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Captivating Western Canada: My bucket list holiday of a lifetime, by Donna Owen

Our Marketing Manager Donna Owen just returned from a trip to Canada where she experienced the captivating Western Canadian Rockies by Rail that she called 'the bucket list holiday of a lifetime'. Here is what she had to share about her experience:

For many years I’ve wanted to visit Canada, and in particular, to travel on board the Rocky Mountaineer train, having seen so many stunning photos I really wanted to experience the awesome scenery first-hand.

I did have a few concerns beforehand – would it live up to my expectations? Would the weather ruin things? But fear not... Everything delivered on all fronts.

My journey started in Premium Economy flights with Air Canada from Heathrow to Vancouver. This upgraded cabin is definitely worth the extra money – very spacious, comfortable seats, fantastic food and you can even charge your devices whilst at 35,000 feet.

Vancouver is a beautiful city, which reminded me a little bit of Hollywood. Apparently it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, and I can understand why. Unfortunately we only had one night at the superb Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, which is ideally situated for the cruise terminal and delights of the harbour-front. The rooms were fab and I would recommend paying the little extra for a view over the waterfront.

FlyCanada was a great introduction to this amazing country – this five minute thrilling simulator takes you soaring through the sky, across the many diverse landscapes through the seasons. It really does give you a fascinating insight, but I seemed to be the only one holding on tightly whilst everyone else all looked very relaxed!

There are many ways to explore Vancouver, and many things to see, so two or three days would be ideal but we only had an afternoon so I enjoyed a stroll in the sunshine, around the waterfront to Stanley Park, taking in all the amazing boats with the cityscape as a magnificent backdrop.

The next two days were spent on the Rocky Mountaineer, a real treat and absolute highlight of my amazing week. The sense of calm and serenity were so needed after the usual running around in my typical week of work and looking after my children. To just be able to sit back, relax in good company, take in the ever changing views, enjoy fine dining and top-class service, left me feeling totally spoilt and wanting more! I really do recommend the GoldLeaf service, with the glass domed carriages, separate dining area downstairs with extensive menu for both breakfast and lunch, and outside vestibule for a spot of fresh air and photo-taking.  It’s the ultimate way to travel and our train hosts Ted, Deanne and Craig, with their excellent knowledge, friendly disposition and sense of humour really did make the two day a trip I will never forget.

I was really impressed with the thought and detail that Rocky Mountaineer have clearly put into the itinerary to make everything so easy – from the coach waiting for us in Kamloops (literally pulled up outside our train carriage), to a little note and chocolates in the room at the Coast Hotel and Conference Centre, to the luggage all being taken care of and placed in your room for your arrival.

It was with a sense of sadness that our train journey came to an end in Jasper, where we spent two nights at the Sawridge Hotel. Jasper is a quaint resort and once again we were blessed with blue skies on our visit to the stunning Pyramid and Patricia Lakes. It’s impossible not to go snap-happy when you are in front of such unbelievably picturesque sights with the reflection of the trees and clouds in the water. This is what I had been longing to see for myself and once again the sense of serenity was wonderful.

During my time in Jasper I also enjoyed a raft tour along the Athabasca River, which I was initially  a little apprehensive about, but it was really enjoyable  - it’s grade 1 to 2 whereas white-water rafting is 4 or 5 – so no-one fell out the boat and we all stayed dry! Our guide Mark, was a real character, and recounted some interesting stories during the hour-long experience.

The sky-tram in Jasper is another must-do - the longest and highest tramway in Canada, the views from the snow covered mountain tops was spectacular.

My journey continued along the scenic Icefields Parkway to Banff, stopping off to go on an Ice Explorer Ride on the Athabasca Glacier. I didn’t really know what to expect but it was fun, and luckily once again the sun was shining down to make the ice sparkle like diamonds.

Before arriving in Banff I stopped off to visit more of the magnificent lakes in the area: Waterfowl Lake, Bow Lake and Peyto Lake. Before my trip I thought they must photoshop the turquoise blue/green colour I had seen in the photos, but they are really like that – because they are fed from a glacier and it’s the silt that gives it that stunning colour.

Banff is bigger than Jasper and has more shops and restaurants, and has a really nice feel to it. I stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs which is five star hotel on the outskirts of the town with the most comfortable beds! There’s everything you need for an enjoyable stay, with top notch service and dining options.

Not far from the hotel is Sulphur Mountain, where I took a trip on the Banff Gondola (takes about eight minutes and you can fit four in each Gondola). It was a very smooth journey and despite not being great with heights I prevailed to enjoy the 360 degree views of the town and surrounding mountains.      

My next stop was Lake Louise, travelling through the Yoho National Park and visiting Emerald Lake, before arriving at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This world renowned hotel perched on the edge of the beautiful lake is definitely worth a visit and offers a host of guided walks and hikes to really immerse yourself into the landscape. The colours and reflections on the lake were constantly changing and it was a shame I didn’t have time to take a canoe out to explore the lake more.

The week has flown by and it’s nearing the end of the trip, but there’s still one more highlight as I travel east towards Calgary – a helicopter trip over the Canadian Rockies. I’ve never been in a helicopter before and once again I’m a bit apprehensive! I’m pleased to say that we didn’t go upside down or have any sharp turns it was actually very sedate and you hardly felt that you were moving, and my companions were so quiet taking in the views. The twelve minutes literally flew by and before we knew it we were safely back down on the ground.

My final stop, Calgary. Home to the annual Stampede (that’s for my next visit!) it’s a sprawling, developing city and the views from the top of Calgary Tower really are something.

The International Hotel and Suites was a great base to explore the city and the suites were huge. The Heritage Park Historical Village is a great place for a summer afternoon and is Canada’s largest living history museum. Set over 127 acres of parkland it offers  interactive exhibits, costumed interpreters, historic buildings and hundreds of working antiques, and takes you back in time to see how the West was won. The year-round Gasoline Alley Museum, is home to many vintage cars and gasoline pumps and offers a fascinating insight into how the automobile changed our culture.

A busy, but extremely fun week in Canada, I’ve seen so much, done so much and met some great people. My only one regret is that we didn’t see any bears, but I’ve been told August is the best month for that so looks like I’ll just have to go back and do it all again – oh go on then!

P.S: If you do encounter a bear on a visit to Canada act crazy for Black bears and play dead for Grizzly bears - do not run – yeah right!!


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