New Luxury Trains, Itineraries Inspire at Virtuoso Travel Week

19 Aug
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An IRT member enjoys the open-air platform at the back of the current Belmond Andean Explorer train. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

 

Las Vegas, NV — Just back from Virtuoso Travel Week, and here’s the scoop:

  • It’s “one-week-and-counting” for the launch of Ireland’s Belmond Grand Hibernian;
  • May, 2017 sees the opening of Japan’s ultra-modern Train Suite Shiki-Shima;
  • Also in May: Peru’s enticing Belmond Andean Explorer luxury overnight service debuts;
  • The Golden Eagle Danube Express’ exciting new Venice-Sicily tour runs next September.

IRT’s Rachel Hardy and I learned much during our whirlwind meetings with the world’s top luxury travel professionals: in formal sit-downs, hallway talks — even an interview with a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Our summary:

  • The Belmond Grand Hibernian debuts Aug. 30 with a sold-out train, chartered by yours truly: The Society of International Railway Travelers®! It’s sold out the rest of the year as well. Click here for 2017 dates.
  • Shiki Shima Accommodation

    Train Suite Shiki-Shima bedroom. Photo courtesy of JR East.

    Beginning service next May, the Train Suite Shiki-Shima departs Tokyo’s Ueno station to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Sporting a totally modern, almost space-age look, it’ll be a stark contrast to Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu, a veritable rolling display of the island’s natural beauty and traditional crafts.

  • Just one Sicily trip next year: Sept. 14-25. But it will be memorable. Running along the Adriatic coast, the Golden Eagle Danube Express will offer guests an awe-inspiring, panoramic view of Mt. Vesuvius. More info, click here.

Other news:

South Africa: The classy Blue Train makes luxurious overnight trips between Pretoria and the famed Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. There’s one more round trip this year; three next year. Click here.

 

beer train

Switzerland: Attention all beer-lovers: the Appenzell Railway offers the new Quöllfrisch-Express service. It runs every Sunday next month, Gossau-Wasserauen. The beer car serves specialties from the Quöllfrisch brewery. The first glass is on the house.

Also: the world’s longest rail tunnel, the Gotthard, is scheduled to open this December. Plus a new end-point to end-point luggage service makes it easier than ever to ride Switzerland’s rails. Click here.

Finally: We think Ecuador’s Tren Crucero looks fabulous, and our clients have raved about it. We at IRT hope to ride it in November. The four-day trip — including a ride across the acclaimed “Devil’s Nose” — is part of our 11-day Ecuador package. Click here.

IRT Secures Space on Japan’s Hard-to-Get Kyushu Seven Stars

29 Jul

Japan Sampling-3 copy (2)Want to ride the world’s most exclusive train?

You’re in luck.

The Society of International Railway Travelers® has secured prime space on the Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu, a luxury train so exclusive the railroad holds lotteries to see who gets to ride.

Here’s what’s available:

October: 10 guests; November: 2 guests; December: 8 guests.

The Society’s 4-day, 3-night Seven Stars “land cruise” is part of a 9-day package tour of beautiful Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island.

The tour also features the diminutive Sweet Train, which serves a light lunch and a series of beautifully prepared – and scrumptious – sweets that show off Kyushu’s incredible cuisine and agricultural products.

Interested? Don’t wait. We expect these spaces to sell quickly. Call us at (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Or email us by clicking here.

To see the full itinerary, please click here.

To read my report on my Seven Stars ride last November, please click here. To read my comments on my Sweet Train experience, please click here.

Skip the Lottery: IRT Secures Cabins on Japan’s Seven Stars

18 Jun
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The Seven Stars’ Deluxe Suite A. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

Big news: now you can step to the front of the line to secure a spot on Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu.

Since it began service in 2013, the Seven Stars has been so wildly popular that it’s held lotteries to see who gets to ride.

But the Society of International Railway Travelers® recently secured a total of 10 cabins for departures this October and December.

Details remain to be finalized, but we’re opening the gates for people to get on our “first notification” list. To do so at no obligation to you, please email us or call: (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881.

