Tag Archives: all-inclusive train tours

Golden Eagle Danube Express Introduces Snazzy New Bar Car

19 Feb
Bartender in GE Danube Express bar car

Bartender hard at work in the Golden Eagle Danube Express’ new bar car. Golden Eagle photo

The Golden Eagle Danube Express now boasts a stylish, new bar car — making travel on the train even more enjoyable. It began service late last season.

Unlike the luxury train’s former lounge car, the new car has an actual bar area, says Golden Eagle’s Ian Lomas.

“There is a piano central to the car and various types of seating arrangements — tables and chairs for two and four, plus sofas and bar stools.”

The car seats 30, Mr. Lomas says.

“That ties in with the size of the overall group on board the Danube Express, so it’s not much problem for guests to get seating. And not everyone is in the bar car at the same time.”

Enjoying music in the bar car.

IRT Society guest Jack Swanberg enjoys music in the Danube Express’ previous lounge car on last year’s Venice-Budapest “Balkan Odyssey” tour. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

 

Operating from its home base in Budapest, the GE Danube Express is a “supremely comfortable train,” says IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy, “And the lounge car always has been a big reason for its congenial ambiance.”

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The new GE Danube Express lounge car features tables for two and four, as well as sofas and bar stools. Golden Eagle photo

“But more seating and an actual bar will make a good thing even better.”

Ms. Hardy has ridden the Danube Express twice: from Istanbul to Budapest, and from Warsaw to Budapest.

“But what I’d really like to do is the Budapest-Venice trip, the Balkan Odyssey,” she says. “The itinerary fascinates me.”

The tour offers “so much in a relatively short amount of time — on some days visiting two countries,” said  IRT’s Angela Walker, who made the trip with a Society of International Railway Travelers group last year.

And the history of the region is fascinating, she says. Example: guests see the place where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated — the event that ignited World War I.

Danube Express Bar Car Menu

Danube Express bar car menu. Most drinks are covered in the fare. Golden Eagle

The 12-day, 8-country Balkan Odyssey tour operates June 1-12 and July 4-15 this year. To download a complete itinerary in PDF format, please click here. To see the itinerary on the IRT society website, please click here.

Other Golden Eagle Danube Express tours include Central Europe & Transylvania and the Venice-Istanbul Balkan Explorer.

For more information, call our office at (800)478-4881, or (502) 897-1725. Email: tourdesk@irtssociety.com.

 

 

JR Kyushu’s Little ‘Sweet Train’ Big on Beauty, Fun, Good Taste

8 Jan
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The Sweet Train glides through Oita Prefecture. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

One of JR Kyushu’s newest railway confections is the Aru Ressha,  or Sweet Train. It’s one of a dozen special trains dreamed up by the creative minds of railway officials on Japan’s southernmost island.

While on my quest to experience JR Kyushu’s luxurious and wildly popular Seven Stars, I was hoping also to ride the Sweet Train — also a star in its own right. It’s a post-tour option on our very popular “Seven Stars Over Japan” luxury tour.

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IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Like its “big sister,” the Sweet Train sells out months in advance.

Several weeks before my departure on Japan Air Line’s Chicago-Tokyo flight, I received the email I’d been hoping for:

“Good news!” wrote Simon Metcalfe, director of international sales for JR Kyushu’s Seven Stars train. “There’s been a cancellation on the Sweet Train. You and I will be going from Sasebo to Nagasaki.”

Several weeks later, Simon and I were standing on the Sasebo Station platform. The Sweet Train had arrived, and the place was bustling.

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Service is friendly, and the design is sumptuous, on the Sweet Train. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“We recommend doing the Sweet Train before the Seven Stars,” Simon told me, as the Seven Stars’ level of service and amenities are superior.

But as a visiting foreigner (and American, where rail service is sparse), I found every aspect of the Sweet Train beguiling.

For what it is — a little more than two-hour ride with light lunch and four courses of desserts as beautiful as they are tasty — the Sweet Train is a must-do option if you get anywhere near Kyushu. The train’s design, food, service and scenery are superb.

And its history — which surprisingly involves the USA at the turn of the last century — is fascinating.

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The Sweet Train abounds with intricate, locally crafted woodwork. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Anyone who’s seen pictures of or been on the Seven Stars will immediately recognize the work of Sweet Train designer, Mr. Eiji Mitooka, who also designed the Seven Stars.

