Rocky Mountaineer Winter Rail Vacation
I just returned from my trip aboard the final installment of the 2004 Winter Wonderland excursion, and I don’t think you realize the complications that it has introduced into my life. For nearly two years now, I have espoused the virtues of Colorado Railcar’s dome products, and have always upheld Rocky Mountaineer as one of the premiere offerings on rail. I’ve visited British Columbia before, and have seen the route the train covers, but little did I know what the reality of traveling onboard the Rocky Mountaineer entailed. I have been mistaken on my site, and now it’s time to set the record straight.
For the Winter Wonderland train, the Rocky Mountaineer travels from Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB with an overnight stop in Kamloops, BC. I joined the train in Kamloops and continued to Banff, with a bus transfer to Calgary, where I rented a car to follow the train back to Kamloops shooting photographs and video the next day. Once onboard the train and settled into my seat in Goldleaf coach 9509, I began to realize that I had grossly understated the quality of Rocky Mountaineer's route and presentation. That point would be rammed home repeatedly throughout the trip.
Perhaps the biggest source of complication for the Rocky Mountaineer experience is the route it traverses. Between Revelstoke, BC and Banff, the line climbs over Rogers and Kicking Horse passes, and alongside the Illecillewaet, Columbia, Kicking Horse and Bow rivers. The scenery is beyond spectacular, and if you happen to bring along a camera, you could probably start a postcard business out of your hotel room after the ride.
Unbridled beauty such as this is a major problem. How can I ever gaze upon a mountain peak again, without my thoughts turning fancifully upon the chiseled granite peaks of the Selkirks and Rockies? How can I look into a stream without shivering in awe of the winding ride alongside the Kicking Horse River, weaving back and forth across on steel trestles, tunneling through interrupting hillsides? After this, even a very scenic train ride will seem, well, average in comparison. From a writing perspective, this also makes it hard, as I am rapidly running out of superlatives to describe my experience. You just need to go there and try it yourself.
The fact that we passed through the Spiral Tunnels and made our way into Banff under cover of darkness only whetted my appetite to return in the summer when the days are longer. The exchange was the blanket of snow that gave everything a larger than life appearance. What’s beautiful can only be made even more so under a fresh coat of snow, and it seemed to have been snowing for the entire week before my trip, almost as if on cue.
Among the 17 cars in this installment of the Winter Railtour were five domes. Directly behind the baggage and passenger cars was RMR 9507, which was being used primarily for its kitchen, preparing meals for the passengers in the five Redleaf coaches.
Among the train’s other unique amenities was the club car, where live music was available later on in the trip, and the children’s car, where the smaller passengers could while away the trip with a myriad of crafts, songs and other fun activities. A good time was definitely had by the smaller crowd.
I can’t imagine a better way to frame the immense grandeur of Canada’s Rocky Mountains and accompanying ranges than through the windows of the Goldleaf coaches. Some of the most spectacular things to see along the route are up, and we got to see them all.
The interiors of all of the cars were decorated festively for the holidays, and the riding experience included a visit from jolly old St. Nick himself, complete with presents for those of us who had been nice during the trip.
The trip was highlighted by informative and often humorous narrative from the onboard staff, which included three attendants for the upper level of the car, two waitpersons for the dining area, two chefs and another kitchen assistant. We left the train with specially commissioned Goldleaf pins to commemorate our trip.
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the Rocky Mountaineer literature is a warning regarding the food. They should probably tell people that the best thing you can do before boarding the train is starve yourself for at least 48 hours, preferably longer.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that we ate one meal – beginning when we first boarded the train and ending shortly before we arrived in Banff. Sure, they made it seem like separate meals, with breakfast and lunch sittings downstairs in the Goldleaf domes, but once the chef’s staff finished handing out cookies and handmade chocolates and tarts as we pulled into the Banff station, I realized that I hadn’t been even remotely hungry at any point during the trip.
And to be sure, the formal meals were nothing short of scrumptious. For breakfast, we were treated to four tantalizing options (including at least one vegetarian selection per meal). I chose a terrific derivative of one of my favorite breakfast dishes – eggs benedict – served over lobster instead of canadian bacon. Together with seasoned hash browns and a dollop of fresh fruit (pictured) it was the perfect sendoff from Kamloops.
Something that isn’t included in the photo is the variety of extras on the table – pastries, toast and jam, rolls and croissants. There was no shortage of food. I might have included a photo of the fantastic beef strips and potatoes that I chose for lunch had I remembered to shoot one. It was so enticing that for a moment I forgot that I had come with cameras in hand. Not to say that I wasn’t stirred occasionally by the passing scenery (my apologies if I offended my dining mates during lunch by rushing outside every so often with the video camera as we climbed up over Roger’s Pass.)
All too soon, the train reached the end of the line in Banff, where we disembarked for the bus trip to Calgary. On the way, we were served – you guessed it – more food. After renting a car, I settled into my hotel for a night’s rest before picking up the chase in the morning.
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