Eleanor Hardy’s clients had been saving for years to take their trip of a lifetime: a European tour on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. “When they arrived at the station in Venice and saw that beautiful, deep blue train with the cream-colored roof, they burst into tears,” says Hardy, owner of The Society of International Railway Travelers in Louisville, Kentucky, a Virtuoso member. “It was their dream come true.”
Luxury rail travel top the bucket lists of many travelers who feel they’ve done everything else. “People into train travel tend to be older,” notes Julie Lemish, president of Virtuoso member Rex Travel in Chicago, Illinois. “Mostly couples, a few singles, not many families. The quarters on trains are pretty small.”
Because classic trains are expensive to maintain and the service level is top-notch, luxury rail travel may cause sticker shock for the uninitiated. For train buffs with deep pockets, the service and ambiance are worth every penny. “It’s like a rolling, elegant cocktail party,” Lemish says.
Anna Skubiak, director of strategic partnerships for Virtuoso supplier Orient-Express, agrees: “Elegant bar cars where guests mingle with fellow travelers are so very indicative of the golden age of travel.”
In addition to the iconic Orient Express, luxury rail lines roll across multiple continents. “The Pride of Africa has a lovely, open-air deck,” says Hardy, “and I love the Royal Scotsman because it is so intimate.”
In western Canada, Virtuoso supplier Rocky Mountaineer offers a first-class tour. “Along our rail routes, our guests marvel at the ferocious rivers, still blue-green glacial lakes, waterfalls in the distance and the stunning Canadian Rockies,” says Karen Wiseman, Rocky Mountaineer’s director of sales, U.S.
For travelers who want more modern adventures, some rail lines are adding amenities. “Some trains have hair salons, libraries, video facilities, and wi-fi,” says Owen Hardy, CEO of The Society of International Railway Travelers. “One, in India, even has a spa car where you can get a massage or workout.” From the South African Blue Train’s safaris to the hiking and biking excursions from the Trans-Siberian Express, luxury rail can accommodate adventurous as well as lower-key passengers.
Virtuoso membership makes it easy for advisors to incorporate luxury rail travel into customized itineraries. Because trains are typically just one piece of a client’s trip, the transfers, hotel nights, and on-the-ground tours are important, too. “Virtuoso provides access,” says Linda Barber, partner at Virtuoso member Travelwizard.com in Nelson, B.C., Canada. “When I talk to Virtuoso On-Sites around the world, I can trust my network to provide a high class of service to my clients.”
For the been-there, done-that globetrotter, luxury rail travel offers a special experience. The Orient Express’ Paris-Istanbul journey stands out in Owen Hardy’s mind. “Everything about this trip is over the top. Since this trip is done just once a year, the train’s arrival in Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul and other stops is a celebratory occasion for the local populace. Waving from your compartment, you feel like an international celebrity.”
For more information about having your own luxury rail travel experience, call your Virtuoso travel advisor. Don’t have a travel advisor? Click here to find one.