"People remember wonderful travel service on trains, even if they've never had it, and that's what they expect," says Susan Fay, vice president at the Seminole Gulf Railroad in Fort Myers, Fla.
"It's there in everyone's background, all over the world," adds Janice Cann, vice president, sales and marketing, for Cantrav West in Vancouver, B.C. Cann is planning for three corporate groups who have each booked their second train-based meeting or incentive. "It makes everything slow down so that they can really enjoy the experience," she says.
Even planners who have never used the rails are getting interested. For example, Peter Shelley, executive vice president for Helms Briscoe, the Scottsdale, Ariz., conference resource organization, notes, "As a company, we haven't used trains as a meeting venue, but it's unique, and something we'd like to be educated on." For anyone else in Shelley's shoes, read on.
North America * American Orient Express Itineraries: Include Jazz & Blues (Chicago-New Orleans); Great Transcontinental Journey (Washington, D.C.-Los Angeles); Rockies & Yellowstone (Portland or Seattle- Denver); Great Trans-Canadian (Vancouver-Montreal); and others
Charters: By car or train (15 cars)
Maximum Passengers: 96
You Should Know: Rebuilt in 1989, this luxury train has blue-and-gold cars restored from the 1940s and 1950s. Each carriage has its own attendant. Train includes two dining carriages, an observation car, and two club cars. Sleeping cabins have toilets and sinks, with showers at the end of the car; presidential suites have showers. Regional cuisine by itinerary, prepared by two chefs. In 2000, train will offer a series of themed Millennium programs. A sampling: golf, antique, Civil War. (Note: This line is not affiliated with the European, Asian, or Australian Orient-Express trains.)
Contact: Randy Mohr, Downers Grove, Ill.; (630) 663-4550; fax: (630) 663-1595; rmohr@american orientexpress.com; Web: www.americanorientexpress.com
* Great Atlantic & Pacific Railway Company Itineraries: Overnight train service as part of five-day, nine-day, or custom touring packages. Round-trip from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies, with options for stays in Jasper (four-night package), plus Banff Springs and Lake Louise (eight-night package)
Charters: With 16-person minimum
Maximum Passengers: 300
You Should Know: Overnight accommodations aboard VIA Rail, Canada's prestigious Silver & Blue coaches, include turndown service, showers, tea, freshly prepared meals.
* McKinley Explorer Itineraries: Two-day trips between Anchorage and Fairbanks with overnight stop at Denali National Park
Charters: By car or train (13 cars)
Maximum Passengers: 858
You Should Know: Holland America Westours' McKinley Explorer rail cars are said to be the largest private fleet of full-domed cars in the world, and were built in the early 1950s. Guests retrace a turn-of-the-century mountain route, with on-board insights provided by an expert host.
Contact: Rail only: Rob Camandona, Gray Line of Alaska, Seattle; (800) 544-2206; fax: (206) 301-5282 rcamandona @halw. com Web: www. hollandamerica.com
Rail with cruise: Paul Shortall, (800) 445-3731; fax: (206) 281-0631 email@example.com
* Napa Valley Wine Train Itineraries: Year-round gourmet lunch, dinner, or brunch journeys make a three-hour round-trip from Napa to St. Helena, through Napa Valley wine country. Programs include vintner luncheons and dinners with paired wines and Murder on the Orient Express theme trips. Train station available for events.
Charters: By car, half, or full train
Maximum Passengers: 320
You Should Know: Menus feature California cuisine prepared under the direction of chef Patrick Finney. Train features two 1915 vintage Pullman lounge cars; a 1950s glass-topped dome car; and dining cars with crystal and linen service.
Contact: Erica Ercolano, Napa, Calif.; (800) 427-4124 or (707) 253-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www. winetrain.com
* RailCruise America Itineraries: Operating nationally, train has right-of-way on Amtrak's 23,000-mile network of rail lines; guests stay overnight in hotels.
