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Start to plan a trip like this Cat's Rocky Mountaineer Blog

Vancouver - 2nd October 2017.

Today I head back to Canada. I made my way down to London Heathrow and surprisingly we flew from terminal A today rather than B where Air Canada normally depart from. At least we didn't have to do the 15-20 walk to terminal B this time.
I also enjoyed the entertainment system and watched about four films. They have some new releases as well as classic favourites.

An important note for arriving at the airport in Vancouver, as my colleague pointed out when she visited the Yukon this month, Vancouver airport has a new customs and immigration system/process.

Basically there are now self service kiosks that you go to independently (Don’t worry, there are airport staff around to help) when you arrive at the airport. When you get to the Kiosk here is where you input your details, scan your passport, confirm the declarations, and have your photo taken, this is what you would of done with a customs officer previously. The fact that there was a number of kiosks meant that queuing time was greatly reduced that ultimately makes the whole process less stressful and more efficient. At the end of the process, a receipt type declaration is printed to which you then show the border security staff, this will have your picture and a barcode which when you present to the border control staff they will either send you on to get your baggage, or to another border control agent who will ask you more questions.

Please note the document receipt may have your photo on it but there are others on my tour that the photo didn't appear on it and they had no problems going through. Once you have collected your luggage then this receipt is handed to a member of staff on the way out to the arrival hall.

Flying across to one of the most iconic places in British Columbia, it is a slight shame to be here only for one night! With the bay in front, a vast park to one side and the mountains behind, Vancouver is a lovely city. I'm going to be boarding the Rocky Mountaineer train early in the morning so I have no time to really see the sights.

I have been lucky enough to visit Vancouver before and so I would like to recommend some attractions to visit whilst here. First of all, I would be in Stanley Park, It is a lovely retreat from the city for both locals and visitors. You will find the aquarium, the totem poles and the horse drawn carriage tours but personally I love the walk around the park. There is a trail that takes you right around the edge of the park on a coastal walk so great views are almost guaranteed.
I would also go back to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, again a beautiful spot in the forest outside of the city and the swing bridge was a source of amusement to be on and observe. Naturally the Art Gallery is perfect for an afternoon indoors to see the native artist’s masterpieces. For a rainy day in Vancouver I would recommend Flyover Canada which was introduced in the last few years, it is a combined showpiece of all the provinces and territories to showcase their highlights; this experience is shot as though you are flying over Canada! The hotel I am staying in Vancouver is the Hampton Inn. This is a Silver Leaf accommodation so if Rocky Mountaineer use it, it is a good recommendation. I like the location as it is in a slightly quieter part of the city.

Rocky Mountaineer - 3rd October 2017

It is an early start this morning to be ready to hand to the Rocky Mountaineer station. Like the VIA station it is located outside of the downtown area but located on its own site. You enter the station hall which is great space, you are greeted by members of staff and you may be offered a drink of your choice as well. You must say goodbye to your luggage for now as it will be transported separately to the next destination mine being Kamloops, Your hotel will also be confirmed at this time.

As the time drew near, the boarding ceremony begins which with the bag pipes, this was amazing. After enjoying the music you are welcomed by the senior members of staff at Rocky Mountaineer. You will then here the sound of the train horn and you will then be led out to the platform. While the bag pipers continue to play, you will then head to find your carriage and top tip! This is a good time for photos. Wonderfully there is a red carpet to your carriage where you are greeted onboard by the carriage team and you find your assigned seat.

Today I am experiencing the Gold Leaf service so I headed up stairs to find my seat. The Gold Leaf carriage has two levels so you enjoy comfortable seating upstairs and then indulge in delicious meals downstairs as well as having access to the outside vestibule.

Setting off, we are taken through the details of the journey with the carriage supervisor who then leads the toast to start the experience. What is also a lovely touch is that the trains staff at Vancouver wave you off as well as you go past.
The attention and service in Gold Leaf is exceptional. Nothing seemed like too much trouble and the team were extremely knowledgeable and friendly to approach.

Breakfast was in two seating’s, now we were told not to eat before the train and it was well advised! I was part of the second seating but I wasn't going to go hungry as they came round with cinnamon scones, butter and jam. Drinks were also provided so tea, coffee, juice etc and everything was served at your seat on a cart. Breakfast was announced for the second seating and downstairs you were seated at tables of four. It was a three course affair so as can imagine you won't go hungry on this trip, There is a kitchen on the carriage so the food is prepared on board.

