Back when air travel was still uncommon even for the wealthy, travellers used to go around in style via trains and ships.
Luxury Travel At Its Finest
Back when air travel was still uncommon even for the wealthy, travellers used to go around in style via trains and ships. Now that the vast majority have mastered the art of flight, there comes a certain je ne sais quoi in rails and sea excursions. It could indeed be the definition of ‘leisurely pursuits’; to do away with time constraints and immerse in the means that ruled supreme during simpler times. Experience the world the old-fashioned way as we present to you the best and most luxurious trains and cruise experiences. All aboard!
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. – Oscar Wilde
The Shongololo Express (Southern Africa)
A great Safari experience doesn’t necessarily translate to roughing it in a tent. Journey through South Africa in style aboard the Shongololo Express and experience the region’s rich culture in all its glory. The luxury train’s 16 coaches were recently refurbished with splendid interiors and opulent furniture to ensure all its 72 guests’ comfort. Its spacious Gold and Emerald suites offer double beds or twin beds and feature a lounge area and en-suite bathrooms with showers, a luxurious necessity onboard a train.
Dinner at the dining car every evening is a social event to look forward to, combined with authentic African cuisine. An observation car allows guests to relax, read a book, or simply soak in the awe-inspiring vistas as the train rolls through the vast countryside. Tours span from 12 to 15 days, passing through Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the kingdom of Swaziland.
Beginning from Cape Town, the Shongololo Express will take you to different wildlife sanctuaries such as the Etosha National Park in Namibia, the Hluhluwe Wildlife reserve, and the Augrabies National Park; diamond mines in Kimberley and Kolmanskop, and other historical sights that you just can’t miss in South Africa. www.shongololo.com
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Europe)
Cellular phones and selfies seem out of place in this train’s old-world glamour, but we’re taking photos nonetheless. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express transports its guests decades back to the golden age of train travel while taking you to the romantic cities of Europe.
The original sleeping cars of the 20’s and 30’s are part of the train, along with three dining cars and a lavish bar with a baby grand piano. Polished wood, antique trinkets, and elegant curtains add a ritzy vibe to the carriages. There are single or twin cabins, or a luxury suite for guests to choose from.
The combination of design and innovation is impeccable: a washbasin comes out of a wood cabinet and plush sofas are transformed into berth beds. Three Grand Suites – Venice, Paris, and Istanbul – will make their debut in March next year with double beds, ensuite bathrooms, and a living area.
Dinner is a dress-up event, so ladies, don’t forget your dinner gowns and gentlemen your tuxedos. The champagne bar carries vintage champagnes served in Lalique glasses, while culinary master Executive Chef Christian Bodiquel conjures the most delectable European and international cuisine. www.belmond.com/trains
Presidential Train ( Portugal)
Journey on coaches where kings and queens of Portugal once travelled in. Before it halted operations in the 70’s, the Presidential Train was used to transport Portugal’s royal family for more than a century, as well as visiting heads of state including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Paul VI. The train rested at the National Railway Museum in Portugal until its stunning restoration in 2010.
Its original furniture were retained to preserve the history and charm of the royal train. It now traverses the lush forests and majestic views towards the Douro Valley, a protected wine region. The Presidential Train is also renowned for its nine-hour gastronomic expedition. World-famous and Michelin-starred chefs such as Vasco Coelho Santos, João Rodrigues, and Dieter Koschina take the helm in the kitchen for exceptional multi-course meals with wine pairings.
Other Michelin-starred chefs who lent their talent aboard are Vitor Matos, Miguel Rocha Vieira, and Pedro Lemos. While indulging in a world-class gourmet experience, a pianist serenades the guests with classical music as a troubadour roams the carriages for enjoyable strummed music. The Presidential Train’s trips take place only 25 times a year, thus it is strongly advised to reserve a seat in advance. www.thepresidentialtrain.com
Belmond Andean Explorer (Peru)
The Belmond Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper train, will literally take your breath away. It is one of the highest train routes in the world, climbing at 14,000 feet and starts from Cusco to the city of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In its three-day journey, the Andean Explorer stops by several utterly bewitching locations such as the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water in the world; the ancient Sumbay Caves; the Colca Canyon; and the Incan ruins in Raqch’i.
