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Surprise trip. Suggestions?

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Surprise trip. Suggestions?

As the title states, I am beginning to plan a surprise 25th anniversary trip for my wife and I to the Jasper/Banff area in September 2008. This will be our first trip to Canada. I have read through the forums for Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff and really appreciate the wealth of information there. Any suggestions to my proposed itinerary would help me to finalize accomodations and travel dates.

Trip begins with flight to Vancouver

--nothing really planned for Vancouver, only there one night.

??suggestion of where to stay in Vancouver close to train station??

Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Jasper

??Is the overnight in Kamloops included in price for train trip??

??Choice of lodging in Kamloops??

??Red leaf or Gold leaf worth the difference??

Jasper for 3 or 4 nights with car rental.

Based on tripadvisor reviews, Patricia Lake Bungalows is on the top of the list.

??Has anyone stayed in their newer Grove section??

Lake Louise for 3 or 4 nights.

Also based on reviews, Paradise Lodge and Bungalows sounds nice.

??Has anyone stayed in the Temple Suite??

??Lake Louise OK as a base for Banff??

??One or two nights in Waterton/US Glacier NP??

??Should we spend the extra night or two at Jasper/Lake Louise and skip Waterton/Glacier?? I'm concerned it may seem less spectacular after Jasper/Lake Louise/Banff.

Flight home from Calgary.

Dates are somewhat flexible at this point...probably beginning on the 8th or 10th of September 2008.

Thanks in advance for any responses. Sorry for the long post and so many questions.

One last question...more like an opinion poll than a question.

How long should I keep this a secret from my wife?

-she will have no idea we could afford a trip like this, funds well hidden

-she will miss out on the anticipation of the trip if not told

-many other pros and cons to keeping the secret.

Vancouver, Canada
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1. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Wow - sounds fantastic!

I'll leave it up to the others to give you advice on the Rockies, as the last time I visited, I was in my teens and not paying attention to such details.

About the Vancouver portion - the Rocky Mountaineer station is located in a quasi-industrial warehouse district without many hotels immediately nearby. And even if there were hotels right nearby, you wouldn't want to stay there.

Ideally, you'd want to stay somewhere in downtown Vancouver, as a cab ride from downtown Vancouver to the Rocky Mountaineer station should only take 10 minutes and not much longer. Not much more than $10-$12. (I'm quoting Canadian dollars). Downtown Vancouver is arguably the most lively spot to be in Vancouver - thousands of restaurants, shops, and a haldful of different neighbourhoods to explore. Everything downtown is within walking distance or a 5 minute cab ride. There are of course the beaches, forested parks, and waterfront walkways. Are you sure you're only staying one night? ;)

There are many hotels I could personally suggest, but it really depends on what you're looking for? Are you looking for budget? Are you looking for scenery (ie: waterfront properties?). Are you looking for a central location so you can stroll outside and read the menus of dozens of restaurants before choosing one for dinner? Are you looking for old world class or modern aesthetics? A suite? A plain one bedroom room? 5 star? 4 star? 3 star? etc...

As for your questions regarding the Rocky Mountaineer, I'd highly recommend looking up their website and calling their toll-free number to get the official answers to your questions. This past summer I was working for a tourism centre that would occasionally book Rocky Mountaineer tours. The "brochure" is more like a 50 page catalogue detailing all the different options. And there are dozens of different options available! So I'm not sure exactly what you were quoted, but the basic Vancouver to Kamloops to Jasper package includes the hotel in Kamloops. Customers don't really have a choice on their Kamloops hotel - everyone gets put in a clean but simple 3 star property, like a Best Western, for the night. It's really just to overnight. But once you get into Jasper, they can actually book accommodation for you as well and add it onto your package. That's where you can choose the type of hotel (popular, superior, etc). Chances are, you'll want to book the hotel yourself (unless you feel like giving the Rocky Mountaineer staff some commission!) :)

As for red or gold leaf? Having never been on the Rocky Mountaineer, I can only go by what I've been told and shown. The red leaf is more basic. You have cold meals at your seat. You don't have large domed windows. With the gold leaf you have a gourmet hot dinner served in a dining car with a domed roof. The windows at your seat are also larger. There's also more staff attending the gold service. I recall one of their staff explaining to me last summer, "since you pay more for gold leaf, we're giving you more... about 4 times more than you get for red leaf". Something like that :)

Calgary, Alberta...
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2. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Hello ohio50,

Congratulations on your 25th wedding anniversary.

