Discover Rail Excursions to Americas National Parks

By: Matthew Paolini

While researching new vacation ideas, I recently came across what many insiders say is about to become the modern-day counterpart of the 20th century luxury ocean cruise. Called a rail cruise, it puts travelers eager for a one-of-a-kind vacation experience on board classic trains plying some of the most scenic American countryside. The outings, which take anywhere from several days to more than a week, bring together luxurious furnishings, delicious food and first-rate service in exclusive settings typically reserved for only about a hundred passengers.

If you watch the Travel Channel, you may already be acquainted with rail cruising from a travel guide about one of these tour trains, the American Orient Express (AOE). The train, which was recently renamed the GrandLuxe Express when AOE's parent company changed its name to GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, is made up of polished, bullet-like lounge and dining cars originating from the 1940s and 1950s. Inside, mahogany and brass give the cars and compartments an elegant art-deco flair that definitely embodies the Golden Age of train travel.

GrandLuxe Rail Journeys sends its trains on excursions that offer passengers views and experiences never dreamed of by earlier of steamship cruisers. One of the most spectacular has to be National Parks of the West, a 10-day luxury rail cruise that starts its south-to-north leg in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there, the train carves out a route that takes it to Santa Fe, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, a choice of Bryce Canyon or Zion National Parks, Salt Lake City, Yellow Stone National Park and finally, Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. There's also a version of the excursion that starts in Wyoming and then moves south (instead of north) to finish up in Albuquerque.

Another great excursion has to be the 9-day journey that includes four of the Pacific Northwest's most stunning national parks. For those who start their journey with the the eastbound leg of the Great Northwestern National Parks tour, the trip starts in Seattle, Washington, and heads first to Mt. Rainier National Park, where train passengers can enjoy a unforgettable view of the Cascade Range's highest peak (14,410 feet). After that it's on to the Columbia River Gorge, beautiful Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, pristine Glacier National Park, Helena, Montana, and finally Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Westbound travelers start at Grand Teton and finish their trip in the Emerald City of Seattle.

Remember, these are carriage-grade tours that offer outstanding comfort and five-star cuisine in a truly unique environment, so expect to pay accordingly. Rates for the 2008 season, which includes eight different departure dates between early May and late June, start at 5,250 dollars per person for the National Parks of the West Tour. The Northwestern National Parks tour starts at 4,710 dollars per person. Included in the fare is the cost of travel, some of the finest cuisine on wheels and on board sleeping accommodations in two-person, original Pullman sleeper cars. Taking advantage of early booking can cut the cost of the trip by an average of about 250 dollars.

If prices like these are just too steep for your wallet, you can still enjoy the luxury of rail cruising. GrandLuxe Rail Journeys also offers rail trips that are significantly less expensive. For example, you can journey from Chicago to Los Angeles for 1,599 dollars or take one of many 789-dollar trips that connect like Washington, D.C. and Miami, Denver and San Francisco, Denver and Chicago, and Chicago and Washington, D.C.

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