Charters: Entire train
Maximum Passengers: 250
You Should Know: Includes an executive boardroom and business presentation and product display areas
* Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Itineraries: Two-day excursions on the Rocky Mountaineer with hotel overnight in Kamloops, B.C., retracing the western Canadian routes of the first transcontinental railway between Vancouver, B.C.; and Jasper or Banff and Calgary, Alberta. Also available are 25 package tours.
Charters: Entire train only in May and October; groups of 10 or more can reserve individual cars
Maximum Passengers: 400
You Should Know: Train features two classes: Signature Service with reclining seats, picture windows, open-air vestibules, and at-your-seat meal service; GoldLeaf Service in a Dome Coach with pre-boarding privileges, upper-level panoramic environment in the dining lounge, and rear observation platform. Breakfast and lunch are served daily by onboard attendant who also provides commentary. In-house Group Travel Department offers meetings and incentive support in arranging international speakers and facilitators, AV equipment, and all group travel arrangements. Two new GoldLeaf dome cars (70 seats) will be available in September, making a total of six first-class carriages.
Contact: Barbara Hill, Vancouver; (604) 606-7200; fax: (604) 606-7201; email@example.com; Web: www.rockymountaineer.com
* Seminole Gulf Railway Itineraries: Year-round lunch or dinner train travels through the lush vegetation of southwest Florida, round- trip from Fort Myers.
Charters: With 40-person minimum
Maximum Passengers: 200
You Should Know: Family-owned train features murder mysteries for dinner; four cars in tropical motif
Contact: Susan Fay, Fort Myers, Fla.; (941) 275-6060 Web: www.semgulf.com
* Spirit of Washington Itineraries: Dinner or brunch trip along Lake Washington from Renton, Wash. (a Seattle suburb), to Columbia Winery in Woodinville and return
Charters: By car or by entire train
Maximum Passengers: 370
You Should Know: Seven vintage cars include a restored observation car, platform car, and three dome cars. Dinner is served as the train departs, with dessert, coffee, and after-dinner drinks on the return trip. In between, there is a 45-minute wine-tasting stop and tour at the Columbia Winery.
Contact: Marni Ness, Renton, Wash.; (425) 277-8408; fax: (415) 277-8839; Web: www.seattle.sidewalk.com/spirit ofwashingtondinnertrain
Europe * British Pullman Itineraries: This luxury train--the English counterpart to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express--makes day trips throughout the U.K.
Maximum Passengers: 180
You Should Know: Heritage reigns supreme in British Pullman's 10 parlor cars and two baggage cars, originals from the 1920s and 1930s. Each car has a unique name, decor, and history.
Contact: Christopher Reynolds, Abercrombie & Kent; (800) 323-7308 or (407) 251-0783; fax: (630) 954-3324; firstname.lastname@example.org
* Majestic Imperator Itineraries: Vienna city tours, plus nearby destinations including Semmering Mountain and the Wachau valley; other cities include Munich, Prague, Budapest, and Venice. Week-long tours incorporate stays at hotels and castles.
Charters:With a 15-person minimum for single-carriage; 80 for full train
Maximum Passengers: 150
You Should Know: Replica of the Austrian Imperial train used by Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth. Decor includes Hapsburg dynasty pieces.
Contact: Michael S. Von Rosen, Imperial Journeys, Salt Lake City; (801) 944-4055; fax: (801) 944-4066; msvonrosen @majestic-imperator.com
Web: www. majestic-imperator.com
* Royal Scotsman Itineraries: Four- and five-night trips throughout Scotland, Wales, and England, plus one-day extensions in London. Train does not travel overnight, stopping instead at a private siding. Plush sleeping accommodations include baths.
Charters: By car or full-train
Maximum Passengers: 36
You Should Know: Carriages are restorations of Edwardian Pullman cars; observation car at the back.
Contact: Christopher Reynolds, Abercrombie & Kent, as above
* Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Itineraries: Six- to 10-day trips combine cities. For example, Splendors of Central Europe visits Venice, Prague, and London; Italian Serenade visits Rome, Venice, and London.
Charters: Groups of 100 or more can book the train to many destinations beside those on scheduled routes.