The Sweet Train reflects many Seven Stars elements: lighting and decor employing similar patterns (fabrics and wallpapers in rich hues, often with a nature theme); sumptuous woods and intricate details for those who take time to seek them out.
Rail enthusiasts, for example, must be sure to excuse themselves to wander back towards the lavatory. On the way, they’ll discover a cabinet with several scale-model steam engines and tenders.

And even the bathroom itself is richly decorated and not to be missed.

The self-propelled Sweet Train comprises just two cars. Car No. 1 has a more traditional, open seating plan. Car No. 2, where Simon and I sat, consists of private “booths,” accessible through sliding wooden doors.

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The Sweet Train serves a seasonal menu of delicacies from Kyushu. The center section of my bento box included vegetables in the shapes of autumn maple and gingko leaves. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Following a starter of orange juice and champagne, the fanciful parade of delicate food starts with a colorful box of meat, fish and vegetables, all sourced from Kyushu’s finest providers.

Then come three sweets courses, made from a variety of seasonal fruits, followed by a delicacy called mignardises (tea cakes).

The menu is the brainchild of Mr. Yoshihiro Narisawa, who has a famous restaurant named Narisawa in Tokyo.

The service on the Sweet Train, meanwhile, is top-notch: friendly, knowledgeable and indefatigable. The Sweet Train staff knows how to put on a show.

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A view out my window as the Sweet Train skirted Omura Bay. Note the delicately constructed wooden window shade. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Also — remember to drag your senses away from the plush interiors, scrumptious food and smiling wait staff — and be sure to admire the view: It’s as if it’s custom-designed for this train. The train skirts the broad, blue Omura Bay — gorgeous.

(Note: My Sasebo-Nagasaki trip was in November — autumn in Kyushu. The Sweet Train summer route is between Oita and Hida.)

And what’s the America / Sweet Train connection?

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A woman in traditional dress greets passengers in Nagasaki. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

In 1907, Kyushu Railways ordered a set of “luxury rail cars” from the Philadelphia manufacturer, J.G. Brill Co.  However, nationalization of the railway sidelined the cars.

Now enter Japanese model railway enthusiast Nobutaro Hara, who remembered the cars from his youth and made a model of the Brill train. Eventually the little train wound up in his model railroad museum in Yokohama.

Sweet Train designer Mr. Mitooka based his modern design on Mr. Hara’s model. And hence — this was probably the first time a full-sized train took inspiration from a model!

Want to ride the Sweet Train? We’ve reserved a few coveted places for participants to add the Sweet Train to our luxury Japan by Rail tour running Nov. 3-18 (which includes a four-day trip on the Seven Stars).

On last year’s tour, everybody booked on our journey could not resist the sweets — on the Sweet Train.  And we could only grab 12 spots on the little train for this year’s tour. (Yes, it’s that popular.)

For a beautiful, full-color, 24-page brochure, please email your name and address to tourdesk@irtsociety.com. Or call (502) 897-1725 or (800) 478-4881.

In Search of the Seven Stars, Society of IRT Travels to Japan

13 Nov
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The Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury train will be a major feature of IRT’s 2016 Japan tour. Photo courtesy of JR Kyushu

I leave today for Fukuoka, Japan to ride the world’s latest – and some would say most exclusive – luxury train.

Since its introduction in October, 2013, the 28-passenger Cruise Train Seven Stars in Kyushu has been wildly popular.

How popular?

Kyushu Railways regularly holds lotteries to see who gets to ride the Seven Stars, spending up to $1,700 a day.

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

I’ve tried my luck with the lottery, to no avail. That’s why I’m joining a group of European journalists next week for a special ride.

The Society of International Railway Travelers insists on personally experiencing trains before they are listed on our World’s Top 25 Trains list. And the Seven Stars will be a major element of our November, 2016 Japan tour. (Click here to get on the first notification list.)

What makes the Seven Stars so special? To judge from the photos and videos I’ve seen, the train’s design rivals anything riding the rails today. (See video below.)

Plus the itinerary luxuriously showcases the charms of Kyushu, renowned for its hot springs, impressive cuisine and natural beauty.