As we traveled, first following the Fraser River then along the Thompson River before heading around the Kamloops Lake to the city of Kamloops, the team kept us informed of the environment in which we were traveling though. The train also slowed down for highlights like Hell's Gate. It doesn't matter what side you are seated on as scenery will be experienced on both sides throughout the trip plus you can get up and move around.

To describe the upper level more, you are seated in comfortable seating with large windows that extended to the ceiling. The seats themselves were excellent. You are able to recline, to extend a leg rest and if you wish you can warm your seat to your liking. There is a table that folds out from the arm rest. This is one of the most comfortable train journeys I’ve had!

Going back to the food, after breakfast you received snacks and before you know it, it is time for lunch. Again as we had the second seating, we got to enjoy some treats which came in the form of cheese and wine. The wine came from the Okangan Valley which is another great place to visit, so please ask us for more information! Three courses then followed for lunch. As you head into the afternoon, you can also break from the hot drinks and juices and enjoy some wine, beer and spirits which are all included.

Coming into Kamloops, we were amazed to see a volunteer mounted patrol greeting us on horseback as we came in. A wonderful touch to experience, as the train came to a stop; we were then presented with our keys for our overnight accommodation as we prepared to disembark which saved the hassle of checking in. They also parked the transfer buses parallel to the train carriage so you would hop off the train and hop on the bus. When it comes to your luggage, well it is already waiting for you in your hotel room.

The hotel is the Coast Hotel which is situated outside of the downtown area. It is what you need for one night. Good big rooms with the essential amenities. Dinner is not included with the Rocky Mountaineer but there is some decent restaurant nearby.

Rocky Mountaineer - 4th October 2017

I had a great night sleep at the Coast Hotel in Kamloops and I am so excited for the next stage of the train journey as we head from Kamloops to Jasper!

The bus transfers were waiting and ready to take us back to the station. On arrival the Rocky Mountaineer staff were all there waving in welcome. The bus pulled up to our carriage so again it is that extra touch. It is on the red carpet and then up into the carriage. This time we are going to be experiencing the Silver Leaf service.

It is a single dome car with large windows that extend to the ceiling. Still comfortable seating although no seat warmers!

Today we come back on ourselves slightly before following the North Thompson River. Some the desert landscape becomes once more lush and green. It is wonderful to behold with the mountains, trees and river even if the trees do often obstruct that perfect shot.

I am keeping eyes peeled for wildlife though I know that in the afternoon as we approach Jasper we may be able to see creatures like the bears we have already seenmountain sheep, deer, osprey and bald eagles and a lot of bald eagles.

Breakfast was served at our seats so the food came out on a cart and was dished up where we sat. In Silver Leaf, there were two options, hot food or cold food as well as a pastry and a fruit salad dish. If you thought you would get less food in Silver Leaf, you are wrong! You won't get off the train at all hungry. Last night, I had no dinner in Kamloops as I was just so full.

After a three course lunch, the landscape was changing to what we all image the Rockies to be even though we haven'tquite reached Alberta yet. The mountains covered in trees or snow, the lakes and rivers, it is a dramatic backdrop as you travelled through.

The train once again slowed down for certain highlights like Little Hell's Gate, Pyramid Falls and Mount Robson. They do give you fair warning as these highlights approach as well as some of the history or geology, It will also give some time to maybe get a good spot. For example Pyramid Falls is on the right whereas a good advance point for Mount Robson is to look left. In Silver Leaf, you do have the large windows but also a lookout at each end of the carriage where you can observe the area from a large open window.

Before we knew we were approaching Jasper, it is hard to believe where the time went. As we came into the town, we thanked the staff for such a fantastic trip. On the station, as we were staying at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge, we boarded a transfer organized by Rocky Mountaineer. The hotel is about 10 minute drive outside of town.

Rocky Mountaineer - 5th October 2017

It was soon time to board the bus to head down the Icefield Parkway to Lake Louise. This is a wonderful stretch of road that goes through pristine wilderness. There are up to five valleys of vast forests, majestic mountains, glaciers, hanging glaciers, rivers, streams and some of the bluest lakes I have either seen!

