Review: Canada and the Rocky Mountaineer with Riviera Travel
Escorted Tour - Coach
Wow and wow again - rail travel at its best!
16 people found this review helpful
We recently returned from a guided trip to Canada with Riviera Travel – tiring but very worthwhile, the highlight of which was two wonderful days on the Rocky Mountaineer.
As the flights only went from Heathrow and we had to get there from Scotland we decided to fly down the night before and stay over. We have tried a few airport hotels so this time we gave the Thistle a go and I would give it a thumbs up. The new Pod system to get you from the airport and back is excellent, quick and easy to use and you can include the cost in your hotel stay if you book via someone like Airport Extras. The room was comfortable and quite quiet for an airport base and breakfast was adequate though not lavish and no vegetarian sausages!
We flew to Calgary the next day with Air Canada, as usual they messed up my food and I could not get anything to eat on a nine hour flight except a small pasty and some ice cream as the veggie main food was curry. Airlines are always doing this and I just can’t eat spicy food so it is very frustrating. We arrived around 4.30pm ( 7 hour time difference) at the Delta Bow hotel in Calgary which was not pretty to look at but very comfortable and all the hotels had facilities to make tea and coffee machines also which we had not expected. Calgary was a strange place and seemed like a ghost town on a Saturday evening, apparently most people live outside the city and don’t bother to come in. We had immense difficulty finding anything to eat as Calgary is known as the “Cow town” and is very uninterested in the vegetarian guest.
The next day ( Sunday) we set off to Banff for three nights. Not too long a journey and the scenery on route was wonderful , as were the eagles flying above Banff National Park and the deer and elk en route. As we arrived around lunchtime we had time for an afternoon trip to the gondolas which take you high up in the heart of the mountains, not cheap but worth every penny. Definitely the best view I have ever had with my coffee! Banff itself is very picturesque, rather Swiss style wooden buildings and our hotel , Banff Park Lodge Hotel, was excellent. Very comfortable and roomy, a short walk into the town centre, great views of the mountains at breakfast. My favourite of all the hotels we stayed at. Banff is well provided with shops, cinemas, museums etc and being very tourist focussed we did not find any problems with eating. Although there was a totally veggie place, Nourish, we decided to forgo this as the menu was too spicy/ garlicky for me and we had a very inventive meal at Coyotes (www.coyotesbanff.com) . Tom had a very interesting polenta dish (he claimed it was one of the best meals he had ever had with a large variety of flavours) and I had a homemade veggie burger.
Woke up next day to more sunshine and had a good breakfast at the hotel, most Canadian hotels seem to have a buffet selection and although they never have specific vegetarian products as we do in the UK they do great “Bennies” , variations on eggs Benedict with spinach, mushrooms, avocado etc and I noted all hotels only used cage free eggs and there was very strong emphasis on recycling etc everywhere which was great. We had a long coach trip through the Rockies to Lake Louise which is normally a gorgeous turquoise colour but this year had not thawed sufficiently and was still most frozen. We also went to the Parkway Icefields to go a special snocoach onto a glacier but this was a bit disappointing and not worth all the extra time in the coach. We saw more elk and some bighorn sheep but sadly no bears! In the evening we ate at the excellent “Old Spaghetti Factory “ which has a very inexpensive menu ( unusual in Canada where prices are high) with great home made food. An excellent minestrone soup with bread, veg lasagne for Tom and pesto linguine for me, ice cream, Italian cream sodas and coffees all come to around £22 for the two of us with no complaints about the quality. I wish we had this chain the UK.
Tuesday was a free day to explore Banff and its museums though the weather sadly was not too kind. We went for a river walk and to the First Nations museum .The next day we bid a sad farewell to Banff but were delighted to board our Rocky Mountaineer train to Vancouver. We upgraded to Gold and I felt it was worth every penny. We had a brand new carriage, so comfortable you hardly noticed you were sitting from 7.45 am to around 6.00pm! The airline seats were set comfortably apart from the row in front and behind and you could adjust the temperature, the angle, the hardness, the footrest angle etc. The view through the glass sides and domes was spectacular and you went downstairs for the breakfast and lunch. Those on second breakfast were brought home made fresh scones to compensate and similarly wine and cheeses for those on second lunch sitting to compensate. Breakfasts were excellent though we found the first day lunch a bit limited , nice soup and dessert but mains was a risotto with very little veg. The scenery was just spectacular, no dozing off on this journey! Some people spotted bears (sadly not us) and we saw deer, osprey and I saw a moose swimming in one of the rivers but not quick enough to get a picture! Overnight we pulled into Kamloops where the coach met us as at our carriage door and took us to the hotel who welcomed us with Native drumming and chanting and cold lemonade, a nice touch.
Thursday we had our second day on the train, scenery a bit different but still fantastic. We saw more birds on the second day, Osprey, Bald Eage, Golden Eagle and also Bighorn sheep. The experience was a little diminished by the fact it took around 2 hours to get into Vancouver through scruffy areas which contrasted badly with the beauty we had become accustomed to and also meant a late arrival when we had hoped to go to the Rogers Arena to see some of Canada’s Ice skating champions – good job we had not booked the tickets in advance. We were encourage to write poems about our experience on the train so here is mine!
We are the Riviera team
Gathered from the UK
Intrepid pioneers worked hard
So we could enjoy this day
Mountains loom above us
Rivers and lakes each side
Osprey and deer accompanied us
But the bears did mostly hide.
We wound our way in comfort
Nothing was too much work
For our hostess with the mostest
Never would they shirk!
The sun shone high in a bright blue sky
With fields and trees so green
A trip to remember, a special time
We will never forget what we have seen
When we leave we will shed a tear
For nothing compares with the Rocky Mountaineer!
Our hotel in Vancouver, the Coal Coast Harbour, was again very comfortable, though we found it had no fridge or kettle but a very fancy electronic toilet cum bidet called a Washlet which seemed to counteract the emphasis on being green with three separate bins for our waste. It was well situated being only a short walk from the harbour where various activities could be had including a short trip from a seaplane. The next day we had a coach trip in the morning to the beautiful Elizabeth Gardens where we were surprised to see a hummingbird and then onto Stanley Park to see the Totem Pole Collection and also a visit to the original Gas Town area. Later we went to Flyover Canada – a VR Trip recently developed on the front which was very enjoyable.
Saturday was our last day ( half really as our flight was in the afternoon) so we just went for a walk. We intended to visit some art galleries but we found they were pretty expensive so decided not to bother, Vancouver is a very expensive place to visit and live. It is a lovely green city with trees everywhere, even on rooftops but it has a big problem with huge numbers of homeless people who are either asleep in the middle of the pavement or begging around the harbour, it seems a very odd contrast. We had lunch before we left in the cafe at Urban Fare supermarket – this is a chain with a reasonably priced restaurant and a good choice of veggie food. We noted it was very popular, especially with tourists.
The flight back was much worse than the one going – they had squeezed four seats in the middle aisle when there were only three coming, consequently everyone was squashed and had no room under the seats for bags etc. Food was even worse than coming – pasta with no sauce and awful tasting banana bread for breakfast. The TVs on the back of the seat did not work and the staff were far from helpful – I would not travel with Air Canada again given the choice.
16 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Riviera Travel - Escorted Tours