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Artwork courtesy of JR Kyushu

I’ll also be testing JR Kyushu’s wonderfully named Sweet Train on a two-hour ride between Sasebo and Nagasaki. Designed by the same person as the Seven Stars, Mr. Eiji Mitooka, the Sweet Train features “French-inspired confections that are served during the journey,” according to the Japan Times.

I can’t wait!

Finally, I’ll be flying Japan Air Lines’ Business Class Chicago-Tokyo-Fukuoka round trip. If it’s anything like my last JAL flight, my experience of Japan will begin the moment I enter the cabin.

I’ll be back in this space three weeks from today with my report. In the meantime, please click here to be updated on our 2016 “Japan and the Seven Stars” tour.

Working with our Virtuoso specialists, Windows to Japan, we’re crafting what we think is a magnificent itinerary.

It carefully combines trains, cultural experiences, overnights at ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), visits to gardens and shrines and stunning natural beauty. It takes place at a time when the fall leaves should be spectacular.

And the icing on the cake? Our Nov. 14-18, 2016 Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury rail tour. (Did I mention we’re the first U.S. company to charter the Seven Stars?)

First-come, first-served!  I hope you’ll join us.

Questions: please call 800-478-4881 or 502-897-1725. Or email: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

Owen C. Hardy is founder and CEO of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

Rovos Rail’s “Pride of Africa” — 30 Years of Luxury Adventure

16 Oct
IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy and Rovos Rail's Alicia Taljaard pose with the company's lavish

IRT Society President Eleanor Hardy and Rovos Rail’s Alicia Taljaard pose with the company’s lavish “Journeys” magazine. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Rovos Rail’s 15-day Cape Town – Dar es Salaam “luxury adventure” ranks among the top 5 rail trips for many IRT travelers.

But for Alicia Taljaard, Rovos’ Sales and Marketing executive, the best trip bar none is the African Collage – and starting in 2017, she tells us, the trip will be extended “from nine to ten days to enhance guests’ experience.”

“It’s our most scenic trip,” says the 11-year Rovos Rail veteran, who visited the IRT offices recently.

“It’s perfect for the safari enthusiast, and the scenery on that trip is unbeatable.

South Africa's Garden Route is unbeatable for its scenery, which ranges from towering mountains to dramatic seashores. IRT Photo by John Fiorilla

South Africa’s Garden Route is unbeatable for its scenery, which ranges from towering mountains to dramatic seashores. IRT Photo by John Fiorilla

“You have the mountain passes and the Garden Route, a very lush, beautiful area along the coastline of the eastern to western Cape.

“Then there’s the vineyards and the ocean…” Continue reading

Mountaineering in Luxury: Canadian Rockies by Train

10 Oct
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The author enjoying the fresh air on the Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf dome viewing platform. IRT photo courtesy of Rachel Hardy.

“Fifty Switzerlands in one” is how legendary British mountaineer Edward Whymper (conqueror of the Matterhorn) allegedly described the Canadian Rockies.

Whymper’s assessment is spot on – but Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer lavished me with added benefits: cozy nights at historic four-star hotels and gourmet meals and snacks.

Most important, though, were two days’ worth of panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies from the comfort of my  double-decked Gold Leaf dome car.

My itinerary was the Canadian Rockies Highlights, running between Calgary and Vancouver. It’s one of more than 65 Rocky Mountaineer packages.

I spent my first night at Calgary’s luxurious Fairmont Palliser Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1914 as a way-station for weary travelers on their way to the remote Rockies.

After exploring Calgary, we boarded our coach to Lake Louise.

Winding through the Coast Mountains. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Winding through the Coast Mountains. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

For some, bus tours conjure up visions of cramped, nausea-inducing drives that are light on photo opportunities and heavy on boredom. I’m thrilled to report this was NOT the case.

Never were we in the bus longer than 45 minutes at a stretch. And our entertaining guide made those stretches fly by.

The day’s highlights included a thrilling 12-minute helicopter ride over the edge of the Rockies, a ride on the Banff gondola, and stops at Lake Minnewanka and a platform overlooking the otherworldly rock spires called ‘hoodoos.’

The author, bundled in her winter coat and hat, at Lake Louise. IRT photo by Belinda

The author, bundled in her winter coat and hat, at Lake Louise. IRT photo courtesy Rachel Hardy.

