In this Issue:

FEATURED TRIP: Passage to British Honduras
CRUISE OF THE MONTH: Autumn in the Smokies by Riverboat & Train
JOURNEY OF THE MONTH: New Year’s at the Grand Canyon
BEHIND THE SCENES: Our Favorite River Ports of Call
THE WAY IT WAS: Toronto’s Classic Architecture
PHOTO OF THE MONTH: The Grandest of Canyons
DID YOU KNOW? What Sets Uncommon Journeys Apart
HISTORIC SNAPSHOT: Palmer House Hilton
A TASTE FOR TRAVEL: Regina’s Fig Sidecar
TRAVEL TIPS: Best Trips for River Cuisine
NATIONAL PARK TRIVIA: Yosemite Expanded
IN YOUR OWN WORDS: What our guests are saying about us

 

EXCLUSIVE LIMITED OFFER

TRAIN UPGRADE! Receive a complimentary one-category private train accommodations upgrade on our 12-day Passage to British Honduras train and cruise tour departing December 1. Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires September 30, 2016 and is subject to availability.



Featured Trip

 

Passage to British Honduras

If you love to cruise but hate to fly, we have the perfect vacation for you this year. Take a cruise deep into the Caribbean but leave and return from Chicago, courtesy of our private train which whisks you from Chicago to New Orleans to board your ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s acclaimed Norwegian Dawn. I invite you to join us on a journey from downtown Chicago to the jungles of Central America by vintage train and ocean liner! Our 12-day Passage to British Honduras train and cruise tour travels in great comfort with an evening departure from the Windy City to New Orleans aboard the finest train in this country for decades, Pullman Rail Journeys’ superb overnight vintage train and on the Norwegian Dawn featuring 11 restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, an excellent spa and fitness center, a casino, and acres of open deck space. Because Norwegian Cruise Line operates” Freestyle Cruising”, you may dine when you like, where you like, with whom you like. There is no required dress code and a level of personal choice on how you enjoy your vacation is offered.

Experience the colorful rainforests of Belize.

Our 12-day Passage to British Honduras train and cruise tour departing December 1 begins at $2,895 per person.

DAY 1: Union Station, Chicago, Illinois
Guests are greeted at Union Station by our host and escorted to our train where cozy sleeping car accommodations await. Our train departs at 8:00 pm with drinks and dinner served upon departure.

DAY 2: New Orleans, Louisiana
This afternoon we arrive in New Orleans, the Crescent City, and are transferred to the intimate Dauphine Orleans Hotel in the heart of the famous French Quarter. This evening is free for you to explore this colorful and lively city.

DAY 3: New Orleans, Louisiana
This morning our guests enjoy a walking tour of the French Quarter with a stop at the renowned ‘Cafe du Monde’, famous for their café au lait and fresh, warm beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar. It’s a delicious treat we never allow our guests to miss. Another evening to enjoy all that this great city has to offer. Tonight is also a special welcome dinner hosted by your tour manager.

DAY 4: Sailing on the Norwegian Dawn
Later this afternoon, our group boards the Norwegian Dawn to begin our adventure to the enigmatic land of the Maya. This evening is our Welcome Aboard cocktail party.

DAY 5: At Sea
Today you have your entire day to do as you wish. There is almost too much to choose from, but we suggest you first explore the Norwegian Dawn and discover its many splendors and treasures.

DAY 6: Cozumel, Mexico
The island of Cozumel off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula continues to be known for its fantastic fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities. Despite the growth of tourism in recent years, the island and its only town, San Miguel, retains much of its original warmth and charm.

DAY 7: Belize
Long before the 17th-century powers fought over Belizean sovereignty, a complex Mayan civilization flourished here. Today, many of the architectural treasures from that amazing lost culture remain for you to explore in virtually untouched verdant jungles.

DAY 8: Roatan
Beautiful and unspoiled, Roatan is a peaceful, eco-tourist's dream, just 30 miles off the coast of Honduras. Teeming with marine life and home to some of the best pillar coral in the Caribbean, the pristine Belizean Reef is a diver’s paradise. And the beauty of Tabyana Beach is always a sight to see.

DAY 9: Costa Maya, Mexico
This unspoiled coastal paradise in the Yucatán sprawls off the beaten path, with brilliant butterflies, exotic tropical birds, deer, monkeys – even jaguars are said to roam the remote parts of this pristine jungle.

DAY 10: At Sea
Another glorious day to soak in the sun, visit the spa, indulge in fine cuisine or simply do nothing at all. That is the joy of a day at sea: there are no expectations or schedules.

