2014 Totem Circle

Cosmos 8385

Start in Vancouver with a sightseeing tour before taking a ferry to Vancouver Island, where we make stops in Victoria, Chemainus, and Port Hardy. Our time in Victoria includes two overnights, and Butchart Gardens. Take a cruise on the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. The scenery includes towering mountains, roaring waterfalls, islands, and virgin rainforest. In Prince Rupert, visit British Columbia's oldest cannery village and board Canada's VIA Rail®'s Jasper to Prince Rupert train to Prince George. Leave British Columbia and cross into Alberta, where we overnight in both Jasper and Banff National Parks. We also see Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies; Columbia Icefield, where we take a ride in an all-terrain vehicle; Lake Louise; and Yoho National Park. Then, board the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb train to Whistler. Enjoy the journey along the oceanfront, wind through canyons, and climb the steep grades of the Coast Mountains. The vacation ends back in Vancouver.

Now that I've survived two winter storms, Titan and Ulysses, Horrible Awful Lines nightmare excursion disembarkation, High elevation problems at 8500+', "Queen Misery too", Hotel Abominable, and 5+ days delayed luggage --- I wonder what I should look out for on this trip? A friend suggests - - - POLAR BEARS! Or maybe, as another suggested, it will be RAIN STORMS! At least the temperatures should be 10-12 degrees less than in Houston. But it turns out that western Canada is going through a major HEAT-WAVE with temperatures in the mid-upper 90s, particularly after Mid-Trip.

July 15 Weather Forecast: Saturday & Sunday, 10% rain; Monday, 60%, Tuesday & Wednesday 40%. Temps: Lows are mid 50s; Highs are low-mid 70s.

I did a similar trip in 2005 with Brendamn Tours (worthless/awful tour director / mostly just worthless and seldom to be found) called "Western Canada by Rail." The route was reverse to this and there was lots more (boring - overgrown trackside foliage) rail travel: Vancouver to Banff, and Jasper to Prince George, then the next stretch also: Prince George to Prince Rupert. With more highway travel this time, the scenery should be much better - at least a better chance to see something. My end of trip evaluation: doing the loop basically by bus is FAR PREFERABLE to doing it by rail. Essentially ALL of the trip is a repeat except that I'm adding the Whistler (aka "Fleece-the-Tourist Maze") extension since that's new. I've never been there before - and definitely won't go back.

Day 1, Saturday, July 19 Vancouver
Because it is an international flight I had to schedule the StuporShuttle at 5:45AM for the morning flight. At least this one is non-stop with "Economy Plus" seating. I wasn't so lucky on the original return flight after United changed the schedule, so I did a $200 change in order to avoid a dangerously short connection time in Denver - particularly if the first flight would have been late, then having to go through the US Immigration and Customs re-entry process. With this change, - I feel MUCH safer, particularly the way my luck has been running. It turns out to be a very nice, on time flight and the weather was good in both Houston and Vancouver - contrary to forecasts.

United UA 1647Houston - Vancouver9:18A - noon4:42

There is a two-hour time change (turn my watch back two hours). The only "problems" - a 30+ minute wait for luggage, and another 30 minute wait for the correct "brand" (Yellow) cab to get to the hotel. ¢heap(est)mos(t) actually provides a taxi voucher. Travel time to the hotel is approximately 35 minutes.

I got to the hotel about 1:45 and a room was already available. The hotel has an ATM so I could get LOTS of Canadian money since almost NO MEALS are included. Enjoy some time at leisure to relax or to look for something to eat. Fortunately there are a couple of "fast food" places (pizza and/or subs) around the corner. Our Director, Darcy Hamilton, is on hand this evening to tell us when to have our bags to the coach & depart - but NO MEALS. After all, this is ¢heap(est)mos(t). The only meals are one round on the train but nothing on the ferry even. There isn't even a mention of a disorientation meeting. It is a large herd of cattle on this trip: 50 head so there will be only 2 empty seats on the very cramped leg-room cattle car. The only "bad" news is that on the BC Barge cruise north, they will be making a "flag stop" at some small town so that the trip, instead of being 16 hours, will be almost 17. We won't even get to the port in Prince Rupert until about 11:45 or midnight. Hotel: Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown (F)


