In episode 9 of MASTers of Travel, John Werner, the President & COO of MAST Travel Network sits down with Dawn Elmendorf, Business Development Manager, Midwest – USA, for Rocky Mountaineer. Rocky Mountaineer is one of MAST’s preferred suppliers and it is a Canadian rail-tour company in Western Canada that operates routes between British Colombia and Alberta. In this sit down, Dawn announces that Rocky Mountaineer will be launching their first United States routes in summer 2021. Find out more about this exciting announcement here.
Key Points Mentioned In The Podcast
#1 – Rocky Mountaineer is coming to the United States
“We’re having an inaugural season in 2021. We’re going to be operating for 10 weeks 40 departures from Moab to Denver.”
#2 – No overnights on the train with Rocky Mountaineer
“One thing that makes Rocky Mountaineer unique is we are daylight only train travel, so you do not sleep on the train.”
#3 – Gold leaf service will not be available in the U.S
“The one difference if anybody’s familiar with Rocky Mountaineer in Canada we have two levels of service we have Golden and Silver. Gold is a bi-level rail car. Unfortunately, some of the tunnels in the US are too short for that. We don’t want to do a level and a half. So, we’ve come up with we’ll still have our great silver leaf service.”
#4 – You won’t go hungry
“It is all-inclusive when you’re on the train. That means your meals, generally breakfast and lunch… Besides your meals, it’s snacks and all the alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages you want. We do wine and cheese in the afternoon, coffee or tea if you want.”
#5 – The post-tour packages allow for personalization and flexibility
“The motorcoach, you’re more on a schedule, but you have a travel director and a driver with you. You’re learning more about the area itself, with self-drive, you’re on your own, you just have to get to your next hotel destination the next day so you can explore at your own pace.”
Full Podcast Transcript
Welcome to the MASTers of Travel series. My name is John Werner. I’m the President of MAST Travel Network, a network of about 1000 travel advisors specializing in travel to all parts of the world. We do work with very popular tour and cruise companies across the country. With us today, we have Don Elmendorf of Rocky Mountaineer and perhaps some of you listening, have not heard of Rocky Mountaineer, or have had the excitement and the pleasure of the Rocky Mountaineer experience. We’re going to talk about something that is recently been announced by Rocky Mountaineer about a new experience coming this summer. And so, Dawn, welcome to our series.
Thanks so much, John. Yes, we are really excited. As some of you may know, Rocky Mountaineer has been around for 30 years now in the Canadian Rockies offering luxury rail, daylight only rail tours, and we are thrilled that we’re coming to the United States. We’re having an inaugural season in 2021. We’re going to be operating for 10 weeks 40 departures from Moab to Denver. So very excited about that.
That’s great. And when does that start up? I know it’s sometime this summer, but what’s the exact start date?
August 14 is the first departure date. And runs until I believe, October 17.
Okay, 10 weeks, great time of the year to be in the Colorado Rockies. And you said you’re starting in Moab, Utah?
Yes, but you can go either way. Start in Denver and go to Moab or go to Moab end in Denver. It’s easier to talk Denver to Moab.
This is two days on the train with the one overnight. You’ve been operating for years in the Canadian Rockies. What will this experience be like? How will this be different?
A lot of it’s going to be the same John so we’re going to offer one thing that makes Rocky Mountaineer unique is we are daylight only train travel, so you do not sleep on the train, it’s going to be the same way in the US. We’re also going to some of the prettiest areas of the world between the US Colorado Rockies and the Canadian Rockies. So, you don’t want to sleep through it. You don’t want to be traveling at night. Always overnight at destinations and for this route overnighting in Glenwood Springs. You’ll still have the same wonderful commentary, you’re still going to have our professional hosts on board that will tell you the histories of the area and the sights of the area and some fun human-interest stories, you’ll still have the same great cuisine. The one difference if anybody’s familiar with Rocky Mountaineer in Canada we have two levels of service we have Golden and Silver. Gold is a bi-level rail car. Unfortunately, some of the tunnels in the US are too short for that. We don’t want to do a level and a half. So, we’ve come up with we’ll still have our great silver leaf service. And then we’ve come up with Silver Leaf Plus, and it’s really just an enhancement to our great Silver Leaf service. You’re going to get access to a lounge car as well. And there’ll be a mixologist there and all kinds of fun things but it’s great service as our Silver leaf just a little bit more space to roam around.