You know your wife better than we do and are in a better position to know whether or not she likes surprises. If I was going to be involved in such a trip, I would want to know a reasonable time in advance so that I could research the destination, make arrangements for things to be done during my absence, and plan what to pack.

You will short change yourself if you do not spend at least 2 nights / 1 full day in Vancouver before embarking for your train trip on the Rocky Mountaineer.

If you can see your way clear to stretching this into a 14-night trip, here is an itinerary that I would recommend:

1 – Land in Vancouver

2 – Explore Vancouver

3 – Train to Kamloops

4 – Train to Jasper

5 – Explore Jasper

6 – Explore Jasper (but if you are pinched for time, you could get away with sacrificing this second day in Jasper)

7 – Drive Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise

8 – From Lake Louise base, explore east end of Banff National Park (including Banff townsite)

9 – From Lake Louise base, explore west end of Banff National Park and nearby Yoho National Park

10 – Drive southwards along the west side of the Rockies to West Glacier

11 – Drive the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park. Spend the night in the Many Glacier / Swiftcurrent area of GNP

12 – Drive to Waterton Lakes National Park

13 – Drive to Calgary. Consider a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Interpretive Centre between Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod. Then consider driving the less travelled Hwy #22 (a.k.a. the Cowboy Trail) that winds through the eastern foothills of the Rockies. Go through Longivew, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Bragg Creek. Then go on to Calgary for the night.

14 – Fly home

Since you've already been exploring the TripAdvisor website, you may have stumbled on the "Inside Pages." If you have not already found them, I recommend:

Inside Vancouver:


Inside Banff National Park (effectively serves as an Inside Canadian Rockies section):


Inside Calgary (pay particular attention to the Hotel Districts page and the Departing for the USA page):


Hope that helps.

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3. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Thanks Robyn and Judy. I hadn't thought of Vancouver as place we should spend some time, but I'll consider it. I still have a lot of time to finalize plans and I'm sure I'll be posting other questions as they arise.

Calgary, Canada
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4. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Ohio... if I may offer a suggestion in Vancouver. Go to the Westin Bayshore or the Pan Pacific for location. Both are on the harbour, and offer spectacular views as long as you ask for harbour view. The Westin is closer to Stanley Park, but a bit further away from the better areas of downtown Vancouver. However, the Pan is going to be a much more expensive stay.

I personally prefer the Pan Pacific, though it can be a bit hectic, as the cruise ships will still be there at that time of year... easy enough to get around that. Leave before 8 am or after 11 am... return after 4 pm....but I would definately not recommend the restaurant there. There are many other places nearby that you can dine at, for less, and much better food.

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5. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Hello ohio50

I'm no expert on the area like the others who have replied - but my husband and I did a very similar trip to the one you are planning in September 2006.

We stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver for 4 nights. We took the Rocky Mountaineer (Gold Leaf - the only way to travel on this train) to Jasper where we stayed at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodgefor 4 nights. We then moved on to Banff where we stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs. The only thing I would maybe change if I did it over again would be Jasper Park Lodge. The setting is superb and we had a wonderful time but the accomodation is dark, dated and none to clean!!

The whole experience was fantasic, unbelievable and unforgettable. We fell in love with the area (the Rockies that is) so much that we're coming out again in April. We'd like to see it in its winter coat - we're even going to try out ski-ing for the first time - and we're both very late 50's.

You're going to have a wonderful time - you can't fail to.

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6. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Hi, happy 25th. We had a holiday last year to all the areas you mention. We loved it so much we are going back again this year. In Jasper we did the hike in to and stayed at Tonquin Valley. You can only do this by put or on horseback (approx 19kms each way) The place is magical. I thought Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. You do need to stay here a few days to soak in the view. To use it as a base is a great idea. We stayed at Deer lodge it is just 5 mins walk from lake Louise and is a fraction of the price to staying at the Fairmont. I thought it was very quaint and plan to stay here again. The 'Going to the Sun' is a must.

happy trails.


lost in Ohio
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7. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Your are planning much too much -- unless you just want to check off a list of accomplishments. Waterton is quite a way from Calgary and there is no easy way to get there.

