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Canada East - West + Alaska cruise .. WEST review
Post: #1
After a great time in the East it was now time to head out West.
We transferred back to Toronto where check in was quick and easy and there was time for lunch before boarding. Early views from my window seat were excellent, flying over 3 of the Great Lakes.
Then a dramatic change to countless miles of prairie with few signs of life at all. After 4 hours in the air we landed at Calgary. No Customs/Security, so pick up the bags and go. A short drive and we were at our downtown hotel. Just time for a quick bite before retiring. Our flight had lost us another couple of hours, so we were now 7 hours behind BST.
Next morning it was an early start for our 2 hour drive to Banff. The Rockies soon appeared in front of us and we advanced steadily towards them. A spectacular drive as we were soon enveloped by snow topped mountains. We arrived in Banff in glorious weather. It’s quite possibly the prettiest town I’ve ever come across. First stop on the edge of town was at beautiful Bow Falls. Then it was on to Sulphur Mountain. The gondola took us to the top for fantastic views. Photos galore. It was back down at midday and while some checked in at the hotel others were off to the heli pad. A 25 mins Rockies flight. Just about as awesome as it gets ! Mile after mile of snow covered mountains, tree lined hillsides, valleys and incredible lakes of turquoise. Highlight of the whole trip so far by a mile ! Back in town 3 of us from the east had a walk around soaking up the beautiful setting. We finally got the chance to meet up with our new travel companions over the evening meal before retiring after a long, but rewarding day.
Day 12 of the holiday was a big one in suitably glorious weather. We were off to Lake Louise. Our first stop was at Johnston Canyon. A winding, catwalk climb to the ‘lower falls’ was an enjoyable adventure (it was too far to reach the ‘upper falls’ in the time available). Before we reached JC, however, we had a special moment. ‘Barely’ 20 minutes into our drive there were shouts of BEAR ! Driver Nell stood on the brakes and backed us up to a grassy area where an enormous Grizzly was chomping away on the grass and dandelions. Bears love dandelions apparently. Unconcerned by us we were all able to snap away unhurriedly. A memorable, holiday defining wildlife encounter for everyone. Our next stop was at Moraine Lake. As we turned a corner at the Lake there was a collective ‘WOW’ on board. A stunningly beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by tall trees and huge mountains. A magnificent and unimprovable vista. Climbing the ‘rockpile’ took a tough 10 mins, but we were rewarded with the best imaginable views. A lakeside pathway also offered great views, but the turquoise effect was a lot less apparent. A great day so far, but next up was Lake Louise. Another beautiful turquoise lake with a glacier, mountains and forest backdrop. All fronted by the iconic Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. No high view point here, but lakeside walks offered wonderous views as well as lake/chateau photo opps. As we headed back to the coach thunder and rain arrived. Once again the weather gods had smiled on us.
Our drive to Jasper on Day 13 included a number of stops. Firstly, picturesque Bow Valley Lake. Then Peyto Lake, even more vivid turquoise than yesterday and quite stunning. The highlight though was a visit to the Athabasca Glacier. We climbed aboard the unique Ice Explorers which took us onto the Glacier. 25 mins to explore, photograph and taste (for some) the flowing ice water. Quite an experience.
Jasper is a totally different town to Banff. Much more ‘old style’. Our morning excursion on Day 14 took us to Maligne Lake. A brief sighting of elk as we headed first to Medicine Lake. A bald eagle nest close by, but no one home. We did spot some black bears below us, though, which was a nice bonus. We arrived at Maligne Lake to find it shrouded in mist. After a bit of a wander and a coffee it appeared the mist was starting to lift. Soon the sun burst through and the lake revealed its beauty. Timing is everything ! Our return took us back the same way and the eagles nest now had two birds atop. We now had a short rest back at the hotel before our afternoon river rafting. 25 of us loaded onto the school bus which took us to the raft station. Here we had our life jackets fitted and then gingerly stepped aboard. Brief instructions were given as we sat ‘cheek to cheek’ on the edge and we gently eased out onto the Athabasca River (4 degrees). This was a gentle meander downstream punctuated by a few moisturising moments as we hit some less calm rapids. Over 1.5 hours afloat. Soggy bottoms all round and all good fun ! We were then returned to the hotel and some of us prepared for our evening nature walk. We were whisked away into the hills above Jasper and split into 2 groups of 8 + guide. Nearly 2 hours were spent trekking through the forest. Best sightings were of beavers swimming in the lakes below. Most annoying were the mosquitoes who were out in force ! On our return to town we turned a corner to see a massive black bear on the verge. Unfortunately we had spooked him and he shot up the bank into the undergrowth before any cameras were located. A ‘wow’ moment though !
