A Little Like Magic: On Board the Rocky Mountaineer
4 MIN READ
Our Insider shares her travels on the scenic First Passage to the West route.
It was hard not to feel excited with the station master’s call across the Rocky Mountaineer's Vancouver Station.
On the two-day First Passage to the West route, part of the Essential Rockies by Rail trip, we’d travel in the stress-free style of another era on the privately owned Canadian railway, enjoying excellent food and front-row seats on some of the country’s most spectacular scenery from reclining seats in a modern bi-level glass-dome coach
The train passes through the traditional territories of many Indigenous Nations, following the path of gold rush hopefuls, explorers and fur traders. We’d see snow-capped mountains, churning rivers, lush farmland and semi-desert dotted with sagebrush as we followed the historic nation-building route of the Canadian Pacific Railway from British Columbia to Alberta and into the magnificent Rockies.
I’ve driven the Vancouver-Banff route. This time, I didn’t have to keep my eyes on the road. There was nothing to do but watch the ever-changing scenery and look for wildlife.
What’s it like to ride on the luxury Rocky Mountaineer? Step along the red carpet to board what’s been called one of the world’s best train experiences.
Goldleaf or Silverleaf Service Levels
The Rocky Mountaineer has two levels of coaches and service: GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf. Both include all meals and drinks, including B.C. wines as well as beers and cocktails.
Since you don’t sleep on the train, overnight accommodation are included, and you can decide on your hotel package, and whether to upgrade to the Fairmonts. Transfers are included and your luggage is waiting for you in your room when you check in.
SilverLeaf coaches are single-level cars with large windows. Meals are served to your reclining seat, although there are fewer menu choices than GoldLeaf. Two Onboard Hosts, a mix of storytellers, historians, servers and walking encyclopedias, provide the same kinds of services as in the GoldLeaf coaches. The small outdoor vestibule at the rear allows for picture-taking and fresh air, plus there are two washrooms in each car.
I travelled in a two-level GoldLeaf coach. We had more than a half-dozen choices of made-to-order items on breakfast and lunch menus, with meals served on white linen in the 36-seat dining room. There’s a kitchen staffed by three chefs on the main level. Next to the two spacious washrooms at the rear of the car, a short spiral staircase leads to the top level
This iconic rail car features a curved glass dome, providing stunning panorama views of the passing scenery. A pair of large reclining composite-leather seats with adjustable seat warmers (they also pivot for groups of four) are on each side of the aisle, along with a service galley at the front of the coach.
At the rear of the main level, there’s a spacious open carriage with plenty of room for photographers and those who want a closer look at the scenery.
“Like so many things on the Rocky Mountaineer, it felt a little like magic."
Dining on the Rocky Mountaineer
Breakfast choices in GoldLeaf included pancakes, cheese and spinach soufflé and eggs Benedict, as well as delicious croissants imported frozen from France and heated on board. One morning I had a disc of perfectly scrambled eggs topped with crème fraîche and a generous rosette of smoked salmon. Lunch began with a charcuterie appetizer board including Alberta smoked bison sausage, followed by a choice of seven mains including Alberta striploin, Lois Lake steelhead salmon, risotto, a seven-grain power bowl and pork chop on the bone.
There were special desserts for vegan and vegetarian travellers, who raved about their meals.
We never went long without being offered a beverage or a dish of sweet or savoury snacks, including just-baked cookies.
“Bear on the left!”
The train crew radioed the hosts to let us know when bears were spotted. A wildlife announcement or a spotting by a fellow passenger had us rushing to the windows. The Rockies are home to some of Canada's most iconic wildlife. We saw a dozen eagles, big horn sheep, elk, a coyote and a several black bears that had just emerged from their winter hibernation.
The train travels at an average speed of 50 km/hr and often slows for photo opportunities.
Rocky Mountaineer's Onboard Hosts
I was amazed at the knowledge of our Onboard Hosts Tyler, Trevor and train manager, Colin. Most of the time, they spoke without using notes, telling us about everything from the salmon spawn to the significance of the last spike being driven when we passed Craigellachie.
The Mile Post newspaper in the seat pocket let me know what I was seeing and what was ahead, along with stories, history, maps, routes, ideal photo spots and fun facts, like the failed experiment to import Bactrian camels as gold rush pack animals.
My Favourite Moment on the Rocky Mountaineer
I was fascinated by the engineering feat of the Spiral Tunnels. The train reaches them during the most stunning part of the trip, as we climbed past Yoho National Park to reach the journey’s highest point of 1627 metres near Lake Louise. Snow-capped peaks loomed, including the well-named Castle Mountain.
Built in 1907 to make the climb up the “big hill,” the Spiral Tunnels took us through the middle of both Cathedral Mountain and Mt. Ogden, the train imperceptibly climbing and turning as it went. The only proof of what happened was when we emerged into daylight to find the mountains seemed to have changed places.
Like so many things on the Rocky Mountaineer, it felt a little like magic.