While our newsgroup is devoted to cruising, I want to point out that "cruising
by bus" is another wonderful way to see the country. Vicki and I have never
taken a "land cruise," but decided to give it a try in conjunction with an
Alaskan cruise. The following comments are offered to those of you who may
have never considered adding on a land tour to a cruise experience, so it
isn't totally off topic. <grin>
Three weeks ago, Vicki and I took the LAND portion of the Princess Canadian
Rockies tour. The trip departed Calgary by bus, with overnights in Banff,
Lake Louise and Jasper. The tour then boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train for
a trip down the western side of the Rockies for an overnight in Kamloops and
finally arriving in Vancouver. Many on our tour then boarded the Star
Princess or Regal Princess for different Alaskan cruises, while Vicki and I
departed to the tour for a different Cruise/tour by HAL. I'll discuss that in
a different post.
Vicki travels with an Amigo scooter, since she has MS and cannot walk any
distances. The airline legs of our trip are documented in another post.
Simply stated, airlines have travel with scooters like the Amigo down almost
perfectly and post little or no barriers to travel by the handicapped.
American Airlines and Alaskan Airlines are excellent in the way they care for
both the scooter and the passenger.
Our Princess tour was escorted. This means that besides a driver-guide, we
also had an additional person along to pass out room keys, to point out sights
along the way and to insure that the trip went smoothly for all travelers.
Coach: The coach that met us at our hotel was a very new, clean and
comfortable bus. The bus "knelt" to permit older and handicapped folks easier
access to the first step. Its large luggage compartments beneath the seating
area held all luggage with MUCH room to spare. Vicki's scooter was placed in
the forward baggage compartment, where it was accessible immediately when we
got off the bus. The ride was better than any auto, the bus was quiet and had
an excellent PA system for comments by the escort and the driver. Older folks
and folks with stability problems can appreciate the continuous hand rail
along the overhead luggage compartment and ability to steady themselves on
seat backs while waking the aisle to the restroom and to visit with others.
Driver-guide and escort: The two folks on our tour were better than any tour
guides we've ever encountered. Gary, the driver, saw to it that Vicki's
scooter was beside the door by the time we got off the bus. In order to not
hold up the others, Vicki prefers to disembark last. Shane, the escort, was
conscientious, worked his rump off to make sure that everything was perfect
and actually LIKED his work.
Accomodations: The Lodge in Banff- incredible. The Chateau in Lake
Louise-incredible. The motel in Jasper- nicely refurbished Holiday Inn-type
of place, but nothing to compare with the Lodge or Chateau. It was
undoubtebly the best that Jasper had to offer, however. Kamloops- see
comments on Jasper. Vancouver- Westin Bayshore. This is a new, highrise
hotel with all the amenities and accessible to the shopping area of downtown
Vancouver. It is pricy, but excellent. All accomodations provided
handicapped access for Vicki.
Food: Breakfast and Dinner were included in the tour. We merely signed for
our meals. Lunch, incidentals and cocktails were not included, except for a
beer/wine bar at two receptions. There were no limitations on price,
selection, appetizers or desserts. The Lodge and the Chateau offered food and
service that compared favorably to any top-quality restaurant in the country.
Jasper was a big disappointment. There, the lounge was virtually empty, a
martini cost $8 and was far smaller than normal. The bartender was too
preoccupied with television to even wait on our table and there were no
"snacks" at all in the bar. Food was "steamtable" type, offering dried out
roast beef. The service matched the food. This was the ONLY place where we
and our fellow travelers agreed that we'd never return. Kamloops had a
delightful bar off the lobby and we simply pigged out on appetizers instead of
visiting the restaurant. Our fellow travelers told us that it was excellent,
Train ride: The Rocky Mountaineer was a separate "subset" of the Princess
Tour. Our escort stayed with us, although the hostess in each car offered
narration, served beverages and a box lunch. The cars were clean,
comfortable, air conditioned and the scenery was beautiful. The overnight in
Kamloops was equally enjoyable.
Aside on scooter: The Rocky Mountaineer's passenger cars don't have the
ability to store much luggage. As a result, Vicki's scooter had to be placed
aboard the baggage car. This presented no problem at all, since it was still
accessible in Kamloops for the overnight and this was the only "stop" along
the way to Vancouver. We felt that the railway folks made an excellent effort
to assure us that the scooter was treated well and to see that it was waiting
for Vicki by the railcar when we disembarked. Our escort was instrumental in
this, as well.
Sights: The Canadian Rockies must be seen to be believed. The earlier part
of our tour probably had the prettiest scenery, but just minimally so. The
bus part of the trip (northbound) gave us a perspective of the mountains from
more of a distance, while the train ride down through the mountains gave us a
close-up of cuts, tunnels and bridges that weren't too apparent from the bus.
Both were enjoyable.
20/20 hindsight: An escorted tour is nice, since there's no "suffering" along
the way about the price of food or accomodations. The keys to your hotel room
are passed out on the bus by the escort, all tips are paid by the escort and
the escort provides commentary on the sights. We learned, however, that a
GUIDED tour is virtually identical, with the exception of the food being
included. Baggage was taken from the bus and delivered to our room. In the
mornings, we placed our baggage in the hallway and it was taken to the bus.
Following the Princess "ESCORTED" tour, we took a HAL "GUIDED" tour. What we
learned was that on a guided tour, the hotel people meet the bus with room
keys as your disembark. The hotel folks still take the luggage to/from the
room. The tour line still arranges for excursions and your are delivered
to/picked up at the excursions by your driver-guide. I do not wish to
denigrate or minimize the comfort that an additional person, such as an
escort, brings to a tour, but I feel an escort is fairly redundant. Narration
by a driver-guide is no different than the narration by the escort.
I'd also prefer to take the tour in reverse order. Vicki and I enjoy the
resort-type of hotels such as found in Banff and Lake Louise far more than we
do even the best Holliday Inn-type of hotels. Our analysis of the Princess
tour from Calgary to Vancouver was that the sights, food and accomodations
went from incredible to acceptible. We'd prefer that they went from
acceptible to incredible. This isn't a reflection on Princess, since we
always felt that we were offered the best accomodations and food that was
available in the stopover town. The problem was that the stopover towns to
the north and west of Calgary/Banff/Lake Louise simply could not compete with
the Lodge and Chateau.
Having taken the Princess tour, we now feel very comfortable in adding a land
tour to our "portfolio" of desirable vacations. The experience on the Rocky
Mountaineer was equally excellent and I'm now surprised that tour agencies
haven't tried a similar program for the lower 48 states. We found no barriers
to the use of our scooter and felt that the hotel people, Princess people and
Rocky Mountaineer employess worked hard to make us feel welcome and
I will soon write of our experience in taking the Holland American cruise/tour
from Vancouver to Anchorage by way of the Yukon Terrritor and interior Alaska.
The cruise and tour were acceptible, but were no match for our overall
experience with Princess.