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Sea Cloud – & IRT – Set Sail for Dalmatian Coast, Greek Isles

26 Aug

God and United Airlines willing, IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy and I will be in Croatia as you read this.

Our mission: to join fellow IRT travelers on a 10-day Lindblad  sailing adventure aboard the Sea Cloud, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s 1931-vintage sailing yacht.

Our group makes up about a quarter of the passengers — 58 in all. Together, we’ll explore the ancient Dalmatian Coasts and Greek Isles.

The Sea Cloud is the last of its kind: a true, working square-rigged bark. Her complement of 60 crew will scamper into the rigging, climb gingerly out over the spars to furl and unfurl sails.

We passengers, no doubt with drinks in hand, will admire from below.

Our Sea Cloud voyage is an

Our Sea Cloud voyage is an “expedition” operated by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, known for their attention to detail, well-trained staff and comprehensive land touring program. Lindblad Photo

We’re thrilled to be going aboard!

Not so thrilling: like the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Sea Cloud is a one-of-a-kind antique Grand Dame. And her dance card is almost full.

Next year’s Dalmatian Coast / Greek Isle voyages are sold out. Just a few spots remain for journeys in the Caribbean and in the Greek islands.

So contact us to get on the wait list for the Sea Cloud’s 2017 voyages.

The Grand Dame is getting older. And she can’t last forever.

Call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725; or email, tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

What a Week! Chic Italian Hotels, Posh Irish Castles, Cute Polar Bears…and Great Trains!

21 Aug
The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel enjoys a prime slice of Sicilian real estate.

The Oliviero Restaurant, at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, is famous for its seafood specialties. The hotel is located on a prime spot of Sicilian real estate. Belmond photo by Genius Loci

We’re just back from Virtuoso Travel Week, luxury travel’s biggest pow-wow of the year, hosting almost 5,000 travel professionals from all over the world.

Here are some goodies from our take-home bag, soon to appear on our website. Email me, and I’ll update you as news becomes available.

  • SignBoard_Small

    Venice Simplon-Orient-Express‘ “bread-and-butter” route is Venice-Paris-London, and vice-versa. The addition of a week’s worth of fabulous Belmond Italian hotels — there are six — makes for even more memories. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

    ITALY: Our popular “Romantic Italian Holiday” will be even more over-the-top when you upgrade it with Belmond’s “Grand Tour of Italy” package. The package price is starts at 3,780 Euro (currently about $4,300) per couple for seven nights at a minimum of two of Belmond’s iconic Italian properties (there are six in all).

    You have 30 days to complete your hotel stays. Blackout dates apply, but the price includes daily buffet breakfast. (Our agency’s “Bellini Club” status earns guests even more; please call.)

    Add a fanciful train ferry twist if you stay at either of the company’s Sicilian retreats (that’s right; Italian Railways still operates a train ferry to Sicily for the 30-minute “voyage” to the island). Click here to ask for more info.

Japan's Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner and (above) lounge, with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and fabrics. Kyushu Railway Photo

Japan’s Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train includes 12 suites, 2 deluxe suites, a diner, and lounge (above) with bar. By all accounts, the train is a work of art, boasting exquisite woods and textiles throughout. Kyushu Railway Photo

  • JAPAN: We organized a custom tour that includes the “impossible-to-get-a-ticket-on” Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train.

Kyushu dazzled the luxury train world two years ago when it debuted this artwork on wheels. And the Japanese love it — so much so that it’s almost impossible to get space on the 30-passenger train.

We’re working with a Virtuoso partner in Japan to finalize a deluxe rail tour that will include the Seven-Stars’ four-day trip. We’ve already got the train reserved. November, 2016. Click here to ask for more info and to get on our “first notification” list.

ashford castle

  • IRELAND: Add an extended stay at magical Ashford Castle, voted last week as Virtuoso’s “Hotel of the Year.” It’s a perfect add-on to the new Belmond Grand Hibernian luxury train or to Lindblad/National Geographic’s 2016 Orion cruises, which will visit Ireland on two trips: June 12-19 or June 19-26. Click here to ask for more info. 
Enjoying a drink in the Royal Scotsman stylish, but very comfortable, bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

Enjoy a drink in stylish comfort in the Royal Scotsman’s bar car. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy

  • EUROPE: The good ship Orion’s 2016 Bergen-Glasgow cruise also offers tantalizing add-ons to the Belmond Royal Scotsman, whose Edinburgh terminus is just 30 minutes by train from Glasgow by ScotRail. The Lindblad/National Geographic cruise, dubbed “Norway and Scotland: Fjordlands to the Inner Hebrides,” runs July 17-24 and 24-31. We thought this would be a grand combo. Click here for more info.
  • A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH 'Polar Rover' tundra truck. Natural Habitat photo

    A polar bear inspects Natural Habitat tour participants (viewing him from the safety of their NH ‘Polar Rover’ tundra truck.) Natural Habitat photo

    CANADA: Polar bears up close and personal: that’s what you’ll get when you travel with adventure specialist Natural Habitat. There’s convenient VIA Rail Canada service to the tour’s jumping-off point, Winnipeg. The tours run in October and November. We love NatHab, voted “Most Sustainable Tour Company,” at Virtuoso Week. Click here to ask for more info.