Bask in the delightful sceneries of the altiplano’s snow-capped mountains, herds of alpacas, llamas, and vicunas, and a scattering of remote villages inhabited by indigenous tribespeople. The Peruvian culture is showcased in the interiors of the train by vibrant colours and natural hues. The Lounge Car houses a baby grand piano for live music entertainment (and the sporadic sing-alongs), while the Observation Car is ideal to enjoy the mountain views with a glass of Pisco Sour, a South American classic.
Its deluxe double bed cabins have an intimate seating area and ensuite showers. Due to the high altitude the train travels in, all of its 25 cabins are furnished with oxygen tanks and an onboard nurse is present throughout the trip. This Peruvian journey through the Andes is set to be one exhilarating adventure. www.belmond.com/trains
The understated elegance of Silver Muse started churning the waters this year and is already hailed as one of the most luxurious cruises in the world. It provides a hotel-like experience in the sea through its all-suite offering and signature service. The most lavish suite aboard is the Owner’s Suite, a 129-square feet cabin that has a teak veranda, a dining and living area, a walk-in wardrobe, and marble bathroom with a separate shower.
With the guests’ wellness of paramount importance, Silver Muse is furnished with a one-of-a-kind concept spa, the Zagara. Their holistic approach to health and wellness allows guests to personalise their own spa experience. Guests can choose from different holistic therapies partnered with treatments such as a seaweed body wrap, a hot stone massage, the Amethyst Crystal Sound Bath Healing Treatment, BIOTEC facials, and the ELEMIS Thousand Flower Detox Wrap.
Chill in their Mood Room with customized lighting, music, and video while enjoying a massage. Silver Muse partnered with London’s House of Elemis to provide the highest level of pampering for everyone on deck. Its fitness centre carries Technogym equipment and has personal trainers on-hand. This is truly a floating wellness haven, and with a guest capacity of 596 and a crew of 411, you can ensure a more detailed and attentive service. www.silversea.com
Who says you can only stay above water when on a cruise? For those who are not big fans of scuba diving, the Crystal Esprit luxury yacht has a much better alternative: a submarine. The C-Explorer 3 is a $2.9-million submarine that can carry a pilot and two passengers down under and submerge approximately 1,000 feet into the ocean. It can stay underwater for 16 hours, but guests are only offered up to 30 minutes excursions to soak in the spectacular views of the Indian Ocean from a once-in-a-lifetime vantage point thanks to a 360˚ acrylic hull.
Temperature, pressure, and humidity are adjusted to appropriate levels, and the inside of the sub is comfortable enough that it will not feel cramped. Guests who want to try their hands on this exhilarating underwater adventure will attend a 15-minute safety briefing on board, then transfer to a Zodiac that will take them to the C-Explorer 3, several thousand feet away from the Esprit. Once submerged, guests can experience the Indian Ocean’s reefs and catch sight of different species of fish, sea turtles, and glide along white tip sharks.
Don’t worry, the sub’s Plexiglass is tough as nails, so it will not shatter if a shark headbutts the sub. Crystal Esprit is the first vessel in Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Yacht programme. It can carry 62 passengers and a crew of 91. www.crystalcruises.com
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. – Martin Buber
After a month-long break, Crystal Symphony has returned to the seas from its beauty sleep and upped the ante in the game of luxury cruises. Its mid-ship entertainment hub was redesigned to offer the best visual and amenities where guests can enjoy dancing and indulge in their favourite cocktails. The old production Welcome Aboard is out, in comes the new show Crystal in Motion starring the repertoire of the Crystal Ensemble.
It will showcase live performances of songs and dance numbers in different genres. The Crystal Ensemble will also serenade diners in The Starlite Club along with other forms of entertainment, from comedians, ballroom dance groups, and songs by the Crystal Show Band. Crystal Symphony is now home to spacious Penthouses and Penthouse Suites with their own butler service, such as the 12 new Seabreeze Penthouse with verandah and 28 new Seabreeze Penthouse Suites.
