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The GrandLuxe Rail
By Stan Vaughan (Ph.D)
IMS Trade Broker
(We appreciate Mr. Vaughn’s narrative on the GrandLuxe train and
hope our readers vicariously enjoy the trip. Contact your local IMS
for further details on such travel opportunities.)
lag. Now there is something you don’t get traveling by train. Orson
Welles once said there are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and
terror. But before I got to experience that, I had to first endure
two hours of “terminal illness” brought by the long lines at Las
Vegas’ McCarran International Airport and the pre-boarding security
checkpoints. I’m not even out of the terminal on board my plane to
Washington (DC) and already I am looking forward to the stress-free,
romantic and luxurious style of the GrandLuxe Rail Journey that
trip on America’s famous GrandLuxe Train (formerly the American
Orient Express) is the dream of a lifetime for many. The GrandLuxe
mystique, the aura of luxury, and history attached to one of the
world’s most famous trains, is part of the attraction that had it
heading my own personal “bucket-list” (things one wants to do before
one “kicks the bucket”).
Sure there is South Africa’s famous Blue Train, which I rode in
1986, but that was a short leisurely 27-hour ride from Pretoria to
Cape Town, not a 7-day journey from Washington (DC) through the
Antebellum South to New Orleans. My expectations are as high as I am
hopeful, for that once in a lifetime journey I can reminisce over in
the coming years.
DAY 1 — The Journey Begins
After a transcontinental flight my weariness and jet lag disappear
at the prospect of setting out on a long train journey. We picked up
a rental car and in a short 3/4-hour drive we cross the Potomac
River from Maryland into Virginia where the IMS travel department
booked us a guaranteed late arrival at The Virginian Suites.
Next morning, it is a sunny day and the cherry blossom trees are in
full April bloom! It is Day 1 of the rail journey but we have until
4pm to check in. What to do? So many options. Sit at the President’s
desk in the oval office? Stand at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
where Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech?
Maybe go to the International Spy Museum, or enjoy chess with the
locals in DuPont Circle.
Before checking in with GrandLuxe Rail at Washington’s historic
Union Station, we checked out of the Virginian Suites nestled on a
hillside in Arlington, Virginia. The inn was being remodeled, but
our room was excellent—we could open our windows on the 8th floor
and look out from a dinner table at the cherry blossom trees. With a
refrigerator, dishwasher and fully equipped kitchen, we were able to
have a candlelight dinner with wine.
Services at the hotel included room internet access, a room safe,
two spacious closets, and a sauna down on the third floor. All but
the room tax was covered by our IMS trade credits. With our rental
car, we drove around the city and saw the Jefferson, Lincoln, and
Washington Monuments after our check-out at noon. We dropped off our
luggage for the train, returned the car to Reagan National Airport,
and took the metro subway to Union Station.
14 car train had 57 passengers. We were assigned the Leland Stanford
Presidential Suite. Our GrandLuxe butler Mark, white gloves and all,
showed us the features of our wood grained suite. Some of the
features included: private bathroom & shower, closets, fans, blinds
and storage drawers. The bathroom was stocked with excellent AVEDA
products. While we went off to the piano bar for cocktails and a
late dinner, Mark turned down the beds.
Everything was first class, not to mention complimentary champagne.
At 8pm the train headed across the Potomac to Richmond, Capitol of
the Confederacy and home of the Confederate White House and Museum
of the Confederacy.
Sunday evening dinner was superb and our server, Chad, was
attentive. I had the blackberry salad and roast duck; my partner had
mahi-mahi with pineapple. The duck course included wild rice and
cranberries. For dessert they brought chocolate mousse, and
cheesecake with raspberries and blueberries.
DAY 2 — Richmond, VA
After a hearty breakfast on our train, we took a 90-minute bus ride
to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, one of our country’s foremost
architectural masterpieces which is featured on the reverse of the
Jefferson nickel. After a guided tour we were able to spend another
hour walking the lovely gardens surrounding the home. For me, a
highlight was Jefferson’s chess set, with which he played games
against Benjamin Franklin during their time in Philadelphia writing
the Declaration of Independence at the Continental Congress in 1776.
