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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Adds 3 New Grand Suites for 2020

28 Jun
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New Vienna Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Three new Grand Suites will join the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for the 2020 season, Belmond, the train operator, has just announced. This brings the total number of Grand Suites up to six.

The new Grand Suites — named Vienna, Prague, & Budapest, after three iconic European capitals to which the VSOE travels every year — will reflect each city’s unique history and architectural style, while embracing the train’s Old World charm and meticulous attention to detail. They join the three existing Grand Suites, named Venice, Paris, & Istanbul.

I was the only advisor from the Western Hemisphere to inspect the first three Suites on their inaugural journey in April, 2018. Read my glowing reporting here and here — and see my video above for the grand reveal of Istanbul Grand Suite!

After seeing the Suites in person, I had a serious hunch that our travelers would love the opulent design and the amenities, and I was absolutely right.

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Venice Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

IRT travelers love the dedicated 24-hour cabin steward, the caviar and free-flowing champagne, the included private transfers to and from the train, and the option to dine privately in their cabin whenever they wish. And the private bathroom with underfloor heating, rain shower, sink, & toilet answered the prayers of those who didn’t want to travel on the VSOE previously because of the lack of en-suite facilities.

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Lead Steward Francesco in Istanbul Grand Suite. Only the most senior staff attend guests in Grand Suites. IRT Photo by Rachel M, Hardy

The suites also include a large double bed that can convert into twin beds, and a separate living area with couch, table, & chair.

With only a few on each departure, the Grand Suites sell out in the blink of an eye.

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Orante bathroom in Istanbul Grand Suite. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

The first set of Grand Suites won several design awards, including the AHEAD World’s Best Suite, Gold Key Awards – Best Specialist Design and the Historic Renovation category in the Contract Interior Awards. The suites were also nominated for the Inside Awards, Civic Culture & Transport and the Blueprint Awards.

We at IRT also won our very own Grand Suite distinction, as the #1 global seller of the suites in 2018 (click here to read about it). When you book your suite with IRT, you book with the world’s most experienced Grand Suite luxury rail specialists.

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Belmond staff present IRT with our very special award — a vintage VSOE sign with plaque in recognition of our Grand Suite sales.

Like their existing Grand Suite sisters, the new suites will  “evoke the individual city experience, whether it is walking along the Charles Bridge in Prague, or exploring the contrasting Gothic and Ottoman architecture of Budapest. They will pay tribute to the romance and glamour of Europe, and the golden era of rail travel,” says Gary Franklin, VP, Trains & Cruises, Belmond.

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Prague Grand Suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Baroque and Gothic architecture, along with theatrical flourishes in rich golds and maroons, will be represented in the Prague Grand Suite. The balance of ancient and modern will be captured through layers of hand-embroidered cushions and Cubist-inspired mosaics. Hints of red garnet will appear in the marquetry.

The Grand Palaces and imperial nature of the Austrian capital will be reflected with an ornate and classical design in the Vienna Grand Suite. Rich hues of gold and emerald green will reflect the romance of the city. An ornate curved headboard with feminine silk fabric panels will contrast with touches of dark wood.

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Budapest Grand Suite.

The Budapest Grand Suite will capture the essence of both sides of the Danube river, taking equal inspiration from Gothic and Ottoman architecture. The suite will be adorned with intricate marquetry and sumptuous silk embroidery.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express travels throughout Europe from March to November and travels to Istanbul from Paris, and back again, once annually in late August.

 

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Paolo, one of the tireless stewards on the VSOE, welcomes guests aboard at Venice Santa Lucia Station. IRT Photo by Rachel M. Hardy

A one-night journey in a Grand Suite from Venice to London or vice versa starts at £6,200 per person.

To book your Grand Suite, call us at (800) 478-4881 (+1-502-897-1725 if outside the US/Canada), or e-mail us at tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

 

 

Rachel M. Hardy is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, and Virtuoso luxury travel advisor for The Society of International Railway Travelers®. She specializes in luxury rail and adventure in Europe, South America, Africa (rail & safaris) and Canada.  She was the first advisor from the Americas invited to see the new Grand Suites on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Our agency is a proud member of Virtuoso and the exclusive Belmond Bellini Club.