  • The National Geographic tour of Switzerland and Italy is a 10-day journey from Zermatt and the Upper Engadin Valley to Italy’s Lake Como featuring two of the IRT Society’s “World’s Top 25 Trains”: the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. National Geographic photo

    EUROPE, ASIA, N. AMERICA: National Geographic specialists accompany luxury rail tours for in-depth explorations. Among the offerings are “Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District,” “India by Rail Photo Expedition” and “Norway’s Trains & Fjords.” Click here to ask for more info.

  • India's Deccan Odyssey offers the best of both worlds: incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through the picture windows of a luxurious hotel on wheels, with warm, attentive service, wonderful meals (with local as well as Continental cuisine) and supreme comfort. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    India’s Deccan Odyssey offers incredible, close-up vistas of Indian culture and life through its large picture windows. Service is warm and attentive. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

    INDIA: Deccan Odyssey luxe train upgrade: luxury travel specialist Cox & Kings now supervises off-board AND on-board services, which is a blessing to the discerning traveler.

Its classic 12-day, 11-night Mumbai-Delhi itinerary includes visits to the monuments of Vadodara, the lakes and palaces of Udaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the tiger reserve at Ranthambore (where tigers are making a comeback) and the Pink City of Jaipur.

A new 11-day, 10-night trip, the “Hidden Treasures of Gujarat,’ includes a search for Asiatic lions in Gir Forest National Park, a visit to Modhera’s Sun Temple and an exclusive tour of one of the country’s best wineries. Click here for more info.

  • The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    The Blue Train grants free passage for children 5 and under, provided they sleep with their parents. Pictured above, a Blue Train compartment with twin beds. Blue Train photo

    AFRICA: The romantic Blue Train might not seem the most likely venue for kids, but it can be  a financial boon to parents. One child aged five or under can travel free with mom and dad–so long as he/she shares the same compartment (OK, maybe sometimes not so romantic). Children aged 6-12 pay 50% of the rate. Click here for more info.

The above travel suppliers are some of our top Virtuoso partners. See something you’re interested in? Email us, and let us know what trip interests you, when you want to go and who is traveling with you. We’ll respond ASAP!

The Society of IRT is a proud member of Virtuoso, and also of the Belmond Bellini Club. What does this mean for our guests? Call us: 800-478-4881. Our web site:                       http://www.irtsociety.com

Flexible? Try Orient-Express, Rocky Mountaineer, India’s Deccan Odyssey This Autumn

24 Jul

Europe, Canada or India calling? If so, now hear this:

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Get two free nights at the super luxurious Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice when you book the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express London-Paris-Venice on trips running Oct. 25-26, Oct. 29-30, Nov. 1-2 or Nov. 5-6. Click here for more info.

Get the same deal when you book the VSOE the other direction, Venice-Paris-London, for trips running Oct. 28-29, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 or Nov. 4-5. Click here for more info.

The offer is valued at $1,300 per person, is for new bookings only and must be made by Aug. 31. Restrictions apply.

Can’t tell you how much we love this hotel: it is fabulous. See our review and photos here.

Rocky Mountaineer

Get $1,000 per couple in extra services when you book a qualifying 2016 Rocky Mountaineer package of 7 nights or more. The offer is good until Aug. 28.

The luxurious GoldLeaf service gives you a ring-side seat on the glories of the Rocky Mountains’ natural beauty.

Our recommendation: opt for the 12-day “Grand Rail Circle” tour, which packs in three scenic rail routes.

Great plus by booking this trip with us: two complimentary airport limo transfers — a value of $240.

Deccan Odyssey

With Delhi as the beginning of the Deccan Odyssey’s itinerary, a complimentary night in a top Delhi hotel, as well as a free private transfer upon arrival or departure, will be welcome news. The offer includes breakfast and taxes.

Choose a deluxe room from either the chic, modern Lait Hotel or the sumptuous, classical Kempinski Ambience.

