This time of year many travelers are looking forward to their Alaska cruise, many of which begin in Vancouver. For a different experience, instead of boarding a ship and heading north to Alaska, board a luxury train and head east into the spectacular Canadian Rockies.
When beginning your trip in Vancouver, whether it is an Alaskan cruise or a rail tour, it would be wise, if time permits, to arrive in Vancouver a day or two prior to take advantage of some of what this city has to offer.
There are quite a variety of rail vacations available; you can choose from a round trip Vancouver tour to a trans-Canadian adventure. Most rail vacations, those that are not trans-Canadian, are all-daylight train journeys, meaning that overnights are spent in hotels, not on the train.
One tour, which I'd like to highlight here, is offered by Rocky Mountaineer Vacations. It is a round trip Vancouver tour of 10 nights and 11 days. The price, which starts at about $2,300, does not include airfare, but it does include Rocky Mountaineer's Red Leaf Service. Red Leaf Service includes reclining seats with large picture windows with forward facing seats that rotate to accommodate groups of four. It also includes two onboard breakfasts and lunches, hotel accommodations and transfers, onboard snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and commentary by an onboard attendant. Meal plans that include all three meals each day are available at an additional charge.
Also for an additional charge of about $1,200, you can upgrade to Rocky Mountaineer's Gold Leaf Service. With the Gold Leaf Service, in addition to the amenities included in the Red Leaf Service, you'll enjoy the sights from a bi-level dome coach and head down the spiral staircase or elevator for your gourmet breakfasts and lunches.
This tour includes an overnight at the beginning and at the end in Vancouver, which is definitely a plus considering, as I said, Vancouver is a destination in itself.
The first leg of your rail journey takes you from Vancouver to Whistler. Along the way, all passengers have access to an open-air observation car. You'll enjoy the scenery of Stanley Park and West Vancouver, and then travel along the shores of Howe Sound with the Coast Mountains as a backdrop. You'll see Shannon Falls, Mount Garibaldi, Brandywine Falls and Cheakamus Canyon before arriving at Whistler where you'll spend the next two nights. In Whistler, the tour includes admission to the Whistler Mountain Gondola. The gondola takes about 20 minutes to reach a level of about 6,000 feet. If you're feeling adventurous, you can ascend to a height of 7,160 feet via the Peak Chair, which is something akin to riding in a chair strung along a wire. Other options in Whistler include fishing, canoeing, golfing, hiking and glacier tours.
Next, it's north to Quesnel, the largest center in what is considered the North Caribou region, due to the area's gold rush in 1862. One of the scenic highlights of this part of the trip is Fraser Canyon, which was formed by the Fraser River, the main source of the gold rush.
After an overnight in Quesnel, you'll travel east through the forests of British Columbia to Jasper. Keep an eye out for moose; you're sure to spot them along the way!
In Jasper, you'll take an Ice Explorer ride on a "Snow Coach" on the Athabasca Glacier. When your "Snow Coach" stops and you disembark, you'll actually be standing on more than 900 feet of solid ice!
The next day you'll travel by motorcoach to Lake Louise. That night you'll stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a beautiful resort hotel in Banff National Park nestled amongst the snowcapped Rockies.
After your night at the Fairmont, you'll ride the motorcoach through Yoho National Park and then spend the night in Banff.
Then, it's back on the train from Banff along the Thompson River to an overnight in Kamloops. Kamloops means "meeting of the waters," and was so named because it is where the North and South Thompson rivers meet. After spending the night in Kamloops, your train will take you back to Vancouver for one night before you head back home.
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at (772) 567-8481 or (800) 795-1986. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.