The highlights seen this time that I would recommend is:

* The Athabasca Falls- a firm favourite on the Parkway and must do. Not the highest and widest falls on the Parkway but is still an impressive sight as the Athabasca River flows in to the canyon below.
*The Athabasca Glacier- arriving at Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, you can view the Athabasca Glacier as a whole and its contrast in the mountains. A bus will take you across if you would like to do Ice Explorer onto the glacier itself. The ride itself is quite something going on a tundra type vehicle especially as you descend to get onto the glacier. You then get about 20 minutes on the surface. The time for this experience is now as the glacier is receding and will completely gone in 50 years.
*Bow Summit to see Peyto Lake- up to the summit takes you on one the highest roads on the Parkway. Once there you take a short to an amazing viewpoint that overlooks Peyto Lake. The lake was such a colour; it was hard to believe it was nature.
*Bow Lake- can be seen from the roadside but do pull over especially if you are able to get the reflection of the mountains in the water.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at the famous Lake Louise. We are staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which overlooks the lake to one side. As soon as we checked we headed down to the waterfront to take those stunning pictures in hope of capturing the colour. We were lucky that at this time of the year the lake is not frozen over but you can see a blanket of snow on the mountain tops surrounding.

Rocky Mountaineer - 6th October 2017

Upon waking this beautiful day, I was fortunate to have witnessed a beautiful sunrise with a range of colours of pinks, reds and yellows. If you are not an early bird, then the hotel offers a sunrise call. So, on request, if the sunrise is set to be spectacular then the front desk will give you a courtesy call to wake you so you don't miss it.

After a good buffet breakfast, it was back onboard the bus for a short tour of Yoho National Park situated on the western side of the continental divide and just across the border in British Columbia.

Like its neighboring parks, Yoho National Park offers visitors an amazing alpine mountain vista complete with streams, waterfalls and rivers.

*The Spiral Tunnels- when British Columbia joined the confederation of Canada, it was made on the basis that the province was linked the rest of the country by railway. Kicking Horse Pass was chosen in order to build the railway through the Rockies however Big Hill proved a challenge to construct the tracks so it was designed that there would two vast figure of eight galleries within the Mountain. It is used by the freights and the Rocky Mountaineer tour between Vancouver and Banff.

*Natural Bridge- this impressive rock formation that span over the Kicking Horse River as it descends into the canyon to then join the Amiskwi River. Visitors are able to view this over several advantage points as well as reading the informative displays. As this used to be a powerful waterfall, this is an important example of water erosion and the power of nature.

*Emerald Lake- a short drive from the Natural Bridge, the Emerald Lake again is a surprise in both the setting and the colour of the lake. Its emerald colours are vivid against the backdrop of the mountains and forest. It is Yoho's largest lake out of the 61 that are in this park and is a very popular attraction, if you wish to see it at a more quiet you may have to early or in the late afternoon to avoid especially the tour buses.

It is a short tour as we had hotel inspections in Banff but you could easily spend all day here and then head to Banff- an hour away.

Banff is a town in the heart of the Rockies. We had some free time but the weather is starting to change, becoming windier. If it had been a clearer day, I would have ascended Tunnel Mountain as it is imaginable in a half day and you get great views of the town and beyond. This is a highlight of mine from a previous trip.

Still in the town, you have shops and conveniences to explore as well as the visitors centre. In the evening, we enjoyed an evening at Wild Bill's, a cowboy style establishments with good food and entertainment.

Rocky Mountaineer - 7th October 2017

The seasons are certainly changing now as it is getting colder and I have seen some flecks of snow. After breakfast, we are picked up and then taken to the Bow Falls.

This waterfall I didn't see last time I was here so it was great to experience something new and something I would recommend to all visiting. Located near the Fairmont Banff Springs, this short waterfall has a picture perfect spot as the Bow Rivers cascades and then joins the Springs River further up. For any Marilyn Monroe fans, this is the setting for the 1953 film 'River of no return'.

Shortly after, we made the trip up to the Banff Gondola to experience the journey up to Sulphur Mountain. It is quite a journey up over the trees, you can start to see the landscape and you see the trail if you didn't want to take the Gondola. Up top, the centre of the trail has created an excellent indoor experience with displays, a projected documentary, restaurant and large viewing windows. However, it is the boardwalk across, from the centre; this accessible walkway allows you to cross to Samson's Peak and the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. It is here that I found that I could really take in the backdrop of the six mountain ranges as well as the town of Banff below. You have a ticket when you first arrive at the Gondola which will give a time in which to descend but we were able to head down early.

After we went to another picture perfect spot at Surprise Corner for photos of the Banff Springs Hotel and Sulphur Mountain as a backdrop. Lunch was spent in Banff to which you can most options.

