20 Retro Luxury Travel Experiences

Traditional Idyllic English Countryside village with Cosy Cottages and narrow road


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Traditional Idyllic English Countryside village with Cosy Cottages and narrow road

Throwback Travel

Travel and vacation have changed dramatically over the decades. Ask someone who used to put on a dress and pearls to fly what they think of the people in coach who can't keep their shoes on for an entire flight. Watch "Titanic," and remember that modern cruise lines are now judged by who has the best waterslides. Some travelers want to keep it retro and, well, we honestly can't blame them. We took a look around the globe for vacation activities and destinations built to take travelers back to a simpler time.

Related: 15 Classic Destinations for an Old-Fashioned Christmas

The Ahwahnee

The Ahwahnee

Where: Yosemite National Park, California
Starting price: $426 a night in January

Art deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Arts and Crafts architecture come together in this 1927 lodge that is now a National Historical Landmark. It took 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of lumber that were carted through the mountains during the park's early years to build it, and a renovation looked into Yosemite's archives to match the textiles and colors of the original English country-house interior.

Related: 22 Bucket-List Experiences for Adrenaline Junkies

The Ahwahnee

The Ahwahnee: Stunning Views and High Ceilings

Once you've taken in the tapestries, stained glass, and hand-stenciled beams, what do you do here? Well, if you spring for some of the higher-priced rooms, you can look out onto Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, or Half Dome and plan your day in the outdoors. Afterward, the complimentary afternoon tea on the patio overlooking Glacier Point is on hold due to COVID-19, but there's still a sweet shop, bar, and a heated outdoor swimming pool. If you want to sit beneath the 34-foot ceilings in the dining room for a buffet breakfast or dinner, we'd suggest making reservations.

Air Chathams

Cocktails on Air Chathams

Where: Auckland, New Zealand
Starting price: $385

The Douglas DC-3 is the airplane that helped launch commercial air travel in the mid-20th Century. Fresh off military service in World War II, the DC-3 was pressed into duty carrying well-dressed passengers and crew from city to city, with lots of legroom and tons of free food and booze. The downside: It was really loud, required lots of layovers over long distances, and luggage took forever to retrieve. They're hard to track down outside of museums these days, but Air Chathams still flies them.

170318 Air Chathams Douglas DC3 ZK-AWP interior at Tauranga, NZ
170318 Air Chathams Douglas DC3 ZK-AWP interior at Tauranga, NZ by Gary Danvers Collection (CC BY-NC-SA)

Air Chathams: Chartered 'Flight Back in Time'

A flight isn't cheap, but you're paying for the privilege of taking a scenic flight to nowhere in an unpressurized cabin with only a "Mad Men"-worthy supply of hard alcohol to steady your nerves. For the whole swinging 1950s flying experience and a party with your friends, you could always spend a lot more to charter a "flight back in time" with in-flight catering and uniformed pilots and flight attendants.

Simplon-Orient Express

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Where: London

Starting price: $4,815

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express first ran in 1883 and made the trek from Paris to Istanbul until 1977. The line was shortened several times thereafter, but runs now as a tourist train. With cabins lovingly restored to resemble those in Agatha Christie's 1934 novel "Murder on the Orient Express" (as well as the ensuing films), its routes now serve Berlin, Istanbul, London, Venice, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Verona, and Bucharest.

Simplon-Orient Express

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Vintage Cabins and Upscale Dining

The starting price covers only shorter routes such as London to Venice. That said, you're traveling in lavishly appointed 1920 woodgrain cabins, eating decadent meals as a steward sets up and takes down your bedding, and, in most cases, getting a deal: The original Paris-to-Istanbul trip is almost sold out for 2022, and it costs closer to $41,000 per person.

Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan

Grand Hotel

Where: Mackinac Island, Michigan

Starting price: $398

How much of a throwback is the Grand Hotel? Enough that the 1980 Jane Seymour/Christopher Reeve time-travel romance "Somewhere In Time" was filmed here. Overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and wedged between Michigan's lower peninsula to the south and its upper peninsula to the north, the Grand Hotel has been greeting Mackinac Island travelers since 1887 and has maintained much of its Victorian charm.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel: Horse-Drawn Carriages, Golf, and Spa Treatments

Since there are no cars on Mackinac Island (and under 600 full-time residents), the Grand Hotel fetches you from the ferry terminal in a horse-drawn carriage. Once you arrive, there's golf on the Jewel course, spa or salon treatments, biking the island, swimming in the 220-foot Esther Williams pool, afternoon tea, and dancing to the Grand Hotel Orchestra. Once you're done visiting all nine eateries, you can stare at the painstakingly restored wallpaper as you de-bloat.

Airship in Friedrichshafen

Zeppelin Flights

Where: Friedrichshafen, Germany

Starting price: $303

Oh, the luxury! Granted, the Zeppelin flying today isn't a whole lot like the rigid, steel-framed Zeppelins of the early 20th century. But considering that most Americans know those Zeppelins either from Indiana Jones films (where they're piloted by Nazis) or from the Hindenburg disaster, perhaps that's best. Built for 12 to 14 passengers, the airship's gondola has a toilet as its greatest luxury. But with gorgeous views of the countryside and sumptuous meals and Champagne waiting in the hangar, there are glimpses of the Zeppelin's more glamorous existence.

View from cockpit of a Zeppelin NT
View from cockpit of a Zeppelin NT by Hansueli Krapf (CC BY-SA)

Zeppelin Flights: Pilot for a Day

The new Zeppelins, flying since 2001, have carried more than 250,000 passengers. While there are longer flights that cost more ($560), the ultimate experience allows you to actually fly a zeppelin for $4,318. You have to be a licensed pilot and take the two days of instruction included in the price.

Kenya: Giraffe Centre

Giraffe Manor

Where: Nairobi, Kenya

Starting price: $825 per person per night

Want to go on safari, but feeling too lazy to actually go anywhere? Giraffe Manor brings much of the wildlife to you. Built in 1932 and modeled on a Scottish hunting lodge, this lodge has had giraffes on its lawn since the 1970s, when Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville first adopted an orphaned Rothschild's giraffe. It's been a hotel since 2009. You'll get giraffes peeking their heads into the lodge to join you for breakfast, and room fees include airport transfers, local transportation, all meals, house wines, beers, soft drinks and spirits, laundry, wireless internet, croquet, and entrance to the Giraffe Centre. Massages and tips are extra.

Feeding Baby Elephant in Nairobi, Kenya

Giraffe Manor: Adopt a Baby Elephant

You don't just have to hang around the meticulously restored 1930s manor house drinking wine and petting giraffes (though not wanting to do so is kind of odd). The nearby Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will let you adopt a baby elephant or baby rhino; you can paint in a greenhouse filled with orchids; and you can explore the museums and shops of Nairobi.

Jaguar E-Type Series II Roadster (1970)
Jaguar E-Type Series II Roadster (1970) by Steve Glover (CC BY)

Vintage Car Tours

Where: Various locations
Starting price: $993 per person, plus $1,750 for car rental

You could drive less than 200 miles and spend four days seeing England's oldest brewery, Winston Churchill's house, and numerous castles in Kent, or you could stay closer to home and spend nearly three weeks watching the leaves turn color in New England. In any case, you'll be doing so behind the wheel of either your own classic car or one of several available for rent.

Traditional Idyllic English Countryside village with Cosy Cottages and narrow road

Vintage Car Tours: Roadside Perks

This tour isn't just about the cars. Hotels, GPS devices, concerts, guided tours, and a traveling tour director are all included in the price; groups are limited to about 20 cars total. Even better, a knowledgeable classic car mechanic comes along for the bigger tours just to make sure everyone has a good time and keeps their car on the road.

The Equinox

The Equinox

Where: Manchester, Vermont

Starting price: $97 and up a night 

The Equinox has been at the center of Vermont's winter fun since 1769 — it's close enough to ski slopes, dog sledding trails, snowshoeing grounds, and ice-skating rinks to be a true winter retreat, and it has a spa and Land Rover Driving Experience that lets you plow through the snow.