DAY 11: New Orleans, LA
This morning we disembark the ship and after breakfast and have till midafternoon to enjoy New Orleans with time for a visit to the World War 2 Museum, the antique stores in Rue Royale or perhaps a ride on the famed St. Charles Streetcar Line. A little more fun and enjoyment in this charming city. This afternoon we depart aboard the ‘Panama Limited’ headed back to Chicago and later tonight, enjoy stylish cocktails and dinner as we roll north over the storied ‘Main Line of Mid America’ on the Illinois Central Railroad.

DAY 12: Union Station, Chicago, IL
This morning after breakfast we arrive in Chicago at 9 am allowing for easy, same day, connections for all Midwest destination points. Welcome home!
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Autumn in the Smokies by Riverboat & Train

Join us on a very special holiday to the Great Smoky Mountains that includes city tours, fabled estates, a famed train ride and passage on the deluxe riverboat Louisiane, flagship of America’s newest river cruise line. With an overnight in Atlanta, two nights in lovely Asheville, and a visit to the Vanderbilt family’s European-style Biltmore Estate, this is a trip of lasting memories. Spend two nights in Great Smoky Mountains National Park complete with a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. After exploring Music City U.S.A. in Nashville, transfer to French America Line’s Louisiane for a remarkable 7-night voyage to Memphis on the Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers with a special overnight stay in musical Memphis. Walk in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers at the Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, learn about the 1811 earthquake in New Madrid that caused the Mississippi to flow backwards, and visit the quirky Purple Toad Winery in Paducah.

Take a riverboat cruise among the fall colors.

Our 14-day Autumn in the Great Smokies by Riverboat & Train tour departing November 7 begins at $4,895 per person.

DAY 1: Atlanta, GA
Arrive in Atlanta and transfer to the highly rated Atlanta Hilton for an overnight stay in the heart of downtown and a welcome reception at Trader Vic’s, a nice way to meet your fellow travelers. The evening is at leisure.

DAY 2: Asheville, NC
Enjoy a short scenic drive to Asheville, NC where deluxe rooms await at the Doubletree Biltmore, located at the entrance to the fabled Vanderbilt Estate. Spend the afternoon exploring the gorgeous town of Asheville with its great galleries, boutiques, shops and bookstores. A welcome dinner is included tonight with the balance of the evening free. Overnight at the Doubletree Biltmore.

DAY 3: Biltmore Estate, NC
This morning, a guided city tour of Asheville including the Basilica of St. Lawrence, Grove Arcade and Grove Park inn is followed by a tour of the Biltmore Estate and lunch on the estate in the Deerpark Restaurant. Spend the afternoon and all evening enjoying enchanting Asheville. Overnight at the Doubletree Biltmore.

DAY 4: Great Smoky Mountains
Depart the hotel for a ride on The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad this morning through Nantahala Gorge along the Little Tennessee River with highlights like Horseshoe Curve and Fontana Lake Trestle. After lunch, we drive to Gatlinburg through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your hotel for the next two nights is the finest in the region, the superb Park Vista Resort, where all rooms have balconies and rich appointments.

DAY 5: Great Smoky Mountains
Depart this morning on a scenic tour of Cades Cove, a breathtakingly beautiful mile loop road through the Smokies with pioneer homesteads and the backdrop of blue-misted mountains. Wildlife is abundant so have your camera ready! Explore Gatlinburg before our dinner later tonight at the Old Mill Restaurant.

DAY 6: Nashville, TN
Arrive in Nashville at the magnificent Gaylord Opryland Hotel. We have intentionally left the afternoon and evening free for you to enjoy this remarkable resort with time to take in a show this evening.

DAY 7: Nashville, TN (Embarkation)
Your fare includes breakfast this morning at your hotel as well as a transfer to the Louisiane and all porterage. Settle into your stateroom or suite, and then bid Nashville farewell as the Louisiane departs and you immerse yourself in the joys of life on the river. Bon voyage!

DAY 8: Scenic Cruising
Enjoy the pleasures of the Louisiane as you start your day with a made-to-order beignet and café au lait.

DAY 9: Dover, TN
Surrender to the charm of Dover, unlike Confederate officer Nathan Bedford Forrest, who refused to give up his cavalry after a resounding Union victory. Wander through the park honoring Forrest, and revisit his exploits at Fort Donelson National Battlefield.

