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I took my first luxury train ride, and 6 things surprised me

A navy blue train with gold trimmings stopped at a platform with mountains in the background.
Business Insider's reporter was surprised by the cabins, meals, and dress code on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.Joey Hadden/Business Insider
  • I had a surprising experience on the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, a luxury sleeper train.

  • My private cabin was $9,000 for a one-night ride.

  • The train exceeded my expectations with a red carpet, fine dining, and a dress code.

From the US to Europe, I'm no stranger to overnight trains.

Starting with 30-hour Amtrak rides up and down the East Coast in 2021, I've taken six sleeper trains through the US and European countries, including Germany, Austria, and Italy.

I've booked various accommodations on these rides, from shared cabins on a budget to a $1,000 Amtrak bedroom.

But none of those rides surprised me like the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, a luxury Belmond train made of vintage Orient Express carriages that are nearly 100 years old.

The historic train travels to 17 European cities on 60 routes. I recently booked a one-night ride from Paris to Venice, Italy, in the cheapest available accommodation, a private cabin that cost $9,000. The most expensive sleeping quarters are grand suites, which start at $26,000 per room.

This was my first-ever luxury train ride, and while I expected high-end details, some surprises made my trip feel more lavish than I'd anticipated.

My trip began with a red carpet entrance.

A navy blue train stopped at a platform with a red carpet in front of the door and mountains in the background
The exterior of the train stopped at a platform. Joey Hadden/Business Insider

When boarding the train, I didn't expect a steward to roll out a red carpet for my arrival. I'd never stepped onto a red carpet before, and the unexpected detail made me feel like a VIP as soon as my trip began.

I was even more surprised when the carpet was brought out every time passengers disembarked the train, including short stops where guests could get out to stretch their legs.

According to a train steward, the red carpet is meant to make passengers feel luxurious throughout their trip, and for me, it worked.

There was a dress code, and I was surprised that I actually enjoyed it.

People dressed in black evening wear sit in blush, blue seats while drinking from champagne glasses
Guests wear formal attire in the train's bar car.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Typically, I'm a very casual dresser — especially on travel days. In the past, I've worn the comfiest clothes I own for overnight rides, from sweatpants to pajamas.

So I was admittedly a bit surprised — and nervous — when I got an email after booking detailing a dress code for communal cars, such as the dining and bar carriages.

During the day, the train required passengers to wear smart casual clothing. T-shirts, sneakers, shorts, and jeans were not allowed in communal spaces at any time.

At night, guests were encouraged to dress in formal attire. I went with a suit, as did many other guests. I also spotted sparkling evening gowns and even a tuxedo after the sun went down.

I was expecting the dress code to feel like a drag compared to the athleisure I'm used to wearing on trains, but instead, I found that the rules made the trip feel more like a special night. And wearing my finest articles of clothing made me feel more like a VIP.

Staff members referred to me by name.

Two side-by-side images of train cabin stewards in blue uniforms in front of wooden, decorated walls
Two train stewards on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

On board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, I only had to tell the stewards my name once. After that, they all referred to me as "Joey" or "Ms. Hadden" each time we crossed paths.

Like the red carpet, I hadn't experienced this level of service on a train before, and it made me feel like an important and valued passenger.

The cabin's design and decor blew me away.

a train cabin with wood finishings and a plush red and blue couch.
A peek inside the author's cabin.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I'd traveled in private sleeper cabins before taking the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and those accommodations typically appeared to be designed strictly for function, with plain walls and a lack of decor.

So, I was surprised by just how visually stimulating my cabin was. The 36-square-foot space had a couch, bed, vanity, wash basin, and an overall vintage feel with glossy wooden walls and old-fashioned furniture.

Each time I returned to my cabin, I noticed more details, like geometric wall patterns and a window that opened halfway for a clear view of the passing scenery — another thing I hadn't experienced on an overnight train before.

In the dining cars, I was shocked by the variety of fresh ingredients on board.

Left: aerial photo of appetizers and drinks on a wooden table. Center: Arial photo of lobster covered in orange sauce on a white plate. Right: A green soup-like dish in a wide, white bowl in front of a glass of water
Appetizers and courses on board the luxury train.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express had three dining cars, all of which served the same menu during each meal. I expected higher quality food than I've had on trains in the past, but considering the limited space on trains, I thought I'd have fewer protein and vegetable options during my ride.

I was blown away over the course of 30 hours as I ate lobster tail, caviar, scallops, and chicken — all with unique side pairings, like sweet potato gnocchi and mashed potatoes.

The train manager, Pascal Deyrolle, told Business Insider that the train picks up local ingredients before each ride, making the food both fresh and eclectic.

The most surprising thing was that after 30 hours, I wasn't ready to leave.

A navy blue luxury train parked at a platform at night.
Nighttime on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express felt magical to one Business Insider reporter.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Before the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, I was always happy to disembark overnight train rides to relieve cramping from tight spaces and get on with my trip in my next destination.

But after the most luxurious train ride of my life, I was surprised to find I longed for more time on the train. I could have spent another night in my stunning cabin to taste more outstanding meals and feel pampered and important for a little longer.

Read the original article on Business Insider