It did not escape me, the fact that I had come full circle.
I first circumnavigated the world with a $999 air ticket some 25 years ago, and then most recently by private jet with TCS & Starquest Expeditions for an all-inclusive sum that would buy you Lichtenstein for a night (yes, that tiny Alpine country can be rented out for special occasions).
If my pockets were that deep and I had my druthers, I would gladly forgo being Queen for a Day and invest instead in some remarkable memories of a lifetime — because TCS & Starquest promises, and delivers, just that.
I had the inordinate good fortune of traveling in the lap of luxury provided by TCS & Starquest once before, on one of its numerous regional journeys by private jet through much of Asia (other departures cover the subcontinent of India, highlighting its countless treasures, for example, or the entire continent of Africa).
Newly planned (and often unprecedented) themed trips are added frequently to satisfy an impressively large number of their frequent flyers, extremely loyal guests who sign on for twice-yearly trips with future departures already tentatively booked.
This year's History's Lost Cities tour introduces adventurers to Samarkand, Lhasa, Rangoon, Petra and other legendary sites, while Beyond the Age of Empire touches down in such disparate locales as Corsica, Turkmenistan, Bulgaria and Montenegro.
"Traveling by private jet is the only way for travelers to experience all of these memorable destinations all in one trip," said TCS & Starquest President Shelley Cline. "We take away the hassles that travelers have come to expect so you're free to focus on amazing experiences."
The common denominator for any of these expeditions is that accommodations, convenience and service are always the best available. But the true luxury is undoubtedly the chance to savor the local culture, heritage and people of the world's far-flung corners, something the independent explorer may not always find possible or accessible, regardless of the time or budget available. TCS guarantees that it happens in an authentic and spontaneous manner — at least, they make it seem that way.
For many, the company's signature round-the-world journey is perhaps the most thrilling and exciting of them all. That was my experience when traveling as an invited guest lecturer on their September 2012 departure, an unforgettable highlight of my not-insignificant travel history (and something I chose not to share with my freelance colleagues to avoid any "It costs how much?" emails). Hesitations about dinners spent with fellow travelers recounting the refurbishing of their yachts or winter homes in Gstaad were quickly dispelled on my first around-the-world trip with the private jet company: The interesting mix of veteran and rookie travelers attracted to TCS is a 50-plus bunch who have worked hard and were tackling their wish lists sooner rather than later (our trip included a number of 40-somethings, as well). With the same zeal and conviction that accounted for their financial comfort, they were embracing the carpe-diem message of my book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die": namely, that the world is full of wonders to see, and time is precious.
TCS is the perfect match for intrepid adventurers: They are respected masters of stringing together the legendary highlights of the world and inviting their guests along to experience them with the greatest of ease. Their two- to three-week trips are so seamlessly handled (upon departure, luggage is placed outside your hotel room door and is not seen again until your next check-in) that an 86-year-old gentleman traveling alone on our trip fared as well as his juniors. (Did I mention they leave stamped postcards on your bed in each hotel room? But it seems you have to write them out yourself.)
TCS is a well-greased operation that runs a tight albeit glamorous ship thanks to a can-do team in Seattle that is already in full action months before a passenger's predeparture nerves kick in: visas, packing suggestions, organization of land tours and the orchestration of special requests are the seasoned company's specialty.
They eliminate the tedious and annoying snags and glitches and make travel fun again. It will feel like all you have to do is show up at the airport — and when you do, it is only a few fast-tracked minutes before you are on board your 757 aircraft, stripped of its usual 233 seats and specially outfitted with 78 VIP-style leather seats in a two-plus-two configuration. The plane becomes your own, and you're warmly greeted with champagne and big smiles by a polished and affable flight crew and expedition staff, including an accompanying physician. This rare ratio of one member to every five guests stays with you for the duration of the trip. When not limited by geography, each leg generally runs under seven hours. Time flies by quickly thanks to talks by a talented team of experts and a dedicated chef who explains the locally sourced (and always delicious) meals and wine pairings that will soon be exiting the tiny galley.
National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution and the Harvard Museum of Natural History are just some of those that have been collaborating with TCS since 1991, when it was founded as the world's first private jet tour operator. Luminary partners all, they bring along their own world-class experts on history, art or other fields pertinent to the destinations (politics, ecology or photography, for example); enrichment is an integral component in all of TCS' 200-plus expeditions.
But TCS' target travelers perked up considerably with the announcement of last year's first collaboration with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts: 10 legendary destinations — from Hawaii and Bora Bora to Sydney, the Taj Mahal and Budapest — paired with some of the most refined accommodations on the globe. The unanimous opinion: This was a match made in jet-setter heaven.
When the first September 2012 departure sold out in record time (I remind readers here about the cost of renting Lichtenstein), a second departure a month later was quickly added to accommodate the overflow and sold out in just a few weeks. During that awesome inaugural TCS/Four Seasons trip, many of my 78 new best friends were already considering the September 2013 departure, and they weren't even home and unpacked yet.
Here is why: Most of the Four Seasons properties were veritable gems, from the spacious overwater bungalows of the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora (surely some of the most beautiful in the South Pacific) to the exquisite, village-like enclave of the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan just outside of Ubud (the island is justifiably famous for its beaches, so half of the group opted for the waterfront sister property at Jimbaran Bay). Urban elegance was full-bodied, from the new Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, housed in a modern glass tower (its rooftop bar was taken over by a wonderful just-for-us Bollywood-style performance that wound up with many of the least-expected members of our group dancing to 1970s music) to Budapest's Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, certainly the world's most exquisite art deco building-turned-hotel (with the glorious Chain Bridge just outside the front door).
TCS' next venture with Four Seasons is a September trip that visits Tokyo; Shanghai; the Maldives; Istanbul; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Marrakech, Morocco.
TCS & Starquest Expeditions packages start from $62,950 per person; the next Four Seasons Departure starts at $70,950 per person. TCS pays travel agents commission.
For more information, check out www.tcsandsq.com or www.fourseasons.com/aroundtheworld/2013_tour.
Patricia Schultz is author of the best-seller "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."