The next night we spent at the stunningly aquamarine Lake Louise. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lake is picturesquely framed by the towering glaciers that feed it and give it its uncommon color.

Dozens of hiking trails crisscross the surrounding area, giving me an opportunity to stretch my legs.

One highlight of our afternoon coach tour was the Spiral Tunnels, a marvel of railway engineering. We also basked in the majesty of the natural rock bridge at Kicking Horse River before overnighting in Banff.

Delicious lunch in the Gold Leaf dining room. (Photo by Rachel Hardy)

Delicious lunch in the Gold Leaf dining room. (IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy)

The next morning, we began our two-day adventure aboard the Rocky Mountaineer with a champagne toast by the train’s warm and professional on-board staff.

Within the hour, they invited us down to the car’s dining area, where we enjoyed a hot gourmet breakfast prepared on board. Eggs benedict, mozerella omelettes with smoked bacon, and roasted almond granola parfaits were among the menu choices.

As we finished our meal, a lucky few spotted a large black bear amidst the morning fog.

Back up top in the full-length dome, we enjoyed unparalleled views. We saw plenty of wildlife, including bald eagles, big horned sheep and caribou.

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The outdoor viewing platform was the place to be. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

Our three dedicated hosts made sure we never went thirsty. The Rocky Mountaineer’s well-stocked bar includes top shelf liquors and spirits, local craft beers and regional wines (all included in the fare) as well as many nonalcoholic choices.

Our hosts entertained and educated us along our route. Highlights today included the Continental Divide, Kicking Horse Canyon, and Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven.

Rocky Mountaineer steward poses for a quick shot. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Rocky Mountaineer steward poses for a quick shot. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

And although it was quite chilly outside, the Gold Leaf dome’s open-air viewing platform offered us an unmissable opportunity for photography. And it was great knowing that hot toddies, tea, and hot chocolate were waiting for us when it was time to thaw out! Many hours of comfortable Rockies sightseeing later, we arrived at our overnight destination of Kamloops.

The culinary team aboard the Rocky Mountaineer stayed, for the most part, out of sight. But our on-board meals in the first-level dining area were so impressive that the executive chef and his dedicated staff were never far from our minds.

An emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and regional cuisine fit perfectly with our surroundings.

The three-course lunch menu was completely different each day. It included entrée favorites like wild salmon with shaved fennel and roasted potato salad and Alberta beef short-ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

And though the staff prefers to know about dietary restrictions ahead of time, they excel at “thinking on their feet.” They’ll bend over backwards to make your meal just as you like it.

Gluten free, vegetarian, and ‘light choice’ options came standard on the menu, but they’re eager to accommodate any preference or food allergy you have.

Shadows lengthen late in the day as a Rocky Mountaineer attendant looks from the viewing platform. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

Shadows lengthen late in the day as a Rocky Mountaineer attendant looks from the viewing platform. IRT photo by Rachel Hardy

The second day aboard the train was every bit as exciting as the first. Dramatic changes in scenery unfolded outside our windows, as the desert-like environment around Kamloops gave way to mountains, river canyons, and fir forests dotted with the beautiful gold of changing larch trees (fir trees that ‘think they’re deciduous’: they lose their needles annually after turning a stunning shade of yellow).

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There’s no better way to photograph the soaring Rockies than from the outdoor viewing platform. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy

The Coast and Cascade Mountains and the Thompson River afforded nonstop beauty, but the dizzying heights above Hell’s Gate — the narrowest portion of the Fraser River and an extreme obstacle to early river explorers and marine wildlife alike — was our favorite sight of the day.

Our bellies full of delicious food and our memory cards full of scenic images, we disembarked in Vancouver for one last hotel stay at the fabulous Fairmont Vancouver before returning home in the morning.

For more information or to book, contact The Society of International Railway Travelers. Email tourdesk@irtsociety.com or call (800)  478-4881; (502) 897-1725. The Society of International Railway Travelers®’ curated list of Rocky Mountaineer itineraries is here.

For Ms. Hardy’s “Rocky Mountaineer Travelers’ Tips,” please click here.