That sounds great having the lounge car and to be able to move about I know that’s what’s so great about the experience. When I had the opportunity to be on the Canadian Rockies route from Vancouver to Banff the spaciousness of the cars, it really didn’t feel like getting on a train and going somewhere. You really ride in luxury style and so, during the day then you talked about the storyteller, the attendant on board the train, they’re storytellers, they’re historians, they’re naturalist, really quite versatile and serving you at the same time. Can you describe that experience to us?
Yeah. They’re just amazing, the host, I mean. I get so many compliments about our hosts onboard. They’ll tell you the stories of the area, but they’ll also be serving you throughout the day too. John, you know, you’re not going to go hungry on Rocky Mountaineer. It’s amazing. It is all-inclusive when you’re on the train. That means your meals, generally breakfast and lunch, because you’re off the train by dinnertime with that daylight only travel. Besides your meals, it’s snacks and all the alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages you want. We do wine and cheese in the afternoon, coffee or tea if you want. Sometimes if the culinary team on board has time, they’ll come around with warm cookies that they make. It’s just amazing. And, and by the way, every single rail car, I don’t know if you remember this, but every rail car onboard Rocky Mountaineer has its own kitchen and culinary team. So that’s pretty amazing. Because if you think about it, your food is not being made 8-10 cars back and then cold by the time you brought to it. And it really is as you can attest to it really is world class cuisine.
It was amazing. And it’s so interesting or neat to know that the food isn’t made in a kitchen, next to the train depot, and then it’s just brought on and warmed up to be served. It really is a full experience and fresh. All the food being freshly cooked. Right on board.
What I love about it, too, it’s all locally sourced. When you’re in Canada, it’s Alberta beef and Pacific Northwest salmon and wines from the area, it’s going to be the same way in the US. We’re going to have a little bit of a Southwest feel to it. And everything’s going to be locally sourced and local wines. And we’re going to have some craft cocktails too. It’s going to be really fun. I’m going to do a toast as we cross over the Continental Divide every day.
Oh, okay. Oh, that’s fun, though. Yeah, and Colorado is known for great food and there’s wineries the craft brewery business is big there. When you feature the local cuisine on board the train it really elevates the experience that people aren’t necessarily going to get when they’re just out on their own. What’s the scenery, do you have a feel already since you haven’t been on it yet because it hasn’t gone? What do you know about what the scenery is going to be like on day one, for example?
Day one, if we’re talking from Denver to Glenwood Springs. And by the way, I’d recommend if anybody has spent time in Denver, it’s a great city, it’s so walkable. Very, very cool to Larimer square, which is kind of this old Victorian area and a lot of fun shops and restaurants. And of course, you mentioned the local breweries down there. And that’s in the LoDo District, which is a lower downtown district. Everything’s walkable and in Denver, so I would really recommend coming in an extra day and just enjoying that city if you haven’t, and then and then the scenery on day one from Denver to Glenwood Springs, that’s going to be a lot of canyons. You’ll pass several canyons; you’ll also go around the big 10 curve. The big 10 curve, this is just north of Denver, and it’s actually a curve that goes 270 degrees. But what’s really interesting is they call it the big 10 curve, because when you measure it and railway standards, it’s 10 degrees. I don’t know the math, but it’s really neat. And so, there’s this giant curve and you’ll go past some really amazing canyons on that first day. A lot of canyons the first day.
Yeah. Oh, that’s neat. Some of the tallest peaks in the entire country, and I believe Glenwood Springs, isn’t that near Aspen?
Yeah, it’s not too far from Aspen. Aspen, I believe is a little further south, but don’t quote me on that. It’s known for its hot springs. A lot of hot springs in Glenwood Springs. There’s of course the Glenwood resort and that has a big hot spring. You can even use that if you aren’t staying at the resort. I think it’s $20-$25. But there’s also Iron Mountain hot springs, so there’s several hot springs in Glenwood Springs. I’ve actually been to Glenwood Springs it’s really cool. It has a kind of a street fair feel to it because there’s a lot of live music and cute shops and restaurants and even throughout like the fall they do have these pop-up markets so really fun. You actually leave Denver at five and get into Glenwood. I’m sorry you leave Denver at nine and get into Glenwood Springs around five. You’ll have time to experience that and enjoy it.
