David and Julie went on our Canadian Rockies At Leisure by Rail & Holland America Alaska Cruise in Canada. Here's what they had to say:
Having worked as an actor for 25 years my passion for travel blossomed when I performed cabaret on the previous "Nieuw Amsterdam" for Holland America. The cruise to Alaska had been a highlight but my wife, Julie, hadn't been able to join me on that trip so we had always planned to return together.
Friends had told us of their unforgettable trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train and we knew that several companies combined both train and cruise. We tried companies that had served us well on other overseas trips but couldn't find the right itinerary (and price) for the specific weeks we wanted to travel. We were familiar with the reputation of the Tropical Sky "family" and a google search revealed Canadian Sky and several train/cruise options.
We'd decided against self-drive as we wanted to share every mile of one of the world's greatest road trips through the Canadian Rockies. We booked the trip with Canadian Sky as they could offer the weeks we wanted at the best price we could find on the internet.
Our flight with Transat to Calgary was problem free (Tip: bring your own headphones). For this trip Canadian Sky had sent us vouchers for the hotels/transfers/excursions and happily these arrangements went without a hitch as although we have toured the world extensively we had always relied on the services of a tour guide. We had time to explore Calgary and used our voucher for the panoramic Calgary Tower at sunset. It was an early start for the 5.50 coach pick up to Banff (so we had no time for the inclusive hotel breakfast). Brewster’s Coaches are the premier tour operators in Canada. The driver/guides are excellent and usually accompanied by an assistant for each trip. Happily we were blessed with good weather throughout our holiday (the last week of July) and we were overawed by the early morning light on the Rocky Mountains surrounding Banff.
Having arrived at the Brewster’s depot at 8am it was too early to check into the hotel so we booked a coach tour of the area (tip: this is a popular trip so book in advance). The chairlift to the top of Sulphur Mountain is included and the panoramic views from the boardwalk at the summit are stunning. The tour concludes with a boat trip on the picturesque Lake Minnewanka. The hotels throughout our trip were first rate and we had beautiful mountain views in Banff even though we were in the town centre. Plenty of dining choices (Tip: book in advance to avoid a long wait - Spaghetti House has great steaks). We enjoyed some beautiful walks on Tunnel Mountain on our second day in Banff after using our voucher for a second trip on the chairlift (Tip: the bus to the chairlift leaves outside the hotel but go early to avoid the chairlift queues).
The coach trip to Lake Louise includes the Lakes and Mountains excursion. Our driver followed the original route (and a close encounter with a grizzly bear). Highlights of this trip are Moraine Lake and later the second largest waterfall in Canada. Our drive through steep mountain passes was enhanced by the glass top roof of the Brewster’s coach. (Tip: sunrise over Lake Louise is spectacular).
Our "day at leisure" couldn't have been busier (Tip: take an early bus from the hotel to the chairlift and opt for an "open" gondola for the best chance to view the grizzlies below). Through the hotel we booked a white water raft ride on the Kicking Horse River. Previously we'd enjoyed white water rafting in New Zealand and Peru but the rapids and scenery on this trip were sensational. (Tip: Opt for the 3 hour trip for the best rafting experience).
Highlights en-route to Jasper the following day include the Iceland’s Parkway scenic drive and the inclusive trip on to the Athabasca Glacier. The nearby Glacier Skywalk (included) has a glass floor view over a steep precipice (not for the faint hearted). The following day's excursion in Banff included the atmospheric Maligna Gorge (Tip: we enjoyed a 2 hour canoe trip on Maligne Lake).
Our two day rail trip was particularly memorable as shortly before we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer we received the joyful news that our granddaughter, Ivy, had just been born. We opted for the silver service on the Rocky Mountaineer and were more than happy with the experience. Excellent food (with drinks included), comfortable reclining seats with panoramic window/ceiling views and the opportunity to take non reflective photos at the open windows between carriages. The 420k trip that day included grandstand views of Canada's tallest mountain and beautiful waterfalls accompanied by expert commentary from our host Miguel. The overnight stop at Kamloops was memorable as this is literally the hottest town in Canada with its own microclimate.
The second day on The Rocky Mountaineer was special for us as we celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary (our reason for booking the trip at this time). Most of the 460K journey that day was alongside desert scenery and river valleys. Our rail trip was all the more memorable when the staff gave us a gift to celebrate our anniversary and a teddy for Ivy. On arrival at the exclusive Rocky Mountaineer station in Vancouver we had vouchers for a quick taxi transfer to our hotel - a 10 minute walk to the cruise dock. We watched the sunset from the top of Vancouver tower (voucher included). The next day embarkation on Holland America's latest Nieuw Amstardam was straightforward. Earlier that morning we had explored the city and Stanley Park and we enjoyed the views sailing out of the bay later that afternoon.
We could have opted for a cabin with a balcony but found we had been upgraded from an inside cabin and we were more than happy that our room had a window - albeit obscured by a lifeboat. As always with Holland America the food and entertainment was excellent (Tip: if you intend to have more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day - a given in our case - it's as well to opt for the drinks package). After an energetic week touring Canada we appreciated the next day at sea to recharge batteries (Tip: This holiday is available with the cruise first but we had met other travellers in Canada who had regretted cruising first).
There is picturesque scenery on both sides while cruising the Inside Passage (Tip: The Crow’s Nest Lounge is an ideal location to spot whales).
Although the ship had an extensive selection of excursions available we knew from experience that many can be sold out even before the ship sales and that money could be saved by booking through an independent company (who will not charge if the ship is late or fails to dock for any reason). At our first Alaskan port, Juneau, we had pre-booked a kayaking trip for a very close up view of the Mendenhall Glacier. The following day in Skagway we had booked a tour of the Klondike trail (following the same route as the historic train but taking in many more beauty spots including the world's northernmost sandy desert)
We particularly wanted this particular cruise as it included a trip to the breath-taking Glacier Bay. We were allowed access to the ship's prow to enjoy really close up views of the wildlife and sight of the glaciers "calving" with an almighty crack as a section fell away to create an iceberg. At Ketchikan, the final port of call, we travelled independently to the Saxman native village to view the historic totem poles (Tip: Take a local bus - $2 per trip and $7.50 entrance rather than a costly excursion).
Following a relaxing day cruising the Inside Passage we disembarked the next morning and made our own way to the airport. (Tip: the metro station is a few minutes’ walk from the ship and the fare under $3 so don't bother with the ship's costly airport transfer). This was a trip of a lifetime and we have nothing but praise for the excellent service from Canadian Sky, Brewsters Coaches and the Nieuw Amsterdam.
We would like to thank David & Julie for sharing their story with us and hope to welcome you on another holiday soon..
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