Travelling by train can be a relaxing wonderful experience as you watch the changing countryside roll by, but how about moving upmarket and literally cruise your way across picturesque countries, wining and dining in a luxury train?
We have entered a new era of luxury travel and railways should adapt their offers and serve this new wave of luxury travellers.
Emergent middle classes seek the material aspect of luxury travel, more mature markets are craving a new, evolved kind of luxury. An Amadeus report finds out why offering luxury customers a relevant, personal and exclusive experience will become even more crucial than it is today. Rail luxury travel is often overlooked, but there are some fantastic trips on offer, we asked two experts to give us their view on Luxury Rail Travel.
But before starting your rail luxury journey, get your free copy of the latest Amadeus Report: Shaping the future of Luxury Travel
How do you start booking a luxury train experience, and where would you go?
Firstly, we asked Mark Smith “The Man in Seat 61” and he compares luxury rail to a cruise.
“Luxury rail travel is the overland equivalent of a cruise. All the ingredients of a cruise are there - comfortable accommodation, lounges, great food in an elegant restaurant, a leisurely relaxed pace, with things to see on the way. And like many cruises, it's usually an upmarket option, so you'll find much older more well-heeled travellers on board, rather than youngsters or families. One key difference - deluxe train trips are often one-way, so can be included as part of a wider itinerary. For example, you might be touring Southeast Asia and can use Belmond's Eastern & Oriental Express as a luxury way to travel from Singapore to Bangkok.”
Mark explains that most travel agents aren't always the best placed to find out about regular train travel, but most of them will be up to speed on the tourist-orientated deluxe trains and can advise you. Some agencies such as Railbookers.com specialising in train trips will list most of the popular deluxe cruise trains.
Romance on the Orient Express: a one-way deluxe journeyIf Mark could choose his favourite journey then it would be the VSOE, without a doubt. The Venice Simplon Orient Express (VSOE) remains the great grand-daddy of cruise trains, linking London, Paris and Venice every week March-November since 1982, using beautifully restored 1920s and 1930s Pullman cars and sleepers. Also run by Belmond, the Eastern & Oriental Express between Singapore and Bangkok is also a popular choice, as is the Rocky Mountaineer between Banff and Vancouver through the wonderful Canadian Rockies.
Mark has some great anecdotes about train travel and this one is a special one as he reminisces “Not only are the vintage carriages the most beautiful on the rails, the food and service superb and the scenery wonderful, my girlfriend of 6 months and I accidentally got engaged in the corridor of sleeping-car 3125 somewhere in the Brenner Pass. Here I am 13 years later with a wife, two small kids, two cats and one large mortgage… “. So beware, it could turn out a more expensive trip than first thought!
Cruising on a mobile hotel
Pablo Bernhard CEO of TT Operadora Turística Ltda, São Paulo, Brazil, our other rail expert also compares luxury rail to a cruise.
“Exactly like a cruise, either direct from the operator's website or through an agency, it's like staying in a luxury hotel, but where the scenery comes to you. And although you travel independently, you meet other travellers on board and like cruises, deluxe trains have a great social side!”
Pablo explains that most people that already have a vast travel background and are looking for new experiences, tend to seek out rail journeys because they offer a unique way of travel. There are also some destinations, which are only reachable by train or by car. Since the first one offers more comfort and the complete deal of accommodation, guided excursions and meals, mature travellers are inclined to choose this option. People, who treasure meeting other travel companions, also enjoy rail travel journeys to make new acquaintances or even friends later on.
From Russia with love
The best way to look up luxury rail journeys is like any other trip, searching the internet to find any information regarding the trains, journeys, or even the tour operators and travel agencies that offer these services. Pablo was able to share with us his customer’s most preferred destinations and routes, these are;
- The Grand Trans-Siberian Express (journeys in Russia, Mongolia and China) from Moscow to Beijing.
- El Transcantábrico (journeys in Spain) from Santiago de Compostela to León and
from Santiago de Compostela to San Sebastián
- Rocky Mountaineer (journeys in Canada) every request is a different journey
- Hiram Bingham (journey in Peru) from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.
Pablo finds it difficult to pick out his favourite journey but has travelled on board the Grand Trans-Siberian Express along one of the most legendary railways of the world, from Moscow to Beijing. It was a very rich experience in terms of culture, history and gastronomy. Recently Pablo discovered the Canadian Rockies onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, which was quite an enjoyable and different concept of travel.
Guarantee your booking in advance
The booking and purchasing a luxury rail journey is different than booking a cruise, hotel or any other service because the policies are stricter. Since the journeys are very exclusive and have limited spaces, some companies apply cancellation fees from the moment you book the trip until the departure date. For this reason, clients have to pay a certain amount before booking, which is usually non-refundable, just to guarantee the availability.
Customer satisfaction is king!
If you were to compare luxury rail travel to other holidays there are some great standout features such as the impeccable service, the hospitality and gastronomy. As we learnt from a previous blog post, when it comes to customer satisfaction the rail industry is starting to think about rail purchasing experiences and not train tickets.
Pablo concludes that people sometimes think of rail travel as a nostalgic way to travel and has to agree because it’s very special when you can sit and watch the ever-changing landscape from your window and not only use the train as a means of transportation, but also as accommodation. He believes that travelling on board a train helps you enjoy and appreciate the complete journey, gaining much more from your, so next time you are looking for an extra special occasion, think luxury rail travel!