Yeah, that’s part of the whole experience that overnight stay that you have off the train. And I know Rocky Mountaineer makes it so easy and convenient. I know when we arrived in Kamloops going from Vancouver to Banff, the bus transportation was right there. I mean, it’d pull up right next to the train car and you walked all of maybe 10 steps or something to get to the bus that then takes everybody to the hotel. It’s just so effortless. Just one of the easiest ways to travel.
It really is and actually our hotel locations and Glenwood Springs are definitely walkable. Of course, we’ll have a motorcoach if anybody wants it, but it’s probably going to take longer to do the motorcoach. Because one has just over the bridge, which is like 600 feet long. Everything is right there and really well laid out.
It’s really well laid out and you can walk, but you don’t have to. It’s not like you’re going to be carrying your luggage off the train. Rocky Mountaineer takes care of all that, too. So it sounds like you will literally get off the train. You can walk into town and walk to your hotel. How easy is that?
Exactly. But if there’s any mobility issues, let us know and we’ll be able to provide a motorcoach.
Yeah. So then describe what day two is like, going again, from east to west.
Okay, so from Glenwood, you’re actually going to leave a little early, it’s going to be about seven in the morning. But no worries, we’re going to have a great breakfast on board for you right away. And then you’re going to get into Moab around noon. It’s about 194 miles from Glenwood, to Moab. Now remember, and John, if you remember this, the train only goes about 30-35 miles an hour max. We call it kodak speed, we kind of joke, it’s kodak speed. So, you can take plenty of pictures, because you’re not getting on and off the train at various sites. And sometimes we even come to almost a dead stop before going past some really amazing sights. This day is where you’re going to be getting into that was really pretty, like red rocks and red mountains like the Lisel Mountains. It’s this red formation that the peaks span over 10 miles. It actually was the point on the Old Spanish Trail where people could see between like, Los Angeles where everything was so clear you can actually see for quite a ways. These great red formations of course, Moab, if you see the arches and Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, you see all those red rock formations. So that’s where you’re going to be doing that. It’s really a neat contrast, because you’re going to have the canyons on the first day, and then getting into the red rocks in the mountains the next day.
Yeah, that’s neat.
Yeah. And then you get into Moab around noon. Moab, another great little town and, and just lots of little shops and restaurants. You’re going to have a choice. After that, whether you’re going to want to head up to Salt Lake or over to Las Vegas. And we’re going to be doing it by motorcoach, which are set packages, we will have a travel director on board. We have set packages to both Las Vegas and Salt Lake. It’s just a matter of where you’re going and want to go. Or you can do a self-drive package as well. Where we’ll provide the hotels, we’ll provide a full-size car, but then you can explore on your own. There’s good and bad to both. I mean, there’s pluses and minuses, the motorcoach, you’re more on a schedule, but you have a travel director and a driver with you. You’re learning more about the area itself, with self-drive, you’re on your own, you just have to get to your next hotel destination the next day so you can explore at your own pace.
Well, and people will have a choice and some people obviously want that kind of do-it-on-your-own type of experience and others, it’s just, you know, hey, you’re already taking really good care of me. Why not? No, I love the attention in the service. So, they’ll go with the driver, the bus experience and the guide.
It’s just a matter of personal preference.
Well, you mentioned just a minute ago too, about the speed of the train and that’s one of the things that is enjoyable because it isn’t just a matter of sitting there a minute, the trip is relaxing. It’s also can be active because, you can look out to the left or look out to the right there’s always something to see.
As you know, John our hosts carry walkie talkies and if anybody on the train spots an animal they’ll yell out, “bear on the right”. And isn’t it funny, everybody like screams and jumps up and runs to see.
That is true, you would think that none of the passengers on the train have ever been to a zoo before. It is exciting when you’re out in the that nature and the wilderness and everything and you know, different from of course, driving on a highway when the train can go right through the center of the mountains and the tunnels and you’re following some of the winding rivers that wind through the area, you’re right there above the river. We could even see a fish in the water below, right off the train, you can see the fish swimming in the stream. So that’s going to be similar in Colorado.
