Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..
I had a fantastic time with Travelsphere/Just You on a small group tour in Canada in May 2022. The tour group I was with had access to Air Canada’s Maple leaf lounge at Heathrow Terminal 2 which is a great place to sit and relax, have a drink or two (soft or alcoholic) and some food before the flight. This was the perfect way to start my adventures.
My first impression of the flight was the economy cabin was spacious, with plenty of leg room so I could have a snooze on the 8hr 45min flight from Heathrow to Calgary. While on the flight there were plenty of movies and music channels to choose from and once airborne you have the option to purchase Wi-Fi, at an additional charge.
As this was a long-haul flight, food was included, we had two choices for our main meal, which were Chicken or Pasta; these were very similar on the return flight as well. I would recommend if anyone is a little fussy or has any dietary requirements to pre-book a meal on the Air Canada’s website before travelling, where they have a fairly extensive menu choice.
On arrival in Calgary, we were greeted by immigration where we were required to show our Arrive Can app and have details of all our Covid vaccinations. Vaccinated UK passengers no longer have to have a test before entering Canada immigration. However, they did randomly select passengers for a PCR test at the airport. You are also asked if you have had Covid in the last six months and if you can prove it they will override the test. For those who were tested they sent the results by text and email within three days. You do not have to isolate during this time.
We finally met our representative, Lezli from Travelsphere/Just You who escorted the whole trip and was extremely knowledgeable on the areas we were visiting.
Our airport transfer to Banff was in a spacious coach exclusively for our group. The transfer took around 1 hour 45 mins. We stayed at the Mount Royal hotel in Banff for three nights, it is a comfortable 3/4-star hotel which is very centrally located. The hotel’s restaurant was closed at the time due to covid restrictions, however, there is a large choice of eateries available nearby from cafes to bars and restaurants to choose from.
Banff is a bustling resort and has a great laidback feel to it. I really enjoyed staying here, very picturesque with the snowy mountain backdrops and plenty of sites to see within an hour or so of the resort. Banff itself also has over 8,000 hiking trails so it’s the perfect destination for those who like to be outdoors and active as well as skiing in the winter months. People were still skiing whilst we were there as Banff had had a particularly good snow season.
My favourite breakfasts in Banff was at a Café called Coyotes, they had a delicious choice and offer a take-out service for anyone that wanted to grab something quick to take away with them. I recommend Farm and Fire as they did the best Canadian eggs benedict! The average cost of a good breakfast can be around $18, don’t forget to tip!
This morning we had a sightseeing tour of Banff and the surrounding area. We visited the Hoodoos (rock pillars which look like sand castles), had some photo stops at 2 Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake and is only three miles from Banff; it is 13 miles long and 466ft deep. Lake Minnewanka is a very popular place for hiking, biking, canoeing and snowshoeing in the winter. I was totally mesmerised at how stunning all of these places were and wished we could spend more time there to explore. I can certainly appreciate how valuable it was to have a guide with us, as you could certainly miss these fantastic areas touring independently.
In the afternoon we went to the Banff Gondola which is about a 10-minute drive from Banff downtown. The gondola opened in 1959 and only takes eight minutes to reach the top of Sulphur Mountain where you have the most amazing views of distant mountain ranges. There is a viewing platform which you can walk to, an information centre, a café and souvenir shop. Definitely worth a visit but it is advised to pre-book tickets as this attraction can get very busy.
Banff Lake Louise tourism hosted dinner at Shoku, a lovely fusion/Sushi restaurant where we tried a mixture of different dishes and some lovely cocktails. This was the best way to end the most amazing day.
This morning we headed to White Mountain Adventures, at 202 Bear Street, for a guided Banff Town and surrounding areas E-bike explorer tour. I have never been on an E-bike before, but was very pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to use and it was a fantastic way to see the local area for a few hours. We visited Bow Falls, a beautiful waterfall close to the Banff Springs hotel, Surprise corner which gives lovely views of the hotel and surrounding area, Banff downtown area and the Cave and Basin National Historic site. Only a moderate amount of fitness is required and I would definitely recommend.
We departed Banff early afternoon for Alpine Helicopters in Canmore. This trip is a must and one of my top highlights of the trip. They offer four excursions ranging from 25 mins at $280 to 55 mins at $1400 (for 2 people). Our tour took in the three sisters and Mount Assiniboine and would have cost $380. The helicopter trip was a full 35 minutes in duration. It really was one of those unforgettable magical moments – the photos do not do the trip justice! Each helicopter could comfortably take four to five passengers and everyone had a good view. The scenery was breath taking and everyone said it was one of those bucket list moments they’d certainly never forget.