• • •

When I test-rode Japan’s Seven Stars last November, little did I know that my reviews would create such demand.

The result? We created a one-off journey using both the Seven Stars train — newly named as one of our World’s Top 25 Trains® — and the adorable Sweet Train — both of which I highly recommended. The tour sold out in six weeks. Details of the journey are here.

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JR Kyushu’s beloved “Sweet Train” Photo courtesy JR Kyushu

As the first travel agency in the Western Hemisphere to charter the Seven Stars, we are honored to be chosen by our friends at JR Kyushu to book a limited amount of space.

Besides passage on the Seven Stars and Sweet Train, our package includes all transfers, hotels and sightseeing. You can take this as one couple — or take it as a group of friends.

We will have an English-speaking guide with you all days except when you are on the  Seven Stars and Sweet Train. On those days, the English-speaking staff on board the trains will take excellent care of you.

We are working out all details and pricing now. But please get back to us as soon as possible to get on our “first notice” list for these departures. We will send you the complete itinerary and pricing when they become available.

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Dinner in the Seven Stars’ elegant diner. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Note that if you want the longer Japan journey that we offer on our sold-out trip, we can certainly organize that for you, too.

You won’t have to win the lottery to ride the Seven Stars. If you call us and book, you already have!

• • •

Again, to be put on our “first notification” list to receive details about our Seven Stars / Sweet Train itinerary, please email us or call: (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881. There is no obligation to you.

 

Belmond’s New Deluxe Sleeper Train To Be S. America’s First

7 Jun
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Belmond Andean Explorer lounge car

South America’s first luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, will dazzle the travel world beginning next May, the company says.

Running along one of the world’s highest rail routes, traversing the Peruvian Andes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, the new luxury train will explore natural wonders and ancient kingdoms on one- and two-night journeys.

Want your name in the hat for a chance to experience the Belmond Andean Explorer next year?

Email The Society of International Railway Travelers®, and we’ll put you on our “first notification” list, at no obligation to you. Or call us at (800) 478-4881, (502) 897-1725.

Give us the names (as they appear on their passports) of those traveling, your postal address and a phone number where you best can be reached.

You’ll be  among the first to get details as they emerge.

• • •

“This truly is some of the most breathtaking and inspiring scenery in the world — traveling across the Peruvian Altiplano with the Andes in the background. It is astonishing,” says IRT’s President, Eleanor Flagler Hardy.

“Our guests already enjoy PeruRail’s Andean Explorer day train.  It is one of our World’s Top 25 Trains® – and has been for years. The 10-hour trip between Cusco and Puno was such a blast.

“Enjoying the journey all the way from Arequipa to Puno and on to Cusco is an amazing proposed routing.

“And combining with the Belmond Hiram Bingham to see Machu Picchu will be a fascinating itinerary. Bravo to Belmond for planning this!”

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Artist rendering of bedroom in Belmond Andean Explorer.

Guests will have the opportunity to explore the vast Colca Canyon, then continue towards the city center of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

When IRT last traveled here, our guests loved visiting the remote Colca Canyon on our itinerary, soaking in the hot springs and venturing to see the magnificent condors.

The reverse itinerary, from Arequipa to Cusco, also will be possible, Belmond says.

Up to 68 guests will reside in en-suite cabins, according to an article in the Telegraph, with two double cabins; 20 twin cabins; and 12 bunk-bed cabins.

Cabins
Cabins will be available in suite/double, twin and bunk bed configurations. Each will have its own en-suite toilet and shower.

Lounge Car
Belmond says the lounge car will include a baby grand piano, comfortable seating and picture windows through which guests can gaze at the majestic vistas drifting past. The lounge also will include a full bar.

Two Dining Cars
The fare in the restaurant cars will be fresh, colorful and seasonal, Belmond says. Dishes will incorporate locally sourced ingredients from the Peruvian Andes. The menus will be designed by chefs from the Belmond Hotel Monasterio in Cusco.

