“You know what I want to do before I leave this Earth? The Rocky Mountaineer.” My grandmother had declared this out of the blue a couple of Christmas Eves ago, but it was why we found ourselves, in May, flying to Vancouver to board the famed train for a ride into the Rockies.
She’s not one to make statements such as that on a whim, so I took her seriously, and at the age of 84, well, better sooner than later.
The iconic rail journey through Canada’s west was all we expected it would be. From Vancouver to Kamloops to Banff, we saw spring budding across British Columbia and were greeted with snow upon arrival in Alberta. We saw bears, deer and eagles, and inhaled clean, crisp air at the top of the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain.
Before leaving Toronto, my grandmother told me she walked slowly and liked to be near a washroom. On the train, I knew these would be non-issues. What I needed to prepare for was the in-between, plus all that comes with two people setting out who’ve never travelled together before.
From avoiding the long walk to the gate in the airport to always having a snack on hand, through a combination of planning and winging it, our trip was a success. And I learned a few things about making life on the road easier even when I’m travelling on my own.
Create first class without the first-class cost
I knew aboard the train that my grandmother would be attended to: luggage transferred from hotel to hotel seamlessly by Rocky Mountaineer staff, transport to and from hotels included in our ticket for “gold-leaf” service. But this trip, as with any other, truly began at the wretched airport. A lounge is always nice and Plaza Premium lounges offer pay-per-use access, so there’s no airline-affiliated status restriction. But at Toronto’s Pearson and a handful of other airports around the world, Plaza Premium partners with airport services for a concierge experience – an escort from arrival at the airport to departure gate, including baggage handling, lounge access and use of a priority lane through security. It’s not cheap, $208 for each departing passenger and $55 for each additional person in the group, but if travelling as a group or with, say, someone who’s slower and not familiar with airport routines, it can be invaluable (torontopearson.com).
My grandmother has diabetes. This was mostly a non-issue – her dietary needs were communicated to Rocky Mountaineer before we arrived (meals are served on board and staff were proactive in communicating any concerns to her). But at hotels, a few of our departures happened early in the morning before the properties’ cafés and restaurants opened. I made sure each evening to find hearty snacks for the following morning and we made use of in-room mini-fridges. Learn the stipulations of any ailment your relative may have and any restrictions it might place on the logistics of your trip, then plan accordingly. If needs are anticipated, they have little impact on the enjoyment of the holiday.
Splurge on the small stuff
Our train journey began in Vancouver and went east to Banff. For our first night in Vancouver, in anticipation of recovering from five hours in economy on a plane without seat-back televisions but with airplane food, I upgraded our stay at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to Gold, the hotel chain’s premium service. Included in that is check-in and check-out at a desk separate from the busy front reception, and a lounge well-stocked with complimentary beverages and snacks. It’s not something I’d do when travelling solo, or with peers, but these small conveniences were worth the investment. Most hotel chains have a similar level of service and amenities.
Technically, a nice to do, rather than a need to do. I had four days one-on-one with my grandmother, and while we spent plenty of time on the train taking in Western Canada’s landscapes and wildlife, we spent just as much time talking. I learned about her as a child, when she got polio, the early years of her marriage to my grandfather. I also learned that she didn’t know about the stipulation that liquids must be separated from carry-on luggage when going through airport security, something the concierge service at Pearson had helped her with as we were heading out. I probably should have asked certain questions earlier.
If you go
Rocky Mountaineer’s two-day First Passage to the West route runs from Vancouver to Kamloops to Lake Louise or Banff (or vice versa). Packages start at $1,579 (based on double occupancy, fees and taxes excluded). For more information, visit rockymountaineer.com.
Plaza Premium has lounges in airports around the world. Its Allways Meet and Greet service operates in four airports: Toronto, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Delhi and Macau. The service, including lounge access, starts at $208 at Pearson International Airport. For more information, visit plazapremiumlounge.com and allwaysvip.com.
Fairmont hotels Gold service is available at select properties around the world. Visit fairmont.com/explore/fairmont-gold for details.
The writer’s travel was supported in part by Rocky Mountaineer. It did not review or approve this article.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.