We welcome Rachel Hardy to Track 25.  Ms. Hardy, IRT’s sales & marketing associate & our newest employee, is a graduate of College of Charleston in political science, has traveled thousands of miles — from backpacking  with a Eurail pass across Europe to luxury hotels in Rome and India. Her favorite recent travels include an adventure cruise in the Peruvian Amazon, “ice-hiking” in Chilean Patagonia, and a Micato safari in Kenya. Her first train trip was the Empire Builder, and she first rode the Rocky Mountaineer and Canadian when she was 8. 

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.

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    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.

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  • 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.

Danube Express Strikes Gold with Upgrades, New Itineraries

16 May

 

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Hungarian military band serenades passengers as they board the Golden Eagle Danube Express May 2 in Budapest’s Nyugati Station. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The Golden Eagle Danube Express celebrated its new name — plus new itineraries stretching all across Europe and a host of luxury upgrades — May 2 at Budapest’s Nyugati Station.

No less than a member of British Royalty, Prince Michael of Kent, drove the steam engine for an inaugural run to the nearby Hungarian Railway Museum and Park. I was happy to join in the festivities and to review the train.

The former Danube Express’ golden moniker is more than a new name. The Budapest-based private train boasts a raft of luxury upgrades ranging from service and amenities to cuisine and off-train touring. “I have every confidence that this is an experience that will be shared in the years to come by many thousands of guests,” declared His Royal Highness to a crowd of dignitaries, press and travel executives in the Budapest station’s Royal Waiting Room.

A pianist entertains in the Golden Eagle Danube Express lounge car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

A pianist entertains in the Golden Eagle Danube Express lounge car. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

After speaking of his passion for railway travel, the bewhiskered prince climbed into the cab of the Hungarian Railways’ ‘Buffalo’ class 424 steam locomotive. A Hungarian military brass band serenaded the passengers as they boarded the waiting train.

The Prince then drove “his” train out of the station.

The following day, Prince and Princess Michael joined a small group of passengers for the train’s inaugural overnight run to Venice.  The journey included lunch on board, an excursion to Lake Balaton in Hungary, followed by dinner and drinks in the bar car, with a harpist entertaining.  It was a brief glimpse into the experience many passengers will have on the newly operated train in the future.

The special journey celebrated the Danube Express’ management takeover by UK-based Golden Eagle Luxury trains. The company is best known for its Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian journeys in Russia and Central Asia as well as its ground-breaking luxury rail tours to Iran, begun last year.

GE Danube Express Deluxe Cabin has two lower berths. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

GE Danube Express’ spacious Deluxe Cabin has two lower berths. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The Golden Eagle Danube Express comprises five sleeping cars, a lounge car and two dining cars.  Four sleeping cars contain Deluxe cabins with two lower berths. One sleeping car has Heritage class cabins with upper and lower bunk-style berths. The spacious Deluxe cabins have private shower, sink and toilet. The bathrooms even boast towel warmers.

Heritage class cabins are budget-oriented —about a third of the size of the Deluxe. Toilets and showers are shared and located at the end of the car.

Buffet breakfast in one of the two dining cars. Guests also can order hot items from an a la carte menu. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Buffet breakfast in one of the two dining cars. Guests also can order hot items from an a la carte menu. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

The upgraded train includes two 42-seat dining cars which serve delicious meals and wines. The lounge car accommodates 28. [Editor’s Note: A new lounge car was added to the Golden Eagle Danube Express in early 2016.  Click here to read our post about the new car.]  Drinks are served (and included in the fare) throughout the day while a pianist entertains.

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers a range of itineraries on its new train, covering a swath of Western and Eastern Europe.

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Evening place setting. IRT Photo by Angela Walker

Sample itineraries include the 12-day Balkan Odyssey (Budapest to Venice via Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria & Romania) and Balkan Explorer (Venice to Istanbul, traveling through nine countries in 12 days).

For more information on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, click here, or call (800) 478-4881 or (502) 897-1725. To book, click here.

Angela Walker is Vice President of Operations and Senior Luxury Travel Advisor. She has criss-crossed the world to review many of the World’s Top 25 Trains, in India, China, Scotland, Canada, Uzbekistan and Peru, to name a few countries, for The Society of International Railway Travelers, a Virtuoso travel agency.

