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Tips & Tricks

The world’s most luxurious train journeys

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– By John Malathronas, for CNN

Canada - Rocky with TrainThere once was a time when train travel was an adventure.

For many travelers, the constant change of scenery was preferable to the monotony of a lengthy boat passage.

After World War II, cheap flights replaced long-haul train journeys.

Many routes disappeared and the ones that remained were the domains of the hardy backpacker: uncomfortable, inconvenient and rough.

But in recent decades rail travel has come full circle and luxury trains have returned with a vengeance.

Never have there been so many contenders promising to pamper you through landscapes remote and exotic.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: London to Venice

No other train journey evokes romance and adventure quite like the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, setting of notorious Agatha Christie mystery “Murder on the Orient Express.”

The train still rolls by some of Europe’s most captivating scenery through cities that have become legends in themselves: London, Paris, Innsbruck, Verona and Venice.

Its Art Deco glamor has persevered through the decades while the train’s elegant suites recall an older, more stylish age.

Most guests board the train in London for the one-night journey to Venice. But passengers traveling from Italy might notice a set of unusual crates being delivered personally to the head chef on the Paris platform.

They are filled with freshly caught lobsters to be served during a delicious brunch before the train reaches the French port of Calais — only available on the westward route.

Price: From $3,342 per person

Golden Eagle: Moscow to Vladivostok

The Golden Eagle lets travelers experience Russia in style.

Hardcore travelers say you haven’t really experienced train travel until you’ve rode the Trans-Siberian Express, with its intimidating itinerary that spans a whopping eight time zones.

The Golden Eagle is a luxury version of the Trans-Siberian, featuring en-suite bathrooms, air-con in the summer, full heat in the winter, laundry services, TVs, a resident pianist and an English-speaking doctor.

The two-week passage feels more like a cruise than a train ride as it stops for daily excursions along the way.

It rides along Lake Baikal, hauled by a Soviet Era steam locomotive, and makes a detour to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital.

To help passengers acclimatize in extravagance, five-star accommodations in Moscow and Vladivostok are provided.

From US$15,895 per person (Silver Class)

Blue Train: Pretoria to Cape Town

The Blue Train’s 27-hour, 1,600 kilometer journey crosses South Africa diagonally, stopping at the diamond mines of Kimberley on the way south and at the eccentrically colonial outpost of Matjiesfontein on the way north.

Luxurious surroundings apart, the image that lingers afterward is of the friendly and helpful staff.

Many of the butlers have worked on the train for years and are on call 24/7 for a drink, a snack or even to iron clothes.

Some of the luxury double suites have full size bathtubs — there’s nothing quite like lying in a sea of bubbles, glass of champagne in hand as the savannah rolls by.

Past passengers include Nelson Mandela, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, Mia Farrow, Margaret Thatcher and Kylie Minogue.

Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2016, the Blue Train is now offering special journeys from Pretoria to Hoedspruit, in the Kruger Park area.

From $976 per person

The Ghan: Adelaide to Darwin

The Ghan is a three-night, 2,979-kilometer tour from Darwin to Adelaide that allows travelers to cross the Australian continent while peering into the endless uniformity of the red-earthed antipodean bush.

The Platinum service offers more cabin and ensuite space, chauffeured transfers, access to an exclusive dining carriage, breakfast in bed and five-course meals.

The menu highlights Australia’s exotic local fare, like saltwater barramundi fish and grilled kangaroo fillet.

The Ghan offers scheduled excursions in Katherine and Alice Springs, while special stops provide an opportunity to experience either an outback sunrise in Marla going north, or a nightcap under the Milky Way in Manguri going south.

From $2,637 per person

Rovos Rail: Southern and eastern Africa

Rovos Rail passengers get to take in Africa's spectacular scenary -- big beasts included.

Rovos Rail is a slower, chiller version of the Blue Train, featuring an extended network of far-flung destinations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania.

Luxurious and lavish cabin surroundings mean the Rovos ride is not an end in itself, but an essential part of a long journey with several overnights.

Because the train never travels more than 60 kilometers per hour (37 m.p.h.) passengers can open windows for fresh air or to photograph the landscapes.

In fact, the staff provide sets of goggles so that, should the urge arise to stick heads out of windows, dust in eyes won’t be a problem.

Popular journeys fill up quickly: the leisurely ramble from Pretoria to Dar es Salaam, the Namibia safari and golfing trips have sold out well into 2017.

The 4-day Pretoria to Victoria Falls journey in the Pullman suite costs $1,504 per person

The Rocky Mountaineer: Banff to Vancouver

The train's viewing carriages offer stunning views of the Canadian Rockies.

The Gold Leaf Service of the Rocky Mountaineer offers one of few five-star rail experiences in North America.

There are several routes into the Rockies, but it’s the classic Banff to Vancouver ride that still captures the imagination.

This was the last, arduous leg of the great rail expansion westwards that united Canada in the late 1880s.

Although most tourists prefer the summer season, September to mid-October is possibly the most romantic time to travel, when the leaves turn to a vibrant mix of reds, oranges and yellows and fresh snow accumulates on the mountaintops.

To ramp up the romance, couples traveling together can rotate their seats so they face each other during the journey.

From $1,309 per person

Belmond Royal Scotsman: Scottish Highlands.

A journey aboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman is a unique way to see the magnificent Scottish countryside in a Downton Abbey atmosphere.

Travelers can choose from several round trips from Edinburgh lasting between two and seven days, but the classic voyage is the four-night passage to the Scottish Highlands.

It includes visits to distilleries and sightseeing excursions to castles.

