As part of our Canada and Alaska trip, we were very fortunate to have the chance to travel through the Canadian Rockies onboard the world-famous Rocky Mountaineer. Not to give everything away, but the outstanding service and experience totally blew us away, so here is our first-hand review of Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf service.
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I’ll do my best to provide you with an overview of the Rocky Mountaineer experience and just how fantastic it is, but it’s so hard to do it justice. Rocky Mountaineer has a wonderful video on their website that explains how I’ve been feeling since our time onboard and how hard it is to explain.
Rocky Mountaineer is just… Wow!
The start of our Rocky Mountaineer Experience
Our Rocky Mountaineer journey began in Banff, where we spent a few nights exploring the incredible surroundings. You can read about our time in Banff by clicking here.
We did check in the day before to collect our luggage tags, but on the morning of our journey, we headed to Elk and Avenue in Banff to drop off our suitcases and wait for the coach, which would take us to the train just on the outskirts of the town.
Here is a video I filmed that morning whilst we waited.
Rocky Mountaineer is a full-service experience.
I knew the service would be exemplary, but I never expected the level of attentiveness that awaited us over the next two days. Our suitcases were collected at the Elk and Avenue Hotel and would be portered for the rest of the journey. Our suitcases are then dropped off at our hotel as part of our overnight in Kamloops.
The coach transfer is by luxury coach, with a local tour guide informing us of local culture and history, even on the short journey from the hotel to the train and back again, often offering a humourous retelling of local rivalries and political faux pas, I could have spent hours just listening to the guides on the coaches.
The service is also door-to-door. We were collected from the front of the hotels and then dropped onto the red carpet in front of the Rocky Mountaineer train. There was no need to worry about our cases; everything was taken care of, and I didn’t have to think or worry about anything for two days. If this was the process of getting between the train each day; I wasn’t prepared for our time onboard.
First Impressions of the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf
It was so exciting to see the train draw closer as we made the short journey to the train station; the gorgeous engine car looked so impressive and equally immaculate, followed by the rest of the train with its Royal Blue and Gold livery.
The crew lined up and waved as the coaches pulled up to the red carpet that welcomed us onboard the train. I took the opportunity to run as far up the train as possible to take some photos, but the train was very long, and I was holding up the rest of the guests, so I had to head on board.
We stepped onto the train via the outdoor viewing platform and headed upstairs to the main seating deck. We were travelling on the Gold Leaf service, the top-tier service experience for Rocky Mountaineer. There are several elevated perks, such as the large outdoor viewing platform we were boarding on, as well as the train offering two levels, a lower level with restrooms, dining room and the viewing platform, and then the upper level with the beautiful panoramic wrap-around windows, that are perfect for taking in the incredible landscape.
A look around the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Carriage
Seats are assigned, and it is the luck of the draw where you will be sat, but there are no bad seats. Every seat offers incredible views from the panoramic windows, and everyone gets their own luxurious seat.
The seat was a highlight, with recline, seat-warming features, and the comfiest leather padding I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in. I knew me and this seat would get on very well for the next 48 hours.
Some seats could be rotated to travel backwards, allowing you to sit face-to-face as a group of four if desired. Our allocated seats were at the front of the carriage, which suited us perfectly. Still, as we were travelling at the tail end of COVID, the train was only half allocated. Hence, we had the chance to move around and see how the view was from the other seats, and we would have been just as happy, but being at the front allowed us the extra opportunity to chat with our fantastic train hosts.
Video of the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf Carriage
Starting our Rocky Mountaineer Journey
It wasn’t long before we set off on our two-day journey. Our hosts welcomed us onboard, who explained how the next two days would work, followed by describing how meal service would work for us in Gold Leaf.
Meals are split into two sittings, so the carriage was divided in half; those at the front were second seating, and the rear was first. The back of the carriage was invited to breakfast in the lower dining room, and we were treated to coffee and pastries at our seats. The coffee was terrific, and the pastries were made fresh that morning. This allowed us time to get familiar with our seats and get to know our wonderful hosts better.
Breakfast Service onboard the Rocky Mountaineer
The food on Rocky Mountaineer is an exceptional culinary experience. It’s not your typical train food, but fine dining at its best. The menu features regional specialities, such as meats, fruits, and vegetables and unique twists on classic dishes.
Breakfast service was outstanding, with a comprehensive menu to choose from. It started with a “fruit creation”, a fruity drinkable yoghurt which was delightful and refreshing, with fresh pastries and tea/coffee service.