Day 2, Sunday, July 20 Vancouver - Ferry Crossing - Victoria
Heavy rain overnight; gloomy light rain this morning. Tim Horton's for breakfast. The hotel food is VERY expensive. This should be a really nice day if the weather will just cooperate - but it doesn't. Morning sightseeing focuses on Vancouver's Chinatown, Gastown, the beautiful beaches and harbor, and lovely Stanley Park - what we can see of it all what with the rain and overcast gloom. We also waste over an hour in the Granville Markets area. Afterward, as the rain ends but the overcast gloom stays, board a BC Ferries barge and "cruise" across the Strait of Georgia through the Gulf Islands, an area known for its Mediterranean-like (hot, humid) climate. Actually it is a very cool windy humid - in the upper 50s. Afternoon sightseeing in Victoria includes famous BUTCHART GARDENS ( 2 hours stop), Bastion Square, and Thunderbird Park (20 minute stop) with its unusual collection of totem poles. We also get a nice orientation drive around Victoria. Cheap(est)mos(t) switched us to a different hotel. There is absolutely NO view but it is conveniently located for me to roam around town tomorrow, and for light eating: a) "Gone to the Dogs" ("Gourmet" hot dogs - very good); b) Authentic BBQ (NOT!), c) Seven-Eleven junk food and/or breakfast baked goods, and d) one of the usual "American Embassies." Either today or tomorrow, I tried them all. Not a bad day today; just gloomy and almost no pictures. Hotel: Chateau Victoria (F) 2 nights.

Day 3, Monday, July 21 Victoria
Before the trip, I could have skippedt this day but it did turn out nice after all. Since I didn't take the expensive optional whale-watching cruise on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, there are some places of interest within walking distance; the harbor is only a couple of blocks away, and there the "Victoria International Buskers Festival" going on with lots of street entertainment and several performance stages. It is enough to keep me interested. I did check out the Royal BC Museum (very good), their IMAX theater (ok), and the fantastic "Miniature World" with 84 diorama displays - highly recommended. Lunch, such as it wasn't, was at the (NOT) BBQ feeding trough. Of course I also took a long walk along the waterfront for the boats, but primarily to listen to the Buskers which was quite an experience - and of course there were lots and lots and lots of food and "crafts" vendors. Supper is at the "American Embassy." Windy, but no rain today (Victoria is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains) and we even got rid of that persistent gloomy overcast and had a clear blue sky most of the day. This evening, DON'T join the optional excursion in Chinatown, complete with colorful lanterns and dinner at an "authentic" Chinese restaurant here in the hotel. As it turns out, I like Victoria better than Vancouver. It has been a very nice day - just very windy, and cool this morning.

Marine And Wildlife Whale Watching The rich marine wildlife of beautiful southern Vancouver Island is world renowned for its abundance and diversity. Killer Whales are magnificent and never fail to impress, but there are many other living treasures that share their waters. However I will skip it since I've seen lots of whales, including Orcas, on my several small-boat-cruise Alaska trips. (3 hours) $121 CAD

Day 4, Tuesday, July 22 Victoria - Chemainus - Port Hardy
As I remember from the earlier trip, there are some interesting sites along the way but there is a 40% chance of rain as we get north of Victoria and out of the rain shadow from the Olympic Mountains. After an early departure (7:30; bags out at 6:30) from Victoria, we follow the eastern coastline of Vancouver Island, stopping at Chemainus, the unique village with more than 30 murals depicting pioneer settlement of the area. This is much like my favorite, Petersburg, which also has several (but not 30) murals on various buildings. It is also the place where we can get some breakfast. Then, we head north through the port of Campbell River, the "Salmon Capital of the World" (where we had lunch) and onward to Port Hardy. We had been "promised" wildlife sightings, particularly bears, but saw only two eagles and no other wildlife of any kind. Otherwise it was a very nice, scenic drive with some beautiful forest areas and occasional glimpses through to the Inside Passage. Nice day so far.

It started raining lightly about 45 minutes before getting into Port Hardy. More rain is forecast for tomorrow. Our first stop in Port Hardy was at the ferry port to check in for tomorrow's barge cruise. There were a couple of surprises about "seating." See tomorrow's notes.

Port Hardy is a nice little town which I liked on the May 28 - June 9, 2005 trip (9 year ago!!) - but this time we are staying at a different hotel. Darcy says that it is very basic and the owner/manager wouldn't have a job anywhere except that he owns the hotel. I would rate it well below the Glen Lyon Inn, my favorite hotel of the other trip. The hotel is better than Darcy had led us to expect, but still just above a 1950s motel. It is decent - just that the valve on the toilet is broken so the toilet runs all night - very noisy. The room is "frigid" when I first go in, but eventually the radiant heater (no blower) warms it up to where it is bearable. Leftover junk food for "dinner." Hotel: Port Hardy Inn (T) (1 night)

Day 5, Wednesday, July 23 Port Hardy - (long) Inside Passage - Prince Rupert (tomorrow morning)
NOTE: Cruising time through the Inside Passage is approximately 16 hours. Come prepared with any items you might need (2 or 3 books to read and money for food). In 2005, we boarded at 7AM and arrived at 10:30PM. The weather was poor. This was to be about the same. No meals are included, not even breakfast at the hotel this morning. We have to pay shipboard prices.

