There are great trains and there are imposing ships..... then there is the Rocky Mountaineer and a cruise into Alaska.
Catching your breath will not be easy on this mind-blowing adventure and it won’t be attributable to the altitude – prepare to burst with glee!
Rocky Mountaineer Facts
Rocky Mountaineer is the largest privately owned rail passenger service in North America. It is a multi-award-winning service that has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is widely acclaimed as being one of the world’s greatest trips. Below we follow the First Passage to the West route which takes two days and originates in Banff, inside the National Park, with one overnight stop in Kamloops. The journey can be reversed or you can begin or end the journey at picturesque Lake Louise; alternative routes are available too, beginning and ending in Jasper with Journey Through the Clouds travelling via Kamloops again or The Rainforest to Gold Rush taking three days with overnight stops in Quesenl and Whistler.
Why take this route by train?
The rail tracks are deemed in many places to be marvels of engineering; they not only pass outstanding natural spectacles of mountains, forests, rivers and waterfalls but traverse expansive canyons following routes that cannot be followed by other means of transport. There are no roads or paths providing alternative access which keeps the whole region peaceful for wildlife and guarantees privileged views.
What makes this train so special?
Super comfortable seats with plenty of leg room and of course you can get up and stretch your legs whenever you choose; the Silver and Gold Leaf Service gives you fabulous custom-designed domed coaches affording a panoramic observation opportunities.
Gold Leaf Service
The ultimate in panoramic rail travel with bi-level glass domed coaches, gourmet cuisine and an exclusive outdoor vestibule to inhale as much of that Rocky Mountain air as you wish. Food, beverages and exquisite snacks are served throughout and included in your tour price; guests enjoy meal service in the downstairs dining room and generally spend their days on the upper level dome. At the end of day one your luggage will be delivered to your overnight hotel in Kamloops, completing this stellar service.
Silver Leaf Service
In celebration of the Rocky Mountaineer’s 25th Anniversary the already great Silver Leaf Service has had further enhancements. Seat-side service is now included and the beverage offering includes wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks throughout the journey – tasty nibbles like the Earl Grey scented trail mix is quite irresistible! The oversized panoramic windows in the single dome coaches ensure you don’t miss a trick outside whilst reclining seats and regular refreshment offerings keep you content inside – grand!
Stories at bedtime
Well not exactly – but your friendly Rocky Ambassadors delight in enhancing your appreciation of what you are taking in visually by regularly regaling entertaining and factual history as well as fashionable mountain legends.
What are the chances of spotting wildlife?
Pretty much guaranteed – and this is due to the innovative alert system operated by the on-board staff who seem to be on constant lookout. You have every chance of seeing bald eagles soaring majestically overhead or families of black bears traversing shallow streams, elk, wolves, deer, moose, osprey, mountain goats and bighorn sheep are also regularly seen and even leaping Sockeye salmon can be glimpsed swimming up Adams River! Binoculars are recommended and do listen out for eagle-alerts.
Leaving your train for your night in Vancouver you’d be forgiven for feeling blissfully replete, but brace yourself for more delightful assaults on your senses. Our Alaskan Cruise follows the route of the MS Nieuw Amsterdam on a 7 night round trip from Vancouver.
Leaving Vancouver you will find yourself almost immediately navigating the legendary Inside Passage; renowned as one of the most scenic sea-lanes on the planet where mountain walls brush past tantalising close as if ushering the ship along. With views evolving into multi-coloured forests, imposing turquoise glaciers and sights of other vessels there is a muted buzz amidst the whole area.
Tracy Arm Fjord slinks through the Tongass National Forest revealing a shoreline spotted with melting snow waterfalls, inelegantly growing trees clinging on stubbornly to life and acres of multi-layered ice that seem to pose for the ruthless sunlight.
Juneau and Skagway, Alaska
Accessible only by air or ocean, Juneau is Alaska’s capital city and possibly the prettiest in America. Built on gold-rush mania the history is intriguing and it’s easy to appreciate the hardship endured by pioneers so wrap up warm, walk, kayak or simply visit the many galleries and heritage sites around. Seafood here is as fresh as it comes – pick a restaurant with a view and soak up the salt! Stopping a little further along in Skagway, you’ll be treated to ‘something completely different’! Relying greatly on tourism you’ll find a seven-block Broadway with bizarre historic facades of shops and restaurants complete with wooden sidewalks and locals in period dress. Along with the nearby ghost town of Dyea it saw more than 40,000 gold-rush stampedes heading to the Yukon via the Chilkoot Trail. Taken for what it is you will probably enjoy the diversion.
The magnificence of Alaskan waters is the draw on this cruise so days in the Glacier Bay National Park are definitive. This UNESCO World Heritage Site protects a unique ecosystem of plants and animals; it is also the world’s premier calving tidewater glaciers where ice splits from its glacier, thundering into the sea and in turn shooting water metres into the sky – be careful - capturing this on camera can become obsessive!
And on to Ketchikan
Arriving along the Tongass Narrows with its shops and houses built over the water (Bali-style!), is known as the salmon capital of the world so no need to touch on food for this stop. The scenic flight it worth it to see the many fjords created by retreating glaciers sandwiched by granite cliffs hosting countless waterfalls – spectacular in the extreme. Also well worth a visit here is the Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary, a pristine reserve in the forested mountains and home to bald eagles, black bears and seals amongst others.
Back along the Inside Passage and its almost supernatural ambience brings you home to Vancouver recognised by many as the most beautiful harbour city in the world. The only think you are likely to need now is a new memory card for your camera.
There’s always more
We have packaged this together with a cruise on Holland America Lines, ms Nieuw Amsterdam, but there are plenty of others to choose from including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Princess and Crystal.