Rocky Mountaineer train planning and travel tips (Updated May 2017)
The Rocky Mountaineer train through the Canadian Rocky Mountains is a great, fantastic adventure of a lifetime, remaining for many a bit of a luxury indulgence, even if you do take advantage of early-booking sales and if you choose the lowest class. So choices are important in making the most of what for many is a bucket list item.
We indulged in a Rocky Mountaineer trip in August 2014 and learned a few things about what we’d do “if we did it again” and had a few “aren’t-we-glad” moments about things we did choose (or happened upon) for our travels. We have now learned more about changes in the service levels for 2017 and updated this story in May 2017 to reflect those.
In this story, we discuss a few differences in the two classes Gold and Silver that go beyond what the train notes on its own page about service levels. In addition, we’ll discuss the new Gold Deluxe level, added in 2017. In addition, go to tourism office pages for each city to find out about city-specific events. (Red Leaf was discontinued in 2016, making the Rocky Mountaineer now an “all-dome” tour.)
Eating and drinking in Gold and Silver
The food is beyond grand, but don’t get so wrapped up that you forget about the views!
- Gold may be the “ultimate” luxury for many with its double-decker, glass-domed viewing wagon, but we are not convinced it is necessarily the best investment. You are also paying for a lot of food, albeit great food, but a LOT of food. A lot. Did we say a lot? Plus, since you dine in a lower dining car, you spend nearly half of your trip at a table on the lower level with the same regular windows of Silver Leaf customers have. That means you may miss some of the great views you’d normally enjoy being upstairs – unless, like us, you take your camera, choose a seat toward the back door of the dining car, and constantly dash out for that great view during the meal.
- One of the items you pay for with Gold Leaf is unlimited alcohol after mid-morning. As one train manager advised, “pace yourself” since otherwise the trip “turns into a really really expensive nap.” Yes, we watched a few folks snoozing away for hours. Ka-ching, ka-ching. And if you are not a drinker, why pay the extra for what you won’t have much of?
- While we are not talking white linen and fine dining, the meals and drinks in Silver Leaf are still utterly superb – still hot and still gourmet, plus you DO get wine included with lunch at no charge. The difference between Gold and Silver then is that you are served at your seat in the single-level coach, airline style. Bad? Not at all. You continue to have the huge wrap-over-the-top viewing windows to enjoy the passing scenery – nearly as large as those in Gold Leaf, although not quite. No, Silver Leaf wagons are not double-decker but the large curved upper windows extending into the ceiling are excellent. And the seating area is big enough that sliding out during a meal to go grab a photo is easy.
Read more about dining on the Rocky Mountaineer here.
New Gold Leaf Deluxe service level
No, there is not a newer, more luxurious train. The Gold Leaf Deluxe that was added in 2017 to the Rocky Mountaineer trains is simply upgrading your hotel nights on a Gold Leaf plan to a more luxury offering, even chateaus in some cases. Super high-end, top-notch housing, for sure.
Now, our take on that? If money is no object and you really appreciate the highest thread count bedding with expansive rooms and everything that goes with luxury, then go for it. However, be forewarned that during the train on mid-way stopovers, you spend 12 hours or less in a hotel, including sleeping. Also note that that smaller towns – Kamloops and Quesnel for example – don’t really have luxury housing to offer. Heck, they hardly have anything more than Best Westerns or a few moderate chains. So be prepared for that.
Viewing opportunities in Gold and Silver
Let’s get real here. Without the former Red Leaf service (tiny regular train windows), both Gold and Silver offer really superb viewing. Really, the main reason you go on these trips is to SEE the amazing scenery.
- In Gold and Silver trains, you have huge wrap-over-the-top viewing windows for unimpeded observation. And they are the sublime way to be spoiled.
- The step up to Gold adds the double-decker car with glass domes for a ceiling so you can also more easily look down as well as up – assuming you aren’t in the dining car at the time.
- There are also outdoor viewing opportunities: Silver class has a small vestibule in the back of each wagon with small windows that open. That area fits about four comfortably at the rail (two per side) or six to eight total in the vestibule. If there is a really great photo opportunity and your group is a friendly one like ours was, you work together so four can actually squeeze in on each side – shorter people crouched with cameras right at the top of the half-door and taller people over their heads.
- Don’t get us wrong. Gold Leaf outdoor vestibules are indeed divine. The large outdoor open-air vestibule in the back of each train wagon is worth its weight in gold, allowing for about a dozen people to be on the rail with their cameras at one time for great views – more if you squeeze. And the comfort means if the weather is nice the vestibule becomes a bit of a gathering spot to yak with each other.
Maneuvering the Rocky Mountaineer trains
This may play a role in your choice, depending on your stability, so read carefully.
- Double decker Gold Leaf cars require passengers to maneuver a narrow spiral stair to the upper deck. Not an athletic feat but trains bump and wobble along the tracks, so you have to tread carefully. With a larger percentage of older passengers, many in Gold never went back down to the viewing platform during the day. My guess is, in part, maneuvering the stairs a couple of times to get to the lower-level bathroom was hard enough.
- If you have a choice in seats, note that in Gold Leaf there are EXTRA roomy seats in the very back (made for wheelchairs, if needed, since there is a lift) and at the VERY front (just behind the serving station). That could be appealing to some.
Best time of year to go on your Rocky Mountaineer dream adventure
Really anytime is a great time but there are a few differences, according to Rocky Mountaineer representatives. Note that trains only run from April to October, due to winter in the mountains making train travel, well, difficult.
- Spring (April-May) – Winter is still lingering and it can be cool. But this is when you may get the best wildlife viewing.
- Summer (July-August) – As you may assume, this is the busiest season. Trails are open, outdoor weather is normally grand, with the towns offering lots of typical summer activities like outdoor concerts, and you will have daylight quite light in the more northerly cities (e.g. sunset in Jasper won’t be until 10 p.m. or so).
- Fall (September-October) – The days are shorter, temperatures again cooler, the crowds thinner, but of course you will see some changing colors along the way.