The Equinox

The Equinox: Fly-Fishing, Falconry and Fireside Reads

The Equinox is also one of the Green Mountain State's few all-weather resorts. The bar's outdoor fire pit, tennis lessons, lake canoeing, outdoor retailer Orvis' fly-fishing and shooting schools, and a falconry course all await during warmer months. When finished outdoors, take a swim, get a bite at any of the Equinox's five eateries (including the Revolutionary-era Marsh Tavern), or find a book and a spot by the fire in the library (and look for Levi Church Orvis' inscription on the Chop House fireplace). Oh, and there are complimentary apple cider donut holes in the Grand Lobby at 9 a.m.

Train Chartering offers Golden Eagle for charter - Carriage exterior
Train Chartering offers Golden Eagle for charter - Carriage exterior by Luxury Train Club (CC BY-SA)

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express

Where: Moscow to Vladivostok

Starting price: $18,095 for 15 days

The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express runs on the longest continuous railway line in the world and operates on 15-day itineraries along a route that typically takes seven days. You'll tour cities, see the endless steppe, ride along Lake Baikal, see the yurts, and end up in Russia's key pacific military port — it's straight out of "Doctor Zhivago," only with nicer cabins and none of the hassle of the Russian Revolution.

Train Chartering offers Golden Eagle for charter - Carriage bar car
Train Chartering offers Golden Eagle for charter - Carriage bar car by Luxury Train Club (CC BY-SA)

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express: Imperial Suites

For a 15-day trip on a train, the greatest luxuries of all are the accommodations. The train provides three classes of service; all three include in-cabin showers, meal service, drinks, excursions, services of onboard tour guides, porters, and even a doctor in their prices. To switch from a twin room to a single and from low-tier Silver Class to a top-tier Imperial Suite, expect to pay close to $85,000.

Leeuwarden, June 2016 KLu Open Dagen
Leeuwarden, June 2016 KLu Open Dagen by Gerard van der Schaaf (CC BY)

DDA Classic Airlines

Where: Lelystad, Netherlands
Starting price: $175 to $205

There are only two places in the world to fly in a DC-3, and The Netherlands are one of them. This particular DC-3 dates back to 1944, dropped paratroopers into Normandy on D-Day and participated in Operation Market Garden in what was then Holland. Prince Bernhard bought the aircraft from U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower himself, and flew it until 1975. It was restored in 1998 and has been flying ever since. Flights are 30 to 45 minutes, feature uniformed pilots and flight attendants, and fly out of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Lelystad.

Panoramic aerial view of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

DDA Classic Airlines: Custom Itineraries

What makes this truly a luxury, aside from flying to another country just to fly in a plane that goes nowhere, is that flights are currently being booked after they were canceled for all of 2020 due to the pandemic. As expected, COVID-19 precautions are in place for those booking a flight. Health declarations for those too young to be vaccinated are required, as are vaccination records or negative PCR tests. Masks are also mandatory.

Trans-Canadian Rail Trip

Trans-Canadian Rail Trip

Where: Halifax to Vancouver

Starting price: $10,280
Canada's old coast-to-coast Dominion train hasn't run in years. But the Rocky Mountaineer excursion train and Via Rail Canada combine for a 19-day, 18-night trip that recalls the Dominion's former glory. The Rocky Mountaineer operates on the Dominion's Canadian Pacific tracks and passes through the scenic mountains along Banff and Lake Louise, but you'll also see Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto, Old Montréal, and broad portions of Quebec.

Historic Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies

Trans-Canadian Rail Trip: 5-Star Lodging

You get a private cabin on the train for the duration of the ride, though you can mill the lounge areas and dining cars with fellow travelers. When not on the train, you'll be staying at local 3- to 5-star hotels or lodges.

Front shot of the Napa Valley Wine Train on sunny day.
Apostolos Giontzis/istockphoto

Napa Valley Wine Train

Where: Napa, California

Starting price: $260 and up per person 

Established as a passenger line in 1864 and maintained through the 1930s, the Napa Valley Wine Train wasn't known as such until it opened as a tourist line in 1989. The train's Pullman cars were built in 1915 but have been restored completely with Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and velveteen fabric armchairs. Its locomotives and Vista Dome Car with glass ceiling panels were built in the 1950s, but all now exist solely to shuffle wine tasters around Napa.

