Several times over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked to compare the Rocky Mountaineer with VIA Rail’s premier train, the Canadian. Which train is better and why.
The Rocky Mountaineer is a private train that operates out of Vancouver, British Columbia, to several different destinations in western Canada, mostly to the resort area of Whistler and to Banff and Calgary. The rail cars are bi-level with seating on the upper level and a dining and food preparation areas below. The trip to Banff takes two-days and includes an overnight hotel stay in Kamloops.
The experience on the Rocky Mountaineer is much more like a guided tour. Yes, the food is very good and drinks are included. There is a continuing narrative which I found intrusive at times. And it’s pricey. The Vancouver-to-Banff trip, which includes a night in a Kamloops hotel (dinner not included) can run as much as $2000 per person.
In talking to other passengers on the Rocky Mountaineer, it seemed that the people who enjoyed the experience the most were (a) new to train travel and (b) had never before seen serious mountains.
VIA Rail’s train, the Canadian, is a “real” train ride, since passengers can have their own private compartments in vintage stainless steel sleeping cars for the three night journey and all meals (included in the fare) are taken in a classic dining car setting. There is a lounge car at the rear of the train with an attendant and seating is available above in a sightseeing dome.
The train runs two or three times a week, depending on the time of year, between Vancouver and Toronto. Passengers have a choice of accommodations in the sleeping cars, including the relatively new Prestige Class, which is very luxurious and is priced accordingly. The one-way fare for a senior in a “cabin for one” during the summer is about US$1700.
My best advice: given the choice, opt for the VIA Rail train (westbound is better) and, furthermore, take it in the middle of winter when the train is much less crowded and the fare is probably 20-25 percent less than the busy months. But, winter or summer, this is one of the world’s great train rides.