September is Larch season -- maybe you'll get lucky and see the trees turn.

Tell your wife.

The decide

1. Do you like to hike? How far?

2. Do you want to sightsee from your car?

3. Do you want to shop?

4. Do you like privacy or luxury?

5. How would you like a room with a fireplace? a fake fireplace? a jacuzzi?

6. How important is the food?

Post your answers, and I can provide much more info.

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8. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Thanks to all who have replied so far.


Thanks for the suggestions. We have not made any definate plans yet, so our itinerary is still flexible.

To answer your questions:

Hiking---Yes, we haven't done much hiking so easy to moderate, no more than a few hours for each hike unless a must see attraction.

Sightseeing from car OK, especially wildlife since it's safer.

Shopping not too important. Plenty of other things to do. Maybe rainy day activity.

Privacy/luxury...tough to answer. Goal is to have a romantic room/suite with a fireplace and jacuzzi with a mountain or lake view under $300/night if possible.

Food suggestions welcomed, maybe one fancy meal at each location.

Overall goal of the trip is to have time to relax at each location and not feel rushed by having to hurry to each site before moving on. Judy's suggested itinerary seems a little rushed, but in fairness, she didn't have much info on our priorities.

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9. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?


we stayed at the west end guest house in central van city.we were on our honeymoon back in sept 06.the accomadation is superb,service faultless.decor very tasteful.edwardian style.comfortable beds in lovely rooms we had the grand queen suite.and well breakfast is unmissable.freshly cooked each morning.hope im not to late recommending this superb place to stay.railway is a 5 minute taxi away.if i remember right,its about 15 dollars.hers a link to west end guest house


as with the rocky mountaineer,we picked it up from banff back south to van city .we went redleaf service(enquired once there about gold)we never opted for it.but from what we heard and saw it did sound good.if we did again we would go gold!!!

accomadation in kamloops came with the package with rock mount,basic accomadation but spotless clean sorry cannot remember the name.we didnt find much to do in kamloops but we were late arriving.and did not mind as we only there one night.

jasper is just amazing!!!you may find you need a car.but visit there.i believe the place you have on the list to stay is just outside of town.on a small river i believe if it is the place im thinking of looked lovely.we stayed park lodge.

when your there treat yourself to the rocky mountaineer wildlife tour.ask for kevin.hes a really great man.we have stayed intouch with him(long story)but he will tell you where is good in jasper.any more questions would love to hear back.as we are planning to visit jasper again this sept.all the best darren and maxine

Calgary, Canada
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10. Re: Surprise trip. Suggestions?

Hello Ohio! Congratulations on nearing your 25th anniversary

It sounds like you have quite a trip planned, are you sure you wouldn't like your own personal tour guide? ;)

I have lived in Calgary my entire life, which is a 1 hour drive to Banff, and a 2.5 hour drive to Waterton National Park, so I am quite familiar with these areas, as I have visited them my entire life.

So...let's start at the beginning of your itinerary, and I will tell you as much as I know. I have stayed in Downtown Vancouver once, and stayed at the 'Hampton Inn and Suites'. This is quite close to the train station, and is next to False Creek, at the end of Vancouvers famous 'Robson Street'. This Hotel was quite nice and we would definitely stay there again. We stayed in a one bedroom king suite. It was quite fairly priced, and in pristine condition, and it even had a kitchenette. There was also a free hot and cold breakfast buffet included, which came free with all reservations. It was delicious!! It is too bad you have only one day in Vancouver, there is so much to see and do!!

On False Creek there are ferries which make stops up and down the waterway. You absolutely have to visit Granville Island Market which is accessible from Downtown via ferry or car. It is a collection of boutique shops offering locally made art, clothing, jewelry, etc. etc. It also has a wonderful fresh market that has sourdough bread to die for as well as a food court that could satisfy your food craving from Indian to Japenese to Greek to seafood. You have to visit!!!