Today is a very early departure. We have to be up about 4:10, have our luggage out at 4:55, and be on the coach by 5:25.At least the forecast rain didn't materialize; just several hours of gloomy overcast until about 1:30PM. Early this morning, embark on BC Ferries for what is referred to as one of the world's most beautiful ocean voyages. Unlike the earlier trip, Cheap(est)mos(t) strikes again. We DON'T have a reserved group compartment. The only thing is to re$erve an expen$sive re$erved $eat - but they are all already pre-booked by someone else. So we have to fight the herd of other passengers for a seat - and there is nowhere secure to hold our carry-on luggage. I did manage to find a decent seat - very comfortable and convenient - just nowhere for carryon luggage.

The scenery is rated as spectacular (more like "Very Nice") - when we can see it in the morning gloom - with towering mountains (a couple), roaring waterfalls (1) , endless islands, and mile and miles of virgin rainforest. Animal and marine life abound (deep in the forest???), occasionally with sightings of sea lions (0), eagles (1), and porpoises (0) -we may even (very doubtful) spot a killer whale (0)! We did have 2 individual sightings of a humpback whale, 1 whale tale, er, tail fluke, and one sailboard pulling a surfboard with a surfer on it. Due to the gloom grime on the windows, the morning (until about 1PM) was a "loser" but then it turned beautiful. However by 6PM, "enough is enough" and the rest was sort of boring. There were still a few nice scenes left for us though.

Meals turned out to be expensive but not ridiculously so and I had an excellent buffet breakfast, cheeseburger lunch, and snack supper. The only problem was that with the grime and dried salt spray on the windows, my camera would either focus on the grime, or not focus at all so even though I shot about 50 pictures, all of them got deleted. The fun part: I saw a "gag" sign saying that "Raising Teenagers is Easy - just as easy as .. (I'll put the rest of this in a later day notes.)

The usual cruise time is 16 hours but (update) the ferry made a "flag stop" at Bella Bella (1 ¼ hours) so that we won't even get to the port in Prince Rupert until about 11:45. Fortunately the captain did increase our speed so that we were only 1 hour late: 10:30 -> 11:25.. With that midnight arrival in Prince Rupert, there is definitely nothing to see here "tonight." We didn't get to the hotel, with luggage, until 12:20 and in bed by 12:40. At least the room is decent. Hotel: The Crest Hotel (SF) 1 ½ nights.

Day 6, Thursday, July 24 Prince Rupert
After almost no (if any) sleep, it is another nice day! At least we don't have to get our luggage out first thing in the morning - just manage to get up and maybe find some food to eat. We have a "delayed for sleep" departure for an orientation tour of Prince Rupert; then visit the NORTH PACIFIC HISTORIC FISHING VILLAGE MUSEUM for a guided tour of British Columbia's oldest cannery village. It is actually the remains of an old cannery which has been partially restored and is now working as a museum. Learn of the canning process and what life was like in the village during peak production earlier this century. It is quite different from the smaller, modern cannery which I've visited on one of my visits to Petersburg. We had a nice guide and it was an interesting visit.

Just outside of Prince Rupert is a "memorial tree:' the "Tree of Lost Souls" on which many, many people have nailed old shoes. It is a memorial to about 30 women who vanished (some bodies were found) over a period of years. For too long it was thought that they were runaways or had become prostitutes. It was only too late that it was found out to be a different story.

With your free time this afternoon you may opt for an OPTIONAL outing to learn the secrets of the totem. See a totem pole being carved and visit a longhouse to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day lifestyle of the First Nations culture. It would have been great but unfortunately the included dinner is seafood. There is a significant chance of scattered rain tomorrow.

