The trans-Canadian train Rocky Mountaineer traverses sharply contrasting climates and unparalleled scenes that you simply won’t find in Colorado. © Rocky Mountaineer

Originally published January/February 2017

Where will you go in 2017?

AAA Travel Agents add significant value, convenience and peace of mind to your special holiday at the destinations listed here—value found only through one of the world’s largest leisure travel companies, AAA Travel.

This Travel Edition of EnCompass offers you places to go in 2017, in five categories: Europe, Exotics, Tropics, North America, and Central/South America.

North America

CANADIAN ROCKIES
HAWAII
SAVANNAH
NEW ORLEANS
VANCOUVER

 

CANADIAN ROCKIES

Like kings and queens

The intimacy of a train ride bonds the passengers aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, s friendship sealed by a toast of mimosas. © Rocky Mountaineer

Aboard the trans-Canadian train Rocky Mountaineer, the ride is the vacation—a luxury of local meats and maple, silver service, and world-class scenery.

By Susan Lanier-Graham

Riding historic trains in Colorado isn’t new to me. I grew up here, and enjoy the grit, smoke, and steam. The trans-Canadian train Rocky Mountaineer is something entirely different. I boarded on a sunny April morning in Vancouver for a four-day, three-night, eastbound excursion and felt a bit like a superstar from the beginning, uttering a “wow” or two as my friend and I wound our way up the spiral stairs to the second level of the glass-domed GoldLeaf car. It was a bright, airy space that offered more comfort than what 19th-century gold miners on Colorado’s rails could have imagined.

I arrived in Vancouver the day before departure and wandered the nearby arts district, grabbed lunch at a sidewalk café reminiscent of Paris, and explored the nearby harbor with snow-capped mountains in the distance. It was my first visit to Vancouver and I fell in love with the city’s welcoming generosity.

Joining me on the trip was a girlfriend. We are frequent travelers, but not best friends. The trip gave us a chance to talk and discover things about each other we wouldn’t usually uncover when distracted by the outside world. If I had gone with my husband, sister or family, it would have been completely different. Now I understand why people go back, booking different journeys each time.

For me, a huge bonus I hadn’t anticipated—perhaps even feared—was that the trip is “unplugged.” The train is not equipped with Wi-Fi. I was afraid beforehand that I would miss the connected world. Once I climbed onboard, not only did I not miss it, I was glad the outside world couldn’t interfere with my experience—the peace and serenity I found in the Canadian Rockies.

Raising a toast

As the train pulled out of the station, the city slipped past, and we lifted our glasses of bubbly. The GoldLeaf Service includes a gourmet breakfast and lunch served on the first level in the dining car both days and complimentary drinks and snacks seem to show up at your beck and call.

It’s fun to move to the dining car where white linens, silver service, fine china and gourmet meals wait. While half of the people dine, the staff keeps the other half busy with snacks, trivia and drinks.

One of the great mysteries of a Rocky Mountaineer trip is how the chefs manage to provide fresh fine dining as the train keeps rolling through remote, mountainous terrain. © AAA Colorado/Colin Robinson

I still don’t know how the chef and his team prepare such opulent, fresh meals while traversing the Canadian Rockies, but we ate like kings and queens. Dishes featured fresh local meats—elk, Alberta beef, local halibut, and fresh vegetables I’m sure came from the beautiful fields we saw along the way. Desserts were scrumptious, many including popular Canadian maple.

You don’t have to give up a moment of watching the scenery while dining because the dining car has massive picture windows. It was at lunch the second day when we spotted a mama bear and her cubs. They were just feet from our dining car as we slowed down to make room for a freight train to pass. It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget. As I sat sipping a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc, mama bear stopped to make sure both of her babies were safely out of the way of the trains before continuing their journey up the mountainside.

Climate zones

This was a trip of contrasts: sunny, warm weather in Vancouver, then rain showers and cool weather as we climbed the Cascade mountains in the distance. The interior of British Columbia reminded me of my childhood on Colorado’s Western Slope.

We wound our way through Fraser Canyon, and I stood out on the open-air vestibule and felt the rush of wind as freight trains zipped past us only feet away. The force of it made my head spin. But just as quickly came tranquility, clean air, and endless blue sky.

As the first day came to a close, we arrived in Kamloops, a small town that most people in the U.S. would not visit on their own. It’s a hunting and mining town that reminded me of home in Colorado. The people are salt-of-the-Earth, and would open their front door if you needed something. After a dinner at one of the local hangouts and a good night’s sleep, we embarked on our final day of breathtaking vistas.

Engineering marvel

The last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven at a little spot we passed named Craigellachie, back in 1885. And just ahead would be Rogers Pass, through the Spiral Tunnels, the most impressive part of the trip. The tunnels are two three-quarter circles built into the mountain walls, carved into the mountain by hand in the early 1900s.