California Vineyards
jim Schlett/istockphoto

Napa Valley Wine Train: Winery Tours and Murder-Mystery Rides

That starting price is just for a lunch or dinner train. If you'd like to take the train for a half-day winery tour, a full-day winery tour, or special events such as murder-mystery rides, beer rides or holiday rides, it gets a bit more costly.

Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 ‘G-PHRG’
Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 ‘G-PHRG’ by Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA)

Airlander 10

Where: Bedford, England
Starting price: $20 per person

Yes, the Airlander folks know: The world's longest aircraft looks like a giant posterior. But, that hasn't stopped its developers from bringing it out on test flights and preparing to market it elsewhere around the world.

Airlander 10 floating in Cardington Hangar on 21st March 2016.
Airlander 10 floating in Cardington Hangar on 21st March 2016. by Philbobagshot (CC BY-SA)

Airlander 10: VIP Tours

Airship travel is still a throwback; you don't just see passenger airships buzzing around on a regular basis. But signing on as a supporter for less than $20 a year as a supporter (or substantially more as an investor), is the best opportunity to get a VIP tour of the Airlander hangar and a flight for two on the Vector Airlander Flight Trainer.

The American Queen back in Marietta
The American Queen back in Marietta by Mike (CC BY-ND)

American Queen Voyages

Where: Various cities

Starting price: $1,399 and up

Call it a steamboat, call it a paddle boat, call it a sternwheeler: These ships still run along the Columbia River and Snake River between Washington and Oregon, the Ohio River from Pennsylvania through to Missouri, and both the upper and lower Mississippi River. You can do New Year's in New Orleans or spend more than three weeks heading from Minnesota all the way to the Big Easy.

Deckchairs on the Steamboat American Queen
Deckchairs on the Steamboat American Queen by David Brossard (CC BY-SA)

American Queen Voyages: Live Entertainment and Private Butler

The American Queen offers spa treatments, a fitness center, live entertainment, three meals, and snacks. Luxury suites have their own private verandas and butlers. If you want Victorian-era luxury, you've found it.

The Wentworth by the Sea Hotel

Wentworth by the Sea

Where: New Castle, New Hampshire
Starting price: $664 a night

It's owned by Marriott, but it by no means looks like a chain hotel. Opened in 1874 and given a $30 million overhaul in 2003, Wentworth by the Sea is one of the last of the area's grand hotels. It features a full-service spa, exercise studio, indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court, historic gardens, 10,000 square feet of event space, four dining facilities, and a 170-slip marina.

Waffles, sausage, and Mimosa Brunch
Austin Melonie Carroll/istockphoto

Wentworth by the Sea: Luxury Suites and Jazz Brunch

There are three different eateries, a winter wine festival in January, and holiday packages. The luxury comes into play when you splurge for the ocean views, king-size beds, and whirlpool tubs in the Marina and Turret Suites.

Cunard Line Queen Mary 2 cruise ship

Queen Mary 2

Where: New York and Southampton
Starting price: $998

Rumors of attempts at building a new Titanic are true, but why not enjoy turn-of-the century charms on an ocean liner built at the turn of this century with a clean reputation? Cunard isn't new to transatlantic cruises — it was actually a competitor to the Titanic's White Star line — and in 2004 built the Queen Mary 2, exceeding Titanic in numerous ways (not the least of which is still floating on the Atlantic rather than resting on its floor).

Queen Mary 2 - Britannia Restaurant
Queen Mary 2 - Britannia Restaurant by Jorbasa Fotografie (CC BY-ND)

Queen Mary 2: Onboard Theaters, Spa, and Luxuries Galore

The Queen Mary 2 includes 15 restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and a seafaring planetarium. Cunard has much to say about the luxuries of its liner, including its cinema, theaters, spa, grill, pet kennels, and massive Britannia restaurant, which goes the width of the ship on two decks. There's a grand lobby to greet you, grand staircases to traverse, and an 8,000-volume library to busy yourself with.

