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Your 2017 Luxury Rail Planning Guide: A Train for All Seasons!

23 Dec


To our friends worldwide: Greetings!

A luxury train tour makes a great gift. Below is a ‘curated list’ of client and staff favorites:

Eastern & Oriental Express: Bangkok-Singapore

Golden Eagle: Russian Winter Wonderland
Deccan Odyssey: Delhi-Mumbai

Blue Train: Cape Town-Pretoria-Kruger Nat’l Park 

Al-Andalus: Tour of Southern Spain
Golden Eagle: Heart of Persia

Golden Eagle: Trans-Siberian Express 

Belmond Andean Explorer: Peru by Luxury Rail 

Belmond Royal Scotsman: Grand Tour of England, Scotland & Wales

Belmond Grand Hibernian: Grand Tour of Ireland 

Golden Eagle Danube Express: Sicilian Odyssey
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE): Istanbul-Venice

Rovos Rail: Cape Town to Dar es Salaam
VSOE: Venice-Vienna-Paris-London

Kyushu Seven Stars: Deluxe Japan Rail Journey 

G. Eagle Danube Express: New Year’s in Vienna

For more information, or to book:


or call (800) 478-4881 (US & Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (everywhere else)


IRT On Luxury Safari

3 Jun

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.


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.


          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.


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!


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.



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: Or vist our web site:

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!


My Place in the Sun: French Polynesia with Paul Gauguin

6 Nov
Swimming peacefully with the lemon sharks in the Lagoonarium. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Swimming peacefully with the lemon sharks in the Lagoonarium. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Can you swim with sharks and still feel completely relaxed on the same vacation?

“No way!” I would have said before traveling to French Polynesia.

But having just returned from cruising aboard the Paul Gauguin, I can confidently say it’s not only possible, it can happen the same day.

My 7-night “Tahiti and the Society Islands” cruise departed from Papeete, Tahiti. It made stops at the surrounding islands of Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea amidst spectacular scenery.

The unbelievable blues of the ocean beckoned, but the m/s Paul Gauguin itself vied for my attention.

One of the m/s Paul Gauguin's many features: a rear watersports deck. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

One of the m/s Paul Gauguin’s many features: a retractable water sports marina. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The 9-deck ship carries only 332 guests. It features three restaurants, a retractable water sports marina, a small pool and four bars. And with a crew to guest ratio of just 1 to 1.5, all my worries easily floated away.

The crew, in fact, was a highlight of my cruise. Most come from the Philippines, and they were consummate professionals.

They quickly learned and remembered our names, drink orders and other preferences. Their service always came with a smile.

angela shawn

IRT’s Angela Walker and Shawn Bidwell. IRT photo

In addition to the pampering staff, the all-inclusive policy aboard ship made life worry-free. The most difficult decision each day for me and my partner, Shawn, was where to dine. Luckily, all the ship’s restaurants were good choices.

La Veranda offered indoor and alfresco seating, serving French-inspired dishes in an elegant dinner atmosphere. Le Grill was poolside, serving a more relaxed and intimate dinner with local specialties in an open-air setting.

L’Etoile was the elegant main dining room, open for dinner only, with a diverse menu offering a range of international cuisines. When dining in L’Etoile, Shawn and I chose from a range of starters, soups, salads, pastas, entrees and dessert. The poisson cru, a Polynesian specialty similar to seviche, was particularly tasty.

Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, served in La Veranda and Le Grill. The buffets were varied and choices were plentiful. Themes of the lunch buffets changed daily – Greek, Italian, French, Pacific and International.

Angela and Shawn sip drinks

Angela and Shawn sip drinks “island style” – from coconut shells. IRT photo

For those very picky eaters, there were “always available” menus, with familiar choices like a Rueben or pizza for lunch and steak or chicken breast for dinner. In addition, complimentary room service was available 24 hours a day.

In short, no one went hungry on this ship. Or thirsty for that matter.

Alcohol was included in the cruise price (save for select top shelf liquors and reserve wine list), so the bars were always lively. The daily itinerary included an alcoholic and nonalcoholic “cocktail of the day,” often featuring tropical juices, which was always worth a try.

All cabins on the Paul Gauguin have ocean-facing views. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

All cabins on the Paul Gauguin have ocean-facing views. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The ship’s cabins were just as inviting. They ranged from 200-square-foot staterooms (some with two portholes, some with picture window) to the 588-square-foot owner’s suite.

All cabins had an ocean view, and nearly 70% had balconies. All included a minibar stocked with soft drinks, beer and water and were replenished daily.

And the storage! I was shocked at the amount of cabinets, shelves, drawers and cubbyholes for all our things – even in the bathroom. We easily unpacked everything and tucked our suitcases under the bed for the duration of the cruise.

The atmosphere on board was informal. During the day, many of the excursions featured swimming, hiking or watersports, so casual, comfortable dress was standard.

After 6 p.m., the restaurant dress code was “country club casual” (skirt or slacks with a blouse or sweater for women; slacks and collared shirts for men).

The wait staff aboard the Paul Gauguin proved to be especially friendly and professional. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The wait staff aboard the Paul Gauguin proved to be especially friendly and professional. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Bartender Rey Amor practices his delicate art. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Bartender Rey Amor practices his delicate art. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The hot spot for before-dinner drinks was the pool deck, with entertainment by the house band Santa Rosa or the on-board Tahitian ambassadors, called Les Gauguines & Gauguins.

After dinner, guests retreated to the piano bar for music by Marius or blackjack with Sean (one of the most personable croupiers I’ve ever met) in the small on-board casino.

Others headed to La Palette, on the top deck, where drinks were served by another of my favorite staff, Rey, who was not only extremely personable but also entirely professional. And he made great drinks!

Live music, karaoke and DJ tunes alternated in La Palette, which opened to the back deck and offered indoor and outdoor seating. This was also the spot for the special Tahitian blessing ceremony, which took place our first night in Bora Bora.

Traditional Tahitian blessing ceremony. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Traditional Tahitian blessing ceremony. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Those celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries gathered as cruise director Michael Shapiro read a Tahitian poem and blessed their marriages, followed by a Polynesian tradition of wrapping the couple in a quilt to symbolize their union.

It was a beautiful — and popular — ceremony.

For more information on this or any of the Paul Gauguin cruises, or to book, please contact The Society of International Railway Travelers®: (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881; or email

Click here for Paul Gauguin, part 2: Off the ship fun and excitement.

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