WHEN I FIRST SAW — and heard — Suzanne Young on the Rocky Mountaineer luxury sightseeing train she was chattering non-stop in her charming Aussie accent.
Initially she was gabbing with her travelling companions — her husband Ross and another couple from their hometown of Adelaide.
And then she told me how the Rocky Mountaineer was part of a bucket-list trip to Canada for the group.
“Everybody knows about the Rocky Mountaineer in Australia,” she gushed. “It’s everyone’s dream to ride it.”
Upon further discussion, it seems it doesn’t hurt that the Rocky Mountaineer had a booth at a recent Travel Expo that Young attended in Adelaide and that commercials featuring the exclusive train touting Canada as a travel destination seem to be on the telly every night in Oz.
Apparently the train’s international marketing prowess is also big in the U.S., Britain and New Zealand.
In fact, my nine-year-old daughter Grace and I seemed to be the only two Canadians aboard the train that glides through the quintessentially Canadian Rocky Mountains on two-day trips showcasing some of the world’s most stunning and famous scenery.
While the Rocky Mountaineer clearly revels in its foreign passengers, it wants more Canadians to ride the rails too.
It seems the adage of people being blase about what’s in their own backyard holds true.
Canadians know the Rockies are there and may even have driven through them, but many still don’t consider it a holiday the way they do Hawaii, the Caribbean or Europe.
But once you read this you may want to make it your next vacation.
It’s the most luxurious, relaxing, eye-popping and culinary ride I’ve ever had.
Admittedly it was on the GoldLeaf service, the Rocky Mountaineer’s premium experience in a double-decker glass-domed car for maximum mountain gawking and comfort.
“Whoa, these are our seats,” said my daughter after climbing a spiral staircase into the second-floor dome.
“They’re better than airplane seats. And the ceiling is a window,” she added as she cranked back the recline, looked up and then spread out her gadgets — laptop, iPod and Nintendo handheld.
The seats are wide, give forever legroom and, yes, recline way back.
Turned out Grace hardly needed the diversions she brought along.
The scenery is just too dramatic to miss for a movie on the laptop, music on the iPod or games on the Nintendo.
On the 600-kilometre stretch between Kamloops, B.C., and Calgary, the Rocky Mountains roll out all the hard-hitters from the Columbia River Bridge, Glacier National Park, Rogers Pass and Rocky Mountain Trench to the Spiral Tunnels, snow-capped peaks like Mount Stephen, Temple Mountain, Castle Mountain and Three Sisters Mountain, the Continental Divide, Banff National Park and finally the glittering highrises of Calgary at night.
There’s even the odd elk, bighorn sheep, rabbit and eagle sightings.
By the time word of a grizzly bear reached our car, though, the bruin had made himself scarce in the woods.
While we certainly utilized the recline of our seats to take in these sights through the windows and see-through ceiling, we also wandered the observation car, took regular blasts of fresh air in the outdoor viewing vestibule and headed to the dining car for breakfast and lunch.
The dining car is down the spiral staircase and harks back to a time when train travel was leisurely and lavish. It’s all white tablecloths, fine china and gourmet food.
Grace and I could have opted for a table for two but instead chose to share a table for four in order to mingle.
How else would we have met mothers and sons Joan and Greg from California and Elizabeth and Andrew from York, England, Kiwi brother and sister Mike and Lisa and husband and wife David and Shirley from just outside London, England?
All share something.
Seeing the Rockies was a dream vacation and with research the Rocky Mountaineer always popped up as the most decadent way to do it.
By the way, these conversations were over breakfasts of buttermilk pancakes, berry parfaits, omelettes and eggs Benedict and lunches of wild salmon filet, Alberta pork tenderloin and Fraser Valley pan-seared chicken breast.
Of course, they were accompanied by either Merlot or unwooded Chardonnay from Sumac Ridge Winery in the Okanagan.
“Certainly there’s nothing more beautiful than the Rockies,” said Rocky Mountaineer communications manager Nancy Dery.
“But from the feedback we get from guests it’s the overall onboard experience they remember the most, the service, the socializing with others from around the world.”
Steve MacNaull travelled as a guest of the Rocky Mountaineer.
IF YOU GO:
The Rocky Mountaineer does four main routes seasonally April to October — a two-day First Passage to the West (Vancouver-Kamloops-Banff-Calgary); two-day Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver-Kamloops-Jasper); two-day Rainforest to Gold Rush (Whistler-Quesnel-Jasper); and half-day Sea to Sky Climb (Vancouver-Whistler).
All routes can also be done in reverse.
My daughter and I did the flagship First Passage to the West ride with an overnight at the Coast Hotel in Kamloops and post-train stay at the landmark Fairmont Palliser Hotel (Fairmont.com), which is in the same downtown Calgary complex where the Rocky Mountaineer pulls into the station.
First Passage to the West packages start at $850 per person for the two days on the train and overnight hotel or $1,900 per person for the full-on GoldLeaf service with double-decker glass-domed observation deck and dining car. RockyMountaineer.com.