The offer is valued at $300-$400. We love the Deccan Odyssey, as you know. Its onboard operators are some of the best in the luxury market.

For more information on the Deccan Odyssey, click here. For more information or to book any of these trains, email us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Or call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.

Tales of the Orient-Express: Berlin, Iconic Italy, Ms. Agatha

26 Jun
Kurfürstendamm

Berlin boasts a vibrant outdoor café scene. Pictured here is the famous Kurfürstendamm. Photo: Visit Berlin

The famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has much to celebrate:

Berlin
The historic overnight trip to the German capital begins June 2, 2016 when the VSOE’s sister train, the Belmond British Pullman, departs London’s Victoria Station for the three-hour journey to the coast. The excursion continues on the VSOE to Paris and from there to Berlin, where it arrives June 3.

The reverse itinerary begins June 4, with arrival in London June 5.

Whichever direction passengers choose, the new trip offers myriad possibilities for extended stays in London and Berlin. For detailed information, click here.

A VSOE staff member prepares for boarding at Venice' Santa Lucia station.

A VSOE staff member prepares for boarding at Venice’ Santa Lucia station. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Romantic Italian Holiday
The Romantic Italian Holiday connects passengers on the VSOE’s classic overnight run between London, Paris and Venice with extended stays at the Belmond Cipriani in Venice and the Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence.

Now, extended stays are possible at four additional Belmond sites in Italy, all of them palatial:

  • Portofino: Belmond Hotel Splendido and Belmond Splendido Mare,
  • Amalfi Coast: Belmond Hotel Caruso,
  • Taormina Mare: Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea,
  • Taormina: Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo

For more information, email tourdesk@irtsociety.com or call (800) 478-4881 within the U.S. or Canada,  or, elsewhere, (502) 897-1725.

Dame Agatha
Honoring the 125th birthday of the novelist famous for writing “Murder on the Orient-Express,” head chefs from the VSOE, Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah and Venice’ Belmond Cipriani plan a July 1 celebration at the Cipriani.

According to the New York Times, they’ll prepare a buffet of “several dozen” Turkish, Italian and French dishes. (Dame Agatha wrote the novel at the Pera Palace following an Orient-Express trip from Venice).

The price is 130 euros (about $140, the Times says), and includes alcoholic drinks and entertainment, as well as an orchestra performance and a water show.

Rovos Rail Rarity: Cape-Dar Trek Still Has 3 Cabins to Let

2 Jun

DSC_0680-TrainOverFallsVert2SmallIt’s almost unheard of.

Rovos Rail’s coveted Cape Town – Dar es Salaam tour, normally sold out up to a year in advance, has one Pullman and two Deluxe cabins available on its Sept. 26-Oct. 10 two-week excursion.

“Lots of people ask us: What’s your favorite destination? What’s your favorite train?” says IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy.

“That’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. Except in our case, it’s our World’s Top 25 Trains,” Mrs. Hardy says.

But at the risk of hurting her other “children’s” feelings, Mrs. Hardy says Rovos Rail’s Cape to Dar and Dar to Cape journeys stand out for their adventure, excitement and connection with the local people.

IRT Traveler Gary Ellman on 2w011 Cape-Dar tour. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

IRT Traveler Gary Ellman at his favorite spot: on the rear, outdoor platform during 2011 Cape-Dar tour. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“These two-week treks started out being just twice a year – once north, and then south. But they became very popular. People who went on Rovos Rail for just one night or two frequently came back to do the Dar trips – and they came back often,” Mrs. Hardy says.

“There’s even a group of guests who are called ‘Repeat Offenders.’ They’ve traveled on the train many times.”

DSC_0223-JeffWithChildrenSmall

IRT traveler Jeff Grinspoon surrounded by well-wishers in Mlimba, Tanzania. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Now the train has several DAR departures each year, but demand almost always exceeds supply, she says. Except for this fall.

Here’s Mrs. Hardy’s advice:

  1. Book more than a year in advance for the greatest selection of cabins and dates. The IRT Society already has blocked space for its guests for next year and 2017. If a particular date looks attractive, grab it, she says.
  2. If you can make this fall’s trip, don’t wait. These last three cabins will go fast.
DSC_0822-Bunk

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy. IRT photo by Owen Hardy

“Life’s too short to hem and haw,” Mrs. Hardy says.

