February 28 2011 by Julie Drossos
There's something special about train travel. You can stretch out, relax, or walk around while often taking in some beautiful scenery. Train travel is not only calming, pretty much stress-free and "old world: romantic, but did you know it is also very "green"? In fact, train travel releases 10 times fewer greenhouse gases per average passenger journey than flying! Even better, you don't have to go through such a long-winded and aggravating experience with security checks (security for train travel is pretty much a breeze in comparison to airport security madness), and you can readily bring your bottle of water of newly purchased bottle of wine onboard with you.
One of the Canadian west's best kept secrets is the Rocky Mountaineer Train, specifically the scenic trip between my hometown, Vancouver, and Calgary, which takes 2 days (1 night) and starts at $899 per person. The Rocky Mountaineer Train (formerly known as the 'Rockies by Daylight' scenic train that was part of Canada's national rail operator VIA Rail until 1990), turns getting from point A to point B (Vancouver to Calgary, or vice versa) into a memorable, stunning and relaxing experience. The scenery is spectacular; the views of the Rocky Mountains are truly breathtaking. A great thing about taking this route is that both Vancouver and Calgary have readily accessible airports with multiple flights between the two cities daily (sometimes as cheap as $59 each way!). This allows you to take the scenic Rocky Mountaineer one way, and fly the other way.
There are two "classes" of service on this particular route. While both experiences are wonderful, the Gold Leaf service is definitely a more luxurious experience over the Red Leaf service. Needless to say, it's also pricier. Depending on your budget and expectations for the trip, the choice is yours to make. Both options promise a scenic and relaxing trip, but the Gold Leaf option allows you to take in the picturesque sights through the windows of their Gold Leaf dome cars (the windows pretty much surround you and allow you to not only look "out" but also look above and around the car) which are quite something. Those who have traveled in both the Red Leaf cars and the Gold Leaf Dome cars claim that from a visual and sightseeing standpoint - the two experiences cannot be compared. A summary of both follows.
Red Leaf Service
The Red Leaf cars have spacious reclining seats in classic 1950's coaches that have been beautifully refurbished to modern standards, with plush carpeting, comfortable seating and air conditioning. While all the seats face forward, pairs of seats may be turned around to form a bay of four, ideal for families. All of the seat backs have decent sized drop-down tables. Complimentary tea, coffee and pop are abound, and alcoholic beverages average $7 per drink. Each day also brings a light breakfast and packed lunch, served to you in the comforts of your seat. Your fare of $899 also includes your hotel room for the overnight stop, and all of your transfers to and from the hotel.
TIP: going eastbound, try to get a seat on the left hand of the train for the "first-class" view ;-), and on the right hand side when traveling westbound.
Gold Leaf Service
Hands-down the biggest draw of the Gold Leaf experience is the Gold Leaf dome windows that literally surround you, allowing you unobstructed breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies. At over $1,700 per person this option is by no means cheap, but anyone that's taken the Gold Leaf option has said it has exceeded their expectations. Some have said that this experience gives you pretty much the best vantage point for taking in the Canadian Rockies that money can buy.
Gold Leaf passengers sit upstairs under a glass roof in reclining seats with ample leg room and drop down tables. A spiral staircase takes you downstairs in the coach, where there are bathrooms, kitchens, a lovely restaurant for breakfast and lunch (served daily in two seatings, and served on real china) and an open air viewing platform perfect for photography or getting a breath of fresh air. Guests enjoy unlimited snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Like the Red Leaf fare, your hotel room and transfers are included.
TIP: in the Gold Leaf car, try to request a seat towards the front as early as possible. This will give you amazing views over the roof of the rest of the train!
Buying Your Tickets
The best way is to buy direct from Rocky Mountaineer online. (rather than from a travel or tourism site) You can also book by phone daily between 4:00 AM and 10:00 PM Pacific Time, by calling 1-877-460-3200.
Want to get yourself in the mood and get a glimpse of the experience that's in store for you?! Check out this video for a sneak preview.