My favourite thing about the meals onboard is the distinctly Canadian produce. The meats and produce are all sourced locally, and the food is exceptionally elevated. I’m a sucker for Eggs Benedict, so I ordered them and had a small portion of pancakes because why not. The hosts were accommodating, and the chefs onboard could tweak and tailor the menu to suit any allergies or requests; nothing was a bother.
Phil is gluten-free, and we are always worried whenever we travel, as we never know how well he will be catered for. However, all fears were alleviated within minutes of speaking to our hosts. They could tweak most things for him and helped him plan an excellent breakfast without feeling he was compromising on taste or quality.
You can read his personal experience dining gluten-free onboard Rocky Mountaineer here.
Enjoying the Canadian Rockies
The views whilst dining were unbelievable, We were travelling on the second train of the season, and the mountains had just started to melt, so we were very fortunate to have a landscape of snowcapped mountains and roaring waterfalls along the first part of our journey.
Our hosts did a fantastic job explaining the various landmarks we would be travelling past and the history of the railroad we travelled on. They had regular stories to share and would ensure we had plenty of notice of any key landmarks coming up on the track.
To explain how the host’s team work, there is a team of 4 hosts for Gold Leaf. Two will look after you upstairs, serving drinks and taking turns to narrate our journey. Then, the other two hosts would look after us during meal service. On a typical journey, the team would then swap roles on the second day, but our team agreed to keep to the same positions, so we had the same people serving drinks and meals each day.
I love a train journey, so I was never worried about boredom while onboard. However, I did wonder how the landscape would entertain me for 48 hours. Needless to say, I needn’t have worried. It felt like almost every 30 minutes, there was something new to see, or the landscape had changed from open fields to roaring waterfalls, mountain canyons and more.
A brief delay in our journey.
It isn’t uncommon for your journey to be paused on some sections of the track. The train lines are shared with other traffic, mainly haulage trains moving goods and produce from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada.
Some sections are single rail, so you may have to hold on at a passing point to let other trains pass; this is a fantastic chance to experience these trains, which average a mile at the least, but it is also a chance to get out onto the viewing platform and take in the incredible landscape.
We were held for almost two hours due to a train ahead of us breaking down. I didn’t complain, as the spot we were held in was beautiful, and the service was outstanding. Our hosts went into overdrive, interacting with us guests, ensuring our drinks were constantly refilled, and bringing regular snacks.
Lunch Service onboard the Rocky Mountaineer
It wasn’t long until it was time for us to head down for lunch service; this was offered in the split service similar to breakfast, so we did have to wait while our other guests dined, but it was 100% worth the wait.
Lunch service is a three-course meal, with a Tasting Platter starter board made of local meats and pickled vegs, served with mini naan bread, a delightful addition I was surprised to find out.
There was ample choice for the main, with some lighter bites for those who want to dine healthy, but I opted for the Pork chops, which were cooked to perfection.
You can see into the kitchen from the dining room, where we could see a small army of chefs working tirelessly to prepare all the meals; it was wonderful to see the food being prepared, as it added to the satisfaction of knowing it was all cooked and prepared fresh whilst onboard.
Meals are served in booths of four, so you do dine with fellow travellers, however, this does offer the chance to chat and make new friends. For most of our meals, we chose to dine with our aisle mates who happened to be from the UK.
A Grandmother and Grandson couple were doing the entire loop on the Rocky Mountaineer. Before this leg, they had done the three-day, two-night Rainforest to Gold Rush Journey and were heading back to Vancouver on the First Passage to the West.
All routes are available in both directions so that you can start two routes in either Vancouver or Banff, and one journey begins/ends in Vancouver or Jasper, allowing you to make the trip a round trip if you desire.
Cathedral Mountain and The Spiral Tunnel
As we dined, we passed Castle Mountain, a landmark within the Canadian Rockies and an incredible sight. Anything can rarely distract me from a meal, but having the landscape evolve so dramatically made it hard not to stare longingly out of the window.
We also traversed the Spiral Tunnel, one of the many engineering highlights along the route that allows the train to traverse the mountains without navigating the steep slopes.
The Spiral Tunnel is a series of looping tracks that back upon themselves into a series of large loops to allow the train to climb/descend the mountain. It’s hard to fully take in the ingenuity from within the train, but it is certainly odd to pass a mountain, then enter a tunnel, and then pass the same mountain from a lower angle multiple times.