The Steam Ship Sudan, Egypt
The Steam Ship Sudan, Egypt by S J Pinkney (CC BY)

Steam Ship Sudan

Where: Egypt
Starting price: $2,995

Built in 1885 for Egypt's King Fouad, this steamship inspired tourist Agatha Christie to write "Death on the Nile" in 1937. There are just 23 cabins, five of which are suites, with period furniture (including wall-mounted telephones and brass beds). There is a sun deck, and each voyage includes buffet breakfast and lunch, followed by a four-course dinner.

LUXOR, EGYPT  Ancient ruins of Karnak temple at noon

Steam Ship Sudan: Touring the Chambers of the Pharaohs

The Sudan runs from Luxor to Aswan, where you'll get to see the halls and sculptures of the Temple of Karnak, the burial chambers of the pharaohs (including Tutankhamen and Ramses III), the Temple of Edfu, and Kom Ombo. It is hard to get more retro.

Illicit Financial Flows in Africa

Abercrombie & Kent Safaris

Where: Southern Africa

Starting price: $14,995 per person

From bustling, cosmopolitan Cape Town in South Africa to towering Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the extraordinary Okavango Delta in Botswana, this Southern Africa safari is indicative of what Abercrombie & Kent has been booking since 1962. Founder Geoffrey Kent was born while his parents were on safari, raised on the family farm in Kenya, and was the first person to travel from Kenya to Cape Town on a motorcycle. If you're looking for authenticity, you've found it.

Victoria Falls

Abercrombie & Kent Safaris: Cruising the Chobe River

If you think wistfully of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen," this trip means pining no more; it spends three nights cruising the Chobe River aboard the Zambezi Queen; and a two-day journey on turn-of-the-century Rovos Rail goes through mountain ranges and savannas on the way to Table Mountain overlooking the Twelve Apostles range, the Cape of Good Hope and its African penguin colony on Boulders Beach, Victoria Falls, and Sanctuary Chief's Camp in Okavango Delta's Moremi Game Reserve, home to numerous predators (yes, including lions). If this seems steep, just consider that prices range from $2,195 for a tailor-made trip to Victoria Falls to $250,000 to join Kent's wife Otavia (as well as other travelers) at the South Pole with Emperor penguins.

Caravan walking in Merzouga desert
Balate Dorin/istockphoto

Sahara Camel Tours

Where: Merzouga, Morocco

Starting price: $580

Seeing the massive dunes of the Erg Chebbi in any circumstance is awe-inspiring. Seeing them from the back of a camel as you make your way to and from camp with help from Berber guides is as authentically "retro" an experience as you can muster. Modernity disappears once your Hyundai minivan picks you up at the airport and drops you into the village. If you had a 5-star riad or hotel in Marrakech, staying in a tent in the wind-swept desert or sitting on a carpet by the fire at night will be an interesting change of pace.

Arab pastries

Sahara Camel Tours: Desserts in the Desert

Guides will be with you the whole time, along with your group's chef. Dinners are three-course feasts with salads, soups, tajine (stew), lamb mechoui (spit-roasted lamb), seven-vegetable couscous, and desserts with seasonal fruit and pastry. Breakfast features jams, cheeses, oils, honey, and yogurts on Moroccan pancakes or fresh-baked bread.

Expedition Ship Charters

Expedition Ship Charters

Where: Wherever you'd like

Starting price: $19,000 per week

Anybody can rent a yacht and play William Randolph Hearst for a weekend, but chartering an expedition vessel and channeling Jacques Cousteau? That's a far more rare feat. With some vessels dating back to the 1940s with mid-century Cousteau-style design elements, and others retrofitted with luxury features (think hot tubs, giant flatscreen televisions, and bars), Classic Charters lets you can follow scientific pursuits or just play adventurer for as long as you desire.

Polar bear walking on sea ice

Expedition Ship Charters: Journey to the Caribbean or the Arctic

While some expedition vessels are restricted by geography (some, for example, won't leave the Caribbean or a particular ocean), others will charge up to $286,389 a week to lay the world at your feet. To visit a particularly challenging destination — such as going polar bear watching in the Arctic — expedition ships might be worth the investment.