By: Marcie Dasher, Travel Consultant
I live in Houston, Texas so when I first contemplated a getaway from the August heat, I wanted somewhere cool and somewhere I’d never been before. I specialize in and typically take cruises on most of my vacations. I’ve never been on an escorted tour before, so when I decided to try it out. I wanted one that would be easy to get to, with visits to cities not terribly far from each other, as I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about traveling by bus every day. When I found Trafalgar’s Canada’s Rockies, it was the perfect fit. I got to escape 100 degree heat and enjoy summertime outdoors in beautiful 60 degree weather, with breathtaking scenery. Outstanding!
We began with a stay at the Westin in downtown Calgary. The Westin is conveniently located and is within walking distance of incredible restaurants, the revolving Calgary Tower, and shopping on Robson, a charming flower lined street with shops and cafes. They lead to a park with fountains and sculptures with more gorgeous flowers everywhere, and just blocks away from the Riverwalk and China town.
We decided to fly in the evening prior, and stay one more day after our 7 day tour, and I am so glad we did! Calgary is a vibrant, active, and modern city that I thoroughly enjoyed. Calgary’s economy is largely based on the oil business and is nicknamed Cowtown. Sure sounds a lot like Houston…but so much prettier. I really had no idea, when I first chose this trip, how scenic it would be.
Day 1 We were on our own as everyone arrives at various times. We met our Tour Director, Ben, as well as our fellow travelers at a Welcome Reception meet & greet cocktail party early evening at the hotel. This was our first official activity.
Day 2 We depart Calgary in the morning and head to Jasper with several stops along the way, much to our relief. As I mentioned, my friend/travel companion and I really didn’t know how we’d feel about traveling by bus, we were happily surprised. The scenery was breathtaking and everywhere we stopped for a break was quaint, clean and of course sold souvenirs! Our Tour Director was funny and friendly, and oh so knowledgeable. The bus was beautiful and well kept, with nice leather seats and seemed very new. So far so good, we were off to a great start!
We took a break for lunch and sightseeing at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff. The perfect backdrop to the stunning scenery situated directly in front of the magnificent, sparkling, emerald Lake Louise.
We then made one last stop at the magnificent Athabasca Falls for a bit more sightseeing and then we went to downtown Jasper in the early evening. We packed so many incredible sights in on our first day! Our hotel was perfectly situated. It was easy to walk to shops and restaurants right in the middle of town. Not all hotels around the city are so convenient. Trafalgar really knows these destinations and how to make their guests’ visits so easy and pleasurable. It was dinner on our own this night and we made sure to also enjoy a couple of other national treasures. We just had to try the famous Bloody Caesar we’d been hearing about all day; the national cocktail of Canada. We also threw back a few Kokanee’s, authentic Canadian beer. Not a bad way to end the day.
Day 3 We had free time in Jasper for most of the day, so we decided to take an optional raft tour of the Athabasca River. Our raft guide was charming and really funny. He kept everyone laughing the entire time. Jasper and the Canadian National Parks are a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, by the way!
Later that afternoon we visited Malign Canyon and gorge. We took a boat ride out on Malign Lake, which included a lovely delicious dinner afterward along with local Naturalist speaker.
Day 4 Our tour guide really made this trip over the top. He was so informative, amazing, and hardworking. He was fun to be around, played music on our drives, was always full of facts and trivia, and handed out candy and treats. He definitely knew the inside track on efficiently getting around all these tourist destinations. I so appreciated how he anticipated every detail. He knew to get us to the Columbia Icefield Visitor Center early, before the crowds descended, and boy, was he right! We boarded the Ice Explorer and excitedly headed to Athabasca Glacier where we got to actually walk on the glacier. Wow! Talk about spectacular views! When we got back to the Visitor Center, it was packed, with long lines and lots of waiting. We already had our exploration and made our way to the Glacier Skywalk, leaving the long lines behind. And one of the best parts, someone else is doing the driving. This tour thing is really turning out great, so stress free and enjoyable.
Look at how huge the massive Ice Explorer Vehicle is, we are barely taller than the tires!
We headed back to Banff from Jasper at the end of day 4 and enjoyed dinner and chatting with a real, retired Royal Canadian Mountie.
Day 5 and 6 in Banff were as relaxing, or as active as you prefer. There was optional sightseeing excursions or free time to explore the quaint alpine village and local color. We opted for lunch at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, and later I took a gondola ride for more panoramic views of the town.
We stayed at the Banff Park Lodge, which again was perfectly located right in the main area of downtown. The large street had plenty of choices of bars with live music, restaurants, clothing stores, and gifts shops, all of which were right outside the front of our hotel. However, if we walked out the back, it was a completely different view, as we were situated practically on the banks of the Bow River. We hiked on trails along the river and through forest, while others rented canoes, or rode bikes. It was just one picturesque scene after another everywhere we turned.
Our last evening in Banff entailed a drive to Kananaskis Valley,to the beautiful Guinn Family’s Boundary Ranch and Kiska Lodge for our farewell dinner. We were treated to a horse drawn hayride around the ranch, lasso lessons, BBQ dinner with drinks, and C&W line dancing lessons. Wait, are we still in Canada or back in Texas?
Day 7 Back to Calgary This was an action packed, yet relaxing trip, filled with spectacular scenery and exhilarating, once in a lifetime activities. The locals were friendly and welcoming… truly inspiring. I give so many thanks to our outstanding tour guide Ben, as well as the fun loving fellow travelers in our group, who were visiting from around the world. I am so sincerely happy to have chosen this Trafalgar tour, it was everything you could hope for in a vacation.
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