Day 1 – Vancouver – Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island, FlyOver Canada.
Our first morning began boarding by the West Coast Sightseeing bus and heading off to check out Stanley Park. We were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day which really helped our Vancouver sightseeing experience. Capilano Suspension Bridge was next on our list and only a short drive from the park. Here we learned about the history and development of the Park since it was purchased by Native Vancouverite, Nancy Stibbard in 1983. Capilano Suspension Bridge crosses to towering evergreens, cedar-scented rainforest air and the Treetops Adventure - 7 suspended footbridges offering views 110 feet above the forest floor. The new Cliffwalk follows a granite precipice along Capilano River with a labyrinth-like series of narrow cantilevered bridges, stairs and platforms and only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure! We of course, tried all three activities.
Next we headed over to check out the popular and quirky Granville Island where we had a brief browse of the markets and a quick lunch. After boarding the bus again we had a little drive through Gastown, Yaletown and China Town before checking in to Flyover Canada, down in Canada Place. This 4D simulator experience had to be the highlight of my day. For the CAD$29 I think it is an experience not to be missed. FlyOver Canada utilizes state-of-the-art technology to give you the feeling of flight. You hang suspended, feet dangling, before a 20-metre spherical screen while the film whisks you away on an exhilarating 8-minute journey across Canada, from east to west. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents, combine with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience! Once back at our hotel we had a chance to freshen up before heading to a welcome drinks to officially meet our travelling companions from all around the world.
Day 2 – Rocky Mountaineer - Vancouver to Kamloops in Gold Leaf class.
This morning we woke bright and early (after sleeping in the most comfy beds at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver) and had our luggage ready for the hotel staff to collect from our rooms at 6am. Our transfer stopped to collect a few other guests on our short journey to the Rocky Mountaineer Station. The station atmosphere was cheery and friendly and you could tell all were excited for this adventure. The building was an open spaced venue with a fantastic pianist playing, while staff handed out welcome drinks. There was also a souvenir shop and café and plenty of seating for your short wait before boarding. When it came time to board at about 7.15am, staff lined up to welcome us while the bagpipes were played and after the train whistle blew, we were then directed to the correct carriage on our boarding passes. Staff were on the stairs of each carriage to assist with boarding, red carpet and all! Gold Leaf boarding is from the outdoor vestibule at the back of the carriage. Stepping into the lower level, you have two bathrooms on the left, a spiral staircase on the right and the dining area to the front. There is also a wheelchair lift. Once upstairs we all got seated in our allocated seats. These aren’t just any seats – in Gold Leaf you have access to reclining, lazyboy style foot rests and heating options for your seat too! The seating area is spacious and has a compartment under the seat in front for you to store your day bag. Tray tables come out from the arm rests for when you need these during drink and snack times. Boarding was very smooth and fast – there was no waiting around. We then reversed out of the station. As the staff all waved goodbye from the ground, we toasted to our journey ahead and we were on our way!
The Gold Leaf domes are elevated and provide a spectacular view. Once again we were lucky to have a stunning sunny day to watch the Vancouver city boundary turn into a scenic trail following the river. I really enjoyed the scenery on day 1 and liked the rivers, canyons and mining style aspect. Our carriage was split into two groups for dining service and shortly after departure group 1 was invited down to the dining area to enjoy a fantastic cooked breakfast which we had an a la carte menu choice. While we dined group 2 enjoyed fresh scones upstairs (I heard these were very yummy also). Once finished the staff turn over the dining room before inviting group 2 down. We had 2 lovely, friendly dining staff downstairs as well as another 2 upstairs. The staff upstairs come along frequently asking if you would like anything to drink and also provide commentary throughout the day. Lunch service worked the same as breakfast and I must say the portions were huge – I had a delicious salmon dish.
During the day you are welcome to move around the carriage and out to my favourite location – the outdoor vestibule. As we travelled at the start of the season, there was still quite a bit of snow and the temperatures quite low but I was surprised how warm it was outside. You are mainly sheltered but can go up to the edge to get photos etc. Afternoon tea was a wine and cheese service at your seat and by this time everyone was mixing and mingling with each other while enjoying the scenery.
Seating is in a 2 x 2 ratio and the staff are able to swivel 2 seats so that you are sitting in a group of 4 and able to chat. Two people do need to travel backwards if this is the case. We arrived into Kamloops at approximately 6pm where all the locals were out on their verandahs to wave us in. We were then shuttled to our hotels for a quiet night in. I went for a wander down to Riverside park which was a beautiful spot, that even had a beach, itwas great to stretch the legs.
Day 3 – Rocky Mountaineer - Kamloops to Banff in Silver Leaf class.