DAY 10: Paducah, KY
Picture 42,000 Union soldiers boarding 185 ships on their way upriver, and you’ll get a sense of the rich local history that is captured at the Floodwall Murals, the Wacinton Sculpture honoring the Chickasaw Indians, and the National Quilt Museum.

DAY 11: Scenic Cruising
Spend the afternoon with new friends and sip a pre-dinner aperitif in the Bar Royale.

DAY 12: New Madrid, MO
imagine this sleepy village flattened in 1811 by North America’s strongest recorded earthquake, and later further shaken up by 1862’s Battle of island Number Ten. Artifacts are on view at the quaint Historical Museum and the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site.

DAY 13: Memphis, TN
Take in the sounds of Memphis, where a stroll on soulful Beale Street, a tour of Graceland, or a visit to the Stax Museum of Soul Music and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum will have you feeling the beat.

DAY 14: Memphis, TN (Disembarkation)
Bid adieu to the Louisiane and begin your journey home.
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New Year’s at the Grand Canyon

Join us on a special New Year’s holiday that features one of the most stunning places in all North America to welcome the New Year, the magnificent Grand Canyon, in all of its pristine winter glory, without crowds and with brilliant sunlit days.

We will travel out to Arizona aboard the famous Southwest Chief train, from either Southern California or Chicago (whichever is closer), an overnight journey. We then feature a ride on the historic Grand Canyon Railway right to the edge of the South Rim, overlooking the world's deepest chasm. We will ride in comfort and style over this historic short-line railway, first built by the Santa Fe railroad in 1901 and now restored after an almost 25-year gap, the ultimate way to arrive at this magnificent example of the world’s seven wonders. We will enjoy a two-night hotel stay right at the picturesque South Rim. We have even included a tour of the South Rim by coach, allowing you to see even more. After two nights at the Grand Canyon, we travel to Las Vegas for a three-night stay at the ultra-luxe Bellagio Resort. With over eighteen restaurants, including famed Le Cirque, the Bellagio is one of the world's greatest resorts and offers the Bellagio Spa for additional pleasure. Even if one does not gamble, between elegant shops, the spa, dining, lounges, and more active choices such as golf, tennis, or swimming, the Bellagio is a superb choice to include in this holiday.

All the drama, none of the crowds.

Our 8-day New Year’s at the Grand Canyon train tour departing December 29 begins at $2,295 per person.

DAY 1: Southwest Chief Train
Guests depart Los Angeles Union Station tonight aboard the Southwest Chief bound for Arizona. Guests may also board in Orange County this evening. Dinner is available in the Diner upon departure from Los Angeles and later tonight we ascend Cajon Pass. Note that guests departing Chicago and Eastern points leave on December 28 and will join up with guests traveling from the West on December 30 in Williams, AZ.

DAY 2: Williams, AZ
Passengers from the West arrive in historic Winslow this morning at the wonderfully restored La Posada Hotel followed by a magical day that includes sightseeing through the hauntingly beautiful Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest, you will want to have your camera handy. Later today, an afternoon arrival at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, AZ where a welcome dinner and overnight stay awaits.

DAY 3: Grand Canyon, AZ
All Aboard! A wonderfully scenic ride awaits this morning as we depart right from the hotel aboard the Grand Canyon Railway bound for the South Rim. This historic and fabled line was abandoned for decades and is now happily restored. Our vintage train travels through forests of pine with a midday arrival just steps away from the South Rim. No matter how many times one has seen the Grand Canyon it never fails to inspire awe and we include a short sightseeing tour today, leaving the balance of the afternoon and evening at leisure in this magnificent setting. We enjoy two nights at the picturesque South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

DAY 4: Grand Canyon, AZ
All morning to sleep in and to take in the stunning vistas from our hotel on this, the first day of the New Year. The Grand Canyon is blessedly uncrowded at this time of the year. All day at leisure to relax, catch up with a new book or socialize. (B)

DAY 5: Las Vegas, AZ
We depart after breakfast on the very scenic drive to a spectacular site of a different type, Las Vegas, with lovely scenery along the way. We arrive at the Five Diamond-rated Bellagio Hotel this afternoon to begin our three-night stay. We have left this evening at leisure for guests to enjoy as they like and Bellagio features over 18 restaurants and lounges to indulge in that are sure to delight.

DAY 6: Las Vegas, AZ
All morning to sleep in with a casual lunch we host this afternoon and we have left the afternoon at leisure for relaxing around the swimming pools, golf, tennis or taking in the Bellagio Spa.