This evening we ate at the Banff Brewing company, a local pub and watched an Ice hockey match on the big screen.
We had an early start this morning and a take-out breakfast as we drove along the Icelands parkway road on route to Jasper. Stopping at the Columbia Glacier Adventure Centre, we took large ice trucks headed upward to the Athabasca glacier. I would recommend taking layers of clothing, a warm jacket and good walking shoes as it can get slippery. We were able to walk on the glacier which is very beautiful and to make this even more magical there was snow falling all around us. We then had around 30 minutes to take all our desired photos and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Next stop was the glacier skywalk – You can buy a combo ticket to include both of these tours. The skywalk is a glass-floored viewing platform where you can enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and the Sunwapta valley. This excursion is normally an add-on option on the Travelsphere itinerary.
We continued our journey to Jasper and were very lucky to see bears – another bucket list moment for me and definitely another highlight of the trip. We saw a black bear with her cub, another black bear taking a stroll across the road and a grizzly bear. It was totally amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat. The bears in Alberta are generally smaller as their main diet consists of dandelions and berries whereas in Alaska and British Columbia they feed on the salmon from the rivers. On the fenced highways they have built overpasses covered in vegetation so that the wildlife can safely cross over – they are pretty cool! During our time here, we also spotted a moose, big horn mountain sheep, deer, chipmunks, squirrels and marmots.
We stopped at Athabasca falls to take photos, I was blown-away with how beautiful and tall these waterfalls were. It’s definitely a must-see attraction that you have to visit! Our next stop was the Maligne canyon. The canyon itself is magnificent and we had around 30 minutes to explore and take photos. You could spend a good half day here as there are quite a few walking trails to explore.
We headed back onboard the coach for an overnight stay at Jasper in the Lobstick lodge. Jasper is less commercial than Banff, smaller and quite a sleepy town in the month of May. Rooms were comfortable with a fridge and coffee maker and the hotel is blessed with outdoor hot tubs with views of the mountains. We finished a wonderful day of sight-seeing with dinner at the Forest Park hotel where I enjoyed a really nice steak.
Today was an early start to head back towards Calgary via Lake Louise. We had breakfast to go at the Bear’s paw bakery – yummy choice of scones, muffins, cakes, breads and delicious coffee. We took a walk around Jasper with the lady from the local tourism board and stopped at Jasper train station, which is very quaint. Whilst there we were lucky enough to see the Rocky mountaineer train come into the station, it is a lot longer and taller than I expected.
We arrived at the Chateaux Lake Louise late morning and had a tour of this iconic and beautiful hotel. Rooms with a lake view are a must but even the standard rooms are elegantly furnished. You need to have an overnight stay here and just forget the budget! Lunch here was just as amazing, our table looked across at the lake, it was so beautiful. I had locally sourced salmon which was one of my favourite meals of the trip.
There are so many beautiful locations at Lake Louise where you can take fantastic photos. At that particular time of year, in May, the edge of the lake was just melting and you were able to get a glimpse of the beautiful blue colour that the lake is renowned for. I liked that we were able to see the ice as well and it was a lovely sunny day. All of the hotel and its grounds are stunningly beautiful and I would love to return and stay for a short while in the future.
We went onward to Calgary and during our journey we saw some more bears to snap and add to my photo collection!
We arrived for our last night and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, a three- to four-star hotel located in downtown Calgary. The rooms and facilities were good and spacious, there’s also an indoor pool and outside rooftop terrace with city views.
We had dinner at the Charbar, an Argentinian restaurant where we had a variety of pre-ordered dishes which we shared between us. They are known for using ingredients from the prairies and gardens – lots of pulses, beans and steak!
This morning we headed to the Calgary tower which offers 360-degree views of the city and stands 191 metres high (626ft). There is a glass floor at the top – this is not for those who are afraid of heights but I did manage a very quick photo of me sat on the floor, not looking down! Definitely worth a visit if you are staying in Calgary. We also visited studio bell, a museum dedicated to Canadian music and musicians – this is a must-see for all you music lovers.
We had a short transfer back to the airport, our check in was smooth and our flight home was on time.
This was without a doubt the best educational I have ever been on. Travelsphere/Just You were amazing hosts, anyone who travels on a tour with them are sure to have the best time. Lezli’s knowledge of all the areas and do’s and don’ts would certainly put anyone at ease – they really take good care of you and we were sad to say goodbye. Although touring is a busy holiday you get to see and learn so much about the destination. I would have no hesitation in recommending their tours.