About mid-day, I realized I could use another couple of days onboard the train. I I could step out on that vestibule and breathe in air that was fresher than anything I had ever experienced, as it blew across a glacier at the top of the world. I liked being uninterrupted by the outside world.

The lakes we passed were colors I had never seen before as they glistened in the sun. Streams tumbled past us, unbound and unstoppable from the spring runoff. I saw mountain goats climbing along the tracks, eagles soaring overhead and watched elk grazing in open meadows. I felt free and unfettered as I put my head back and let the mountain air blow across my face.

And an urgent question came to mind: How soon could I come back?

Susan Lanier-Graham is a freelance writer based in Arizona, but whose heart remains forever in Colorado. She contributes regularly to a variety of print and online publications and writes about wow moments at wanderwithwonder.com.

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HAWAII

Intro to the islands

Walking through a bamboo grove, Maui. © Gallery Stock

By Tom Hess

Someone you love, perhaps a parent or grandparent, always wanted to experience Hawaii, but never made it, and now they’re gone. The timing was never right, the budget was tight, the kids were in school—something always got in the way—and then it was too late. So you’re not going to let that happen. You’re going to visit the islands. But which ones, and how?

Each of the four major islands—the Big Island (Hawaii), Oahu (Honolulu), Maui, and Kauai—offers a unique experience, from dense rainforest to volcanic moonscape. Yet the cost of flying from one to another starts to add up fast.

One solution is an introduction to the islands—a four-island cruise, like the one from Princess Cruises, a 15-day no-fly cruise that begins and ends in Los Angeles or San Francisco. And for about $3,000 less than a typical trip to just one island, given the costs of lodging and dining out and taxi or car rental, the cruise package is a relative bargain.

The experience itself seems nothing like a bargain, though. You wake up each morning in a first-class hotel room, the ship docked at a different island than the one you toured the day before, ready for your next adventure. Princess prepares you on the three-day cruise there, immersing you through food, music and laughter in the aloha spirit.

The choice of shore excursions on each island suits every interest and ability. On the Big Island excursion “Farm, Fork and Fire,” guests visit an orchid farm, sip their drink of choice at Volcano Winery and Tea Garden, savor a locally sourced lunch at Kilauea Lodge, and tour Hawaii’s active volcano. On Kauai, take a helicopter ride (expensive), or experience “Hollywood in Hawaii”—a full day aboard a custom mini-bus outfitted with a monitor to view corresponding footage from the locales of more than 50 Hollywood movies filmed on Kauai. On Maui, the “Waterfall hike to Ho’olawa Valley” would allow guests to explore one of Maui’s most popular rainforest valleys, guided by expert naturalists, and choose a pool for a refreshing dip. While the “Animal Planet: Shark Encounter” on Oahu might appeal to me, history-minded travelers likely would prefer the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

Whatever the choice of excursions, this introduction to the islands might be just the ticket for those who remember loved ones who never made it.

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SAVANNAH

Legends and ghosts

Savannah’s 22 squares offer those riding on a tour bus, or on foot, or on a bike, a charming, relaxing survey of history—natural and supernatural. © Visit Savannah

By Elizabeth Bogrett

Growing up in New Mexico, with its sagebrush and sandstone, I developed in high school a longing for lush, humid Savannah. The mere sound of that name conveyed to me the essence of southern culture: cobblestone streets, Spanish moss, and unhurried charm.

The Viator hop-on, hop-off tour took me by some of the city’s 22 squares, and included a Savannah River cruise. Among the historic sites is the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. (I had been a Girl Scout troop leader when my now-adult-and-married daughter was a child.) Low rallied local women in 1912 to start a movement that became the Girl Scouts.

Near the Low home is Wright Square, with a tragic ghost story. In 1735, a court found an Irish servant, pregnant with her employer’s child, guilty of his murder. She was hanged a day after her baby’s birth. Legend claims that Spanish Moss will never grow where innocent blood is spilled. The trees of Wright Square seem to mourn her, because Spanish Moss won’t grow there.

After riding through Forsyth Park, you’ll see the Mercer Williams House, made famous by the best-selling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the account of a local preservationist accused of a 1981 murder, and his 1989 trial.

Hop off the trolley to visit Colonial Park Cemetery, the final resting place for victims of the 1820 Yellow Fever epidemic. During the Civil War, Federal troops looted and desecrated many of the graves, changing the dates.

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NEW ORLEANS

Awards piled high

Bayona owner and chef Susan Spicer is among many award-winning chefs in New Orleans. © AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber

By Larry Olmsted

I like jazz, antiques and history, but I love food, and there is simply no city like New Orleans when it comes to indulgence. One of the biggest reasons people—myself certainly included—visit the Crescent City is that the city has embraced a “best-of” assortment of imported cuisines. Case in point: Shayla, an Israeli eatery that just won 2016 Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation, the Oscars of Food.