DAY 7: Las Vegas, AZ
A final full day to enjoy all that Las Vegas has to offer: time by the pool, golf, riding, great shopping or even gambling. The Bellagio is such a great resort that there is little need to ever leave it but just in case, everything including the Venetian Resort is right nearby. Tonight is our special Farewell Dinner at Lawry’s, the Prime Rib.

DAY 8: Return Home
Guests depart for home today. For those guests who prefer not to fly or are making connections with Amtrak trains in Southern California, we offer complimentary motorcoach transportation to Southern California. Regardless of direction, our passengers leave with newfound friends and memories and visual images to last a lifetime.
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Our Favorite River Ports of Call

Oak Alley exudes the feel of the Deep South.

One of the joys of partnering with America’s newest river cruise line, French America Line, is the abundance of new destinations that we can offer. But aboard the elegant riverboat Louisiane, we visit more than just the wonderful destinations of New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis. We also take the time to stop at hidden gems, each with a fascinating story or attraction, that might otherwise be left off a list of intriguing ports. At Uncommon Journeys, we are committed to finding the unusual and unique and presenting it you. Here are a few of our favorite river treats:

CAVE-IN-ROCK, IL | You're sure to find this sleepy little village's 19th century swashbuckling past rather intriguing. From their base in a natural cave along the river, armed river pirates used to hide where they could easily row out and rob passing steamboats.

DUBUQUE, IA | Build up your knowledge of early river commerce at the intriguing and history-filled Mississippi River Museum, much as the lumber barons built countless landmarks at this confluence of three states. 

HANNIBAL, MO | Pay tribute to Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, at his Boyhood Home and Museum in this welcoming town. Reenact Tom and Huck's exploits if you're feeling mischievous, as Hannibal provided the setting for their quintessentially American adventures.

HELENA, AR | You're sure to agree with Mark Twain's assessment that Helena "occupies one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi," but there's more than just looks to this hub of blues music, which features the lovingly reconstructed Civil War-era Fort Curtis.

MADISON, IN | Stroll among the numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places nestled in this scenic valley village, and relax in the natural wonders offered up by beautiful Clifty Falls State Park just outside of town.

OAK ALLEY, LA | Linger at one of the most photogenic sites in America, majestic Oak Alley Plantation, and stroll its allée, lined by 28 massive oaks more than 300 years old. Tour the Big House and investigate the buildings dotting the lovely grounds.

PADUCAH, KY | Picture 42,000 Union soldiers boarding 185 ships on their way upriver, and you'll get a sense of the rich local history that is captured at the Floodwall Murals. See the Wacinton Sculpture honoring the Chickasaw Indians and tour the remarkable National Quilt Museum.

VICKSBURG, MS | Hear the distant echoes of Ulysses S. Grant's call to arms as he lay a 47-day siege to the city, now immortalized at Vicksburg National Military Park, which houses the ironclad USS Cairo.
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Toronto’s Classic Architecture

The stunning St James’ Cathedral in Toronto.

Toronto is one of our favorite cities and featured on our 13-day Great Canadian Train Ride departing October 6. Being a lover of innovative and classic architecture, we were thrilled to find out that Tourism Toronto has a fantastic website at www.seetorontonow.com that not only details the multitude of things to do and places to see in this astoundingly vibrant and energetic city but also a review of some of its finest buildings and a guide to what is worth seeing. Here are three of their favorites, as describe on their website:

St. James' Cathedral
“St. James Cathedral was completed in 1844 and designed by Frederick Cumberland as a prime example of Early English Gothic architecture. It opened for services in 1853, the clock tower being finished in 1874, with the clock being installed a year later. At the turn of the 19th century St. James Cathedral was the tallest building in Toronto, and was often the first thing immigrants noticed when they stepped off the train at Union Station.”

St. Lawrence Hall
“St. Lawrence Hall is a meeting hall in Toronto, Canada next to the St. Lawrence Market. It was built,
alongside the new city hall, in 1850 after a fire destroyed much of the market. The Renaissance Revival style building was designed by William Thomas and was created to be Toronto's public meeting hall for public gatherings, concerts, and exhibitions.”

Gooderham Building (Flat Iron Building)
“The building was commissioned by George Gooderham to house the head offices of his Gooderham & Worts distilling company. Wedged into the confluence of Wellington and Front Street East, Toronto's "Flatiron Building" pre-dates New York's more famous Flatiron Building by a decade.”
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The Grandest of Canyons

The dramatic panorama of the Grand Canyon.

Join us on a special New Year’s holiday that features one of the most stunning places in all North America to welcome the New Year, the magnificent Grand Canyon, in all of its pristine winter glory, without crowds and with brilliant sunlit days. Our little slice of heaven is our 8-day New Years at the Grand Canyon train tour departing December 29, 2016.

