How much would you pay to ride a luxury train across the Western landscape with stops at Crater Lake, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks? Two-hundred dollars a day? Five-hundred-dollars? More than $1,000?
Next year the American Railway Explorer expects to begin riding the rails between these, and other, national parks from coast to coast with packages that start at roughly $900 a day and which can quickly climb to $1,500 a day.
What do you get for those costs? The Denver-based railroad is promising "world-class food, comfortable on-board accommodations, and memorable on- and off-train experiences."
“This will be the most luxurious train in the United States and comparable to other high-end experiences found worldwide,” said Hans Desai, vice president of the American Railway Explorer. “From the complete overhaul of the well-appointed railcars to the development of itineraries displaying some of the country’s finest destinations, everything is being done with the idea of making this an unforgettable trip.”
The train line is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose company in the fall of 2008 bought Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates lodgings in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Crater Lake, and Zion national parks, as well as the Grand Canyon Railway that runs from Williams, Ariz., to Grand Canyon National Park.
Whether the line can rekindle Americans' interests in high-end rail travel will be interesting to watch. The American Orient Express reached the end of the line in August 2008 when its owners filed for bankruptcy. Its rates, for comparison's sake, ranged from $620 to $927.50 per person per day for an eight-day journey to Mount Rainier, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks.
The American Railway Explorerrailroad, which bought some of its rolling stock from the American Orient Express, will operate four-, eight- and 11-day tours featuring accommodations, meals, entertainment, off-train transportation and interpretive guides. Each tour train will be able to accommodate 130 passengers. The itineraries will be developed so as to allow guests to head out on day excursions while travel between destinations occurs mainly at night. At each stop passengers will have opportunities to participate in various guided tours or to set their own itineraries.
* The eight-day Southwest Explorer will operate between Napa, Calif. and Santa Fe, N.M. This excursion will include guided Napa tours; Yosemite National Park; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Grand Canyon National Park; Williams, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M. and Santa Fe, N.M.
* The Northwest Explorer, also an eight-day trip, will travel between Napa and Jackson, Wyo. with stops in Crater Lake National Park; Glacier National Park; Helena, Mont.; Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. This excursion will also include a narrated daytime run through the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon-Washington border.
* The Transcontinental Explorer will be an 11-day tour operating twice in 2011 between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. with stops in San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Chicago, Niagara Falls, Shenandoah National Park and Washington, D.C. This excursion will also feature narrated daytime runs through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Rocky Mountains through Utah and Colorado and along Lake Erie.
The four-day West Coast Explorer will operate between Napa and Los Angeles with Napa Valley winery tours and stops at attractions along the way, including the Hearst Castle and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The 1950s-era vintage railcars that the line purchased from the American Orient Express currently are undergoing a comprehensive transformation "to restore and improve upon the high standards of the original train." The equipment will feature 11 sleeper cars, one lounge/piano car, two dining cars, two dome cars, and one observation car. The train will also include accommodations for crew members.
An executive chef will prepare meals on board using sustainable and locally produced ingredients, according to a release announcing the railroad. With three Explorers originating or ending in Napa Valley and the fourth traveling through California’s agricultural belt, chefs will have abundant fresh food sources, the release said.
As currently proposed, passengers will meet the first night at a designated hotel for a welcome dinner and overnight stay. They are responsible for making their own travel arrangements to the originating city and from the final destination.
Reservations may be made through a travel agent, online at www.aretrain.com or by calling toll-free 1-888-9-THE-ARE (1-888-984-3273). Reservations will be accepted beginning this summer.