Gold Leaf Drinks Service
We then had plenty of time to enjoy the service onboard, relaxing in those wonderful seats and chatting with fellow travellers and the hosts onboard as the scenery unfolded around us. I lost track of the lakes and waterfalls we passed, but each moment was highlighted with more snacks and equally delightful cocktails.
A full bar in Gold Leaf serves a complete collection of Softs, Beer, Wine and Cocktails. The hosts were fantastic at suggesting cocktails, and the menu offered some signature spins on classic cocktails, which I greatly appreciated. The Dark and Rocky Rapids was my choice for the first half of the journey, which was a Canadian Rockies take on a Dark and Stormy.
After several of these, I shyly asked if they could make a drink I love at home but is never on any menu. It’s Coke, Orange Juice and Rum, sometimes called Muddy Waters, but it’s my go-to drink at home as a few hours of Rum and Coke can get boring, and it’s more of a sipper, so it helped me slow down. I wanted to remember as much of this trip as possible after all. The hosts were willing to make me my off-the-menu cocktail and frequently had one waiting for me as I finished my current one. #Bliss
Passing the Last Spike
Time passed all too quickly, as the landscape also changed around us quickly; the snowcapped mountains soon became dense forests and mist-peaked mountains as we slowly descended lower. The weather had started to turn drizzly, but the seat-warming feature soon dispelled any foreboding feelings. Instead, it felt like I was sitting in a window watching a grey day with a warm blanket.
The next main headline on the track was The Last Spike. This point of the journey marks the placing of the last metal spike that would connect the two rival railroads from the east to the west.
Our hosts would share the tale throughout our journey of the two rival companies competing to connect Canada’s east and west coast via their own rail lines through the Rockies. We followed these tracks on our First Passage to the West journey.
However, both sides faced potential financial failure due to construction issues and the political landscape at the time; they instead decided to share the route and link them together.
The Last Spike was set in Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7th 1885, connecting the east ocean of Canada to the rest of the mainland, opening up more potential for trade.
The locals equally love Rocky Mountaineer
One thing we loved about the Rocky Mountaineer experience was the storytelling. All day, our hosts shared local history and cultural notes about the areas we were travelling through on the loudspeaker, but they also shared personal stories with us as they walked through the carriage.
One heartwarming story was that of a lady whose home overlooks the Rocky Mountaineer tracks, and we were told that she loves the Rocky Mountaineer so much that she almost always comes out to wave at the train as it passes her home. We did wonder today whether that would be the case due to the rain, but without fail, she did come and wave to us as we passed.
Our hosts explained that she had been doing this for years, so the owners called to ask her one time why she was doing this, and she explained that she loved the trains, how wonderful they looked, and how happy everyone looked as they travelled past, and she loves that she is a small part of their incredible journey.
When they asked whether she had been onboard, they were shocked to hear that she had not and that she said it was out of her price range, so they kindly offered her a free journey of her choice in Gold Leaf as a thank you for being a part of the Rocky Mountaineer Experience.
Arriving into Kamloops
We had a similar welcome into Kamloops later that evening. We were arriving two hours late into Kamloops. As a rare treat, we were actually arriving at the original station in the heart of Kamloops rather than the Rocky Mountaineer depot.
Due to how popular the trains have now become, they are required to stop on the outskirts of Kamloops to reduce the traffic and noise in the town itself, its also easier for the trains as they enter near the maintenance station for all the trains.
However, we were greeted by homes that overlooked the station coming out into the dark of night to wave at the train that hadn’t stopped at this station in over 5 years: a rare treat, and a wonderful way to bookend the end of our first day.
Where do you sleep in the Rocky Mountaineer?
Worry not; you don’t actually sleep on the train, you spend the night in a hotel.
We get asked this a lot, but there are a number of reasons why you would want to avoid sleeping on the train. Firstly, and most importantly, you would miss so much of the amazing landscape, and secondly, the accommodation board would have to sacrifice something to fit on the train. So instead, you spend the evening in a hotel in Kamloops.
Kamloops is a city located in the Thompson Valley of British Columbia, Canada. Its breathtaking surroundings include rolling hills, lush forests, and the convergence of two major rivers: the North Thompson and South Thompson.
A short coach transfer collected us from the Rocky Mountaineer and dropped us just outside our hotel for the evening, the Sandman Signature Kamloops. To our surprise, we were allocated a suite.
Day 2 – Rocky Mountainner Journey to the West
Day two was just as extraordinary. Whilst day one onboard was filled with snow-capped mountains and misty fields, day two would see us travelling in glorious sunshine through winding canyons, passing wide lakes and arid prairie lands. It felt like we were on a totally different journey.
