With more people turning to train travel it's green and it isn't nearly as trying as air travel several splendid new train services have recently opened up. But of all of them, "the most eagerly anticipated has been the Danube Express", says Susan d'Arcy in The Sunday Times. Its operators, Danube Express Limited, describe it as the luxury train of the 21st century and have made it clear that while their route isn't quite the same as that of the Orient Express (the Danube takes you to cities as diverse as Brussels, Istanbul and Brasov), they are after the latter's customers.
Will they get them? They may. The Danube Express contains 15 brand-new luxury bedrooms (built at a cost of £115,000 each) plus several revamped bedrooms in a series of older carriages. You might think that wouldn't be enough to differentiate it from the Orient Express a service most of us think of as offering the height of luxury. Not so. Many Orient Express travellers are shocked to discover they have to share a toilet with their neighbours and that there are no showers. The Danube, on the other hand, offers en suites that "leave the competition lagging", says d'Arcy. The rooms are also two and a half times bigger than the average European sleeper (guests on the Orient Express often find themselves having to lurk in the corridor so their partner has enough room to get changed in their tiny room).
But there's a problem, says D'Arcy. The Danube lacks character. "When a night costs upwards of £1,500, you'd expect more bang for your buck, ideally a fairy-dusting of the delicate marquetry and loving detail that typifies its rival."
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You do get a bit of that in the VIPcabins, where "the curtains [are] thicker; the blinds more impenetrable, and the mahogany more burnished", says Michael Williams in The Independent. The Classic VIP single-berth compartment was once the private coach of the last Communist president of Hungary. And Janos Kadar wasn't known for skimping when it came to luxury. This cabin costs £2,750 a night, but comes with authentic 1950s "commie chic", says Williams. You even have your own coal-fired personal radiator and hot water heater. Take all that into account and the Danube Express will surely offer pretty firm competition to the Orient Express when it comes into full service next year.
But these days competitions are rarely just about luxury. When it comes to the bottom line, the Danube Express looks to be on to another winner. The cheapest trip available costs £990 per person (that includes two nights full-board in a classic compartment). The cheapest deal on the Orient Express is £1,835 per person. For that you might get two night's B&B in Venice and a flight home, but you only get one night full board on the train which doesn't seem quite enough.
Two other luxury train services
The Golden Chariot, India
The Bangalore to Goa route starts in March from £1,994 per person sharing: seven nights full board, two nights B&B, and return BA flight to Bangalore (020-8566 2729, Transindus.com).
Tangula Luxury Trains, China
The Beijing to Yunnan or Tibet route starts in April and costs from £2,140 per person sharing: three nights full board, plus excursions. For a tailor-made package, contact: 020-8566 2729, Transindus.com.
Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance.
Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.
Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.
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