If you’d like to see a photo from one of your own Uncommon Journeys trips featured in our newsletter, just email it to us at uncommon@uncommonjourneys.com and be sure to note in your email that we can use it for marketing purposes.
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What Sets Uncommon Journeys Apart

The elegance of private train travel.

What sets Uncommon Journeys apart? In one sentence, the answer is that we create the same types of vacations that we would want to go on. The heart of a trip with Uncommon Journeys is discovering exactly what that means. We define it in several different ways:

  • Relive the Golden Age of Travel in splendid style and grand comfort. That’s more than a nice catchphrase. When we create a new trip and pull the elements together, we’re carefully considering how to structure the trip and how to choose partners that can deliver a travel experience that takes our guests back to a simple, more relaxing time.
  • Private rail cars reserved exclusively for Uncommon Journeys guests with attentive service and fine dining. We could ask our guests to fly to the embarkation point for their cruise or to the entrance of a national park, but instead we offer packages that combine great sights with rail travel, and in many cases we do so with our private cars such as the Great Western Limited where the overall experience, complete with white tablecloths, roses, multi-course meals and a staff that learns your name and preferences, is reminiscent of the grand days of rail in the 1940s and 1950s. We use restored Vista-Dome Streamliner cars with a delightedly retro feel and expansive, sweeping windows that make certain no guest ever misses a panorama along the way.
  • Exceptional travel experiences showcasing classic restored trains, traditional ocean liners, innovative small ships, historic hotels and unspoiled national parks. To complement our rail cars from the Golden Age of travel, we select partners with the same dedication to preserving and enhancing the past, whether it’s a traditional ocean liner of Holland America Line or Cunard Line, an authentically-styled riverboat, a grand hotel such as the Palmer House in Chicago, and the most sought after national parks.
  • Relaxing multiple-night hotel stays with personalized discovery not often found on organized tours. Most tour companies take you from place to place with only one night in a hotel. We believe you need more time to truly see the places you’re visiting so, for example, we’re the only tour provider that offers three nights in a place like glorious Banff or throws in multiple nights in cities such as San Francisco.
  • Ample free time for guests to create their own agenda and explore without time pressure. Many tour companies schedule every minute of every day, marching their attendees from place to place with relentless precision like soldiers. At Uncommon Journeys, we make certain that we leave plenty of spare time in the schedule for our guests to relax and explore on their own. We might have a special dinner planned after arriving in Jackson Hole, for example, but the entire afternoon is free to take a lift to the top of a mountain, go horseback riding or browse the art galleries off the town square.
  • Professional and detail-oriented tour managers share their knowledge and love of the places we visit. Many tour guides simply herd people from place to place. Our tour managers help you experience each destination by suggesting things to do that might fit your interests or take you themselves to their favorite ice cream stand or lookout.
  • Hidden local stops and special activities exclusively for Uncommon Journeys guests. Since our tour managers intimately know the areas in which they’re visiting, they have the freedom to make an unscheduled stop for huckleberry pie in Wyoming or homemade fudge in Northern California, paid for by Uncommon Journeys.
  • Dine in distinctive local restaurants, not impersonal hotel banquet halls. They don’t tell you, but most tour companies host stale, rubbery dinners in hotel convention rooms. Instead, Uncommon Journeys takes you out into the destination with unique experiences such as a fish house in Montana, a café nestled in a country club overlooking a dramatic mountain lake, or a perfect cut of meat at the fabled Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Chicago or Las Vegas.
  • Arise rested and refreshed without early morning departures, pre-dawn hotel check-out times or all-day motorcoach rides. Since most tour companies demand that every moment be scripted and planned, they also insist that tour guests get up at 5:00am or 6:00am to depart at 7:00am. We have more leisurely mornings with departures at 8:30am or 9:00am. We also plan our days to make certain that when a motorcoach is involved, our guests don’t sit for 8 or 10 hours to get to the next destination. It might not seem like much, but the combination of reasonable departure times and limited long motorcoach trips makes a world of difference after just a few days.
  • Each guest is treated with courtesy and respect rather than herded from place to place on strict timetables. We don’t force guests to wear silly nametags or funnel people from place to place on inflexible schedules. It means that our guests feel like people and not sheep and are free to enjoy their vacation on their own terms.
  • Travel in style without boarding a plane or waiting in long lines.Uncommon Journeys’ signature is folding rail travel into our trips and only offering adventures in North America or on voyages that sail roundtrip from North American ports. That means that, if you choose, at no point do you ever have to fly anywhere. You don’t have to fight for curb space to unload luggage, stand in line to check your bag, take off your jacket and shoes as you wait 30 minutes or more to go through security, sit in an airport concourse eating a stale $11 ham and cheese sandwich, wedge your body into a tight airplane seat with your knees in your chin, dine on 8 pretzels and a small cup of soda or battle for overhead bin space. It’s remarkable how much more enjoyable your trip can be when you begin and end with a train.
  • The best value and most unique vacations in North America. While we don’t offer trips that cost $10,000, we also know that a vacation with Uncommon Journeys costs enough that you are going to carefully weigh all your options before making the purchase decision. But how much is free time, multiple nights in hotels, included extras, the feel of elegant travel from yesteryear, relaxed mornings, special events and exclusive treats worth to you? See for yourself and you’ll discover why you get more value out of a trip with Uncommon Journeys plus you’ll get to do unique things that other tour providers ignore. That’s a winning combination!