Observation Car
The rear car, meanwhile, will be the place to unwind, meet new friends and enjoy the views while sipping Pisco Sours from the bar. The car will include an open-air deck — one of the IRT Society’s favorite extras —  where travelers can breathe in the bracing Andean air.

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An IRT member enjoys the open-air platform at the back of the current Andean Explorer train. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Itineraries

Peruvian Highlands: Cusco-Lake Titicaca-Arequipa City (2 nights, 3 days)
The longest trip departs from Cusco, capital of the ancient Inca Empire, across the Altiplano towards Puno and the reflective beauty of Lake Titicaca. Guests will visit Sumbay Caves, where the Peruvian highlands’ first humans created their rock art, before reaching the volcanic ‘White City’ of Arequipa.

Andean Plains and Islands of Discovery: Arequipa City-Lake Titicaca-Cusco (2 nights, 2 days)
This trip departs as the sun sets on the baroque architecture of Arequipa. The train travels overnight towards Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. It continues through deep valleys and over high mountains, where South American camelids graze on the wide-open plains and through the ‘big sky’ country of the Peruvian Altiplano.

Spirit of the Water: Cusco-Puno (1 night, 1 day)
Belmond describes this journey as “an overnight escape aboard the stylish carriages of Belmond Andean Explorer,” departing from Cusco, crossing the giant peaks and wide-open spaces of the highest plains of the Andes and ending at Lake Titicaca, birthplace of the Incas.

Andean Explorer

View from the current Andean Explorer train, en route to Puno from Cusco. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Spirit of the Andes: Puno-Cusco (1 night, 1 day)
Guests on this trip travel along one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world, Belmond says, across the highest plains of the Andes from Puno to Cusco.

The Telegraph said “trips will cost from $462 (£320) per person for the one-night Spirit of the Andes journey, inclusive of all meals, an open bar and scheduled excursions,” although IRT could not immediately confirm this with Belmond.

The train’s cars began their “luxury life” in Australia. Operating over Queensland Rail tracks, the Great South Pacific Express began running in 1996 before ceasing operations in 2003, according to a story dated Feb. 25 of this year in the Queensland Times. The equipment was shipped to Peru in May for refurbishment.

IRT On Luxury Safari

3 Jun A mother and her cubs watch us with casual curiosity in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

If you’re planning an adventure on Africa’s Rovos Rail or the Blue Train – two of our World’s Top 25 Trains® – don’t make the trek without adding a safari extension for some up-close animal encounters.

That’s our conclusion after our recent study tour to East Africa with one of the world’s top safari partners — Micato.

Read on for highlights!

          An elephant family on its daily march to the swamps in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.                     IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Scene 1:
Trundling along in Kenya’s dramatic Laikipia Conservancy, our guide stops suddenly to admire a giant male elephant with enormous tusks playing in the river below, splashing and spouting.

         A mother and her cubs watch us with casual curiosity in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.              IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

The elephant swims across the river, lumbering through a pod of dangerous hippos. He trumpets angrily, seeming to scream, “Let me pass!” The hippos scatter.

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Wildebeests leap across our path in the Serengeti. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

Scene 2:
Quietly approaching a female lion in our Land Rover, we admire her from about 20 feet away. She looks at us placidly, and then, deciding us worthy, she pads into the woods and returns — with her two-month-old cubs.

Scene 3:
Perched on a road in the middle of the Serengeti, we witness an incredible sight: the beginning of the great migration — 1-2 million wildebeests and about 600,000 zebra and other hooved animals —heading north to grassier, wetter Masaai Mara. The roaring wildebeests cross single-file in front of us.

Scene 4:
Lying in our luxurious tents, we listen, enchanted, to the sounds of nature all around us: weaver birds flitting and chirping, hyenas crunching the bones of their prey, the honk of a hippo in the river right outside our tent, the seemingly thousands of birds waking us in the morning.

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A rainbow comes out over Amboseli National Park during our nightly “sundowner,” where our guides serve us drinks and snacks atop a lookout point. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

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          A Maasai welcome for IRT’s Rachel Hardy as we step off our bush plan and into the                        Maasai Mara Reserve. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

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Giraffes in Serengeti National Park. IRT Photo by Eleanor Hardy.

