The Spokesman-Review


Daytime Delight Tour Company Doesn’t Leave Its Customers In The Dark When Visiting The Canadian Rockies

I love a view.

I’m one of those people who, if relegated to a windowless restaurant, will ask for a seat near the fish tank or the potted plants.

So, needless to say, it was time for me to see the Canadian Rockies, rumored to be some of the best scenery in North America. And the only way to really see them is by train.

The one problem with extended, scenic train journeys anywhere in the world is that for a number of hours it’s night. The most beautiful views may be speeding by while your eyes are closed.

But trains were meant for transportation, and they can’t just stop in the middle of the tracks until daylight so passengers don’t miss anything.

Well, one Canadian train company - Rocky Mountaineer Railtours - has rethought the purpose of the modern train as not just a vehicle of transport, but as a touring method … a “land-cruise,” if you will.

This vision guided the company to offer all-daylight trips aboard a luxury train which includes 21 “Signature Service” cars and a new “Gold Leaf Service” dome car for wraparound views.

When traveling a two-day route through the Rockies, the train stops in the evening at a halfway point, where passengers are whisked to a local hotel and returned to the train the next morning.

Signature Service is lovely, with reclining seats and oversized picture windows. But the 72-seat dome car, almost double the price, is worth it.

Just christened in June, it’s the first new passenger rail coach in Canada in 40 years and the first of its kind in the country. Upstairs, atrium-like windows that stretch from seat level to the ceiling allow for an almost 360-degree view of spectacular scenery. Sunlight and classical music filters softly as you recline and soak it all in.

Downstairs, an executive chef whips up gourmet meals in a classic dining car, complete with tablecloths and lighted wall sconces. A spacious open-air observation platform is also open to dome-car passengers.

The train departs from Vancouver, British Columbia, and travels eastbound to Banff, then on to Calgary, Alberta. Another route heads to Jasper, Alberta. Passengers can also take the train westbound back to Vancouver.

Possibilities abound: Rocky Mountaineer acts as a full-service travel bureau and can arrange air flights, rental cars and hotels, and passengers can get off the train for a couple of days (to explore Banff, for example) and then continue on their route later. Most passengers choose to take the train one-way, and then fly home from their final destination.

The experience begins at the Vancouver station with the hearty, old-fashioned “All Abooooard!” called out from the platform when it’s time to embark. Rocky Mountaineer staff then gathers beside the tracks, waving to passengers as the train pulls out.

Chatty and charming attendants provide information and commentary at appropriate intervals throughout the journey, highlighting points of interest along the way. (You can also follow the route with a map in the complimentary publication left at each seat.)

And when you need to stretch your legs - this is about a 12-hour day, after all - small, open vestibules between the cars are available for fresh air and unobstructed picture-taking.

The first day’s travel is from Vancouver to Kamloops. The train meanders through the lush Fraser Valley and along tree-covered foothills, following the Fraser River to where it meets the Thompson.

As the Thompson River turns north, the water becomes turbulent. Diehard kayakers and river-rafters can be seen lifting their paddles to salute the train as they hurtle past. Highlights along this leg include dramatic waterways cutting through high river banks: Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon, the North Thompson Canyon, Suicide Rapids and the Jaws of Death Gorge.

Then, when the train enters a dry belt, the landscape that was filled with evergreens, waterfalls and verdant meadows earlier in the day becomes more arid. This is the region where big-horn sheep are often spotted by alert passengers. The train stops for the night in historic Kamloops, whose name means “meeting of the waters,” as it is here that the North and South Thompson rivers meet.

After dinner and a few hours sleep in a comfortable local hotel, it’s back on the train for a 7:30 a.m departure. The train next travels through fields of Russian willows and ginseng.

The lush landscape soon returns - rolling hills blanketed in evergreen, rivers flowing into calm wide lakes dotted with summer houseboats, stone tunnels, osprey nests perched in the tops of trees.

Traveling parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway at some points, the train crosses Craigellachie, where the last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in 1885, uniting Canada for the first time.

Then, just past Revelstoke, the first snow-capped peak of the Rockies appears and the passengers go wild. Cameras are focused, people run to the vestibules, and in the dome car, attendants serve the most heavenly chocolate-covered strawberries.