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Luxury in Yellowstone


Palmer House Hilton

The grandeur of a classic hotel from the era when each journey was special.

Many of our vacations begin and end in Chicago and the Hilton Chicago is one of our favorite hotels not just in the Windy City, but anywhere in the United States. Whenever possible, we want our hotel selections to reflect the golden era of travel that our guests enjoy on our classic trains and the Hilton Chicago fits the bill perfectly.

Overlooking Grant Park, Chicago’s museums and Lake Michigan, the hotel is a landmark that has hosted every president of the United States since it opened its doors back in 1927, the same year Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic solo.

The hotel started life as the Stevens Hotel and was the largest hotel in the world with 3,000 guest rooms. It took its name from James W. Stevens who, along with his son Ernest owned the famed La Salle Hotel as well as the Illinois Life Insurance Company, built the structure at a staggering cost (at the time) of $30 million. Keep in mind that a decade earlier, the original Yankee Stadium had cost a mere $3 million. The hotel was truly a marvel of its day with it expansive public spaces, grand architecture and its amenities including a bowling alley, drug store, movie theater, ice cream parlor, barber shop and even a miniature golf course on the roof.

Unfortunately for the Stevens family, their timing was lousy. When the stock market plunged two years later and the country fell into the throes of the Great Depression, an investigation by the State of Illinois charged the owners with corruption. By the late 1930, 80% of hotels in American had gone into bankruptcy and the mighty Stevens Hotel was worth a mere $7 million.

Uncle Sam stepped in and with the advent of World War II, bought the hotel in 1942 for use as both classrooms and barracks for trainees in the United States Army Air Force. The grand ballroom’s elaborate turn-of-the-century glamour became the surroundings for more than 10,000 cadets who passed through the hotel and used the space as their mess hall. With victory on the horizon in 1944, the hotel was sold for just under $5 million and by the end of the war had been sold once again. This time, Conrad Hilton become the owner and set about making the hotel the premier spot for Hollywood celebrities, well-known politicians and visiting royalty in Chicago. And he succeeded admirably.

By the 1970s however, the hotel was looking worn out and there was talk of razing the building. However, a year-long refurbishment reduced the room count by half to 1,544, all of which were larger and better-appointed than the rooms they replaced. After spending $185 million, six times its building cost nearly 60 years earlier, the hotel opened its doors as the Chicago Hilton and Towers in 1985. Thirteen years later, the name was shortened to Hilton Chicago. Another $150 million fueled a second refurbishment this year.

While the architecture might be reminiscent of a grand train station, the hotel is known for its elegance and history. The two-story Conrad Hilton Suite with its baby grand piano and 18the century tapestries reportedly rents for well over $7,000 a night and has had Frank Sinatra as a guest, among many other rich and famous names. The Normandie Lounge is a narrow sitting area that features panels and furniture from the legendary French Line’s 1930s dreamboat Normandie, considered by most ocean liner buffs as the most magnificent and luxurious ship ever built.

Our mission is to make the unexpected become the expected on our Uncommon Journeys but even with that noble goal, the Hilton Chicago never fails to exceed even the loftiest “unexpected” expectations. The hotel is a perfect prelude and finale to travel by train. Sone of our trips that begin or end on Chicago are our 10-day Chicago to the Big Easy riverboat and train tour departing October 14, our 14-day Great Western Explorer train trip departing October 22, our 10-day Magnolia Holiday train tour departing November 26, and our 12-day Passage to British Honduras train and cruise tour departing December 1.
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Bill Bryson

 

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
- Bill Bryson
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Regina’s Fig Sidecar

Figs aren’t just for lunches and dinner…try them at cocktail hour on a riverboat!

