Here's how to get your loved ones traveling with you in an environment ideal for reconnecting.
There are many cons to traveling in a group–the organization alone is enough to make even the most methodical matriarch’s brain spin. But if you can get it right, it amplifies the specialness of both the destination and your company. Let’s face it, getting together isn’t about activities and hullabaloo–it’s about reconnecting. The best time loved ones have together is more than just a surface visit—it’s the deep-dive catch-up, the dissection and analysis of the space between keeping in touch, the opportunity to create big laughs and new memories. It’s more than just sharing time and space—it’s engagement in togetherness. And what better way to reconnect than with glass after glass of wine brought to your heated seats, paired off or squared in groups of fours, trundling through the rugged Canadian wilderness, viewing turning autumnal leaves, blooming spring buds, or rushing summer waterfalls from underneath the glass-top dome of a luxury train car?
Recommended Fodor’s Video
What It Is and How It Works
The Rocky Mountaineer luxury train travels offer over 65 vacation packages across four unique rail routes through western Canada. Besides the distinct advantage of luxurious travel, the train routes pass through the often impervious wilderness of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and rainforest, allowing riders the opportunity to witness untouched nature, undomesticated wildlife, and inaccessible landscapes. Trains only travel from April through October, and only by daylight, as the emphasis of the ride is the view. Overnights take place in stopover cities. Meals, snacks, and drinks—that includes alcohol–are provided onboard for an “all-inclusive” food and beverage (so many bevs) experience, and in the evening, guests are transported to their overnight accommodations–pre-selected nearby lodging. So you never have to drive. Have another adult beverage.
Where You Go and What You’ll See
You’re on a train! First, settle into the feeling that you’ve gone back a century in time (except for the modern day conveniences). Look around you at the glory of train travel through what was once unchartable crossings! This is Canada, and she is wild, baby! Routes include the Coastal Passage, highlighting the gorgeous shorelines from Seattle to Vancouver and on through the Canadian Rockies; Rainforest to Gold Rush, routing ocean to rainforest to desert and canyons from Vancouver to Whistler, Quesnel, and Jasper; the Journey through the Clouds follows the salmon run of Fraser River through the Coast Mountains; and First Passage to the West, the most popular and historically in-depth itinerary through mountains and canyons from Vancouver to Kamloops and Banff National Park. You know what all of these incredible rides have in common? Unlimited access to booze and entertaining scenery! And you, next to your loved ones, taking it all in together, the vastness and beauty of the world. Hug that person next to you.
Some of the incredible natural highlights you’ll see on the aforementioned trips? Fraser Cayon, with its high cliffs flanking the rushing Chilcotin River; the Rocky Mountain’s most prominent mountain, Mount Robson, or “the Great White Fright” for is sheer size and great vertical relief; glacier-fed Pyramid Falls, triangular in shape and over 300 feet high; The Spiral Tunnels, which bore through Mount Ogden and Mount Cathedral in order to allow for the Canadian railway to gain elevation in a roundabout fashion and which are a marvel of ingenuity and engineering; breathtaking views of the Albreda glacier and icefields; the vast grasslands of the Cariboo Plateau and semi-arid desert of the Okanagan region. If you aren’t impressed by the vast and varied scenery, have another drink and loosen up already.
When you aren’t oohing and aahing over the majesty of Mother Nature, keep an eye out for the furry creatures frolicking in their natural habitat. While onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, you’ll pass areas where it’s possible to see bear, elk, deer, moose, bald eagles, osprey, salmon, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. Though there is no guarantee that wildlife will make a cameo, stalking them is half the fun. Also, this makes for a great drinking game.
Why So Great for Groups?
