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Rockies Tour, itinerary critic.

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I avoid tours and much prefer to travel independtly. I don't care to rent a car and drive around no matter which country I'm in.

I have a travel voucher with a travel agency that will expire and I'm looking for options of what to do with it. The voucher is for $2000 so I don't want it to go to waste. I'd originally thought of a tour to some European destinations where I have not been. However, when looking at the tour itinerary and reading of the destinations I thought that Europe on a tour won't be my cup of tea.

I've looked at other travel destinations and I toying with the idea of using this voucher for a tour of the in Canada Debating between Atlantic Canada and the Rockies. I'd like a critic of the tour itinerary, the tour company (Trafalgar in this case) and an opinion on this tour vs independent travel in the region. I'd also like comments on whether the price of the tour is fair, the price for this year (2015) is C$2175 plus C$750 for a single supplement for a total of C$2975. I don't have prices for the 2016 season as yet. There are some hidden costs and optional excursions.

I'm looking at travelling in 2016, and might extend my trip pre tour or post tour to go the Stampede. So, it's prudent I plan in advance. The tour does operate during the Stampede but it's considerably more expensive (C$2825 plus C$1000 for the single supplement, so C$3875 in total)

If I omit the Stampede, which month is best for touring the region?

Any advice will be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Here's the tour itinerary.....

Day 1, Arrive Calgary.

Welcome to beautiful Canada! Get settled in at your hotel, located in the heart of downtown Calgary, and spend the afternoon relaxing or exploring. Visit the arts district or make use of easy access to public transportation to see all that Calgary has to offer. At 6 p.m., gather at the hotel with your Travel Director and fellow travellers for a Welcome Reception.

Meals- Welcome reception
Hotel - Delta Bow

Day 2, Calgary - Icefields Parkway - Columbia Icefield

Head north along the stunning Icefields Parkway driving alongside snow-capped peaks, thundering waterfalls and glistening glaciers. Keep an eye out for wildlife including grizzly and black bears, moose, elk and mountain goats. Upon arrival at the Columbia Icefield, board an Ice Explorer for a unique journey onto the massive Athabasca Glacier. Stay tonight in the heart of Jasper National Park.

Meal(s) - Full Breakfast
Hotel - Sawridge Inn Jasper
.
Day 3, Jasper National Park

Start the day with a morning at leisure, enjoying the superb vistas, strolling Jasper's quaint streets, or, if you like, take an optional float trip down the Athabasca River before an interpretive walk at Maligne Canyon, one of the most beautiful gorges in the Rockies. Learn about the underground river system while following the canyon's trail past waterfalls and jagged rock formations. Later this afternoon, cruise Maligne Lake, followed by a rustic dinner along the lake. Learn about Rocky Mountain wildlife at an interactive, after-dinner presentation by a Local Expert.

Meal(s) - Full Breakfast,Dinner

Day 4, Jasper - Yoho - Emerald Lake - Banff

Head south and cross the Continental Divide as you set out for Yoho National Park with its towering waterfalls, spectacular scenery and natural bridge that spans the Kicking Horse River. See Emerald Lake, sparkling with the blue-green hue of a precious jewel. Ice-blue glaciers, pounding waterfalls and surging rivers abound on the way to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Banff National Park. Your day ends with a Highlight Dinner in the quintessential alpine village of Banff.

Meal(s) - Full Breakfast,Regional Meal
Hotel - Banff Park Lodge

Day 5, Lake Louise - Moraine Lake - Banff

Visit postcard-perfect Lake Louise and take a narrated stroll along the lakeshore to learn about the geology and history of the area. Continue on to stunning Moraine Lake, nestled in the dramatic Valley of the Ten Peaks. Spend the rest of the day as you like—perhaps ride on the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain to experience a bird’s-eye view of six mountain ranges or a river float trip down the Bow River. The evening is yours to enjoy.

Meal(s) -Full Breakfast

Day 6, Banff Free Time

Today is yours to explore as you please. Browse the shops along Banff Avenue, take a hike and enjoy your spectacular setting or be wowed by aerial views of the Rockies with an optional scenic helicopter flight over Mount Assiniboine. Your Travel Director will be happy to assist you in planning your day. This evening, join your newfound friends at a festive Farewell Dinner and learn about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during a "Meet a Mountie" Local Expert presentation.

Meal(s) -Full Breakfast,Farewell Dinner

Day 7, Banff to Calgary

This morning, descend from the Canadian Rockies. Upon arrival in Calgary, a complimentary transfer is provided to Calgary International Airport or the Delta Bow Valley hotel in Calgary for guests extending their stay. Please do not schedule any flights before 2 p.m.

