Review of “Roaming the Rockies” Trip: Day 4
Day Four: Biking, Sulphur Mountain Gondola, and the Banff Hot Springs
Day four was perhaps the most tightly packed day of our whole Adventures by Disney trip, and that’s saying a lot. Not only were there three activities stretching from morning till late afternoon, but since it was also the last full day, we had a farewell dinner scheduled for the evening.
Biking was the morning’s activity, with a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant beforehand. My body was still on Florida time in terms of waking up early, so I got something to eat at the amazingly extensive buffet. Besides standard fare, it had Canadian items like back bacon and a full Asian spread to appeal to the large number of Asian tourists, just like the ice field restaurant. Those items included things like miso soup, rice, and fish, but I stuck to more standard items, like a freshly made omelet, pancakes, and bacon.
Our group of adventurers met up in the lobby for our biking trip. The bus ride was literally only minutes, since the bike shop is right in town. Everyone’s bike was ready and labeled with our names, based on measurements we’d provided earlier. I have short legs, but remarkably the bike was adjusted just right.
We suited up in helmets and hopped aboard the mountain bikes, which were equipped already with bottles of water to help us stay hydrated during the physical activity. The guides handed out ponchos, since the sky looked somewhat ominous and ready to rain on us at any moment. Then we all pedaled off en masse for our journey.
The bike ride travels along with Bow River, with scenic stops at a water fall and the Canadian administration building. That means you ride for a while, then have time to rest before you start pedaling again. The ground was level for the most part, and we rode on a mix of pavement and dirt or gravel paths. I really enjoyed the scenic stops, and it wasn’t too overly strenuous. I hoped it was burning off some of my breakfast’s calories, since we were on our own for lunch in town and I intended to find something interesting, and probably calorie packed, to try.
After the biking, it was off the the information building where a representative of the Canadian parks service was waiting to meet with us. That’s not a standard part of the trip, but it gave the media a chance to learn more about the park system that plays such an integral role in this adventure. After her presentation, it was off to lunch with instructions to meet at the bus for the short drive to the gondola ride at the appointed time.
Carpaccio and Chiclets
Some of our group walked back to the hotel during the break, since it’s not all that far away. Others, like me, explored Banff. I had lunch at a place called Saltlick, which attracted me because it serves beef carpaccio, a rarity in the United States since it’s made with raw beef slices. I had a salad and some French onion soup along with it, then went in search of a candy store for dessert.
I was mainly looking for fudge, but the store I wandered into also sold Chiclets, a type of gum that’s all but impossible to get in my part of Florida unless you buy it online. Oddly enough, our local Best Buy used to sell it, but last time I was there I discovered they’d discontinued it, so I’d be hankered for a Chiclets fix every since.
I grabbed a few packs, along with a treat for me and a candy bar with ice wine for my husband, since that’s one of his favorite alcoholic beverages. Then I just strolled around and snapped some photos until gondola time.
Up the Mountain
The Banff gondola climbs Sulphur Mountain, and it’s definitely an ear popper. The gondolas are relatively small, holding up to four people, so you get a really good view because you’re always sitting at a window. I filmed and snapped some photos as we climbed, and when we got to the top, I had quite a surprise: big horn sheep! Two of them were just casually hanging out below the observation deck, posing for the visitors. With those and the bears, I’d pretty much spotted all the major wildlife you can hope to see in the area.
There’s a weather station that you can hike up to, but we had limited time so I didn’t make it all the way to the top. I kept stopping for photos because the view was beyond breathtaking. Sometimes the mountain is under cloud cover, but we’d totally lucked out with the weather. The morning’s rain threat had dissolved into another gorgeous (albeit a bit chilly) weather day in Canada.
Finally it was time to head back down the mountain. I reluctantly joined some members of our group for the descent, but I couldn’t be too sad because the hot springs were next, and who doesn’t love a hot mineral bath in healing waters? I did have time to buy a gondola t-shirt to add to my ice explorer sweatshirt as a souvenir.
Mmmmm! A Hot Soak
The hot springs is literally almost right across the street from the gondola, so we were there in the blink of an eye. Although we had our own bathing suits, part of the Adventures by Disney experience is donning rental swimsuits over them because they’re the old-timey kind from the turn of the century. It makes a great photo op. You also get a Loony, which is a Canadian dollar, so you can store your belongings in a locker while you swim.
You get to the pool through a zero depth entry that starts inside the building, so you don’t really have time to be cold before your body gets enveloped in the nice, hot water. There’s an amazing mountain view from the pool deck, but such views are a standard part of being almost anywhere in the Canadian Rockies.
Our group made quite a spectacle as we headed out for the pool, posed for a group shot, and the broke out into a spirited game of Big Booty. Some of them just stared in wonderment, probably wondering where we’d escaped from, wearing our old fashioned swim suits while playing our boisterous game. We didn’t care; we were having a blast. I think there was a collective sigh when it was time to finally drag ourselves out of the soothing heat.
Our guides provided plastic bags for our wet swimwear, and we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. Actually, relaxation wasn’t on my agenda as I wanted to pack early so I could get to bed as early as possible. It was a very melancholy feeling stuffing all my clothes into my suitcase and knowing that the morning would return me to reality. Our group, young and old alike, had bonded through our shared experiences, just as the group had done when I did an Adventures by Disney trip in California many years ago.
I’d pretty much finished packing when dinner time rolled around, Our dining room had a stunning mountain view, as does pretty much anywhere in the hotel. Beef carpaccio was on the appetizer menu, so of course I had to have that again.
After dinner, we had one more Canadian surprise in store: a real Mountie, Pat, showed up in his dress uniform to chat with us about RCMP history and pose for photos. It’s actually quite rare to see a Mountie in his formal red uniform, as that’s only worn for certain formal occasions and public appearances. Pat told us about the history of the uniform and the Mounties in general, including the point when they officially stopped being issues horses, although they do still have a precision riding tram.
After Pat graciously posed with every, we all gathered ’round for another surprise: a slideshow of some of the highlights of the trip. There I was making a snow angel on the glacier or pretending to dive into the hot springs, and there were lots of silly and sweet moments immortalized for everyone in the party. It was bittersweet to see how much fun we’d all had and to know that the next morning we’d all be winging our way home.
I crashed pretty early after doing some work, even though I knew I could sleep in a bit compared to the previous mornings when there was always been something fun to look forward to. Oh well, I couldn’t be too sad, as I missed my husband and pets so it would be nice to see them again. Continue to Day 5