Seniors Hop the Rail For Flexibility and Freedom
Today's trains are far cry from yesterday's chug-a-chugs
Robert and Jean Kerr knew they wanted a European vacation but weren't sure what kind to plan. They had been to Europe once before, but that trip was quick and on the cheap.Skip to next paragraph
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This time, they wanted something different. What caught their eye was a 21-day odyssey covering five countries and nine major cities. One leg of the journey would be on the legendary Orient Express, that stretch of a grand hotel on wheels.
"Oh, it has style, panache, glamour, and old-fashioned deluxe," waxes Mr. Kerr, speaking from his home in Cuyahoga, Ohio. "The polished wood, brass, seats like velvet.... It is spiffy. You cannot be overdressed and the older folks really lap it up."
The Kerrs are two of thousands of senior travelers who are eschewing the "total coach" and cruise experiences and enjoying the benefits of train travel.
While exact numbers are unknown, trends suggest that train travel may be on the rise with this older population - whether a company-organized trip, or part of an independent travel itinerary. This is especially true in Europe, where train tradition is strong.
The reasons older travelers say they are attracted to rails range from convenience and comfort to old-fashioned romance and outstanding views that you wouldn't necessarily get on the roadways.
The Orient Express is just one of four trains the Kerrs took on "The Great European Rail Spectacular," a trip designed and conducted by Grand Circle Travel, a Boston-based company specializing in trips for the "seasoned traveler," those 50 and older.
On the "Rail Spectacular" the Kerrs journeyed through Italy, enjoyed a home-hosted dinner with a Tuscan family, and then took the Orient Express in Venice to Innsbruck, Austria. In Chur, Switzerland, they boarded the Swiss Glacier Express (see page B1) to glide through the southern part of Switzerland. "That was the neat one," because of the spectacular scenery, says Mr. Kerr.
After that, they moved on to Lausanne and hopped on the TGV Bullet train to Paris. After some time sightseeing there, they were whisked away to London on the high-speed Eurostar "Chunnel" Train (see page B2).
"All I could think of was 'How in the world can they make the train ride so smooth,' " says Berwin Jerkins, who took The Great European Rail Spectacular with his wife, Mary. "The last time I rode a train was in the late '40s and it was clackety-clackety-clack."
What's interesting is that a good number of the people on this type of trip are train buffs, notes Mr. Jerkins. They're interested not only in riding trains, but also in the history and details of them.
One of those buffs is Bob Arlt. The graphic artist from Los Angeles went on the Rail Spectacular this past August with several family members.
Of course, the Orient Express was a particular treat, he says, because of the exquisite restoration, which cost millions. "The craftsmanship was the real thing," says Mr. Arlt with a twinge of awe in his voice. "It didn't have that Disneyland look."