Meal(s) - Full Breakfast

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    i'm a little confused because you say "i avoid tours" and you say "i don't care to rent a car"...so how do you travel? to me that tour seems very pricey - over $425/day but i guess if that $2,000 was free...then you are getting a weeks vacation for $1,000. it hits many of the major points and the hotels are good.

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    It's a nice tour - certainly hits the highlights and uses good, but not luxury hotels. Like any tour, though, it goes at a pretty good clip, so you aren't going to have much time to explore other places or fit in a lot of hiking (if that's your thing). You will also be hitting the same locales as every other bus tour. Once you get away from the major trailheads/sites, crowds thin out, but a bus tour won't likely give you the time or flexibility to do much on your own (other than the day off in Banff).

    The only day that seems very long to me is Day 4. From Jasper to Yoho NP is going to be a good 4-4.5 hrs of driving, so even with an early start, you only have the afternoon in Yoho.

    Personally, unless someone doesn't have a driver's license or is too young to rent, I always suggesting renting a car for the Rockies. The driving is quite easy, even for those who normally drive on the other side of the road, and it gives you a LOT more flexibility. There's little to no public transport in the Rockies, and many of the prettiest & more interesting sites require your own transport. You can also save a lot of $$ by making your own bookings and doing stuff on your own (or doing the occasional day tour).

    The prices goes up during the Stampede because accommodation prices during the Stampede are VERY expensive. If you don't want to go the Stampede, I think September is the ideal time for the Rockies. The major summer crowds dissipate once the kids are back in school, but the weather is still good. June isn't bad, but not all seasonal roads and hiking trails are open. If you aren't fussed about hiking, mid to late June is probably fine. July and August are fine, but you will be dealing with peak crowds, so on a bus tour like the above, be prepared to be sharing the main sights (i.e. where the bus goes) with many other bus loads of tourists.

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    There's no way I would go on a tour like that.

    Yes, you are getting a "glimpse" of the major highlights. But that's it.

    Since they're doing very little for you a lot of your time is being spent "exploring" the towns of Banff & Jasper.

    I've been there several times and Maligne Canyon is one of the more disappointing sights.

    In a heartbeat I'd pick Angel Glacier, Mistaya Canyon and Johnston Canyon over Maligne Canyon.

    What are your interests? Surface sightseeing, photography, intense or moderate or short hikes?

    That tour is going from Calgary to Jasper in one day with one real stop.

    The Athabasca Glacier is the only glacier you can go on. Unfortunately it's far from the most spectacular glacier. If you want a show do the 15 mile drive and 2/3 mile easy hike to Angel Glacier.

    I wonder how long they stop at Lake Louise and Moaraine Lake. In my opinion Lake Louise is really nothing compared to Moraine Lake.

    I would hope they don't just walk to the shore of Moraine Lake but walk up to the top of the Rock Pile.

    I've seen people just sit there and gaze out from different viewpoints on the Rock Pile. Will they let you sit there for as long as you want.

    Over my several trips to the area I must have gone to Moraine Lake half a dozen times early in the morning.

    But I'm a photographer.

    If you want to get some idea of what you'll see and what you may miss on the tour you can see my photos of this area (on several trips) at:
    www.travelwalks.com

    Calgary is an excellent airport and renting a car there is not a major event (we too don't rent a car in Europe). If you have an early morning flight returning home there's a Delta hotel right in the airport across the street from the terminal.

    The drive from the airport is less than 1 1/2 hours to Banff. Then it's 40 minutes to Lake Louise.

    Also, you may see wildlife roadside between Lake Louise and Jasper but not further south (there are fences to keep animals away from the highway) so you have to be on the Bow Valley Parkway.

    And if you want to get really brave Glacier National Park in Montana is a very smooth and level 3 1/2 hour drive from Calgary Airport.

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    Thank you for the replies.

    I've never rented a car when travelling. I've travelled by train, local intercity buses or have hired a car and driver to get around depending on the destination. (The later was mainly when travelling in some parts of Asia).

    I wouldn't book the tours that include the Stampede. I'd arrive early, see the Stampede then take the tour, or extend my trip to visit the Stampede after the tour. So, cooridinating travel dates is essential. The 2016 dates aren't available as yet.

    I agree the tour is expensive. But then again, so is travelling in Canada. My main incentive for looking at the tour option is solely to use this travel voucher, although I'd much prefer to travel independently.

    From what I've seen my only options for independent travel in the region is the Moose Bus or renting a car. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    I've priced out logging, sightseeing, etc and find that it adds up quickly when travelling solo. The sightseeing tours can be pricey.

    Still debating what to do..........

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    Use the voucher some other way.

