The Rocky Mountaineer website is detailed and the staff helpful. However, it can still be a bit baffling to decide what route to take so a few Rocky Mountaineer travel tips are in order. The “most popular” route may not be the “best,” depending on your definition of that. And you also can “have it your way” with any Rocky Mountaineer train vacation you choose. Just ask! We did – and we’re sharing a few of those tips to help you get the most out of your grand train holiday in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, once you’ve taken a look at all of the routes and destinations.
Rocky Mountaineer travel tips – choosing among train routes
- The most popular (i.e. most-often booked) route is called “First Passage to the West” and goes from Vancouver with a stopover in a small town called Kamloops on the way to Banff (If need to continue to Calgary — for example, for a flight out — you can take a bus or rent a car.). Of course, this route is exquisite, particularly the last few hours of the leg into Banff through the high mountains. However, for much of the trip, the tracks are next to or near the Trans-Canada Highway so you are viewing what many others can and will see from cars too, albeit a different and more magical perspective as you rock along the tracks.
- Rocky Mountaineer train insiders – including some of the employees — note that the much less frequented route from Jasper via a stopover in Quesnel to Whistler called “Rainforest to Gold Rush” is their personal favorite. And we can see why: That route and, in particular, the leg between Quesnel (“Qwen-ul”) and Whistler, takes you through forested lands, alongside river valleys and over historic bridges that you simply canNOT see otherwise. Many many miles are in the middle of, well, nowhere, so you get to experience glorious landscape impossible to experience otherwise. Yes, the first part coming out of Jasper may not be the most scenic but the last part far and away makes up for it.
Rocky Mountaineer tips – individualizing a travel package
Remember that all of the routes you see are merely suggestions from Rocky Mountaineer. The best of the Rocky Mountaineer travel tips is knowing you can combine anything you want! As a representative said, “If you can dream it, ask it, and we’ll see if we can do it.”
- We discovered early on in our conversations with helpful Rocky Mountaineer staff that you really can have your travel, your way. Funny thing is, we didn’t meet ANYbody else on our multiple days of the train journey who had individualized the package as we had. What if we want to stay extra days at a stop? No problem, you just have to coordinate with our normal train arrivals and departures. What if we want to pick and book our own hotels? No problem. What if we want to break up the trip at one end with some extra days? No problem. What if … what if…. And the answer always was, “No problem.”
- Remember, the Rocky Mountaineer reservation center is essentially a travel agency so feel free to pick and choose the pieces you want, how you want them. Although the very professional train holiday company has selected certain packages for you, that fact should not limit what you actually choose. You can add, subtract, upgrade, downgrade, stay, go, etc., and they will just work your itinerary around your interests and needs – and charge only for what you get.
- The HI Travel Tales team did take the “First Passage” route to Banff, but then stayed in the area for several days (granted, with a friend), renting a car through Rocky Mountaineer (that was actually less expensive than direct with the rental company, we found). Then we dallied up the Columbia Icefields Parkway to Jasper where we had booked our own hotel (more on that later), and rejoined the Rainforest trip back the next morning.
Hotels: Do you need the Gold hotels or Rocky Mountaineer hotels?
- On mid-way stops (e.g. Kamloops and Quesnel, as mentioned above) you spend less than 12 hours in each town – and with a couple of hours in a restaurant you’ll likely spend less in the room. A fancy Gold-level hotel may not be worth the money, unless you will settle for nothing less. We found the not-quite-luxury Thompson Hotel in Kamloops indeed basic but very nice for the time we had there – clean and well run. In Quesnel, choices are so limited that even the alleged Gold level choice (Best Western Tower Inn) is questionable – Wifi didn’t work in the room, garbage cans weren’t emptied, sheets were rough, pillows thin, etc… — so be prepared for what feels like a motel experience.
- We planned our own hotels in three places: the night before our Vancouver departure, upon our Vancouver return, and in Jasper when we rejoined the train for the Rainforest route back westward. We not only paid less, but we were just as conveniently located. In Jasper, we found a fantastic little place called the Park Place Inn that was supremely located, quiet, friendly, and just a couple of blocks from the station. HIGHLY recommended, at least when we were there in 2014 (and it seems to have maintained that satisfaction level, per Trip Advisor ratings). Jasper is so small that you can walk a couple of blocks from most anywhere – meaning the tracks and train whistles will get you coming and going. The Whistler’s Inn hotel is DIRECTLY across the street from the tracks and folks who stayed there moaned about not being able to sleep, thanks to those romantic but noisy trains (this is now a Silver-level hotel). So use Google Maps to help you find what fits your needs.
- On the other hand, the Delta Whistler Village suites hotel (now a Marriott) where we were booked into had all you’d need for a longer stay, including laundry facilities and a full kitchen. We found it fantastic, although it is now classes as a Silver Leaf hotel (it was Gold then). But if you wanted to hang longer and save a few dollars there is a plethora of condo rentals in town too.
The Rocky Mountaineer train holidays deserve their place on the bucket list of many. Such a fabulous experience, good food, and over-the-top professional service. Hopefully our Rocky Mountaineer travel tips will help you do it your way for an even more memorable vacation.