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American Orient Express

United States - Deluxe Rail Journeys On Americas Premier Train

Photos and story By Carl Morrison,

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You have reached the ultimate in American rail travel when you can say you have experienced a"Rail Cruise" on the American Orient Express.

Reflections of an American Orient Express "Land Cruise." (AOE at the Richmond, VA,  Science Museum of Virginia)

The American Orient Express (AOE) says it best in their press release:


During the 20th century, ocean cruising was primarily the domain of the wealthy, older traveler.  Today, however, the billion-dollar cruise industry is enjoyed by all ages of the massive middle class.  An experience that is being likened to the ocean cruises of yesteryear, deluxe rail operators such as AOE now offer savvy travelers (primarily affluent matures), incomparable vacations aboard private, vintage trains.  AOE’s rail cruises maintain a sense of exclusivity with only 120 passengers aboard any given itinerary, while simultaneously indulging customers with highly personalized service, an epicurean adventure, exciting itineraries and carefully planned land tours, all topped off with the glamour and romance of a bygone era.

We chose an early Spring trip on AOE which they describe as:


Experience true Southern charm just as train passengers would have over half a century ago.  Today, the AOE embarks on a seven-day journey between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, visiting great Southern cities, plantations and battlefields along the way.  On select departures, the Civil War themed programming offers enhanced opportunities to experience U.S. history with on-board lecturers and entertainers.

Their beautiful advertisement for this trip, plus rates, can be seen at:

When you first see Americas Premier Train, as you arrive at your station of debarcation, she'll take your breath away...for a number of reasons. 

First, you have never seen operating train cars in such showroom quality.  The exterior paint is the quality you would find on a classic show car found in the Nethercutt Collection.

Second, she is as slender as a super-model, and attracts the same attention.  Unlike modern two-level stainless steel Superliner cars of Amtrak named trains, these classic cars are single level and therefore the trainset looks much longer than any modern passenger train.

All these excellent first impressions, and you have not yet boarded!


Head end power for the AOE in Charleston, South Caronia.

We had read the elegant brochures and digested the pre-trip travel documents, but words and pictures can't describe the authentic interiors of the many cars:


Symbolizing AOE’s commitment to providing an authentic vintage rail experience, even the tiniest artistic details have not been overlooked.  For example, upon exploration of the Rocky Mountain Club Car, passengers are pleasantly surprised to discover a remarkable example of artistry right above their heads – a midnight blue sky featuring the Milky Way rendered in gold leaf.  And, while just as beautiful, the Seattle Club Car features its own artistry – an indigo ceiling reminiscent of the twilight sky, showing clouds on the horizon aglow with the last light of day, strewn with 23-karat gold stars.

...the “Dome Car.” Constructed in the 1950s, dome cars were a luxurious feature that afforded passengers an incomparable view of the countryside as never before seen by train.  Today, the AOE is proud to have revived two of these cars.  Each seats 72 people in an upper-level glass enclosure featuring a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside.

Copper Canyon 'Great Dome Lounge:'






View from the dome.

Rear seating in the dome (attendant's station in the front)

Below the great dome is a lounge (above), bar, and Passenger Services Office.


Ranging in age, each car was in service during the 1940s and 50s streamliner era on some of the nation’s most memorable railroads. For example, the New York Observation Car was dedicated in 1948 by Dwight Eisenhower and served 20 years on the New York Central’s famous 20th Century Limited.  Today, each car has been completely restored, featuring new air-conditioning, heating, electrical and plumbing systems, and state-of-the-art safety features, as well as completely renovated interiors. Total cost of the restoration project was over $15 million.

New York Observation Car:


Unfortunately, some don't use the observation car to its fullest.
View from the rear toward the bar in the New York observation car.
Railfans in the New York Observation Car could, in effect, enjoy a cab ride.  When we backed out of Charleston Naval Base, the Assistant Conductor, R. W. Grogan, came to the New York car, opened the back door, sat on the tapestry settee, and directed the engineer over the radio through several crossings and switches to get us out on the main line.
Cleverly hidden at R.W.'s left hand, in the cabinet of the New York car, is the control for the airhorn for reverse movement.  (R.W. Grogan's picture can be seen later in this report, on the Staff Photos link at the bottom of each page.)  This Amtrak crew stayed with us until Florence, SC.

Just about the time you think your minutes on this museum-quality train are over and it is time to disembark and get back to reality, you reach your realize that you actually get to stay in and ride this museum piece for nearly a week!  There are no velvet ropes to keep you from sitting on the furniture!  There are no "Look but do not touch" signs!  There are no announcements, "No Photographs,"'s your home for a while...make yourself at home!  You have made your reservations for one of the various accommodations:

Arriving fresh and relaxed, after having spent the night resting in comfortable style, gives you the chance to make the best use of your holiday. The sleeping cars onboard the American Orient Express can offer unanticipated moments, far away from the constraints of home. Important scenes in such films as Some Like It Hot and North by Northwest take place in Pullman sleeping cars — close your eyes and envision the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant.

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Our Pullman room before we unpacked our luggage.  AOE took our luggage from the Orientation meeting at the hotel all the way to our room onboard.   The seat has armrests for three.  The seat makes into a lower bunk and there is an upper bunk that drops down with a moveable ladder for entry.   In front of the couch is the sink, in the middle of the wall, with the shower/toilet entrance to the left by the window.
There are five types of cabins: Vintage Pullmans, Single Sleepers, Parlor Suites, Classic Presidential Suites and Grand Suites. Each cabin offers a private lavatory and sink; Grand, Classic Presidential and Parlor Suites have in cabin showers. There is a private shower compartment at the end of each sleeping car. During the day, lower berths convert into a comfortable day chair or sofa seat. Cabins have large picture windows and individual controls for air conditioning and heat. Put your feet up and read; doze off and take a nap to the sounds of the tracks as you rail toward your next destination.

We relaxed in our Vintage Pullman and began to re-read our Itinerary, read the Route Guide in the room, and anticipate the sights, sounds, and tastes of Antebellum South looking forward to visiting Savannah, Charleston, and Richmond.