Suddenly, there’s no danger of drifting asleep to the comfortable rhythm of the train, much less reading that book you brought. It’s impossible to tear your eyes away from what’s to come. On this leg of the train trip, you’ll find yourself not wanting to miss a moment.

Jagged, Matterhorn-like peaks keep rising along the train, coated with fresh snow. But save some of your film: from this point until the evening stop at Banff, it only gets more spectacular. The train criss-crosses over churning ice-blue rivers, winding its way right along the crevasses that separate the endless peaks.

Treacherously steep passes take the train, twisting and turning, through the famed Spiral Tunnels, then past Mount Temple and Castle Mountain.

The squeals of delight and clicking of camera shutters turn to pure awe, with the sudden realization that this can’t ever be captured on film. It is just breathtaking, the incredible and pristine diversity of Canada.

When the train rolls into Banff, many passengers leave the dome car to stay at this famous, scenic national park area in Alberta. The rest of us continue on to Calgary, as the last bits of light radiate out from behind the rugged peaks, now dark silhouettes.

At almost 10 p.m. we reach the city, noting that we’ve spent the last fourteen straight hours on board the Rocky Mountaineer.

I never thought any view could keep me occupied for such a long stretch. But as I step slowly onto the solid ground of the station, reeling from what I’ve seen, I can’t imagine where the time has gone.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU Go Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, the only all-daylight rail service though the Canadian Rockies, runs from May through Oct. 17. Fares range from $441 (U.S.) per person, double occupancy, for the two-day, one-way Signature Service tour to $753 for Gold Leaf (dome car) Service. Discount rates, available in May and October, are $363 and $675. Meals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and the overnight stay are all included in these package prices. All coaches are wheelchair accessible. Eastbound or westbound, two-day journeys through western Canada and the Canadian Rockies are available. Travel options and services through Rocky Mountaineer include flight, hotel, and rental car arrangements, plus special coordinating tours or Alaska Cruise packages out of Vancouver.

Reservations For reservations, brochures, or further information, contact your travel planner or Rocky Mountaineer Railtours at (800) 665-7245.

Information For general information on Vancouver, B.C., contact Tourism Vancouver at (604) 682-2222; for Banff/Lake Louise area, call (403) 762-8421; for Calgary, call (800) 661-l678; for Jasper, call (403) 852-3358.

Reading up The following books will whet your appetite for Canadian rail travel: “All Aboard! The Canadian Rockies by Train,” by David J. Mitchell (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., Vancouver) “Railway Country: Across Canada by Train,” by Brian D. Johnson (Key Porter Books, Toronto) “The Pictorial History of Railroading in British Columbia,” by Barrie Sanford (Whitecap Books, Vancouver) “Railways of Canada,” revised edition, by Robert F. Leggett (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., Vancouver) “The Great Trains: Luxury Rail Journeys of the World,” by Timothy Wheaton (Bison Books, London)

This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU Go Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, the only all-daylight rail service though the Canadian Rockies, runs from May through Oct. 17. Fares range from $441 (U.S.) per person, double occupancy, for the two-day, one-way Signature Service tour to $753 for Gold Leaf (dome car) Service. Discount rates, available in May and October, are $363 and $675. Meals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and the overnight stay are all included in these package prices. All coaches are wheelchair accessible. Eastbound or westbound, two-day journeys through western Canada and the Canadian Rockies are available. Travel options and services through Rocky Mountaineer include flight, hotel, and rental car arrangements, plus special coordinating tours or Alaska Cruise packages out of Vancouver.

Reservations For reservations, brochures, or further information, contact your travel planner or Rocky Mountaineer Railtours at (800) 665-7245.

Information For general information on Vancouver, B.C., contact Tourism Vancouver at (604) 682-2222; for Banff/Lake Louise area, call (403) 762-8421; for Calgary, call (800) 661-l678; for Jasper, call (403) 852-3358.

Reading up The following books will whet your appetite for Canadian rail travel: “All Aboard! The Canadian Rockies by Train,” by David J. Mitchell (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., Vancouver) “Railway Country: Across Canada by Train,” by Brian D. Johnson (Key Porter Books, Toronto) “The Pictorial History of Railroading in British Columbia,” by Barrie Sanford (Whitecap Books, Vancouver) “Railways of Canada,” revised edition, by Robert F. Leggett (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., Vancouver) “The Great Trains: Luxury Rail Journeys of the World,” by Timothy Wheaton (Bison Books, London)


 

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