Flavors & Traditions Of The North Coast People Tour Visit the Museum of Northern British Columbia, the Tsimshian program begins with a tour of the collection focusing on the Feast, or potlatch. Hear about the complex protocol of feasting and view works of art, the ceremonial regalia that brings this important First Nations institution to life. Continue to the "Wiiwaabm Ts'msyeen" (Tsimshian Longhouse) and enter as if you were guests at a feast. Witness dancing and performance, hear ancient stories and songs, and taste indigenous foods. Then continue to the Waterfront Restaurant located in the Crest Hotel, for an exclusive north coast dinner. $90 CAD = $84.60US NO - SEAFOOD DINNER

Late note: We found out why we had an almost brand-new ferry to Prince Rupert instead of the older one I had back in 2005. The old one had to be replaced because it sank. It seems that one winter night, when the channel made a left turn, the Captain went straight and ran into an island. The ferry sank.

More "shipwreck" news: There is a large, heavily loaded grain carrier freighter docked next door to the hotel and it is listing heavily to starboard. It seems that it went aground 3 days ago and now can't proceed until repairs are done, the holds cleared, etc. I wonder what the ship company will be saying to the captain.

Day 7, Friday, July 25 Prince Rupert - VIA Rail - Prince George
We have another very long travel day. Back in 2005, traveling the opposite direction, the trip was 13 hours long: 7:30AM - 8:30PM.

This is the only day in which we have included meals - all on the train. But are they edible? Cheap(est)mos(t) strikes again. We don't have reserved seats; it will be a "free for all" not just within our group but also with all the other passengers for which seat we might want.

Also from the 2005 trip: "Enjoy at-our-seat meal service and large reclining seats (which we can't recline due to the luggage piled around) as scenic highlights along the route roll by. Other passengers on this trip: very poor food.

Darcy's comments: "Remember your nice comfortable and roomy seats on the bus. They are far superior to what VIA Rail will offer you".

This morning we have to be on the bus by 7:15 and very early (7:30), we board VIA Rail's "Jasper to Prince Rupert" train called the "Skeena" on Canada's special-for-tourists "WaitRail" system on which we very often have to stop for quite a while on a siding to let a freight train (much more important than tourists) go on by. In the meantime, our bus driver, Jerry, will have gone back to the hotel to pick up our luggage then drive to Prince George. Breakfast is on the train (and lunch and dinner also). The last times I ate breakfast on a train (twice in Alaska) I got sick on the food and it ruined either that day or the next day. I also had troubles with the train food back in 2005 on the trip similar to this one.

Edited Propoganda: So sit back and don't particularly enjoy whatever little is to be seen as the train winds its way through the majestic Coast Mountains passing through tunnel-like track-side vegetation with frequent stops to let the freight trains go by, then follows the mighty Skeena River-often referred to as the "River of Mists"-and (after many stops on sidings to let the freight trains get by) concludes in the Pacific Coast rainforest. We retrace ancient First Nations trading routes and follow the paths of the earliest fur traders. Soaring bald eagles, inquisitive black bears, browsing moose, and other wildlife may be spotted from the glassed-in observation dome that provides 360-degree views - assuming we can see anything through all the high, thick track-side brush. It's the track-side brush that "ruined" the 2005 "Western Canada by Rail" trip.

FORTUNATELY: I asked Jerry (driver) and Darcy who approved my riding in the bus instead of the train. HOORAY!!! And as it turned out, I get at least as much and in some cases more than what the others got. The luck was definitely going my way.

At about 11:30 Jerry got a phone call from Darcy saying that the train couldn't go past (the town of) Terrace. There had been an accident and a lumber truck had been hit by a train derailing several of the cars and tearing up the rails. At the time, we were already about 70 miles past Terrace so had to backtrack almost 1 ½ hours to pick up the stranded herd, who, BTW, didn't even get their lunch, just mediocre "continental breakfast" snacks. This puts us about that 1 ½ hours behind the train schedule. Later, after we got past the wreck site we saw at least 6 or 8 freight trains headed back where we had come from, with long waits ahead of them before the tracks were cleared and the rails repaired.

So since for the first part of the trip out of Prince Rupert the highway and the tracks were almost always side-by-side, I saw "everything" they saw from the train, in much more comfortable surroundings, and through a large front window of the bus. I definitely get the better deal there. The rest of the day, the scenery wasn't all that fabulous and Darcy also commented that we could see more from the highway due to roadside clearing, than we/they would have seen from the train. We also passed through several interesting small towns including Houston (population 2000).

Due to all the delays and a couple of longer stops to make up for missed meals on the train, we didn't get to the hotel until almost 9. It is nice looking but the wifi doesn't work, the ice machine doesn't work, there is no mini-refrigerator, etc. So it is NOT my favorite. (CB,L,D) Hotel: Sandman Inn Prince George (ST)

Day 8, Saturday, July 26 Prince George - Mount Robson - Jasper National Park
This morning the tv showed pictures from yesterday's train wreck. Both engines and two freight cars were derailed; the tracks were torn up, and logs were scattered everywhere. It is estimated that it will take at least three days to clean up the mess. We again saw many trains just parked in rail yards and even on sidings along the way as they wait for the track to be cleared.