If you want a more local, traditional taste of NOLA with this same kind of distinguished pedigree, you are in luck. Many of the city’s top eateries have won James Beard Awards, which pile up in the streets here like Mardi Gras beads. The pecan-crusted Gulf fish topped with crabmeat is to die for at Commander’s Palace. A rival and peer, Galatoire’s, also won Outstanding Restaurant—I like to stop first in the connected 33 Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail and order of the oh-so-good gaufrette potatoes, lattice chips with French onion dip or topped with steak tartare, one of the world’s most addictive bar snacks. Peche Seafood Grill was 2014’s Best New Restaurant, while The City That Care Forgot has also fared well in the Foundation’s “American Classics” division, which awards historic and time-honored spots, including Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, which spins fluffy desserts, family-style Old School Italian specialist Mosca’s, and fried chicken temple Willie Mae’s Scotch House—the best battered poultry in the country, so crispy outside and juicy inside, it seems impossible. I sent a foodie friend here and he cried when he tasted the chicken.

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VANCOUVER

Honoring its roots

Totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, Vancouver. © Alamy/John Mitchell

By Michael DeFreitas

When British explorer Captain George Vancouver stumbled into this picturesque harbor in 1792, the resident First Nation Coast Salish people warmly welcomed him. Today, you’re greeted at Vancouver International Airport with carvings, totems and music showcasing the Coastal People’s culture, including Haida artist Bill Reid’s famous sculpture, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe featured on Canada’s $20 bill.

The city takes great pride in honoring its First Nations roots. As a longtime resident of the city, I spend a lot of time exploring Stanley Park’s 300-year-old rainforest, with its collection of First Nations totems (story poles) and the world-famous Vancouver Aquarium, featuring Bill Reid’s stunning orca sculpture, “Chief of the Undersea World.

I’m also a regular visitor to the cedar-log longhouse in the Coast Salish Tsleil-Waututh community, a short distance from the park. The community’s most memorable member was the late Chief Dan George, known for his role in many films, including Little Big Man (1970, starring Dustin Hoffman).

But my favorite place in town is the Museum of Anthropology, on the University of British Columbia campus. The museum boasts Bill Reid’s powerful The Raven and the First Men sculpture that chronicles the history of the Northwest’s First Peoples.

And there’s nothing better after a day exploring the city than enjoying the wild sockeye salmon at the Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro, the city’s premier First Nations restaurant. Owners Inez and Remi also prepare other native delicacies, such as wild game sausage, bison ribs, and elk meatloaf—all served with homemade bannock (Indian bread).

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EXPLORER’S HUB

Packing for an extended vacation

One of the most daunting travel tasks is packing. It’s an internal struggle deciding what to bring, how much to bring, what gets left behind, and what you just can’t live without. The process becomes even harder when packing for a long vacation. This is when you really have to be selective, because not only will you have to carry that suitcase around with you everywhere you go, but you also have to think about weight restrictions on planes. The heavier the bag, the more you pay.

Whether you’re an efficient packer, or need all the help you can get, these tips will help keep your suitcase in order and well under weight limits.

Right sizing The larger the suitcase, the more space to fill with useless items. Start with a smaller bag, and then exchange for a larger one if necessary.

Make a list Write down all the items you think you will need based on weather, activities, and dining. Then, cut that list in half, because most of us tend to overestimate how much we really need. Oftentimes we’re not completely honest with ourselves. Are you really going to keep up with that workout routine on the road? If not, ditch the sneakers and workout gear.

Choose wisely Just because you’ll be gone for a long period of time doesn’t mean you need to pack more than you would for a short trip. Select clothing items that can be worn in different ways, or items that can easily transition from a day around the city to a night on the town. Create two weeks’ worth of outfits, with less than a week’s worth of clothes.

Cut back on shoes Because they’re bulky, pick just three pairs. Ladies, that may sound impossible, but remember how rarely you wear all the shoes you bring. Go with the three that are comfortable, stylish and easy to pack. Also, consider the environment you’ll be in. You wouldn’t wear dress shoes on a hike. Also, cut down on weight and wear your heaviest pair on the plane.

Toiletries Don’t pack full size. Put your favorite brands in a reusable, travel-size container. Otherwise, rely on the items at the hotels.

Rolling method Rolling your clothes creates more space. Combine this method with packing organizers, and you’ll save tons of room. Don’t pack that space with more stuff; leave room for souvenirs!
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AAA Connection

For more packing tips and tricks, come see packing expert, Anne McAlpin, at the 2017 Vacations Showcase on Feb. 4, 2017, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

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