Because of these refurbishments, the ship’s capacity is reduced to an intimate 848 guests whereas the number of crew remains the same, giving way to a better crew-to-passenger ratio and bringing the emphasis on personalised service. Technological enhancements were also installed, which means faster Wi-Fi for everyone while out at sea! www.crystalcruises.com
Seven Sea Explorer
Many claim to be the world’s most luxurious cruise ship in the world, but none of them have walls adorned with US$7 million worth of art, a US$10,000 a night suite, or an incredible chandelier made of 6,000 pieces of crystal looming over a double staircase and an inlaid marble floor. Amidst the rolling waves of the sea, Seven Seas Explorer emerges as a grand dame among the world’s greatest luxury cruise ships.
The entire ship houses more than 2,500 works of art, including pieces by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. Its Regent Suite, which occupies a whopping 412 square metres, has two bedrooms and three marble bathrooms, a comfy US$150,000 bed, a custom Steinway piano, its own spa, and, for a truly extravagant stay, two Picasso lithographs. A personal butler and a private car with a driver is also available at every port.
You won’t find a regular room here as all of Seven Seas Explorer’s accommodations are all-balcony suites. The service is outstanding with 542 crew members attending to only 750 guests. Other jaw-dropping features include a US$200,000 chandelier made of hand-blown glass at the main dining area, glass ceilings, an impressive 3-ton prayer wheel, and, of course, exotic destinations and ports-of-call in different parts of the world. www.rssc.com
MS Europa II
There are 500 guests aboard the Europa II, but you won’t see large crowds in restaurants and lounges or lines for a particular amenity anywhere. Why? This luxury liner has the highest space-to-passenger ratio of any cruise ship. This award-winning all-suite ship lives up to the highest standards of service.
The best home in the ocean happens to be in the form of Europa II’s Owner Suite with a separate living and dining area, a walk-in wardrobe, a minibar, a steam sauna in the shower, and a whirlpool in the en-suite bathroom. To make your stay hassle-free, a personal butler is available to attend to your every need as well as a travel concierge for personal travel arrangements while on dock. Its bar, Collins, carries an impressive variety of 45 brands of gin from around the world.
The onboard entertainment also received a glow up including a 3D cinema; Sansibar, Germany’s famous beach bar; a theatre that hosts Vaudevilles, solo performances, acrobats and Club 2, a high-ceilinged club with nightly live performances. Olympic ski champion Maria Höfl-Riesch is on board to demonstrate her fitness programme and tailor it to the fitness goals of the guests in selected cruises. For golf enthusiasts, there are PGA golf professionals to assist you in improving your swing and golf simulators onboard with integrated video analysis to practice before the real tee off once docked. www.hl-cruises.com
Eye of the Wind
Built in 1911 as a schooner, the Eye of the Wind is one of the most resilient ships sailing until today: it is one of the last traditional vessels in the 21st century. This impressive two-masted ship counts 106 years of history on its deck and homeports in Germany. It has been a cargo vessel in Denmark, participated in a round-the-world voyage for scientific exploration, starred in films such as The Blue Lagoon and Nate & Hayes until its full restoration in 2000.
It now cruises along the Mediterranean Sea, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, the Baltic, and the North Sea with a maximum of 12 passengers. Its tan sails are striking from a distance, and inside is a maritime-themed interior made of teak, tropical wood, and brass. A traditional seafaring charm buzzes about on deck inspired by the ship’s classic facilities.
Eye of the Wind offers a real seafaring experience, perhaps one of the principal reasons why guests prefer to sail with her. The crew, or the sailors, practice the traditional trade on a daily basis. Passengers get to experience manning the helm and lookout; watchkeeping; and handling of lines, ropes, sails, and fenders. Having successfully circumnavigated twice, the Eye of the Wind is currently organising its third World Circumnavigation project. www.eyeofthewind.net
I wanted freedom, open air and adventure. I found it on the sea. — Alaine Gerbault
The resplendent condition of the Sea Cloud now shows no signs of its 86 years of existence. No one would’ve thought that this four-masted barque, built in 1931, has been to war, became a prominent venue of glamorous parties of American socialites, and was transformed into a presidential yacht of Dominican Republic in the ‘50s.