We have to have our bags out by 7 and be on the bus by 8. The hotel staff were lazy and didn't have everything out to load until 8:30. This and several stops along the way for highway repairs really slowed down the schedule. The weather cooperated and it was a very nice drive. As we continue onward to Jasper National Park the peak elevations grow, culminating with Mount Robson, the highest of Canada's Rockies at 13,000 feet. We have a very expensive lunch in the cafeteria there. As we leave Mount Robson, we cross over into Alberta and the Mountain Time zone so have to turn watches forward one hour - losing an hour today.

We were supposed to get to Jasper by 1:30, have some time to explore the town, then head out to Maligne Lake at 3. We didn't get to Jasper until 3 so there was NO TIME at all to explore the town. Finally at 3:30 we headed to the Lake for a very nice cruise, but didn't get back to the hotel until almost 8. Again there was no time to see the town. Out by the lake we did see a black bear and several big-horn sheep which were right by the highway. This was the first actual bear we have seen; the others were "bear stumps." Spend overnight in Jasper.Hotel: Chateau Jasper (SF)

Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island Maligne Lake (at 6000') is a location that epitomizes the Canadian Rockies, is a 45-minute drive from Jasper. Departing from the Maligne Lake Day Lodge, you'll enjoy the 90-minute narrated cruise with a brief stop at Spirit Island for photos of the magnificent mountains that surround you. Learn of the local history, geology, wildlife, and glaciology of Maligne Lake and of Jasper National Park as some of the most spectacular scenery in the Rockies drift past your window. I did this back in 2005 - overrated. $58 CAD - YES - when I decided against the Banff Park gondola ride.

There is a Jasper Raft on the Athabasca River option, but I'll skip that.

Day 9, Sunday, July 27 Jasper N P - Columbia Icefield - Banff National Park
Up at 6; bags out at 6:45; on the bus at 7:45 for another fairly long day. Back on the coach, winding our way down the western fringe of Alberta, our journey takes us through some of the Canadian Rockies' most breathtaking wilderness. It is more nice scenery today, sometimes great, but 9 years ago I thought that the Icefield excursion was over-rated and now I'm certain that it is very overrated.. Our first highlight on today's agenda is a stop at the COLUMBIA ICEFIELD to experience the Ice Explorer, an all-terrain vehicle that travels on ice measuring 1,000 feet (305 meters) thick. We make a few roadside and park area stops as we continue south. Some are really very beautiful, particularly a couple of glaciers and a great waterfall. Precipitous gorges, snowcapped mountain ranges, and lakes of exquisite blues and greens come into view as the motorcoach scales two mountain passes on the journey south to Banff National Park. Overall, it was a nice day except for the wasted time on the Columbia Icefield/Glacier stop. Some more big horn sheep, a couple of bears, and an elk are on our "spotting" list. We get to our hotel about 4:30 but the luggage doesn't get delivered until a bit after 6. The bad part of the hotel is that it is a long walk down into town - at least 30 minutes, and it is supposed to get up to about 86F tomorrow (90 on Monday). Hotel: Spruce Grove Inn (ST) 2 nights

ANSWER: "Raising Teenagers is Easy, Just as easy as nailing Jello to the wall."

Day 10, Monday, July 28 Banff National Park
I've been here before, and it is beautiful! Banff is one of Canada's favorite year-round resorts, with many summer activities. I signed up for the Nature Walk which isn't until 3:40 so I have all the morning and half the afternoon to make the long walk downtown, then explore the "fleece the tourist" shops in downtown Banff. It's a pleasant place to walk around but is much commercialized with "architecture" to match. There are lots of places to buy an expensive lunch - but what I chose wasn't as good as I had hoped. There is nothing here worth taking any pictures in town. Between the distance, the commercialization, the not-so-great food, and nothing worth photographing, it's disappointing.

Interpretive Nature Walk at Johnson Lake JJoin a professional interpretive guide for a stimulating and educational (and hot and tiring) walk around Johnson Lake. This local lake is well known for its abundance of wildlife from loons to beavers, to elk, deer, coyotes and even wolves. Our chances of seeing any wildlife while actually walking are usually very slim. When we started our local guide, Sally, said that although we might see a couple of squirrels, the chances were only 1:100,000 that we would get even a glimpse of a bear. Enjoy our walk through the various wildlife habitats. Along the way, you'll also have some magnificent views of the Runde Range and Bow Valley with the lake in the foreground and we stopped by a historic cabin hidden deep in the woods, home, in days gone by, to a hermit trapper. The only hard part was getting across a creek on an almost wrecked beaver dam - without help from Sally and friend of hers I would have had to wade across.