After lunch we took in some further highlights before heading to Calgary.

*Hoodoos- beyond Tunnel Mountain you come to a car park to the Hoodoos where you take a short walk to the viewpoint. The Hoodoos are composed sedimentary rock covered by harder rock that is harder to erode. However as the sedimentary rock erodes you are left with a tower shape formation. It is an unusual formation to come across in such a setting.

Two Jack Lake- is a lake slightly off the main touristy trail and lovely for a walk around or photos.

If you have a bit more time than us I would recommend seeing either Lake Minnewanka (largest lake in Banff) or Lake Moriane (this lake is closer to Lake Louise)

It is time to leave Banff and indeed the Rockies behind as we head to our final destination, Calgary for the night. Calgary is Alberta's cosmopolitan city and due to its airport, a gateway to this province. It is also up and coming with the population and business buildings to match cities like Montreal and Vancouver. It is also dubbed 'Cowboy Town' due to its famous annual Calgary Stampede.

Now as it is the final night, there was a farewell dinner to attend so all sightseeing was scheduled for the next day.

Rocky Mountaineer - 8th October 2017

After a great night, it is up and out to explore the city. The first stop was to the Calgary Tower.

Rising above the city at 525ft, it is a must see for visitors as the towers offers a 360 degree view of the city, Bow River and the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Rocky Mountains. You will find this view on the observation deck which also offers a glass floor to thrill seekers who can look down and see the ground below them. The tower also has a 360 restaurant for those looking for a special lunch or dinner venue. The restaurant also revolves around to give diners a view of the whole city as they eat. It takes about an hour to go fully around.

Next was down Stephen Street where you could find the main shopping areas and the Core Shopping Centre. I was interested in seeing the Devonian Gardens that they have featured on the top floor near the food court as I had heard it was a lovely garden feature in an indoor space. Sadly, most of the sections were closed for refurbishment but what I could see was lovely for people to come and relax especially if the outside isn't looking too great.

Going down to Bow River, is where many locals came to do either walking, cycling, running or indeed fishing.

Finally Chinatown, This is where we stopped off for a late lunch, a restaurant in Chinatown rarely fail to disappoint and that is true for this one. Great sushi! After heading down the main street of the district, I came across the Chinese Cultural Centre which was styled after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, the traditional architecture and one of the largest facilities of its kind in North America.

I am very quickly running out of time to see everything as I am have a pre-organised transfer to the airport at about 4:30pm but going through the main streets helps to get some idea of this city. If I had more time and perhaps a car, there are some attractions that are just outside of the city.

*Fort Calgary- this historical landmark was built by the Mounted Police Force in 1875 and is the birthplace of the city of Calgary at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Today you can visit to see the history of not just this part of history but also that of the indigenous people that also called this area home.

*Calgary Zoo- one of North America's top zoos where you can see over 900 different types of animals from the entire world as well as Canada's well known creatures.

* Heritage Park Historical Village- gives an insight to the past of an era from 1860s to 1950s presented in a live and working world.

*WinSport- a legacy to the 1988 winter Olympic games that Calgary was the hosting city. Today, it is a training ground for those completing and is an Institution for winter sports. In summer, there is all kinds of activities available from zip lining, bobsledding to mountain biking.

It is time to say goodbye as we leave the city and head the Airport, which is about 30 minutes away. At the airport, we check in and head into the departure lounge. It is not a busy airport at this time of year compared to Vancouver or Toronto so it was quiet and quick to get through security. There are a few shops and restaurants over on airside. As we were leaving on an 8:15 departure, it does need to be noted that the shops start to close at about 7pm but a few stay open until then.

Onboard, we were treated by Air Canada to extra leg room seats which made the journey more comfortable coming back. Dinner was served shortly over takeover off of either Caesar chicken or pasta. I thought I would try the chicken this time and it was good with potatoes and vegetables. After a film, it was time to sleep.

In the morning, it was a continental breakfast before starting to descend into Heathrow. Unlike our departure which was from Terminal 2A we did land into B. This did mean a good 15 minute walk to A for border control and luggage reclaim.

This is the trip finished!

I would like to say a huge thank you to Rocky Mountaineer for organising such a fantastic trip! I was honored to be part of it and to witness some much of what Canada has to offer!

If you’re interested in a Rocky Mountaineer adventure call us on: 01509618800

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