Maximum Passengers: 180
You Should Know: Evoking the heritage of the original Orient-Express, its 19th-century predecessor, VSOE was the first of the new Orient-Express trains in 1982. Today's VSOE Continental train has three restaurant cars and a piano-bar car. Sleeping cabins have wash basins. No showers; toilets are at one or both ends of the sleeping car. Train can haul a conference car with a boardroom table seating 22, plus state-of-the-art AV and translation capabilities.
Contact: Christopher Reynolds, Abercrombie & Kent; as above
Africa * Blue Train Itineraries: Original 25-hour route between Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa; new routes go from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, Botswana; Pretoria to the Valley of Olifants, skirting the border of Krueger National Park; and Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
Charters:Two trains launched in 1997 and 1998, one with classical/traditional decor (84 people) and the other with African-inspired design (76, used with the Observation or Conference Car)
You Should Know: Each guest enjoys the services of a professional butler. Each suite has bath or shower; beds fold down draped in eiderdown duvets. High tea is served in the Lounge Car.
Contact: Tim Farrell & Associates, Westport, Conn.; (203) 845- 0304; fax: (203) 845-0448; email@example.com; Web: www.bluetrain.co.za
* Rovos Rail Itineraries: Two basic routes between Pretoria, South Africa, and Victoria Falls, Botswana; and Pretoria to Cape Town, South Africa; each operates every other week. Train also offers "safaris" traveling from Pretoria through the Eastern Transvaal for four days, ending at a game reserve in Komatipoort; and between Cape Town and Knysna, on the South African coast.
Maximum Passengers: 74
You Should Know: Rovos Rail now operates three trains, with updated carriages and locomotives from the 1930s onward. Interiors replicate gilded Victorian era. Spacious cabins have bath and toilet. Last car features an outdoor observation platform.
Contact: Henry Karteganer, Karteganer Associates, Inc., New York, N.Y.; (800) 524-7979; fax: (212) 268-8299; firstname.lastname@example.org
Asia * Eastern & Oriental Express Itineraries: Both north and south routes between Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Passengers may join or leave the train at stops en route on the two-night journey including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth/Penang, Hua Hin, Kwai, and Bangkok. There are also one-night excursions between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city.
Charter: With 80-person minimum; Additional destinations are available for charters.
Maximum Passengers: 132
You Should Know: The Asian counterpart of the VSOE. Train hearkens back to a Colonial age of rattan chairs and linen suits. Decor of one restaurant car is Thai-inspired, the other is Chinese. Sleeping cabins have showers and toilets. A conference car with boardroom table for 20 is available.
Contact: Christopher Reynolds, Abercrombie & Kent, as above
* Palace on Wheels Itineraries: Eight-day round-trip from New Delhi through Rajasthan in Northwest India to Agra and the Taj Mahal.
Maximum Passengers: 104
You Should Know: Once the personal railway coaches of the Viceroy of British India and the Nizam of Hyderabad, train features decor from the age of rajahs, with brass and painted silk ceilings. Each carriage has its own personal attendant. Sleeping cabins have shower and toilet.
Contact: Gurjit Gill, Sita World Travel, Encino, Calif.; (800) 500-5768
* Royal Orient Express Itinerary: Similar to the Palace on Wheels' New Delhi round-trip. Destinations include Udaipur, known as the City of Pleasures; Palitana, the Place of Victory; Veraval Somnath, for the Shrine of Shiva; Sasan Gir, a wildlife park; and Jaipur, called the Pink City.
Maximum Passengers: 100
You Should Know: Air-conditioned train's gold-embossed Indian decor re-creates era of the maharajahs. Sleeping cabins have showers. Two restaurant cars offer Indian and continental cuisines. Most travel is done by night; daytime is reserved for sightseeing and shopping. (Train is not affiliated with VSOE.)
Contact: Mini Karol, Span World Travels Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India; (91) 11-6405680 or 6287618 or 6469225; fax: (91) 11-6287617; mkarol@spanindia. com; Web: www.spantours.com
Australia * Great South Pacific Express Itineraries: Train travels a rural route through Queensland and New South Wales. Options include two nights from Brisbane to Cairns or one night from Brisbane to Sydney. Two-night trip includes excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Rain Forest. Full Sydney to Cairns trip includes a one- or two-day Brisbane stopover.