“I’ll never forget the big smiles of our clients on the rear, open-air deck one sunny afternoon, descending the spectacular pass to Mlimba, Tanzania,” Mrs. Hardy says. “One of them said it was the ‘best railroading I’ve ever done in my life.’ ”

For details on the Cape-Dar dates, pricing and itinerary, click here. For more on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa train, click here. To book now, click here, call (800) 478-4881 or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Belmond Grand Hibernian ‘Arrives’ in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal

29 Apr

Artist’s rendering of the Belmond Grand Hibernian Lounge Car

New York, NY — The Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury train, made its formal debut in America April 28 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The train is under construction; service is planned to begin August, 2016.

Authentic Irish music, draughts of Guinness and Irish Bell floral corsages underscored Belmond’s hopes for its newest “dream train:” a genuine, sensual, over-the-top experience of the Emerald Isle’s true spirit, both north and south.

The IRT Society joined a group of about 150 Belmond officials and representatives from the travel trade and press at a gala celebration in the station’s ornate Campbell Apartments.

As with the Belmond’s other luxury trains, such as the Royal Scotsman and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Grand Hibernian will offer “land cruises,” with no need for guests to pack or unpack.

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland

The tours will include all locally sourced, exquisite meals as well as “shore excursions” to castles, manor houses, distilleries as well as visits to exclusive venues normally not open to the public. It will also include all drinks throughout the program – including exclusive distillery tastings.

The six-night itinerary, the train’s longest, looks like a winner, if advance interest by guests of The Society of International Railway Travelers is any measure.

IRT chartered the Grand Hibernian’s Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2016 “Grand Tour of Ireland” just last week, and already only three of the train’s 20 cabins remain unsold.

The six-night tour combines two shorter tours: a four-night tour of the Republic of (south) Ireland and a two-night tour of Northern Ireland.

“Ireland is the epitome of a comfortable, beautiful vacation destination,” said Gary Franklin, Belmond’s managing director, Trains & Cruises. “And Ireland has the element of romance.”

Franklin, a native New Zealander, fell in love with Ireland decades ago as a young man, he told his guests.

Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Nortthern Ireland

In 1991, when he journeyed to Ireland to watch the rugby world cup, his team lost, but Ireland won his heart. The germ of an idea was born: the Grand Hibernian.

Last night’s events were mostly celebratory, as Belmond’s plans for the Grand Hibernian have been known for months. (Click here to see particulars.)

But following the reception, Yann Guézennec, Worldwide Sales & Marketing Director, Belmond Trains & Cruises, did divulge one important detail to IRT over dinner at his company’s famous “21 Club.”

The Grand Hibernian’s dress code will be “casual luxury” — neckties for men will be optional. Based on IRT’s over 30 years experience in the luxury train market, this news will be greeted with cheers by many (and perhaps shrugs by a few, this writer included).

“But the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will maintain its dress code,” he quickly assured us. “That will not change.”

Download the Belmond Grand Hibernian’s three itineraries below:

Six-night, seven- day “Grand Tour of Ireland”

Four-night, five-day “Legends and Loughs”

Two-night, three-day “Realm of Giants”

Update: Celebratory Breakfast in VSOE’s New Champagne Bar

9 Apr
Screenshot 2015-04-06 13.57.37

Pascal Deyrolle, General Manager, VSOE

Planning a gala celebration on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) with its new Champagne Breakfast?

Here’s additional info from last week’s report, provided by VSOE General Manager Pascal Deyrolle:

Reserve your spot with your cabin steward once on board. Those in cabin suites will get priority booking.

The only itinerary offering this at the moment is the southbound London-Paris-Venice journey. Dine more informally at the bar, with seating for 10. Or opt for a table.

VSOE Champagne Breakfast menu

VSOE Champagne Breakfast menu (click to enlarge)

The Champagne Breakfast is served in an intimate space in dining car Côte d’Azur, which the VSOE calls the “Champagne Bar.” There are 5 tables seating a maximum of four guests each.

“However, as most of these tables are used by couples celebrating, my expectation is to welcome 10 guests” at the 5 tables, Mr. Deyrolle says.

While the special breakfasts are served only on the southbound London-Paris-Venice route, the Champagne Bar is open on all routes except the annual Istanbul journeys.

The Champagne Bar serves only champagne; no other drinks. There are no changes in the VSOE’s glamorous bar car, which includes a baby grand piano.

Guests of The Society of International Railway Travelers® starting in 2015 receive additional perks through our membership in the Bellini Club®. The Club is an exclusive group of the top travel agencies with special ties to Belmond, operator of the VSOE as well as the Royal Scotsman, the Eastern & Oriental Express and other luxury trains.

The Society of IRT’s membership in Virtuoso®, the world’s largest luxury travel group, also translates into VIP treatment and valuable, exclusive benefits for our clients.

For the latest info on the VSOE, including 2016 dates and prices, please click here.

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