Pounce Like a Leopard for Luxury Rail Africa 2016, 2017

15 Apr
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©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

 

Dreaming of an African luxury train vacation?

Better shake a leg. Here’s what’s still available this year and next on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, one of our favorite trains anywhere:

2016

African Collage (9 days)

  • May 19-27, Pretoria to Cape Town – 4 Deluxe Suites
  •  Nov. 14-22, Cape Town to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites

Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam (15 days)

  • July 2-15 – 2 Deluxe Suites
  • Sept. 24-Oct. 8 – 1 Deluxe Suite

Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town (15 days)

  • July 19-Aug. 2 – 1 Deluxe Suite
Rovos_Rail_Obs_Deck

©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

2017

Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam (15 days)

  • July 1-15 – 1 Deluxe Suite
  • Sept. 30-Oct. 15 – 1 Deluxe Suite, 2 Pullmans

Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town (15 days)

  • July 18-Aug. 1 – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • Oct. 17-31 – 2 Pullmans

Namibia (9 days)

  • April 16-24, Swakopmund to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • April 27-May 5, Pretoria to Swakopmund – 2 Deluxe Suites
  • May 7-15, Swakopmund to Pretoria – 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans

African Collage (9 days)

  • May 18-26, Pretoria to Cape Town, 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
  • Nov. 13-21, Cape Town to Pretoria, 2 Deluxe Suites, 2 Pullmans
Blue_Train

©The Society of International Railway Travelers® Poster design by Stephen Sebree, Moonlight Graphic Works

As long as you’re in Africa, don’t miss an overnight on the Blue Train. Totally different from Rovos Rail, but also a luxurious dream, it runs between Cape Town and Pretoria.

To get a great DVD about Rovos Rail (free within the U.S. and Canada), or for more info, send us an email.

Or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725.  You can also fill out a booking form on our website.

 

Aboard the Star Flyer, Authenticity Abounds

16 Jan
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All photos by Eleanor or Owen Hardy. © The Society of International Railway Travelers.®

The giant sailing ship rolled lazily in the Pacific Ocean as I climbed the ever-narrowing rope ladder to the first spar. Climbing higher, I carefully squeezed each foot into a rung. I dared not look down.

Finally, I arrived at a platform. I hoisted myself up.

“Ho, ho, ho,” a fat, red-suited man greeted me. “Welcome aboard!”

It was Santa Claus!

Over the Christmas holidays, my wife, 2 daughters and I spent a week cruising Costa Rica’s Pacific coast on the Star Flyer, a 360-foot, four-masted barkentine.

(Wait a minute! you say. What’s a train man doing on a ship? Just this: many of our rail travelers ask us for cruises, safaris, hotels, you name it. Now, through our Virtuoso membership, we can offer them, often with special perks. Star Clippers, in fact, is a Virtuoso partner.)

The Star Flyer is an authentic sailing ship whose foremast boasts square sails. With her identical sister ship, the Star Clipper, and their “big sister,” the 439-foot Royal Clipper, they compose the entire Star Clippers fleet. They’re certainly among the world’s most authentic sailing cruise ships.

DSC_0408-OwenSantaAuthenticity was important to me, because, a thousand years ago, I worked on such a ship. But even those who don’t know a beam from a barnacle will love the Star Flyer. What it sacrifices in glitz it more than makes up for with charm, friendliness and adventure.

The ship boasts a staff of 72, many of them seasoned Star Clippers veterans, who hail from Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Sweden, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. The ship can carry up to 170 passengers; our cruise was a comfortable 105.

The meals are ample and extraordinary, but don’t expect “specialty restaurants.” For that matter, don’t expect a casino, a workout room, or Broadway shows either. On the Star Flyer, the fun is more home-made.