Now, the Sea Cloud is a vessel that exudes elegant charm where a maximum of 64 guests can enjoy the nostalgic vibe of a bygone era underneath 30 white sails. The accommodations and amenities match that of a 5-star cruise ship while the design takes inspiration from a phenomenal windjammer. The blue lagoon, the promenade deck, and its restaurants radiate an ambience of timelessness, perhaps because of the beautiful teak wood benches, the golden taps, the curated antiques, or simply the history that this ship has seen.
Its cabins are well-appointed and opulent. The Luxury Owner’s Cabin, once occupied by the original owner Marjorie Merriweather herself, has a spacious seating area, a Louis XIV-style bed, a marble fireplace, a walk-in closet, and a bathroom with its own tub. Bask in the sophistication and grandeur of this historical luxury vessel. www.seacloud.com
S.S. Joie De Vivre
Cruising along the River Seine aboard S.S. Joie de Vivre is a Parisian love affair. On this 128-passenger river cruise, every evening is magical with a romantic mood brought by handcrafted furniture, works of art, lovely antiques, and trinkets inspired by the roaring 20s. Marble-clad bathrooms, an Art Deco theme, plush sofas and beds, and beautiful pieces from Sotheby’s on display will take you back to the 19th century France.
Its ten staterooms have fantastic river views, luxurious made-to-order Savoir of England beddings, a flat screen TV with an infotainment centre, a built-in closet, and underfloor heating, while the Presidential Suite has a separate living room, bathroom, and a rain shower and tub. Wellness area Club L’Esprit houses the onboard spa that will keep you pampered with a number of treatments. There is also a heated pool, a resistance pool, a fitness centre, and space to do your yoga.
At night, savour delicious hors-d’oeuvres and signature cocktails at Claude’s while enjoying live music, watch a French film in its cosy and intimate cinema, or wine and dine at Le Restaurant Pigalle and Cave de Vins. For your art fix, visit the Salon de Beaux Arts lounge to marvel at the antiques and fine arts collections. www.uniworld.com
Golden Eagle Danube Express
Europe has an abundance of charm – there is always something new and delightful to behold, and one of the best ways to experience the region and its flavours is through the Danube Express’ railroad journeys. Explore the Balkans and other fascinating parts of Eastern Europe as you visit medieval towns steeped in history, decades-old churches, buildings that still bear the scars of world wars, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Be pleasantly surprised with an eclectic mash of old and new: stone manors and cobbled streets with pockets of trendy designer boutiques, hipster cafes, modern art galleries, and exceptional gastro experiences. Danube Express’ off-train adventures are meticulously taken care of by a tour manager, while every guests’ needs on the train are attended to efficiently by a friendly and attentive staff.
The Superior Deluxe Cabins, numbered only four per departure, have their own cabin attendant for a more relaxed ride. Additionally, a king size bed and en-suite bathrooms with cubicle showers make for a more commodious stay. The onboard restaurant and the Bar Lounge hosts language lessons and brings in experts to familiarise interested guests about the destinations’ history and culture. www.danube-express.com
For premium cruisers, the Genting Dream is the preferred way to sail in South East Asia, with port of call in Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Bali, and Surabaya, and exclusively homeports all year in Singapore. This 18-deck luxury ship accommodates 3,352 passengers and is decked with an impressive array of facilities and activities.
A gastronomic experience onboard awaits with more than 35 restaurants and bar concepts such as Bistro by Mark Best, Silk Road, Umi Uma while Johnnie Walker House is the place to be to try their famous whiskeys. Its Dream Suites and Garden Penthouse are well-appointed, while the dedicated Dream Palace is where one would find executive living, a private clubhouse with a European butler concierge service ready to simplify the onboard experience.
Fun activities are courtesy of a large water slide park, a gaming arcade, rope courses, rock climbing wall, and a mini-golf. The Genting Dream is also home to Zouk at Sea, an energetic club that has an indoor dance area and an outdoor party deck. It is also set to bring in some of the world’s best DJs and performers. Guests will even get to have “The Dream Experience,” a 45-minute theatrical representation of the first “China’s Got Talent” in the ship’s Zodiac Theatre. www.dreamcruiseline.com
© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.
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