We Rode the Rocky Mountaineer Luxury Train Through Scenic Western Canada—Here’s What It Was Like
Welcome to Checking In, a new review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels (and in this case, trains) based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Will room service bring you caviar? Does your suite have its own butler? Find out below.
Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West
Describe it in three words: Breathtaking. Awe-inducing. Pure serenity. (Let’s just pretend that last one counts as a single phrase, shall we?)
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What’s the deal? Luxury train purveyor Rocky Mountaineer has been offering up spectacular scenic journeys for its guests since 1990, taking them on trips alongside some of the most pristine landscapes in North America, from snow-capped mountains to minty-blue rivers. A First Passage to the West ticket lets you board the only passenger train that cruises along this scenic 600-mile stretch from Vancouver to Kamloops to Lake Louise. The two-day, daytime-only ride runs from mid-April to mid- to late-October.
Rocky Mountaineer serves up two tiers of service: the single-level SilverLeaf (from $1,549 per person), where expansive windows and prime culinary experiences right at your seat are your companions for the journey, and the higher-tier, bi-level GolfLeaf coach (from $2,095 a head), with its astounding glass-dome top floor that gives you views in every direction and its own separate dining area on the bottom level. Both options come with their own outdoor viewing areas, allowing you to take in the sights surrounded by crisp fresh air, though the GoldLeaf platform is larger.
Design chops: The outside of the train is decked out in a sleek midnight-blue exterior with streaks of yellow, but the modern, clean interior is where the train sparkles.
Did they greet you by name at check-in? No. Check-ins (a.k.a. boarding) happen train-style, which means all at once. Once aboard the hosts get to know you, your drink orders, and—sure enough—your name.
Was a welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived? (Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.) Yes. The all-board time is a tad early for this trip (re: around 8 a.m.), so the prepared drink station with coffee, tea, and other refreshments in the waiting area was more than welcome. And the bagpipes that send you off were much better than any alarm-clock shrill.
Do you have to sleep on the train? Nope. There’s no shut-eye on this journey, since Rocky Mountaineer is a day-only journey (though if you sneak in a nap, we won’t judge). The basic package for First Passage to the West includes an overnight stay in the quaint town of Kamloops, but you can choose to expand your journey to include accommodations in Vancouver or Lake Louise. And we’d certainly recommend doing so, especially if you can reside at the fabulous, five-star Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, perched on the edge of—you guessed it—Lake Louise.
Is the bathroom situation also 5-star? Definitely. The two bathrooms in our coach were lovely, essentially a luxurious upgrade on what you normally see on a train. Well-lit, clean, and modern finishings, the space is also outfitted with a massive mirror, superior lighting, and fresh-smelling soap to boot.
Is the highest tier worth it? Absolutely. On GoldLeaf, your seats can turn 180 degrees for a more social arrangement—you’ll have around 70 people onboard with you. Your recliners are also heated, which feels divine after a venture out onto the outside viewing platform. The dining area on the lower level is also a nice reprieve, allowing you to change up your scenery inside the train. Best of all, the glass-domed coach envelops you in the nature.
Does the train handle your luggage? Yes—and, in this case, it’s an important point. From the beginning, Rocky Mountaineer takes your luggage. You’ll reunite with your bags when you get to the hotel.
Is it good for the ‘Gram? Very. Lest you leave with blurry photos, the train slows down when big moments are around the bend. A highlight are the Spiral Tunnels, a true engineering marvel completed in 1909 by 1,000 men who blasted through Cathedral Mountain and Mount Ogden to create a figure-eight track of sorts. Another camera-ready moment is Hell’s Gate, named for an entry in explorer Simon Fraser’s diary where he refers to the just-over-100-foot passage with treacherous rapids and imposing cliffs as “a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell.”
Was the staff psychic? Yes, our lovely and attentive hosts Matt and Karmen refreshed my hot chocolate before I even realized I needed a new cup and answered questions before I had even asked. There’s also a constant rotation of food and snacks, so you’ll never be left unsatisfied.
Is there caviar on the lunch menu? No caviar on my journey, though executive chef Kaelhub Cudmore serves regionally inspired dishes with locally sourced ingredients, ranging from sweet lemon and honey buttermilk pancakes to delicious Dungeness crab ravioli (which I ordered twice). Point here for sheer cooking ingenuity aboard a train.
Are excursions included? Activities off the train aren’t included through Rocky Mountaineer, though the staff will recommend can’t-miss activities and work with excursion brands to help you round out your trip. If you’re staying at Chateau Lake Louise, make sure to book a tour with guide Mike Vincent, whose infectiously effervescent personality and fun factual tidbits will make you feel like you’re prepared to see a grazing grizzly bear. Almost.
Would you spend a free afternoon taking a ride? Yes. This is slow travel at its finest; the average speed is just 30 mph. As someone who’s always on the move, I thoroughly enjoyed basking in nature at a leisurely pace.
Would you buy the train if you could? I would in a heartbeat. No questions asked.
What Our Score Means:
1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you plan to ride.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d take the journey again and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking just one trip. When can we ride again?
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