We were almost to the end and the only wildlife we had seen was the two-legged variety in the "swimming hole" section of the lake. However, "our number came up" and we won the Ursa Major 1-chance-in-100,000 lottery. That was right near the end of the walk when a 4-5 year old Grizzly Bear came out of the woods right behind us. Fortunately he wanted to go the other way, but our guide got us out of the area as quickly and safely as possible. She also yelled back to hikers behind us to turn around and go since the bear was on the trail and heading towards them. Total distance: 2+ miles; elevation gain: minimal - just lots of steep ups and downs and that stream crossing. Time: a bit longer than listed at 2 hours. $55 CAD

Banff Gondola Begin with an eight minute journey to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. The views are spectacular as we climb 698m (2,292 ft) to an elevation of 2,281m (7,486 ft) at the Summit Upper Terminal. Afterwards, visit thundering Bow Falls. Be sure to bring a light jacket as the wind can become quite cool at 2,285 meters above sea level. Scratched in favor of the Maligne Lake cruise $36 CAD= $34 US

Day 11, Tuesday, July 29 Banff NP - Lake Louise - Yoho NP - Kelowna
This should be a great travel day (no special activities offered) but will be quite long. We have to have our bags out at 7 and be on the bus at 8. This morning drive to Lake Louise for a short (45 minute) stop there. Its cold waters perfectly mirror the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Afterward, enter the spectacular beauty of YOHO NATIONAL PARK, (trees and more trees and occasional glimpses of a river) one of Canada's popular recreational areas and the site of pre-Cambrian fossil finds. On to GLACIER NATIONAL PARK (trees and more trees and occasional glimpses of a river), where the coach climbs 4,379-foot-high Rogers Pass, a perfect spot for photos of the impressive surrounding mountain cliffs and glaciers. We stopped at Rogers Pass - renamed "Furry Rat Pass" since passengers were far more interested in taking pictures of a couple of furry rats than of the surroundings. By then it was getting quite warm (90+F).

The scenery has changed from mountains/trees and more trees, streams, rivers and lakes, to open farmland. The Okanagan area is a great farmland for fruits and also for cattle. After a stop at a local fruit stand (nice and fresh), we continue to the resort city of Kelowna, attractively set on the shores of Okanagan Lake. By then the temperature is up to 98F or 99F according to the signs. We get there about 5:30 so it has indeed been a long day. At least the hotel IS air conditioned. Hotel: Ramada Hotel & Conference Centre, Kelowna (F)

Day 12, Wednesday, July 30 Kelowna - Vancouver
It was supposed to be a shorter day today. We don't have to be on the bus until 9AM. Today, continue through the fertile Fraser Valley with vistas of vineyards and orchards. Next, travel over the towering Cascade Mountains and head to Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1.

We were due into Vancouver about 3:45 but at 3, we found out that this morning about 7AM there had been a major wreck on one of the long bridges heading into Vancouver and it wouldn't be open again until about 5:30 or 6. So went turned south for a while until we were only one mile from the US border (Mt Baker in Washington State was clearly visible - my last picture worth taking) then turned back west to pick up Highway 99 (I5 in the US). We were heading north to Vancouver when we found out that there had been an accident involving a bicyclist in the access tunnel to downtown and traffic would be held up for about 90 minutes. So with some zig-zagging, we finally made it into town only about 1 ¾ hours late. Not bad considering all the traffic problems.

The only option is a sunset (and fireworks) dinner (seafood) cruise but I'll skip that. The fireworks tonight is the 2nd of 3 nights of a fireworks competition (France, Japan, Canada) and are on the waterfront only a few blocks from the hotel, but as it was the first time at this hotel, I have no view at all so I'll miss it. This is the end of the tour for most of the cattle. We have the same hotel as day 1. Hotel: Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown (F)

Day 13, Thursday, July 31 Vancouver - Sea to Sky Rail to Whistle-Stop
This morning, with no time for breakfast, we are picked up by representatives of the Rocky Mountaineer at 7:20 and taken to the train station to board the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb train and enjoy (not) the dramatic (boring) beauty (?) of British Columbia. We did actually get a small "continental breakfast" (Croissant, fruit, and orange juice) on the train - which is far better than what the hotel will offer.