The UK’s only luxury sleeper train, it has a bar stocked with more than 50 kinds of whisky.

Fall is perhaps the best time of year to travel, when the purples of wild heather color the Scottish meadows.

From $3,917 per person (two nights)

The Canadian: Toronto to Vancouver

VIA Rail’s four-day The Canadian journey takes travelers through 4,466 kilometers of beautiful scenery, linking two of the country’s most exciting cities, Toronto and Vancouver.

For a year now, the rail company has been quietly adding deluxe sleepers and gourmet meals to its standard routes.

Its new Prestige class now offers seven swanky bedrooms, but these will increase to 13 in summer 2016.

Each comes with its own ensuite shower, a washroom and minibar with alcohol included in the ticket price.

At night, when the Canadian wilderness lies invisible, an in-carriage flat-screen TV will keep passengers entertained with preloaded content on a USB stick.

Worth noting: this is the only regular scheduled passenger train in North America to offer double beds instead of upper and lower bunks or just singles.

From $2,891 per person

Why small tour groups are better

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Why small tour groups are better

Large groups only benefit the tour operator or travel agent who make more money. Of course there are rare instances where traveling in a large group is necessary but more often a small group is a far better value for your dollar.

Group3The large group must travel in a large bus which limits the roads and areas the group can visit. Due to the group size larger hotels are required and their restaurants used for group meals. A lot of time is wasted waiting for group members to assemble for a days activity, loading the bus etc.

With a small group tour we often travel in a regular van, we can take back roads to out of the way places, eat at small local cafes, mingle with the people.

A smaller group can stay in quaint, family-run guest houses and local hotels. We can walk around town putting us in closer touch with the history and culture. Instead of being insulated on a bus you can experience and participate in the regions you are visiting.Smaller groups also have less impact on areas we visit Imagine in your own city if you traveled only by freeway and major highways how much of your beloved city would you miss?

For travel in Asia, South America or Africa there is no better way than with a small group and an experienced tour operator like Trip Connoisseurs.

Tips for Travel Internationally

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 Tips Before Traveling Internationally

If this is your first time traveling abroad, or maybe you just need a refresher here’s a list of 20 tips you should do or bring before your trip.

Security & Health

  1. Check-in with your doctor and insurance carrier.Double check and make sure that you have all of the proper vaccinations and that you have renewed all essential prescriptions. Also, ask you medical insurance provider if your policy applies overseas for emergencies. If it doesn’t, and you want to add extra coverage, consider supplemental insurance.
  1. Bring copies of your passport.If your passport gets stolen or lost you want to be sure that you can still get back into the country, or be able to prove your citizenship. 
  1. Leave a copy of your passport.For extra backup, leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can store in your email account as well. 
  1. Register with your embassy.If there’s a problem in the country, this will make it easier for your government to contact you and get you to safety.

 

Money

  1. Look up the monetary conversion before you go.Finding out that one Danish Krone is equal to just 19 cents … bad surprise. Make sure you do your math before you travel to get a sense of where the conversion rate is at.
  1. Make sure your credit card will work in the country you’re visiting.European banks have switched almost completely to the more secure chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer businesses abroad are accepting the outdated magnetic-strip cards. 
  1. Go to a bank or ATM in the country you’re visiting.The conversion centers in the airport or around the city tend to be huge rip-offs. You won’t get charged as many fees at the ATM or the bank, and the conversion will be exact. 
  1. Always have local cash.Not every place takes credit cards. Especially important places like trains or buses. 
  1. Call your bank or credit card provider.Sometimes banks think that fraud maybe occurring if transactions are suddenly happening in Bali when you’re from Jersey, and they will turn off your card as a security measure. 
  1. Check the country’s entrance/exit fees. Some countries require travelers to pay in order to enter or leave the country. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, and can range from $25 to $200.

 

Local Research

  1. Buy tickets now for places you know you want to visit or see.By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you. 
  1. Get guidebooks.Guidebooks usually include maps, key words or phrases, and give you enough detail on certain sites that you won’t need to purchase the pamphlet at the venue. And download apps before you travel. Avoid downloading charges from your wireless carrier and get your apps before you leave. 
  1. Research events going on while you’re there. This will help you make sure that you’re not missing be events going on in the city. Fun things like festivals, ceremonies and natural events. Also be sure to research as a few national dishes to try. You don’t want to leave the country without experiencing what its known for.

 

Electronics

  1. Bring a charger adapter.Countries have different size plugs and voltage. So if you want to use your iPod, make sure you can charge it. 
  1. Check the voltage of your electronics.From my own experience I know that nothing is worse than having an adapter and still not being able to use a blow-dryer or a straightener because the voltage isn’t high enough for that country. 
  1. Activate your phone’s global capabilities.There’s usually a charge we doing this, but it is much less than the roaming charges you’ll get if you don’t. 
  1. Download a Travel Planning app. The Tripcase, Tripit, TripAdvisor can help you organize your travel plans like a digital companion to help you plan track your itinerary, make sure your tickets and connections are all lined up.

 

Luggage & packing

  1. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag. Don’t be one of those travelers decked out in J’adore Paris apparel because the airline lost your luggage and you have nothing else to wear. 
  1. To check a bag or not to check bag. Each airline has its own set of guidelines as to how many bags can be checked or carried on for free. Make sure to look up what your airline’s rules are to avoid any incremental fees. 
  1. Bring snacks.Traveling abroad is fun, but eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a task. Bring small snacks that will tide you over until you find that perfect restaurant or food cart.

Kid Friendly Trip Recommendations

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Travel Tips & Tricks

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

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