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”

Royal Scotsman Scores with ‘Limited Edition’ Confections

7 Mar
IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman.

IRT guests Robert & Virginia Montgomery aboard the Royal Scotsman. Photo courtesy of the Montgomerys

One of the world’s most intimate luxury trains — the Royal Scotsman — threw open its doors this week for 2016 bookings, even as space this year is dwindling on many departures.

During the last several years, the train has inaugurated several “limited edition” tours, which have proven to be very successful, said Valerie J. Ottofaro.

Ms. Ottofaro is Director of Sales, Belmond Trains & River Cruises. (The train’s official name is Belmond Royal Scotsman, honoring the company’s new brand.)

“The Grand Tour of Great Britain will continue to run as an exclusive tour in 2016,” she said. The dates are July 8-15, 2016.

The popular, 7-night annual tour is for true devotees of history, food & spirits, culture, and life in England, Scotland and Wales.

The varied, exclusive activities include a castle tour with its owners, a ride on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway and dinner at a country estate.

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

Royal Scotsman breakfast tray. IRT Photo by Owen Hardy

“IRT guests who have done this trip have raved about it,” said Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President of The Society of International Railway Travelers®.

Other special trips are for devotees of whisky, golf and Scottish country life.

The “Classic Whisky Tours” — in partnership with the Scottish Malt Whisky Society — “have proved very successful over the past two years,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The five-day whisky tour includes visits and tastings at a number of distilleries as well as on-board tastings in the train’s lounge car. For 2016, one trip is planned: April 25–29.

Belmond plans one Classic Golf Tour for June 13-17, 2016.

“This is a four-night journey through the heart of the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Ottofaro said, “offering three rounds of golf at some of the country’s finest and most northerly of the UK’s championship golf courses.” One of the courses will be Gleneagles.

“The Heritage Homes and Gardens tour,” meanwhile, “has been received very well over the past two years,” she said. Next year the trip runs June 6-10.

“This is an exploration of Scotland’s most fascinating and scenic country homes and gardens,” said Ms. Ottofaro.

“It’s a special four-night tour hosted by an experienced gardener, a professional photographer and a freelance garden writer who provide guests with gardening tips and fascinating history along the way.”

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman's outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Taking the perfect photo on the Royal Scotsman’s outdoor rear platform. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Meanwhile, officials said space was almost gone for several 2015 specialty tours, including the annual Grand Tour.

Just one double and one single cabin remain for the 8-day Grand Tour of England, Scotland and Wales, a Belmond reservations specialist told IRT yesterday. This year’s dates are July 10-17.

This year’s April 27-May 1 “Classic Whisky Tour” has one twin and two single cabins left.

A second 2015 “Classic Whisky” departure, July 5-9, has just one twin cabin remaining.

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Drinking tea in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

More space is available for this year’s annual Heritage and Garden Tour, the spokesperson said: five twins and two singles. The dates are June 5-9.

Call (800) 478-4881 or email tourdesk@irtsociety.com, if you’d like to grab a spot. IRT will accept bookings on a first-come, first-served basis. A 15% deposit is required to secure your booking. If the trip is within 60 days of travel, full payment will be required.

(Book by March 31 for value-added special offers for certain departures. Restrictions apply.)

“Booking soon gives you a better chance of getting just what you want,” IRT’s Mrs. Hardy said.

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Lively conversation in the Royal Scotsman lounge. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

“Also, in general, the earlier you book, the closer you’ll be to the lounge and dining car. And that’s especially true for singles, since there are only four single cabins on each departure — with no single supplement.”

Another success story is the 2014 addition of the 3-night Edinburgh-London tour, Majestic England. An add-on return trip, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is an overnight London-Edinburgh journey whose emphasis is on-board food, spirits and ambience.

“We have seen encouraging sales for both journeys,” Ms. Ottofaro said.

The 3-night Edinburgh-London trip includes Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family; York, site of the National Railway Museum; Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of the Royal Family; and Cambridge.

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Toddy time in the lounge car. IRT photo by Eleanor Hardy

Thus, a traveler could combine this 3-night Edinburgh-London trip to the one-night London-Edinburgh return journey.

“And twice each season — in August and September — the London itinerary has been scheduled so it can be added to a 5-day Classic journey through the Scottish Highlands,” Ms. Hardy said.

For questions or to book, call (800) 478-4881 (U.S. and Canada) or (502) 897-1725 (elsewhere). Or email us: tourdesk@irtsociety.com.

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