The Rocky Mountaineer: Is It Worth the Money?

My wife and I rode the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver through the Canadian Rockies to Banff three years ago. Truthfully, I don’t remember what we paid, but the same two-day trip today will set you back about $4300 for two people.
That’s for their top-of-the-line “Gold Leaf” service which includes two full days on the train with seats in the upper level of a rail car that has huge windows for optimal viewing. Live commentary is provided throughout the trip, and excellent meals are served in a traditional dining car setting on the lower level. Drinks of your choice are provided at any time, and they put you up in a hotel room in Kamloops on the first night. Bus transportation to and from your hotel is also included.

 Yes, it’s an attractive itinerary through magnificent mountain scenery and they do an all-’round fine job. But 4300 bucks (plus tax) for two people over two days is a chunk of change and it does beg the question: Is it worth it?

I asked that very question to at least a half dozen couples at the conclusion of our trip and most were satisfied that they had gotten their money’s worth. I certainly agree that the scenery along the route was spectacular, the food was very good and presented nicely, and every detail was handled courteously and efficiently.
That said, it was clear that the people who enjoyed the experience the most all had two things in common: they had never before seen mountains anything like the Canadian Rockies and they were new to train travel. In other words, it was all a completely new experience for them.
There is, in my opinion, an alternative experience to consider: VIA Rail’s premier trans-continental train, the Canadian. It leaves Vancouver in the evening on its way to Toronto, passes through the same maintain range that night and the next day, and arrives in Jasper, Alberta, late in the afternoon. The fare includes a private cabin for two with real beds, excellent meals in the dining car, a wonderful lounge car at the end of the train (photo, right) and a seat in one of VIA’s classic dome cars for viewing all those spectacular mountains. The cost? About $1,000 per person during the high season … in other words, half the cost of the Rocky Mountaineer.
Bottom line: there are a lot of similarities, with the VIA Rail train offering a more traditional rail experience, while the Rocky Mountaineer has a slight edge on the food and pampers you more. For me? Personally? I’d pick VIA Rail, especially at the significantly lower cost.