Lunch was at the historic Michie Tavern, established in 1784, where
we had southern fried chicken, blackeyed peas, green beans, stewed
tomatoes, mashed potatoes and peach cobbler, along with red wine.
next stop was the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson, and
toured the Rotunda which features a famed statue of Jefferson. We
also got to see the Edgar Allen Poe shrine. The celebrated poet’s
room, when he was a student there, has been turned into a museum.
Poe was the inventor of the detective, mystery and science fiction
Returning to Richmond we took a tour of the city, the notable
Capitol Square with its black iron fences, George Washington’s
Equestrian Statue and illustrious Monument Avenue where Robert E.
Lee, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Arthur Ashe
statues are on each block.
After re-boarding the GrandLuxe in the evening, I realized that
these evening dinners are almost beyond description. They are
eight-course two-hour affairs, served while the train heads into
darkness to our next destination. Dinners such as I have only
experienced at 5-star hotels.
DAY 3 — Charleston, SC
had a fabulous carriage ride around the Charleston City Peninsula,
Battery Park, and all the charm of the Rainbow Boulevard of houses
in the old aristocratic section. Our tour guide, Ginger, dressed in
confederate cap and 1860’s costume, was funny and charming. The tour
guides have been so great, all really relish and enjoy their jobs! I
was shocked to see the confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter once
again, but the tour guide laughed about how they had caught the Feds
shopped later at the historic Charleston Market Street, and were
taken to Charleston’s most exclusive restaurant—Magnolia’s—for a
great lunch. Later they took us on a tour of historic sites: John C.
Calhoun’s grave site, Secession Hall and then the afternoon at
Magnolia Plantation. We spent the day in settings like a Monet
Japonesque Garden, took long walks, strolled along with pelicans and
peacocks, and watched alligators sunning themselves.
DAY 4 — Savannah, GA
Savannah is known as the number one city for enjoying walks and
strolls. It is designed with over 24 small town square parks with
pathways, benches, trees and fountains. There are plenty of benches
for soaking up the sun or enjoying the fountains.
Savannah, we are taken to a prominent doctor’s beautiful home and
served mint juleps and a wonderful meal in an Antebellum setting
while enjoying the conversation and company of fellow travelers.
After lunch we stroll over to an inn where we are served banana
pudding for dessert.
What made this experience special was the opportunity to spend time
in a private home restored with 19th Century period luxury and
décor, allowing one see what it was like to live during that slower
paced time. The rest of the day was spent on lazy strolls
interspersed with shopping opportunities. Again, as always the
evening menu on board was superb.
With Day 5 being a day of travel to Jackson (MS), passengers took
the opportunity to sleep in late, attend lectures, or sit in
observation cars and watch the scenery. I came to see that the
beauty of GrandLuxe is how you experience meals in luxury while
riding to various destinations, leaving you well rested!
DAY 5 — Rail Day
During our Day 5 rail journey, we had lectures presented by a
university of Texas professor on three different subjects. As
curator of the University Museum Collections, she brought dresses
from the famous “Gone with the Wind” movie and gave lectures on
Antebellum subjects such as manners for ladies and gentlemen of the
period, and fan language. It was quite interesting to learn how
ladies used different gestures with their fans, communicating to
others across the room...without actually talking.
DAY 6 — Natchez, MS
After an all day train ride from Savannah through Columbus (GA) and
Birmingham (AL) we arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. On Day 6 we left
early by bus for a two-hour journey via the scenic Natchez Trail to
Once home to more millionaires per capita than any city in America,
70% of the town’s population belongs to one of two different house
and garden clubs that offer local festivals, balls and tours.
visited three prestigious mansions and had lunch served to us at the
Stanton, the most elegant address in town. We also visited Magnolia
Hall as well as Longwood, the historic octagonal house and six-story
national treasure. The Mississippi River was almost crested out, so
afterwards our bus took a short tour to Louisiana crossing over and
back to view the mighty river.
Day 7 — End Of The Rail
end our GrandLuxe Rail Journey in New Orleans, which we will explore
on our own. This has been the trip of a lifetime! I highly recommend
you try it. I found many passengers who year after year take
GrandLuxe Rail journeys to different locations. It really is HIGH
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