Acclaimed chef, author and restaurateur is French America Line’s Chef de Cuisine and below we present one of her favorite drinks and one surely destined to be a guest favorite such as on our 8-day Midwestern Majesty riverboat cruise departing October 8, our 10-day Chicago to the Big Easy riverboat/train tour departing October 14 and our 14-day Autumn in the Great Smokies by Riverboat and Train tour departing November 7. A word of warning: this is a two-part recipe. First, you have to infuse the bourbon with fig. Second, you mix the drink. Just don’t enjoy the first step so much you forget the second!

Fig-Infused Bourbon Ingredients
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 cup fresh black Mission figs (in the South, the common fig), quartered
3 cups good-quality bourbon

Fig-Infused Bourbon Directions
1. Combine the brown sugar, 1 cup boiling water, the cloves, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean halves and seeds in a 1-quart Mason jar. Add the figs and bourbon to the jar. Cover tightly and turn the jar over and back several times to distribute the ingredients. Refrigerate undisturbed for at least 1 week and up to 2 weeks.
2. Pour the bourbon mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a pitcher, and from there into a clean glass pop-top serving jar (or any jar you choose). Transfer the figs to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid to enjoy as an ice cream topping or other dessert component.
Refrigerated, the figs will keep for 2 weeks and the fig-flavored bourbon will last for 3 months.

Regina’s Fig Sidecar Ingredients
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 ounces Fig-Infused Bourbon
2 ounces Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
4 lemon twists, for garnish

Regina’s Fig Sidecar Directions
1. To make the cinnamon sugar for the rims of the glasses, stir together the sugar and cinnamon on a plate. Fold a paper towel into quarters, soak with water, and place on second plate. One at a time, press the rims of four martini glasses onto the wet towel and then into the cinnamon sugar, pressing lightly for the sugar to adhere.
2. To make the cocktails, combine 3 ounces of the bourbon, 1 ounce of the Cointreau, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and pour into two of the rimmed martini glasses. Repeat with the remaining ingredients and glasses. Garnish each glass with a lemon twist and serve cold.

Transform this into a cozy fall or winter cocktail by putting the ingredients in mugs and stirring 1/2 cup boiling water into each.
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Best Trips for River Cuisine

The comfort of Southern Cuisine on the Mississippi River.

Here at the Uncommon Journeys, we are big fans of travel by riverboat – so much so that we offer several Mississippi River voyages with French America Line on their elegant flagship, Louisiane. As we all know, one glorious treat of any cruise, whether ocean or river, is the cuisine, and the Louisiane will not disappoint. How can you experience river cuisine for yourself? Try one of the following Uncommon Journeys tours:

8-DAY MIDWESTERN MAJESTY, OCT 8 – OCT 15
French America Line’s elegant riverboat Louisiane celebrates the cultural and epicurean influences of la belle France mixed with warm Southern hospitality and refined, unobtrusive service. The Louisiane represents the best of all possible worlds and we invite you to experience river cruising in America like never before. As fall arrives, the majestic reds, oranges and yellows of the leaves begin to ripple across the rolling hills of the Midwest. You’ll want to experience autumn among the trees in magical Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona. Be sure to ask the locals for the perfect wine and cheese pairing in Prairie du Chien. Visit Mark Twain’s modest boyhood home in Hannibal, admire the striking public art along the river in Dubuque and take in the panoramic view from the top of the Davenport Skybridge. With multiple locks, lakes and some of the prettiest scenery in North America, these fall voyages are immensely popular.

10-DAY CHICAGO TO THE BIG EASY, OCT 14 TO OCT 23
Join us on a rare journey from Chicago to New Orleans this Fall by vintage train and America's only deluxe riverboat, the elegant and intimate 150-passenger Louisiane.  With luxurious staterooms, many with private balconies, extraordinary dining overseen by famed American chef Regina Charboneau, superb entertainment and an all-American crew, the Louisiane offers a level of excellence in river cruising unequaled in North America.  Best of all, you will see America up close, passing sites little changed in 200 years with great ports of call like colorful Memphis, the home of the Blues and Beale Street; lovely Natchez, the crown jewel on the Mississippi River; and renowned Oak Alley Plantation. They are a necklace of port culminating in a superlative destination, New Orleans. With fabled hotels in Chicago and New Orleans, a vintage Streamliner train, America's finest riverboat, and time to enjoy New Orleans, there is simply no finer way to travel from the Midwest to the Crescent City.