During our three-and-a-half-hour trip (8AM - 11:30AM supposedly), journey along the oceanfront (make that "Vancouver suburbs), wind through canyons (?), climb the steep grades of the BC Coast Mountains, and enjoy an endless array of breathtaking (?) views - none of which did I get to see since my assigned seat was on the wrong side of the train and except for a couple of brief seconds, all I ever saw was the cut rock face (blasted out to make way for the rails) and lots more of that high track-side vegetation. The people on the other side of the cattle car did get some longer glimpses. There was an open viewing car but it was too crowded to get into so I just saw … nothing. And of course, NO pictures.

Once we get to Whistle-Stop, having received four different sets of instructions from three different people, we finally got on the correct bus and were taken to our barracks to check in, and then have the rest of the day on our own. The walk from the drop off point to the hotel wasn't bad; it was just those 30 steep steps to have to haul our luggage. From descriptions, Whistle-Stop, like Banff, is a Canadian version of Colorado's overpriced Aspen or Vail. As it turns out, that's an extreme understatement.

The hotel is ok - one of the better ones that we've had on the trip, but the town is such a maze that I'm almost afraid to venture more than a hundred yards from the hotel for fear that I won't be able to find my way back. Choosing to take this extension was a major mistake. I've been here for about two hours, consider that as 3 hours too long, and would be very happy to catch the next stagecoach out of town. On a scale of 1 - 10, I rate the excursion as -5. NOT RECOMMENDED!! It's nothing but a "fleece the tourist maze." I tried to find a particular place for dinner, reportedly only a short distance from the hotel and, according to the hotel staff, easy to find. I never found it - or the alternative - despite asking other people for help. Can I go home yet? Hotel: Listel Hotel Whistler (MF) (2 nights)

Day 14, Friday, Aug 1 "Fleece the tourist Maze", formerly known as Whistler
This place is NOT what I had expected and wanted to visit. It's just an overgrown "Fleece the Tourist Maze." It is 150% commercialized with exorbitant prices (well above what I had come to expect from Canadian cities); extremely difficult to find your way around even with the provided (misleading) maps; easy to get lost even when given "specific" directions; very hot (mid 90s); and jammed with dumb tourists like me but they have lots of money and I don't. Another problem: there seems to be some vegetation around that my sinuses DON'T like. I am almost constantly coughing due to awful sinus drainage.

We did get an included micro-nental (less-than-small Continental) breakfast, mostly pastries and overripe fruit, today and probably the same tomorrow but it's nothing really special - apparently they are more interested in coercing you to go out and find an expensive place to eat breakfast. The only warm food is coffee and whatever you can warm in a toaster. I accidentally found a grocery store yesterday, just by accident, and still occasionally have trouble finding it again - or the way back to the hotel. Somehow I think it will be "my favorite place to eat."

A mountain "paradise" (better described as a maze more suitable for white rats), Whistler is a four-season adventure destination. No optional excursions are listed for Whistler on the Cheap(est)mos(t) web site although the notes indicate that there might be some - but these turn out to be very expensive ($60+) gondola/cable car rides to the top of a couple of local mountains or some even more expensive flight-seeing.

We can also take in the pedestrian fake alpine village with $hop$, dining, and cafés if we dare risk venturing out into the maze and then getting lost. I wandered around a bit but mostly stayed close to the hotel (a walking area adjacent to "my" grocery store) so I could hopefully find it (the hotel) again. I also tried again for those two eateries I had been looking for yesterday ("Subway" and some (probably not real) "BBQ") but still never found them - and they are supposedly close by and easy to find. This place is a maze of alleyways, passages, pass-throughs, and even the streets and main walkways are usually not (or poorly) marked. So that and the sinus miseries, I've been pretty much "confined to quarters" (which doesn't actually help with the sinuses) making it a very long boring day in this "fleece the tourist maze." Can I go home yet?

TRIP SUMMARY

Highlights:

Victoria - Butchart Gardens - ***
Victoria - Miniature World - *****
Victoria - harbor walk and Buskers Festival - ***
Vancouver Island drive north - **
Cruise North - middle third after the weather cleared but before it got boring - ****
BUS drive along the Skeena River (rather than doing it on the train) - **
Jasper - Maligne Lake cruise - *
Banff - Thompson Lake walk - ****

NOT good
Cheap(est)mos(t) NOT providing at least continental breakfasts each morning
Columbia Icefields - glacier tour - waste of time
"Fleece-the-Tourist Maze" - awful - NOT recommended

With the exception of "Fleece-the-Tourist Maze," it has generally been a nice trip. The tour director and driver were both excellent; the scenery was mostly good - though I did often miss out on pictures. The other disappointments were minor and no trip is perfect. I just wish that I hadn't wasted so much money signing up for the extension to "Fleece-the-Tourist Maze." That was a major mistake!

