I recently spent one night on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express — the ultimate luxury sleeper train.
I was surprised and excited to find that the train comes to life at night with live music.
At night, the train felt more social, which made me feel less alone as a solo traveler.
It was the most glamorous trip of my life, but I had no intention of staying up past midnight on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
The day before, I had arrived in Paris for the overnight train trip to Venice aboard the luxury Belmond train that's made up of historic carriages from the iconic Orient Express of the 1920s and 1930s.
Flying to Europe from New York City, I was six hours ahead of my usual time zone. Having woken up in Paris at 9 a.m. (3 a.m. in New York) before catching the train, by 7:30 p.m., I was ready to doze off.
But dining is reserved on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, and my dinner was set for 8:45 p.m. So, I asked my cabin steward for some English Breakfast tea to wake me up.
After a caffeine boost, it was time to get dressed for the night.
On the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, formal evening attire is required for dinner. I went with a black suit, a white shirt, and wing-tipped Chelsea boots.
I headed to the bar car at around 8 p.m. Guests were already there, dressed to the nines in suits, bow ties, and extravagant evening gowns fit for a ballroom. Some were sparkly, and others had lacy details, but every dress I saw that night was long and flowy, adding to the drama of the evening.
And the vibes were lively. As I entered the car, staff members near the bar turned to greet me as though I was an old friend of theirs.
Meanwhile, a pianist was playing an upbeat, jazzy tune that was vaguely familiar to me and reminded me of the music I listened to as a kid with my grandparents.
The combination of music, classic decor, and ballroom attire made me feel like I'd been transported to the 1920s.
As I sat on a plush couch snapping my fingers to the beat, a server offered me a virgin cocktail with coconut, strawberry, and orange flavors topped with fresh blackberries. I'd mentioned to a few staff members earlier in the day that I don't drink and was pleasantly surprised that they had remembered.
After some tunes and sweet sips, it was time for dinner. I had a three-course meal from a fixed menu while sitting alone at a table for two.
Dinner was an experience in itself. It began with an appetizer of seared scallops that nearly melted in my mouth, followed by a rich, buttery lobster claw for the main course. For desert, I was served a "hazelnut and chocolate hot and cold" — ice cream dotted with what tasted like chunks of pie crust topped with hot syrup and a cookie.
The dishes came out at a relaxed pace over the course of nearly two hours as guests turned toward other tables to strike up group conversations with strangers.
Although I was a solo traveler, at dinner it didn't feel that way.
The most surprising part of the night came at the end of the meal when a musician playing a banjo and another on the trombone waltzed through the car to entertain us.
The horn player wailed through parts of one song, and sang like Frank Sinatra during others.
I didn't expect to find live music on the train. It excited me as a musician and reminded me of the subway performers back home in NYC — except this experience was wrapped in luxury.
After dinner, I went back to the bar car. At this point in the night, employees and guests were standing around the piano and singing along.
I wanted to stay up longer with them, but I realized it was nearly 12:30 a.m., and I needed some rest.
As I left the cart, a staff member called out, "Joey, you're going to bed already?"
I felt, again, like I was in the company of old friends.
As I said goodnight, my heart was warmer than I ever thought it could be on a solo trip.
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