A train is made for socializing! For one, the drinks keep coming. But really, unlike other trains that offer sleeper cars or suites, this ride is specifically designed not for sleeping–in fact, the scenery is so unmissable, the journey stops at sunset and starts back up again at sunrise. Riders are transported from train station to hotel accommodations, where they rest up in private rooms, relax with hotel amenities, explore the stopover site, or simply experience the joy of “train legs” (the phantom feeling of movement whilst standing or sitting still, not unlike its ocean counterpart, “dock rock,” which occurs after a day spent on waves. This “disembarkment syndrome” is a form of slight, temporary vertigo that leaves one with the not wholly unpleasant feeling of motion after-the-fact). Whether you venture out to the explore the stopover destination or rest up for another big day of carpe-ing the diem, you won’t be wrong.
Because days on the train are meant for seizing! Seizing another snack! The nibbles, drinks, and meals don’t stop. There are two levels of service onboard: SilverLeaf, which operates from a single-level train with oversized dome windows and meal service at your seat; and GoldLeaf, which is basically a double-decker train car with seating under a dome coach on the top level and the dining car below. A perk of traveling in GoldLeaf is the shuffling of seating for meals, allowing for change of scenery, conversation, and travel companions (if you wish).
Between meal services, share a cheese plate or nibble a pastry, get a top-off on the national cocktail of Canada, the Ceasar (the equivalent of a bloody Mary with just a dash of clamato), and rekindle with your long-lost cousins and besties. Swirl those two-top seats around to make groups of four where you can play card games, take selfies, and spin yarns. Finally, there’s unadulterated time to catch up on everything you’ve missed since last you’ve seen your friends or family, or get to know the humans around you who share your common interest of the world and its beauty.
Force yourself to unplug–no, seriously, you have to–there’s no wi-fi on the train, and much of the craggy mountains leave cell service inoperative. This isn’t the panic-inducing stress you might imagine (or maybe I’m projecting). Looking up and away from a phone screen for an extended period of time will diminish stress, help you sleep, correct “text neck”, and best of all: those anti-social skills you’ve leaned into begin to melt away. Small talk? Certainly not a problem. Actually bonding with another human being? Not impossible!
You won’t be bored or glued to your seat (you’ll be drunk and possibly dancing in the aisles).
INSIDER TIPDo not dance in the aisles.
There are plenty of photo opportunities through your incredible domed windows, or the platform viewing area is a great place to snap a selfie and grab some fresh air. All the while you trundle along, the Rocky Mountaineer staff is performing theatrics: storytelling about the land, giving history to the passing scenery, informing the context of the place and journey you’re on and occasionally making a joke or two. And you’ll never get tired of spotting wildlife, pointing at gushing waterfalls, gasping over gorges, and chuckling with your seatmate. Clink! Cheers! Cin cin!
What’s the Catch?
The days can be long on the train, which is great for viewability and variety of scenery. But with no wi-fi and no entertainment systems, the lengthy ride can be tough for little kids with super-short attention spans, or anyone who experiences motion sickness.
But Why a Train?
If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of traveling through Canada before, you might not realize what you’re missing. Is it the mind-blowing landscapes? Sure. Is it the standard of hospitality? Of course. But more than anything a traveler will notice sojourning through really any part of Canada is the undeniable niceness of the residents who live there. That extends even further to Rocky Mountaineer’s service staff, who are so sincerely chummy and accommodating, you might ditch your loved ones to make new friends. If the staff don’t woo you wholly, you’ll be charmed by the other riders on the train–a group of explorers who love incredible wilderness and heated leather seats. It doesn’t hurt that the wine just keeps flowing. And you never need to figure out who’s the designated driver!
How Do We Do This?
Whether you’re traveling solo, in pairs, or as a party, booking with Rocky Mountaineer is easy as maple pie. Basically, whatever you decide to do, you’ll want to clearly communicate your needs to your Rocky Mountaineer booking agent, and at least 30 days in advance of travel.
INSIDER TIPSitting in the same aisle has a distinct advantage–the seats are able to turn to form a pod of four, which really amplifies the party.
Are you a family? Group of friends? Set of cousins? Usually, groups are seated across the aisle in pairs of two seats, but if guests prefer to be on the same side of the aisle (or have special seating requests), just let your booking agent know.