Day 15 arrived with a 6:15 start. It was Rocky Mountaineer day ! My review for the two day journey appears separately as this is an alternative to the coach/Sun Peaks travel option.
Day 17 was our initiation to Vancouver. This was the first of 4 full days in this great City. A morning tour took in amongst others the Winter Olympics Stadium, Gastown, Chinatown and a stop at Stanley Park a great area for exploration. We then stopped for lunch at Granville Island Food Market. An abundance of fresh produce here and outside areas to eat while taking in the harbour activities. After our tour I joined fellow ‘easterner’ Graham for a walk down to English Bay Beach and were joined by another as we enjoyed a refreshment break on a hot, summers day. Our walk continued and stretched on for over 3 hours as we took in the sights including the Lost Lagoon. It had reached 6:20 when we came across a recommended eatery, the Steamhouse Brewery. We decided to dine rather than return to the hotel. The food was very good. If you ever make it to Vancouver, do try the beer soup. One of the best soups I’ve ever tasted. Better even than Heinz Cream of Tomato !
Day 18 was a full on day for those doing the Vancouver Island Tour. A 7:00 start for the drive to the ferry terminal, then a pleasant trip over to the Island. A 30 mins drive took us to the heart of Victoria. An interesting and attractive City. After a good walk round most joined Yvette for a walk to Fishermans Cove for a traditional fish & chips lunch. We returned to the centre afterwards by water taxi, a dinky little boat. It was soon time for our next visit, this time to Butchart Gardens. If you like gardens and flowers this is not to be missed. Spectacularly beautiful and quite compact, so seeing it all is very doable. On returning to the ferry we faced an unusual, but unavoidable delay, which meant a hotel return time of 10:25. A long, but very good day.
We started Day 19 with an enjoyable wander through the treetops at Capilano Suspension Bridge described as ‘reassuringly wobbly since 1889’. We then headed off to Grouse Mountain. 8 mins by cable car to the top at 1127 metres. Unfortunately, we arrived in low cloud meaning the hoped for spectacular views were hidden. An entertaining, if a bit cheesy, Lumberjack show was fun, but the 2 resident orphaned Grizzly bears were snoozing and out of sight. There was just enough visibility to allow the Birds in Motion display to go ahead which was good. Many of our group at this stage decided it was getting a bit cold (it was) and sought out the cafe. Luckily for those of us still braving the elements investigation of the bear lookout area revealed both bears up and about filling their faces. Great views and photo opps as they moved around. And to think I’d given up on them !
A quick bite to eat and back down for return to the hotel. Once back 6 of us decided to do the ‘Fly Over Canada’ trip. A 9 mins 3D IMAX type flight over Canada from East to West (how appropriate !) with legs dangling. Fantastic. With Niagara spray and rain included free .. At 6:00 we had a farewell drinks gathering and final dinner out.
Day 20 and the end of the line for those not doing the Alaska Cruise. A morning walk and coffee downtown with Graham and Liz before the goodbyes to 23 of the group at 1:30 as they headed for the airport and home. Another good and friendly group it had been a pleasure to spend time with.
Now we were down to 5. Myself, Jackie, Jeane, Margaret and Pam.
As with my South Africa trip this had been an outstanding holiday experience. Yvette, our TM, was fantastic throughout. Absolutely first class. This was an expensive trip when you factor in all the optional excursions, meals and tips and to be honest I don’t want to work it all out ! BUT, I’m so glad I did it. So many wonderful highlights and experiences in a breathtakingly beautiful Country. It looks great on tv, but to experience it first hand puts it on a different level altogether.
Pity about the elusive Moose though !
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Post: #2
Hi Roger, 

Many thanks for the first two parts of your review - I await part three with great anticipation!  I loved reading of your experiences on what was obviously a trip of a lifetime!  I'm heading to the Rockies in September with Travelsphere (no train or Alaska cruise) but I am sure it will be a most memorable experience.  You were very lucky with the weather and wildlife sightings!  I saw some of Yvette's photos on Facebook and they were wonderful.  Lucky you - I hope I will be as fortunate!

All the best,

Bob
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Post: #3
Roger

I have read both your reviews sounds like a fantastic tour your on..

When I went to Canada with JY although we booked CN Tower when we got there cloud cover was bad so no one went up, money was refunded, I loved the helicopter and boat at Niagara.

How great you saw the bears!

Keep travelling

Cindy
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Post: #4
Hi Roger

Great reviews. I've done most of what you covered, but am interested in a tour that takes in the east coast of Canada from Montreal to Nova Scotia.

Regards
Sylvia
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Post: #5
Wow- thanks for your review. I'm doing the West in September so it's great to hear about your experiences.

Angee
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