For both of us, traveling together made everything extra special: seeing our lodgings for the first time, admiring the beauty of the zebras (Rachel’s favorite) and spying our first family of elephants (my favorites!).

We hadn’t gotten to spend so much time together in years!

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We loved what our guide called the “little five hundred.” A sampling of the feathered little five hundred: top left: guinea fowl, center left: mating crowned cranes, bottom left: weaver bird, center:                          malachite kingfisher, top right: saddle-billed stork, bottom right: ostrich.                                IRT Photos by Eleanor & Rachel Hardy.

 

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We loved visiting a Maasai village in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Here, the women prepare to greet us with a traditional song and dance. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.

Interested in joining one of our South or East African departures? Space fills up early and quickly for journeys on Rovos Rail & the Blue Train – and of course for all the prime safari camps. Call us: (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. Email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com Or vist our web site: http://www.irtsociety.com

Eleanor Hardy, IRT President & co-owner, and Rachel Hardy, IRT’s newest travel associate, were honored to be invited to join Micato’s study safari in Kenya & Tanzania. Many warm thanks to Micato owners Jane & Felix Pinto and the entire Micato team!

 

Yerevan-Baku, or Iran, via Golden Eagle Luxury Train

27 May

 

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View from the Golden Eagle as it travels from Georgia to Azerbaijan. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

 

This just in: You still can experience the remarkable and culturally diverse countries of the Caucasus this year aboard the Golden Eagle private luxury train.

The dates are Oct. 14-22.

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 Metekhi Church sits high on a cliff in Tiblisi, Georgia  IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Joining part of our Caspian Odyssey tour, this 9-day journey through Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan is an ideal opportunity to explore this captivating region.

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            Baku Princess blows a kiss. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Those who have previously visited the sights of the Silk Road, but would still like to discover this fascinating region, will find the tour especially welcome.

We only have a few cabins remaining, so contact us promptly for further information. Call (800) 478-4881, (502) 897-1725; or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

IRAN

There also is still space available to explore the captivating sites of Persia aboard the Golden Eagle on the Heart of Persia tour. The dates are Nov. 24-Dec. 7.

Next year, the tour runs April 6-19 and Nov. 13-26.

 

Japan High Speed Study Tour

17 May

Kyushu_Shinkansenl_183027 copyHere’s a tour for those who seriously love trains and believe in their future — as I do.

It’s an intensive, 13-day look at everything on Japan’s rails, from ultra-high speedsters to trams. It runs Sept. 27-Oct. 9.

Fukushima high-speed train

High-speed train departing Fukushima. Photo by Rick Harnish

A quick perusal of the 18-page brochure (get a PDF copy by clicking here) sets my heart aflutter.

Consider:

  1. A trip on the world’s latest high-speed train— the Hokkaido shinkansen — through the Seikan Tunnel to Hakodate
  2. Express and local train rides through the countryside of Yamagata and Akita prefecture

    Hokkaido Tram

    Hakodate tram. Japan National Tourism Organization

  3. Hiroshima streetcar and interurban train rides
  4. Behind-the-scenes bullet-train tours: a factory, maintenance facility and control center
  5. Precision cleaning-crew “ballet,” as it turns around a just-arrived shinkansen in 7 minutes

The IRT Society operates the tour on behalf of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association — a great organization.

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Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu. JR Kyushu Photo

In the past, we’ve run similar MWHSR study tours to France, Spain, France and Spain, Germany and China.

We purposely keep the numbers small, and we have many repeat travelers.

So shake a leg if you’re interested. Call (800) 478-4881, (502) 897-1725; email me at ohardy@irtsociety.com.

P.S.: Our opening photo is a JR Kyushu bullet train – NOT on the tour, but available as an add-on before or after the main tour.

Also available to those interested: VERY hard-to-get space on the world’s latest luxury rail sensation: the Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu. Note: this offer only available to participants on the Japan High Speed Rail tour.

 

 

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