By Natalie Pease Mobile Travel Advisor
This was our first overseas trip since Australia re-opened to international travel. It was a bucket list trip as I had planned to take a group tour in 2020 that for obvious reasons didn’t eventuate! So, version 2.0 was just my husband and me.
The summary of the trip was a few nights in Vancouver, then the ‘Majestic Rockies 9 night tour from Vancouver to Banff, following this was the Rocky Mountaineer train from Banff to Vancouver then a Holland America Inside Passage cruise 7 night return from Vancouver.
Check in at Sydney was efficient, staff checked our International Vaccination Certificate was checked (which incidentally was required going over, but during our time away Qantas changed their rules that they were taking unvaccinated travellers, so not required to be shown in departure) as well as our ArriveCan app info. No waiting through Immigration, and a short wait through security.
We flew Qantas on the new Dreamliner which is a quiet aircraft compared to the A380, meal service very good. Arriving in Vancouver was also very efficient with self service passport scanning and then a few questions from Immigration, bag collection and I haven’t really seen Customs yet!
We took a taxi from the airport which has a flat fee of CAD36 (plus CAD1 per bag), plus tip, journey time was approx. 20-25 mins. Note - tipping is expected in most places, all EFTPOS transactions in taxis, restaurants, cafes will have a ‘add tip either 15,18,20% or nil’ before you process. Of course, it’s optional and based on service. It’s still a concept that Australians find foreign and hard to accept. We found the cost of most things quite a lot more than here, especially when you add state tax around 10-15% then a tip of the same.
Our first hotel was the Georgian Court Hotel. A nice 4 star hotel, next to Rogers Arena, 2 min walk to Robson St (main shopping st) and about a 15 min walk to Canada Place. This hotel is used by Globus so it was convenient for the star of our tour.
During our first few days in Vancouver, we did the Canada Flyover – a 4D interactive fly around experience at Canada Place and also caught the complimentary shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension bridge which was a really lovely few hours. It’s only about 20 mins drive from Vancouver. Grouse Mountain is also in this same part of North Vancouver. The free shuttle also goes from Canada Place.
Our Globus tour was almost full with 40 passengers. Masks were mandatory on the coach. We had the standard seat rotation each day, so everyone had a turn at the front. The itinerary was a perfect overview of the top highlights of British Columbia and Alberta, the highlight of course is the Canadian Rockies – Vancouver (1n) -Victoria (2n) -Whistler (1n) -Sun Peaks (1n) -Jasper (2n)-Banff (2n). This is the second time I’ve done this itinerary and you really see so much on a tour without the hassle of self drive. You get expert commentary, a driver so you can just watch the view, and pack so much into the days that you just couldn’t do on your own. The driver and tour guide were excellent at animal spotting, and we often pulled over to view bears, elk, deer. The Globus hotels were on average 3.5-4 star (except Fairmont Whistler which was 5 star). As with most hotels worldwide, there is a shortage of staff, so housekeeping wasn’t always done each day when we had 2 night stays. It's part and parcel of travel these days as everywhere is struggling with staff – cafes, restaurants, attractions, hotels. The last time I visited was in April and the difference to July was remarkable, most notably the unfrozen lakes and the abundant wildlife. I much preferred July for this reason, although one notable disappointment was the number of people at Lake Louise! It was incredible the difference between April and July.
A few highlights of the trip were:
- Orca whale watching cruise from Victoria – amazing!
- The colour of the lakes – I’ve never seen such beautiful teal blue – the colour is due to them being glacier fed and the tiny silt particles/glacier flour being so fine that it doesn’t settle at the bottom but rather stays suspended in the water. My new favourite lakes are Lake Peyto and Maligne, just magnificent!
- Seeing how busy Whistler is in summer!Mountain biking is huge and the whole mountain is turned into biking tracks and the town is buzzing with tourists and bikes! It certainly is an all year round destination.There were still skiers on the very top.
- Peak-to-Peak gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb – this is an engineering wonder and is just a fabulous trip between the two mountains,
- White water rafting (albeit very tame – only 1.5-2 grade) on the Athabasca River at Jasper
- Banff Gondola – a beautiful view over this gorgeous town
After the tour we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer in Banff for the 2 day/1 night trip to Vancouver. We travelled in Gold Class with the 180-degree glass dome roof with seating upstairs (business class seating, very spacious) where all day drinks and snacks are served, and downstairs is the dining room where breakfast and lunch are served. The meals were excellent, multiple courses, chef prepared.
The train has several routes, this one was called ‘First Passage to the West’. We travelled to Lake Louise to collect other passengers before heading to Kamloops where we disembarked and spent the night in a hotel. Early the next morning we were taken back to the train for the last part of the trip to Vancouver. An important note is there is no wifi on board. You do spend a long time on the train, and yes there is a lot of beautiful scenery to look at, but there are also times where you may want to read, so take a book, or cards, or just order another drink and have a little siesta! I have always recommended my clients do this train first then the coach tour, and now I certainly can appreciate why this is important. We just had 10 days of seeing the most amazing scenery of the Rockies on tour coach tour, so when we boarded the train, the scenery was much the same, so we didn’t get the wow factor like we would have had we did the train first. I think this is a really important point when planning your trip to Canada.
After the train ended in Vancouver, we had another few nights before we were due to board a Holland America cruise for 7 nights to Alaska. As part of the US cruising protocol, we had to have a medical Covid test, showing a negative result the day before embarkation. Unfortunately, we tested positive to Covid and were unable to board the cruise. We were very disappointed but there was nothing we could do. We had to complete 5 days of hotel quarantine which were the rules of the Canadian state we were in (each state has different rules). We were in constant contact with our travel insurance company as we had to pay for extra hotel accommodation and flight change costs. We returned home a few days earlier than planned.
We will be back! We will return to complete the cruise in conjunction with a trip to the USA in a few years. Covid won’t stop me travelling that’s for sure. You’re a long time sitting at home waiting for the right time and waiting for it to go away. The world is adjusting to the new normal of travel with Covid and each week and month that goes by is becoming easier and less restrictive.
By Natalie Pease
Mobile Travel Advisor