies. You’ll be able to see the sights even better too. We’re not condoning hanging over the side (you don’t want to be taken out by a tree or a traffic signal), but stand next to the edge and you’ll feel like you’re actually stood outside, a pioneer taking in these barely-trodden routes. Shutterbugs: rejoice.
Kamloops is delightful
Regardless of which two-day route you choose to take, you’ll stop at the semi-arid city of Kamloops en route. As we approached, passing lines of Breaking Bad-style caravans, we didn’t expect much… but we were wrong. This tiny city – the hottest in Canada – is a British Columbian gem, boasting an eclectic collection of restaurants, a sunset-perfect beach bordered by mountain peaks and even a cinema if you want to catch a flick during your night offboard.
You’ll be treated like royalty
From the moment you enter the Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver you’ll be treated like a king or queen. Each carriage has a crack team of hostesses, servers, chefs and tour guides – sometimes with multiple roles – and every person on that team is there to help. So whether you need a top-up on your Sauvignon, would like help getting from one part of the train to another, are hungry for a snack or simply want to know about the area you’re riding through, they can do it all. By the end of the trip this dedicated crew will know everyone’s name, favourite drinks and foods, and will have been there for your every need. So this is what being part of the royal family must feel like...
Expect to make friends
...Because you’ll be spending two solid days with the same group of people. It may not sound like long, but we’re talking eight or nine hours PER DAY. It’s hard not to make conversation and learn a bit about the people sat around you. And if you don’t, you’ll certainly have to make some polite chit-chat during the meals: the booths are designed for four people, so if you’re in a couple it’s likely you’ll be sat with other passengers that you don’t know. Embrace it we say! We met some great people and were even granted honorary Aussie status (being the only Brits at the back of the carriage) for the duration of the journey.
Your poetry skills will be tested
At the end of the journey it’s likely you’ll feel a bit sentimental. You’ve spent two days in that carriage and you’ve become pretty familiar with its cool yellow seats, wooden panelling and of course, wondrous views. How do you express that? Why, by writing a poem of course. As you approach your destination your team of hostesses will ask any willing passengers to write a poem or a ditty about the trip. Doesn’t sound like your kind of thing? Well it should be: the winning poem gets a prize after all.
There will be bagpipes
No, we’re not talking Ross from Friends playing Kool and The Gang – a real bagpiper will signal when the train is ready to board. We weren’t sure why, but we loved it anyway. I mean, how’s that for a grand entrance?