In Vancouver, I have also visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Stanley Park Aquarium, and many fine shops and restaurants up and down 'Robson Street'

Now...on to your train trip. I have never taken this rail line, but I have gone with Via Rail, and have travelled with their 'First Class' service. There is no other way to go! Especially seeing as how this is your silver anniversary!

As far as Jasper goes, I haven't visited yet, but we have a trip planned next month to celebrate our 1st anniversary ( yes a far way from your 25th!)

I would have loved to stay at the Patricia Lake bungalows, as they look lovely, especially the new 'Groves'. They are not opened until May unfortunately. We are planning on staying at the Park Place Inn which is a small 14 room boutique hotel in downtown Jasper, walking distance from the train station. It has received great reviews on Trip Advisor, so I am quite hopeful it will be nice. I can comment on it once we get back. While in Jasper, we are planning on heading up the Jasper Tramway, going for the breakfast buffet at the Fairmont Jasper followed by hikes around the lakes surrounding the property, hiking Maligne Canyon. On day we leave we will go on a tour of the Columbia Ice Fields, which is on the way to Lake Louise on Hwy 93 about an hour south of Jasper. I will let you know how all of these attractions fare upon my return.

Concerning Lake Louise, I have never stayed here, but have only day tripped. It is probably a 30-45 minute commute from Banff. It is beautiful!!! You must hike up to the upper tea house from the Lake. Pure bliss!! If you don't mind the drive, it will be a beautiful one, it won't be a bad base while in the area.

I have stayed in many hotels in Banff, so If you are planning on staying there at all, I have many suggestions, depending on what you are looking for. Banff itself can be a bit busy, but it looks like you are coming just as the busiest season is winding down. An easy and beautiful hike is Johnstons Canyon, which also has quaint cabins and rooms and is half way between Banff and Lake Louise. While in banff the hotsprings are a treat especially under a starry blanket. A trip to the Fairmont Banff Springs grounds is a must as well. If you are really in a spending mood, the spa service here is next to heaven. There is also the most fantastic Sunday brunch! The historical architecture and beauty will have you dropping your jaw at every turn.

Now onto my favorite park...Waterton! If you want the beauty of the Rockies without the hustle and bustle that you will find in Banff, Waterton is for you. Waterton does have a handful of year round residents, but it is mainly a seasonal townsite. The wind down weekend is the first weekend in September, our Labour day. After this most people will leave, but all resorts will stay open until the end of September, with a few staying open all year round. The slogan of Waterton, is "Where the praries meet the mountains" It is quite an interesting drive from the west as you are driving through prarie, and then it seems out of nothing the Rockies explode. I love Waterton at this time of year as it is so quiet. If you want a romantic swan song for your anniversary trip this is a great place. Upper Waterton lake borders the townsite, and it is just wonderful to walk up and down the boardwalk. There are 3 hour narrated cruises up and down the lake, which give a lot of insight into the formation of this beautiful strip of earth.

Once again, if you do want to stay here, I can offer up suggestions based on what you are looking for. Bordering Waterton National Park, is of course Glacier National Park. Logan pass, aka Going-to-the-sun road is a wonderful winding drive through the mountain range, and would be a wonderful day trip from Waterton, if you were to drive to the summit then back again. Absolutely beautiful if you are not deathly afraid of heights. The views are incredible!!

As you venture back to Calgary, as previously mentioned by another fellow, A Unesco Heritage site worth a visit is the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Don't take Hwy 2 back to Calgary, unless you you need to save a half hour. Instead, take Hwy 22, aka "The Cowboy Trail". It is beautifully scenic as you wind through Black Diamond and Turner Valley, there are many artisans with wonderful boutiques, to take back that last special momento from your trip.

As you come into Calgary, on the weekends all downtown hotels have discounted rates, as they are catering to the business customer. I have stayed at the Delta Bow Valley Downtown, and the Hyatt Regency. The later would be my preference as it is newer and has larger rooms. If you are coming in during the week, stay away from Downtown hotels.

Well good luck in all of your planning Ohio! If you want any suggestions on hotels, attractions or anything else, I would love to help you!!! In my opinion I would not tell your wife about the trip, until the last moment. However, if she is the type of lady that feels like she needs to update her wardrobe before every vacation, give her a week to ready herself. All the best!