Maximum Passengers: 100
You Should Know: Built in Australia using local materials and historic designs, the train has interior walls in solid red cedarwood, with stained-glass clere- story roofs. Train includes two dining cars, observation/bar car with open veranda, 12 sleeping cars with shower. Breakfast and afternoon tea served in the sleeping compartment. Beginning operations in April, this is the newest train in the Orient-Express family.
Contact: Christopher Reynolds, Abercrombie & Kent, as above
Journeys Short But Sweet * To underscore the top-ranked status of Met Life's President's Council, 100 travelers, including 30 members of its Individual Business category plus their guests and top company management, shared a half-day journey from Vienna to Prague aboard the Majestic Imperator, an ornate replica of the original train used by Franz Josef and Elisabeth, who ruled the Hapsburg Empire for 62 years, through 1914. (The balance of the 300 President's Conference incentive participants were transferred by plane.) To provide seamless service, Met Life made a luggage sweep at its Vienna hotel the night before, sending the baggage to Prague by truck, so that it would be in hotel rooms upon arrival. When attendees arrived at the train station they received a red-carpet entry into five special cars attached to the Prague-bound train. The five-hour trip included two meal services, notes Noel Taylor, president NTI Corp, Westfield, N.J., who handled all travel arrangements.
* Back in the USA, Selective Insurance called on the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train for a journey between Renton and Woodinville, Wash., to visit the Columbia Winery. Convention Services Northwest, a local, planned the evening activity for 175 attendees, staying in nearby Seattle at the Four Seasons Hotel. Passengers enjoyed family-style hors d'oeuvres, wines paired to each meal course described by an expert from the winery, a gift bottle of their chosen wine, and transport back to Seattle in vintage autos .
* In St. Louis, Concannon, Mitchell Corporation, a commercial insurance brokerage, selected the four-hour RailCruise America tour along the Mississippi River, which included dinner, to thank 120 of its preferred clients. For brokerage partners Bob Concannon and Irene Mitchell, the challenge was to offer an event for clients who are regularly entertained.
The train traveled from St. Louis to DeSoto, Mo., between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Configuration of the charter included a party car with dance floor. Food was prepared onboard by noted local chef Michael Slay. Mitchell sums up her clients' reaction: "One man said he had so much fun that we could raise his premium!"
Adventure on the Orient-Express As part of a seven-night trip to Venice and London, the 36 hours spent en route aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was a highlight for 760 top producers of a major U.S. insurance company.
The luxury train "tied the whole package together," says Richard Gold, vice president of sales for Maritz Travel Company in St. Louis. Maritz planned the incentive trip, divided into four waves of 175 each last June.
"Adventure on the Orient-Express became the tag line and catalyst to the other two destinations," Gold says, with pre-program enthusiasm generated by teasers such as: "It's impossible to overdress aboard the Orient-Express." As a result, numerous feather boas and period hats were seen during dinner and most of the men wore tuxedos.
"Extravagant" dining was one of the train's highlights, says Gold. After dinner, guests either went to the lounge car for drinks and tunes by the onboard pianist, or joined friends by opening inter-connecting cabin doors to carry on into the evening sipping champagne. "We thought about additional entertainment like a murder mystery," Gold notes, "but the client decided to let the train stand on its own."
Aboard the VSOE, there are no showers, and toilets are "down the passageway." Given appropriate pre-trip education about the facilities, good spirits prevailed as guests "bathed" by using wash basins in their compartments, and joked about who got the upper berth.
With the best scenery encountered in the small alpine villages of Switzerland and Austria, the train scheduled several short stops for picture-taking. Upon reaching Boulogne, France, passengers boarded the Hoverspeed SeaCat catamaran for the 55-minute English Channel crossing. In England, they boarded the luxury train British Pullman, for an additional three- to four-hour ride. Having had their fill of gourmet food, Gold laughingly recalls, most guests opted for a light meal once they reached London.