This was an early morning start with a 6.25am train boarding time. Silver Leaf is a single level carriage and to be honest I didn’t find much difference in the viewing windows size. It was just a little lower to the ground. Seating includes seat back tray tables and a footrest which lowers from the seat in front. Seats are also able to be turned in Silver Leaf. Meal services are to your seat and you also have an a la carte menu to choose from. There are two bathrooms at the back of the carriage and a small area for you to help yourself to water. Although Silver Leaf does not have an outdoor vestibule, you can still get outside. There is a small area between carriages where you can get some fresh air and take photos. Today we journeyed into the Rocky Mountains and you could see a dramatic change in landscape. We started to see frozen lakes and snowy mountain tops.
There are two staff in the Silver carriage which do both your meal and beverage service as well as your commentary. Occasionally the train may need to stop to let a freight train past. Today was quite a social day with people moving around more and jumping in others seats if there was a focal point to photograph. A highlight of the day was progressing through the famous Spiral Tunnels which were opened in 1909. The route includes two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. Making it one of the steepest, most scenic railway lines in North America, crossing the Kicking Horse river, and running under Mount Ogden and Cathedral Mountain. We ran pretty early on this journey today and came into Banff around 5pm. Here we thanked the amazing Rocky Mountaineer crew and said our sad goodbyes to this beautiful train. We were collected by our relevant shuttles and taken on a short journey to our hotels.
Day 4 – Banff and the Colombia Icefield Discovery and Glacier.
Banff is now one of my favourite towns in the world! A beautiful small town surrounded by mountains with a beautiful river running through the middle of it. Deer and elk wander around the streets pretty much oblivious to the people going about their days around them. This town has an amazing vibe and I would recommend anyone going to spend at least two or three days here. In Banff you can take a wee hike (more of a walk) up the smallest mountain in the Rockies – Tunnel Mountain, for some really nice views of Banff, or head up the Gondola. If you have a sweet tooth make sure you try a beaver tail! These are an amazing sweet treat (basically a big crispy donut or churro with toppings). Lake Louise is also a must see in this area.
Today our group chose to venture out to the Colombian icefields with a quick photo stop at the majestic Lake Louise. This was a picturesque spot, and with Lake Louise still frozen over from the cold winter, we were able to wander out onto the lake and get some amazing photos. People were jumping on the lake to make sure they got a memorable photo, and one of the girls definitely got one to remember, as she crashed through the ice, into the cold water below. Wet shoes for the rest of our adventure to the Athabasca Glacier did not sound like fun to me.
We arrived at the Athabasca glacier and were treated to a delicious buffet lunch at a restaurant overlooking the glacier, before a short bus ride to climb aboard the massive Ice Explorers, which would transfer us to the top of the glacier where we could walk, get more amazing photos, and drink from the Athabasca Glacier. Luckily for us, although not on our itinerary, our guide from Brewster’s tours was handed a pile of passes to do the Glacier Sky Walk. This was another short drive and isn’t actually on the Athabasca glacier, however was a great experience. The Sky Walk, a cliff-edged walkway where giant glaciers perch above you and the spectacular Sunwapta Valley spreads out below. The Glacier Skywalk experience features waterfalls, wildlife, fossils and more on an exciting 1-kilometre walkway that leads to a platform where glass is all that separates you from a 918-foot drop. The walk is presented in an interpretive storytelling format that will leave you feeling connected to a natural world that few travelers experience.
Day 5 – Banff to Calgary – Banff Gondola, Hoodoos, Alpine Helicopters.
This morning we jumped on our Brewster's bus and our guide took us up to the Banff Gondola. The Gondola is only a short trip up the mountain or you can choose to hike the 2.5 hours up if you prefer. I didn’t! We had a stunning day and there was not a breath of wind, so it was oddly warm for the snowy area. There are spectacular 365 degree views up here. There are a few different viewing areas to choose from. At the bottom of the gondola is the Rimrock Hotel and also the Banff Hot Springs. Back on the bus we had a small stop at Bow Falls which is at its full force once all the snow has melted. There is also a phone box which a bear has attacked and you can see his claw marks! Here we had our group photo. Next stop was a brief photo opportunity to see the Hoodoos with the stunning Rundle Mountain in the backdrop. A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney or earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. We then were off en route to Calgary but not before our stop at Canmore to experience the fantastic heli flight with Alpine Helicopters. Wow were we in for a treat – the views were spectacular! With 5 people per flight and a few flights at a time we managed to get this done seamlessly and were in Calgary by 5pm. After a quick spruce up we all walked the short few blocks to the beautiful Fairmont Palliser where we were kindly hosted along with Tourism Calgary for our farewell dinner. Cowboy hats were distributed and some experienced the Calgarian night life!
Day 6 – Goodbye to new friends.
Today we all departed Calgary, some continuing with self famil in Canada or USA and some jetting straight back to reality.