Day 15, Saturday, Aug 2 Whistle-Stop - Vancouver - Departures
After getting through another Whistle-Stop micro-breakfast, the morning is at total boredom except to go back to a grocery store that has been my "savior" for the last couple of days in order to get something for lunch. I can't afford the real food here and even after "lunch" there's more time to waste sitting around the hotel doing nothing. The trip ends today with the departure by a commercial motorcoach for the drive back to Vancouver. The transfer to the Vancouver International Airport is included. My transfer isn't until 3:30 getting to the airport about 6PM (6:20).This still leaves lots of time to sit around the airport getting very bored. Cheap(est)mos(t) said to please schedule flights after Noon.

As for that transfer - I (almost) had a private 50-passenger limo trip. There were only 9 passengers. The scenery (snow-capped mountains, mountain streams, rivers, lakes, etc.) this time (from the road, not the train) was great but as we were headed west, we were driving into the western sun. Even with that, I wish that I had been able to have taken the bus both ways. We dropped 4 of the people in downtown Vancouver and the rest of us continued on to the airport. These hours were the best part of the "Fleece-the-Tourist Maze" excursion.

After United changed the flight schedule in May, I got very worried about the flight connection which was down to a bit less than an hour (the way my luck has been running that could have been another disaster) so I paid the $200 change fee to get a direct flight. However that means that the flight has a VERY LATE departure (well after noon!) from Vancouver and a next day arrival in Houston. But I feel LOTS safer. There is plenty of time for dinner in the Vancouver airport if I have any money left - but since I bought almost nothing the last two days in "fleece the tourist maze," I do have some money left - and maybe even some to save back for the Yukon trip next year.

At least I did choose another "Economy +" seat for the long (overnight) flight … then, SURPRISE! This morning I received an email from United that they are giving me a "Complimentary Upgrade" to Business Class. It won't help me get any sleep but should be a more comfortable seat and better leg room. I might even get more than a ¼ oz package of pretzels as a bonus prize - but no such luck. Even in Business Class all we got was the usual beverage service. It's a night flight and the flight attendants need their sleep. Although I didn't get to sleep (I never have on a plane), at least it was very comfortable and so the time passed reasonably quickly.

United UA 1267Vancouver - Houston10:40P - 5:02A4:42

Day 16, Sunday, Aug 3 Arrive Home
With a 5AM arrival, even with the formalities, and the usual long wait for the StuporShuttle, I finally made it home by 7:15.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

Lion's Gate
Butchart Gardens
Empress
Miniature World
Harbor
Chemanius
CanneryLost Souls
Maligne Lake
Waterfalls
Glacier Tour
Thompson Hike
Lake Louise
Wildlife


HOTELS:
VANCOUVER Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown (F) - twice
Nice room but dark, convenient to fast-food outlets. No view. 3rd floor/4th floor - rating 1
VICTORIA Chateau Victoria (MF) - two nights
Nice enough room, very dark, convenient to fast-food outlets, absolutely NO view 4th floor - rating 3
PORT HARDY Port Hardy Inn (T)
Better than expected "motel level" - just that noisy broken toilet. 1st floor. - rating 7
PRINCE RUPERT The Crest Hotel (SF) - two nights
Nice enough room, but bad toilet arrangement. a/c problems. Not great - and supposedly the best in PR. 1st floor - rating 8
PRINCE GEORGE Sandman Inn Prince George (ST)
Nice looking hotel but broken WiFi, broken ice machine, no mini-refrigerator 1st floor - rating 9
JASPER NATIONAL PARK Chateau Jasper (SF)
Better than yesterday. Very slow 'net; still no fridge. Didn't have a chance to get into town. 2nd floor. - rating 5
BANFF NATIONAL PARK Spruce Grove Inn (ST) - two nights
Very nice but just too far away from the interesting part of town. 2nd floor. - rating 4
KELOWNA Ramada Hotel & Conference Centre (F)
Very nice Ramada - a/c, 'net, etc. 2nd floor.- rating 2
WHISTLER Listel Hotel Whistler (MF) - 2 nights = BR> Well, what can we expect from a tourist trap town? Nice (mostly) hotel but town is an incomprehensible maze. Miserable bathroom. 2nd floor. - rating 6