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Experience Exclusive Extravagance on Luxury Tours

Luxury Gold

Luxury Gold offers small-group journeys to all of Asia; to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa; and to other destinations. Trips are limited to 24 travelers.

When traveling on a small-group escorted journey with Luxury Gold, “the main focus is making sure there’s unique VIP experiences and these really authentic personal encounters,” said Amber Boyle, group sales manager.

In Memphis, Tennessee, groups enjoy a private dinner in Elvis’ Graceland after it’s closed to the public. One Hawaiian departure uses a charter jet, so guests “travel in a luxurious manner between destinations,” she said.

Nine new itineraries for 2018 include Great Britain, Croatia and Montenegro, Scandinavia, France, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and India. In Japan, the group meets a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb and has an exclusive meeting with a samurai warrior after watching a samurai performance in front of Aoba Castle.

Luxury Gold’s Chairman’s Collection is also new for 2018. Stanley Tollman, chairman of Luxury Gold’s parent company, tapped his personal connections to offer over-the-top experiences on select departures. Guests can join Count Francesco Mazzei for dinner at his Tuscan estate, meet the Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle in England to visit her gardens or attend a cocktail reception with Princess Anita von Hohenberg at Artstetten Castle in Austria.

Itineraries may include overnight stays on the ultraluxurious Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train or the boutique Uniworld River Countess ship. Accommodations feature five-star properties such as the Hotel Jules César in France and the Hotel D’Angleterre in Switzerland.

Trips can follow the preset itinerary or be customized for groups, and guests travel in reconfigured luxury coaches with business-class legroom, Wi-Fi and state-of-the-art sound systems.

Odysseys Unlimited

Odysseys Unlimited doesn’t use the term “luxury,” even though their itineraries fall on the upper end of the spectrum. That’s because “luxury connotes something that we are not, which is more the trappings than the experience,” said Sue Bonchi, vice president of marketing. And the company’s small group departures, which include 12 to 24 guests, are all about the experience.

Odysseys uses well-located hotels in the city center so guests can easily walk around, but the accommodations vary depending on the region. In Vietnam, hotels are deluxe first class, and in New Zealand, the group may stay next to a glacier in a national park. They stay in “paradores” in Spain and in “pousadas” in Portugal, which are large, historic buildings, such as monasteries, fortresses and castles, that the government converted to hotels and inns. They’re too small for a typical tour group of more than 40, “but for our 12 to 24, it’s been enormously popular,” Bonchi said.

While visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, guests stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on-site. In Japan, they spend the night in a “ryokan,” a traditional Japanese inn, and go with a chef to a morning market to gather ingredients to prepare lunch. Groups do some sightseeing in Vietnam on a sampan, a traditional small flat-bottomed riverboat.

Odysseys returned to Egypt about 18 months ago, and the destination has been growing. After a cruise on man-made Lake Nasser, groups visit some of the monuments that were relocated, brick by brick, before the reservoir was flooded.

The company also uses only local tour directors, which “is a real key to all of our tours,” Bonchi said. In Egypt, the tour directors “are like professors, they have such incredible knowledge and experience.”

UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, now owns eight ships that carry only 22 to 88 passengers.

“For groups, it makes it extremely intimate,” said Kate Hudson, group and charter sales manager. “By the time you’re off, you’ve made lifelong friends and possibly added additions to your family.”

UnCruise’s Alaska Awakening departures take people into Alaska in April and May, well before other ships start cruising there for the season. In early spring, people will likely see the northern lights, baby bears fresh out of hibernation foraging for food by the shoreline — and a lot fewer people.

In Panama, a recent addition for UnCruise, groups take dugout canoes into the Darien Jungle where they visit an Embera village, watch traditional dances and see the villagers’ handicrafts. Children greet the group to lead them to the village. Hudson said a young girl grabbed her hand, and they smiled and giggled and never spoke a word.

“It was a magical moment that you can’t re-create anywhere else, and that’s luxury,” she said.

Another luxury is freedom. Because UnCruise’s small ships don’t have to be in port or follow strict schedules, they have the freedom to stop to watch a pod of whales or to snorkel through a shipwreck that one of the trip’s expedition guides discovered.

“It’s a luxury that you don’t have a strict minute-by-minute itinerary,” she said. “We just go where Mother Nature takes us.”

UnCruise’s Blue Hull vessels tend to be a little more high-end, but all its itineraries are all-inclusive. UnCruise also offers private charters, which “puts it up another notch” because the group can fully customize itineraries.