We were awake at 6 a.m., which isn’t typical for us, but our coach was due to depart just after 7 a.m., so we had to be up early, and jetlag helped us here. The view from our hotel was gorgeous and set the tone for the day ahead.
A short 15-minute coach journey later, we were reunited again with the beautiful Rocky Mountaineer. Today, the train would be longer as we would be joined by the train travelling the Journey Through the Clouds route.
Back onboard the Rocky Mountaineer
Within minutes of being reunited with our seats, coffee and pasties were served, and we were once again on our way towards Vancouver.
I was already overwhelmed by how incredible day one was and the incredible landscapes we passed. Still, within 30 minutes of being on our way, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful landscape we were passing.
Passing the Savona Summit
This is a very personal thing; we all love different landscapes, but there was something wonderful about passing the wide-open lakes of Savona and taking in the fantastic views. After the previous day’s tight winding canyons and mountain trails, being in a wide-open pass was so wonderful.
I spent some time on the viewing platform alone and genuinely whept for a moment as the emotions of this trip came over me. It really is something special; the connection to nature and the surrounding wildlife can’t be found in any other form of travel we have done, and the sheer scale and beauty of the regions were travelling overwhelmed me and came flooding out.
Rocky Mountaineer Day 2 Meals
Meals were again in the same format as day one, so the carriage was split into first and second seating; today we got to dine first as we were second yesterday.
Day two Breakfast
Breakfast service was the same menu as day one, but with so many options, this was hardly a problem.
I again opted for the Eggs Benedict as it is one of my all-time favourites, but this time, I also had a small portion of the Shuswap Bacon Breakfast Skillet without Tomatoes. Phil also had the side plate but tried the Spinach and Cheese Soufflé.
Day two Lunch
Lunch was also a delight; the menu differed from day one, with a few items on both menus. There was a print issue before the trains started service, so there was yet to be a printed version of the second menu, but our hosts explained the unique items for day two. This was the second journey of the season after the COVID shutdown, so some things like menus hadn’t yet made it onboard the train.
I knew instantly, however, that I would opt for the Alberta Striploin Steak, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, before that, a wonderful sharing board of cured meats was served, and honestly, I would have been satisfied if this was all we were getting.
The Coastal Tasting Platter comprised Candied Pacific salmon, roasted red pepper spread, pickled root vegetables, citrus-dressed greens, and mini naan bread.
Then dessert was a delightful Cheesecake, the perfect way to end a perfect meal.
Enjoying the Everchanging Landscapes
I took fewer pictures on day two, not because the landscape was any less exciting, but perhaps the opposite; I was so lost in the landscape and the conversations we were having with our hosts and new friends we made onboard that time flew quicker than I was ready for.
We passed so many incredible lakes, forests, roaring rivers and small towns that there was always something new to see, despite this being almost 40 hours onboard.
One interesting thing we saw was the logs travelling downriver as we inched closer to Vancouver. It was explained that the loggers drop the trees into the Fraser River and let them float down the river for many miles until they make their way to the suburbs of Vancouver, where they are collected from the river for construction.
Seeing hundreds of logs floating in the river was fascinating we made our way into Vancouver.
Arriving into Vancouver
The moment I had dreaded since we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer was looming over us. Sadly, we were now in Vancouver, and after the lush landscapes we had been traversing, it did feel like a harsh industrial invader upon the dream of the last two days. But it was also a signal that the next part of our Canada and Alaska adventure was to begin soon.
As we pulled into the Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver, we were offered a warm welcome, with the crew standing on the platform waving at us as we slowly pulled in. It was also time for us to say farewell to the four amazing hosts who had looked after us impecibly the last two days.
They surprised us with a signed postcard and a notebook as a parting memento of our wonderful time onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. The card ends with the line, “We hope that even though you’ve boarded as guests, you will depart as friends”. This sounds a little corny, but after being guests of these four incredible people for four days, we genuinely felt like friends and family.
The service onboard is impeccable, true five-star and beyond level of service, but it is also offered with so much warmth. The hosts share so many personal stories that it’s hard not to feel like you’ve made a connection whilst in their care, so this postcard was a wonderful small touch to draw the end of one of the best trips in my life to a close.
To Andrés, Dyllan, Kristi and Bec, thank you for a truly unforgettable experience.
Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Group Trip 2025
We are in the early stages of planning a group trip recreating this incredible journey for 2025, visiting Banff, journeying on the Rocky Mountaineer and cruising Alaska; then join our pre-registration list, and we will send the details once they are ready.
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