DSCN0143-FamboAtDinnerThe dining room is open seating. The dress code is relaxed, although many of the passengers on our cruise, who hailed equally from N. American and Europe, spiffed up for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are buffets with everything anyone could want. Dinner offers a choice of three options, including a separate cheese course, dessert and an incredible, palate-cleansing sorbet, whose flavor changed nightly.

I give special kudos to the on-board bakery, which turned out some of the best breads, rolls and pastries I’ve had anywhere. And since we were traveling over Christmas, we also enjoyed a sumptuous array of cookies, petites fours, cakes and a genuine gingerbread house.

DSC_0530-HappyHelmsmanIf the Star Flyer were a train, we would have considered our category 2 cabin large. For a cruise ship, however, it was small – probably 125 square feet, with a single porthole.

But our double bed was comfortable, the shower gushed with ample amounts of hot water (the Star Flyer “manufactures” 80 tons of fresh water daily) and the two 110-volt outlets made converters unnecessary (although I was glad I brought my 15-foot extension cord).

The crew is friendly. They smile as they work – surely a good sign. Chances are, your captain will be one of the Müllers, Jürgen or Klaus, who are identical twins (how to tell them apart? Klaus plays the bagpipes).

Our adventure began minutes after boarding at Puerto Caldera. The captain invited us topside for the daily “sail-away,” the thrilling moment when sails unfurl, the anchor is hoisted and the crew scampers to its tasks. Over the loudspeaker, we heard phantom sailors singing a low, minor-key dirge (Vangelis’ music from the 1992 movie “Conquest of Paradise” about Christopher Columbus) Goosebumps ran down my spine.

DSC_0281-StarFlyerSideVierwWe headed out to open sea — with sails unfurled and auxiliary power humming. The wind was barely blowing.

Therein lies the only drawback to the Star Flyer’s authenticity: in order to use its sails, a sailing ship must have wind blowing in the right direction and at sufficient speed. That doesn’t offer much wiggle room for a cruise ship keeping to a strict itinerary, as off-board activities are offered daily.  (Captain Klaus advised me that I should choose a Caribbean itinerary for the best chance of experiencing true sail power.)

DSC_0225-BelayingPinsI soon dismissed my pouting, however, and enjoyed the ship’s flapping sails for what they were: objects of beauty, just like the teak decks, polished brass fittings, highly varnished woodwork and brilliant, red-and-white Maltese flag snapping at the stern.

We “sailed” all that first day. Several passengers spotted porpoises off the stern. At the forward end, others had stretched out on the rope mesh fitted over the bowsprit, allowing them to gaze straight down into the ocean. They watched some 100 porpoises playing among the bow waves – including a baby reluctant to follow its mother when it was time to go.

Other passengers relaxed in or near the ship’s two miniature swimming pools. Still others read books, iPads, etc. on the many deck chairs about. Some enjoyed drinks in the outdoor Tropical Bar amidships.

Other onboard activities included lectures by the captain and crew, dancing to music provided by the Hungarian pianist “Charly,” a talent show, “Pirate Night,” climbing the mast and, of course, Christmas Eve.

Maybe that was the truest test of the Star Flyer’s soul: how to celebrate this most personal of all holidays, with so many of us away from our dry-land homes.

DSC_0483-SunsetThe celebration started that afternoon, when I encountered Santa in the rigging. At dinner, Captain Klaus read a brief but heartfelt address – almost a prayer – before dinner, thanking God for the love that binds all the world’s peoples, whatever their race, creed or culture.

After dinner in the lounge, Santa gave out gifts, and we sang Christmas carols. And after that, we went up on deck.

The moon was nearly full, its light streaming along the water. Elsewhere, we gazed at the stars, as the deck gently rolled under our feet. A light breeze whistled through the rigging.

On the Star Flyer that night, with my wife and daughters at my side, I felt as close to heaven as I’m likely to get on this earth. You can’t ask for more authenticity than that.

(Next time: Tracking the wily sloth, as we discover wild Costa Rica on the Star Flyer.)

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