It will be. Yeah, you will be close like that, it’s beautiful. Whether you’re in the US or in Canada, it’s a beautiful drive no matter what you do. But seeing it by train is just so different and so unique. It’s really a one-of-a-kind experience and especially the way Rocky Mountaineer does it with, you know, our own kitchen and culinary team and the world class cuisine and the commentary with the hosts on board, it just makes for such a unique experience. And yeah, then you get to be able to look for those animals. And isn’t it funny, John, how once that first bear or bald eagle or bighorn sheep, whatever is spotted, everybody gets into it don’t think everybody’s looking for it?!
They do. Yeah. And it is almost like, you know, they talk about in Africa, you know, the big five well, and these this trip, it’s also like there’s certain animals you want to see in the wild, you know, a grizzly bear and a black bear. And they have those in Colorado, too. I don’t think there’s any moose though in Colorado.
I’ll have to be looking for that maybe we could import them in when we bring our male colleagues. you plant a few sasquatches, too.
I know it’s not going to be the double decker Gold Leaf dome, but there is still so much glass and windows, you really can see out and you’re not disadvantaged at all, no matter where you’re sitting on the train, you have a full view. Yeah, one of the things too that I loved and gave a different perspective of things is that it’s almost like the glass you can look up into the forest and see the forest from the bottom up. And just such a different perspective on things and it sounds like you will be able to get that on this.
Absolutely. We have big picture windows, actually the picture windows, because they’re there on the main level and not the second one level are a little larger on that still a domed car, it doesn’t go the whole 180-degree domes like the Gold Leaf cars do. I have people that tell me they actually prefer Silver Leaf because you’re down closer. So, when you do spot that animal, you’re down right there closer in nature. Again, a matter of personal preference. And yeah, it’s still it’s still the same great service that rocky mountain air provides. And you mentioned the Big Five in Africa that reminded me that we have some packages where you can actually see the Mighty Five, which are the five major national parks in the United States. Some of our packages will include all five of those.
Okay, yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing those when they come out. That’s going to be neat. It sounds like there’s just going to be a lot of opportunities to customize your trip in a way the you’re getting the train experience, but you can build a pre-trip and post and you can build a lot of different experiences around it. Which can be really neat for people.
Yeah, that’s true. You can and what’s great is you can do both. I mean, you can kind of build your own pre but then if post you want to do the motorcoach tour, you can certainly do that. Or if you want to kind of be on your own for a few days and do the self-drive so, it’s great. And I think definitely coming into Denver if you haven’t spent time. It’s a great city. I have nephews that live there. So, I love that city
Oh yeah, it’s a really neat city. If we can just go back for a moment at Glenwood Springs, are you using more than one hotel there?
We are. We’re using three hotels there. It’s going to be a little bit like Kamloops John where that is the one place where you can’t necessarily pick your hotel and it’s for operational reasons. As you know, when you got to Kamloops, it was kind of a whole operational thing. But we have three great hotels, all within the walking distance if you want. So, in Denver and Moab, you will have a choice of several hotels. It’s just an operational thing in Glenwood Springs. But we do have three different hotels we are using and they’re all amazing.
Oh, that’s neat. Yeah. Especially being walking distance is nice. And so, I know you also mentioned that some of the cuisine on board is going to take in Colorado, you know, locally sourced and that sort of thing. And the Southwest flair, but I imagine some of your signature dishes or most popular dishes even on the Canadian train routes will be available. What is your favorite breakfast? Since you do breakfast and lunch? I’ll ask you for your favorite breakfast dish and then your favorite lunch dish.
Okay, well, my breakfast dish is boring, because I love the parfait. It’s just so fresh and all the fresh fruits. And I know what’s coming the rest of the day. So, I try to eat a little lighter at breakfast.
Yes, you gotta pace yourself.
