The Rocky Mountaineer: Pro and Con
To re-cap briefly, several years ago, my wife and I took the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff. It was a two-day trip, which included a night in a hotel in Kamloops. Our baggage was tagged in Vancouver and taken on ahead by truck to Kamloops and then again to Banff, magically reappearing in our rooms when we checked into each hotel.
Much of the journey was following the Fraser River through the Canadian Rockies, an impressive ride for everyone, but of special interest to those of us with more than a passing interest in railroading. For quite some time, there were two separate rail lines—one on each side of the river—and it was quite interesting to see a long freight passing in the opposite direction along the other bank.
This was a bonus: protective covers built in spots where rock slides occur. On the California Zephyr’s route over the Sierras, similar structures protecting against avalanches of snow are called “snow sheds”. So, until I learn the correct term, I have called these “slide sheds”.
Each of the rail cars has staff to serve drinks and look after your needs and one of those people provides a narrative, pointing out various landmarks of interest as you pass them. On both days, we were admonished to keep a lookout for wildlife and actually did see a herd of big horned sheep grazing in a steep meadow.
The train often ran along ridges overlooking valleys and large lakes. This one—I have long-since lost the name—is ideal for houseboats, which are available to rent. Sounds like a great idea! Because of freight traffic, our arrival in Banff was after dark. We checked into our hotel, had a nice dinner, and went to bed. The next morning, I pulled open the drapes and … Wow!
I took this photo from the window of our room in the Banff Springs Hotel. It’s a Fairmont hotel and is typical of the hotels in that chain, many of which were built by the railroads back in the 1930s. To clarify, this was not included in our Rocky Mountaineer package, although they delivered passengers from the train to whatever hotel they had booked.
As to my impressions of the experience, towards the end of the ride, and the day after at our hotel in Banff, I informally asked a number of people we had met on the train if they enjoyed the ride and felt it was worth the money. (I can’t remember what we paid, but the 2016 prices for the same package is a bit over $1700 per person.) Generally, most people enjoyed the journey and thought they got their money’s worth. I did note, however, that the people most enthusiastic about the experience all had two things in common. First, the train ride itself was a new and unique experience for them and, second, they had never before been in serious mountains, either in the U.S. or Canada. Personally, I think a four night ride on VIA Rail’s Train #1 or #2, for considerably less money, is a better experience. It’s twice as long; the scenery is more varied; and the food is just as good.