Antebellum South route captures filmmaker's imagination


WASHINGTON -- The American Orient Express is renowned as one of the most elegant trains in the U.S., but it is also gaining quite a reputation as a television celebrity.

For instance, a British television crew will be filming on the train in May. In 1998, filmmaker John Grant brought his cameras aboard to film the American Orient Express as it journeyed into the Rockies and Yellowstone.

The program was such a hit that Grant decided to film the train again, this time highlighting one of the rail line's most popular journeys: the Antebellum South. The show will air this summer.

"Antebellum is a route the company has been operating for about five years," said Peter Boese, American Orient Express' vice president of sales and marketing.

The excursion departs from Washington and travels to Richmond, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., and St. Augustine, Fla., before winding up in New Orleans.

Among the highlights are visits to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate; Charleston's Drayton Hall, considered a fine example of Georgian-Palladian architecture, and the historic Owens-Thomas House in Savannah.

Boese said the Antebellum program has proven to be so popular that next year the company is going to offer four Civil War programs.

"They have really taken off with the group market," he said. "We have a lot of organizations that are buying into the theme, including the Smithsonian Institution and the History Channel."

The Antebellum South is one of several programs offered by the American Orient Express.

Others include:

  • The Great Transcontinental Rail Journey: Highlights Washington; Charleston; Savannah; New Orleans; San Antonio; Santa Fe, N.M.; Grand Canyon National Park, and Los Angeles.
  • National Parks of the West: Visits Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon.
  • Great Trans-Canada Rail Journey: Departs from Vancouver and visits Jasper, Alberta; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Ottawa, Ontario, and Montreal.
  • Most of the American Orient Express' journeys are six-night plans, Boese said.

    "From a customer-satisfaction standpoint, as well as from a price point, that combination works for us," he said. "We have two longer programs, our Trans-Canada, which is an eight-night, and Transcontinental, which is a nine-night, but they are epic journeys across the continent."

    One of the key attractions to American Orient Express is the train itself. Powered in the U.S. by Amtrak locomotives and Canadian National engines in Canada, the train features restored blue and gold cars from the Streamliner era of the 1940s and 1950s.

    Accented in mahogany and brass, they encompass 16 cars in all, including two dining carriages, two lounge carriages and an observation car, with the balance made up of sleeper carriages.

    Sleeper car accommodations include a single sleeper; vintage Pullman with upper and lower berths and a full-size couch; parlor suites with two lower berths, an upper berth, a full couch and a sofa, and presidential suites with two lower berths, two single sofas and a private shower.

    In all, the train accommodates up to 100 passengers. The dining cars feature open seating and a taste of local cuisine.

    "Our chef incorporates regional cuisine with a lot of the old rail menus," Boese said. "So, he might take a dish from the old Santa Fe Super Chief that was developed by a chef back in the 1940s and add it to the menu. On the Antebellum, he might have a creole or cajun dish. So we usually have four different main courses each night."

    Add to that a piano lounge, some jazz and a few pop tunes, and it is easy to see why the American Orient Express has become quite the star with passengers and television viewers.

    American Orient Express
    Phone: (888) 759-3944 or (630) 663-4550.

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