You do have to pace yourself. Yes. Actually, I would say probably my favorite part are the cinnamon orange scones if you remember. But the eggs benedict with salmon is really good, too. And then lunch? I’m a huge beef short ribs fan. That would be it, if it’s if that’s on the menu. That is exactly what I’m getting every single time. Yeah. That’s my favorite. But the shrimp and risotto is also nice.
And if anybody has any dietary requests, we can handle almost any dietary request. We can’t do kosher for obviously reasons because small kitchen in the in the train, but almost, you know, gluten free, we have plenty of gluten free items on the menu, sodium free, you know, just make sure that they let the travel advisors know ahead of time. I mean, when booking preferably. If we find out when they arrive, or if we find out, you know, a day before then it’s not always possible, but we do our best. Gosh, you know, my colleague was I was on with my colleague and she’s gluten free. They even gave her a gluten free cookie. When they were coming around with cookies.
Since we’re talking cuisine. I do have to mention my favorite is the chocolate brownie with the, remember the chocolate brownie with the chocolate sauce and ice cream?
I do. I sure do.
I have a huge sweet tooth. So that’s my all-time favorite.
Yeah, I know. You can’t pass up the dessert even though by the time you’re done with the main course you’re full, but you’re there. So, you got it all in!
Oh, yeah. And you think, “oh, maybe I’ll just eat half of it”. That never happens.
And then, you know, an hour later you’re eating again.
I know. And the snacks we’re not just throwing a bag of potato chips at you, they are impressive. I mean, the gourmet snacks, the spicy mix and the chocolate nut mix and the dried fruit mix. So yeah, pretty much unlimited.
They come around all the time and it’s so nicely presented. Like you mentioned about the wine and cheese. It’s not like they just give you a plate with a couple of cheese sticks wrapped up or something. It’s a big platter and they actually slice it. You look at the cheese and they ask you what you would like from an assortment and then they slice it right there for you. It’s just so fun.
Yeah, it really is. It’s just a great experience. It’s like going to a five-star restaurant, yet you’re on a five-star rail journey. It’s a really a nice combination. And the daylight only really makes it key. That was one of our, you know, we’ve looked all over the world for this. We’ve been kind of planning this a little bit and then when everything happened, we put it into high gear, but it was fascinating. I was listening in on a committee meeting and it was just fascinating when they had to find the destination. You know Rocky Mountaineer is so particular it we had to be able to use our rail cars because we’re very proud of our rail cars, we had to be able to have daylight only scenery. We had to find somewhere where there was a great place to overnight, like Glenwood Springs, it had to be scenic the entire way. And we had to be able to bring our own food onboard. And it’s just amazing everything that went into it and everything that goes into finding a new rail route.
It never occurred to me that, that the experience that you have in Canada, that you could expand and do things within the US and then who knows, maybe there’s other parts of the world that you can be in as well down the road. I’m sure that this will be very successful. And it will sell out. 10 weeks is not that much time.
Being our inaugural season, but we do already have our 2022 rail dates out. And we are not raising our rail pricing now. The packages will probably go up because hotel pricing once we get that will go up. As far as the rail only portion. Yeah, you can actually book, we have 2022 out right now and it’s going to be a full season in 2022. When I say full season, we operate mid-April to mid-October. We want to keep that daylight only.
Yeah. No, that makes sense. Well, such a great experience. Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything else you can think of that everybody should know?
Just give it a try. This is a luxury product. But I promise you, everybody that’s come back has said oh my gosh, I wish I would have had more time on the train. It was so worth it. Whether you’ve done it in Canada, or you’re new to Rocky Mountaineer, the US route is going to be a fabulous, fabulous addition to your travel repertoire.
Yeah. Oh, for sure. For sure. There isn’t any other experience like that? Right? There hasn’t been in the United States. So yeah, it’s gonna be huge.
That’s what I love about this company is we are so unique. There’s really nothing else like it out there in Canada or the US.
That’s great. Well, Dawn, I really appreciate your time today talking to us about the exciting new route that your company will be providing come August. Wish it would be sooner, but it’ll be exciting when it starts up and so wish you good luck with that. Everything I know it’s going to be very popular.
Thank you, John. Thanks for having me, too. I appreciate it. I appreciate getting the word out about Rocky Mountaineer.
Well, you have a very nice day and talk to you soon.
thank you have a good day as well. Bye.