14-DAY AUTUMN IN THE SMOKIES BY RIVERBOAT & TRAIN, NOV 7 TO NOV 20
This very special holiday to the Great Smoky Mountains includes city tours, fabled estates, a famed train ride and passage on the deluxe riverboat Louisiane, flagship of America’s newest river cruise line. With an overnight in Atlanta, two nights in lovely Asheville, and a visit to the Vanderbilt family’s European-style Biltmore Estate, this is a trip of lasting memories. Spend two nights in Great Smoky Mountains National Park complete with a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. After exploring Music City U.S.A. in Nashville, transfer to French America Line’s Louisiane for a remarkable 7-night voyage to Memphis on the Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers with a special overnight stay in musical Memphis. Walk in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers at the Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, learn about the 1811 earthquake in New Madrid that caused the Mississippi to flow backwards, and visit the quirky Purple Toad Winery in Paducah.


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Yosemite Expanded

The dramatic blue misty hills of the Great Smokies.

Earlier this month, Yosemite National Park added Ackerson Meadow, 400 acres of critical wetlands and meadow habitat on the park's western boundary through a donation. The landmark addition was donated to the park through a cooperative effort between The Trust for Public Land, Yosemite Conservancy, and the National Park Service.

The Trust for Public Land purchased Ackerson Meadow from private owners for $2.3 million earlier this year and donated it today to the National Park Service to be part of Yosemite National Park. Funds to buy the property came from several major contributors to The Trust for Public Land, including a bequest of $1.53 million and $520,000 by the nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy, with additional support from National Park Trust and American Rivers.

“The generous donation of Ackerson Meadow will preserve critical meadow habitat that is home to a number of state and federally listed protected species,” said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher. “It’s a stunning open meadow surrounded by forest habitat, which supports a wide variety of flora and fauna species and offers new meadow experiences for park visitors. This meadow is a remarkable gift to the American people, coming at a historic time as we celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service.”

“Donating the largest addition since 1949 to one of the world’s most famous parks is a great way to celebrate the 100th birthday of our National Park Service – and honor John Muir’s original vision for the park. We are delighted, and proud to make this gift to Yosemite, and the people of America” said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land.

Yosemite’s meadows are vitally important habitats and Ackerson Meadow provides critical habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species. At just 3 percent of Yosemite National Park’s area, meadows may be home to one-third of all of the plant species found in the park. Most of San Francisco’s water is filtered by Yosemite’s meadows, including Ackerson Meadow.

“The original Yosemite boundary plans of 1890 included Ackerson Meadow, so it is exciting to finally have this important place protected,” said Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean. “The purchase supports the long term health of the meadow and its wild inhabitants, and creates opportunities for visitors to experience a beautiful Sierra meadow.” In recent decades, Yosemite Conservancy has funded restoration and protection of ten meadows, such as Stoneman, Cook’s and Sentinel meadows in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in the high country.
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    What our guests are saying about us

“I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed my trip. I knew it would be wonderful but it far exceeded my expectations. Tour Manager Conrad's vast knowledge and his ability to communicate it in a way that was interesting and exciting and sometimes humorous made my trip remarkable. I look forward to traveling with Uncommon Journeys in the hopefully near future. Thanks for a great trip!”
Maureen B., Charleston, SC

“My name is DeDe and my family and I returned one week ago today from your Wonders of the West tour with Conrad Tausend.  We are probably in the minority of most of your customers.  My son Trevor is 10 and my daughter Sable is 7.  We were on your tour for my son's wish from Make-A-Wish Georgia.  Trevor underwent a bone marrow transplant the summer of 2015 for Fanconi Anemia or FA.  FA is not curable but is treatable with a transplant.  Trevor's wish was to travel out west on a train.

We wanted to reach out to you and tell you how awesome this tour was for him and our whole family.  Conrad was wonderful and did everything within his power to ensure Trevor's wish was fulfilled.  Trevor's wish was fulfilled and then some.  We wanted to thank you for an amazing tour and commend you on your choice of tour guide in Conrad.”
DeDe and Wade H.

As always, visit us at the Uncommon Journeys Facebook page for the latest news, photos and lively discussions about luxury train travel, our itineraries and the fantastic places we take you. You’ll be among the very first to hear about new trips, new offers and future sweepstakes. Visit www.uncommonjourneys.com or call 1-800-323-5893 to learn more.
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 * Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE Limited offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires on September 30, 2016 and is only available for new bookings.