    Renting a car in Calgary is the same as renting a car anywhere in the U.S.

    As long as you don't return it in the other country.

    Calgary airport is a real airport.

    A couple of minutes south of the airport is a mall with a Walmart Supercenter where you can get anything you need.

    Of course it's going to cost more per person than if you were two. But I could never go on the tour if I was physically able to do it alone.

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    Canada is not Europe or Asia - it makes MUCH more sense to rent a car here. The driving is not difficult, and rentals are not expensive as compared to that tour. I think you'd be much. much happier with the freedom & flexibility a car will give you.

    $3800 for a seven day tour that doesn't include many of your meals is VERY expensive, even for Canada. It's definitely a high(er) end tour, not a middle range or cheap tour by any means.

    To compare, the guided mountaineering trips I do which are 5 nights and include all food/accommodation/guiding (accommodation is obviously much cheaper, but certified guides are much, much more expensive than bus tour guides and the group size is very small) are about half that cost. I could do a fully catered, fully guided backcountry ski trip with helicopter in/out for less than that.

    Moose Tours offers a good alternative for very reasonable prices. You can also do public transport to Banff/Lake Louise and take day tours from there and the shuttle/tour to/from Jasper. I've seen day tours from Banff to Lake Louise at around $140 or cheaper. Banff Discovery Tours offers a cheaper option which basically gives you 7 hours at Lake Louise to explore on your own. You can also get reasonable day tours from Jasper to see places like Maligne Canyon/Lake.

    Booking well ahead, you should be able to find hotels or private hostel rooms under $150-200. In Jasper, PHAs start at under $100. If you rent a car, I bet you could do room & transport under $1500-1700 for a week with some good planning. That gives you plenty for food - simple breakfasts in your room and picnic lunches save $$ for dinners and other treats, including a day tour or two. Most sites are free, though you would need a a parks pass for each day in the parks (~$10 per day).

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    While you are going alone you will not be alone once you leave your room. You will meet people everywhere you go.

    And as kgsneds wrote, just about everything you do is free. Unless you take the glacier ride or rent a canoe on one of the lakes.

    We stayed at Charlton's Cedar Court in Banff. Nice, modern, breakfast included and very reasonable. I would definitely stay there again.

    It's a two minute drive to the center of town and less than that to the highway to Lake Louise and beyond.

    In Jasper we stayed at Beckers Chalets. Very nice setting and less than 5 minutes below town. Located between town and the entrance to the park.

    Both of these places are close to the major sights which are all easy to get to.

    We never went on a hike where we were close to being alone. We met people from all over the world every day.

    Maligne Canyon (which I really don't like but still you can go) is a couple of minutes from the town of Jasper.

    Mistaya Canyon is above Lake Louise and on the way north towards Jasper.

    The Icefield Center is further on the way to Jasper from Mistaya Canyon.

    There are many scenery stops between Lake Louise and the town of Jasper. All you have to do is pull over into a parking area.

    Johnston Canyon, which is a major sight and engineering feat is not even off the main road but along the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff (town) and Lake Louise.

    Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road is just on the other side of the highway from the town of Banff and a 5 minute drive.

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    planningtravel - if I understand your situation, you have a travel voucher to use, but it's not your preferred way to travel. You are consider various destinations; and the Canadian Rockies is someplace you would like to go, but you are not convinced that a travel voucher is really your best fit. Right?

    I am not going to get too much into travel vouchers here - like you, we are independent travelers. But I can identify with your predicament. And, we have an aunt and uncle who prefer the tour company route. Can't see it, myself, sitting in a bus, but then...

    Your best value may lie in adding on some time to a basic voucher, to include some independent travel. We do enjoy visiting the Canadian Rockies in September.

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    Good point sludick.

    Does the voucher need to be used for the Rockies - i.e. does it expire or have location restrictions?

    If not, I think there are other places to visit where a tour would be much more ideal - i.e. where cultural or driving issues make traveling on your own uncomfortable or tricky. The Rockies, on the other hand, is really not a place for a package tour if you can help it - and you sound like tours are really not your thing.

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    Thank you all for the helpful replies.

    sludick is spot on regarding the voucher. I don't get much time of work and had thought I'd use this for next year's trip (ie, 2016). If I don't use the voucher this year it will expire.

    I am not restricted to a specific destination to use this voucher. However, I can only use it towards a handful of tour companies or a cruise. I'm not fond of either as I much prefer independent travel.

    Meanwhile, I've received so much helpful advice and the feedback here confirms that I really should tackle the Rockies independently. I guess for now the Rockies will remain on the 'I want to go there list' while I sort out how to make use of this voucher.

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