By Kirsti Bloom
Bucket lists, five-year plans—no matter what you call your method of goal setting, they all have one characteristic in common: motivation. Some people may be motivated to better their job, health or relationships, among other topics, but no list is complete without some sort of travel endeavor, whether it is taking a road trip across the United States, backpacking in the Outback or seeing all Seven Wonders of the World.
To help spark new wanderlust goals, private jet expedition company TCS World Travel launched a new way to explore with its Select Escapes trips. Aboard the new Four Seasons private jet, 52 guests at a time will have the opportunity to travel the globe, visiting eight different countries in three weeks.
TCS has been curating trips via private jet for nearly 25 years, partnering with companies like National Geographic and the Smithsonian to offer unique experiences to guests. A new project for 2016, Select Escapes is a collaboration between TCS and Four Seasons. The two have been partners since 2012, but this is the first time trips will take place using the new Four Seasons private jet, which was unveiled in the spring of 2015.
When you step onto the reconfigured Boeing 757, you will immediately realize it’s no ordinary aircraft. Behind the sleek, all-black exterior, what jumps out at passengers are the white leather seats designed by Italian craftsman Iacobucci. The jet usually fits 233 standard seats, but this number was significantly reduced to 52 spots—meaning more spacious seating. While the open configuration allows for guests to socialize with their neighbors during the flight, there is still a reclusive feeling about each pod. Passengers have about 6.5 feet of personal space and there are mid-height privacy screens separating each row.
The best part about the seats is they can fully recline into flat beds at the push of a button. Add ambient lighting in a calming shade of violet and complimentary amenities like an iPad Air 2, Bose noise-canceling headphones, a Mongolian cashmere blanket and Wi-Fi, and guests are set for perhaps the most relaxing flight they have ever been on.
For added convenience, each guest receives a small Bvlgari bag filled with toiletry items. In terms of actual luggage, guests don’t have to worry about their bags once the trips begins. The hotel-trained in-flight crew shuffles suitcases from the jet to the hotel room upon landing.
In addition to handling luggage, the 21-member crew—which includes a trip leader, concierge, executive chef, photographer and physician—is there to help guests every step of the way and rid the hassle of traveling. For instance, the chef prepares dishes from the various destinations to highlight the flavors travelers will experience; a photographer offers tips and tricks about capturing the perfect photo as they sightsee; and the concierge can secure reservations or tours based on the guests’ interests.
Another major advantage of flying on the private jet is that it grants access directly to the destination, rather than having to land at the closest major airport, giving guests more time to spend exploring.
“Take Cambodia, for example. When we first started traveling there, we had to fly into [another] airport and make a second flight to Siem Reap [International Airport] where Angkor Wat is,” explains Richard Butler, an expedition leader with TCS. “… We would be the only guests there apart from a couple of French tourists … but now it’s been a target of 2 million tourists every year. … Same with Machu Picchu. [It] used to be hard to get to and now you get there and there are tons of people. The world is a lot smaller.”
You Have Arrived
The first Select Escapes trip of the year took place in January under the theme Around the World. For 23 days, guests ventured to eight international destinations. With one extra day on the itinerary, the second trip boasts a bonus for Southern California residents: Timeless Treasures takes off from Los Angeles International Airport to French Polynesia, Australia, Laos, India, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia and Brazil, concluding in Orlando.
Guests spend about two to four days in each locale and, in order to capitalize on their time, the expeditions travel in a westward direction. Since the locations for the Timeless Treasures itinerary are more dispersed, five of the nine flights are more than 10 hours.
At each destination, hotel accommodations are already arranged. The attentive service and amenities experienced in the sky are guaranteed on the ground, as guests will be staying in luxury hotels everywhere they go. When available, guests will be set up in Four Seasons properties, such as in Bora Bora and Tanzania.
Explore All Avenues
While all the destinations and hotels are the same for each guest, the activities can be personalized if travelers prefer to detour from the group’s plans. In addition to the accommodations and flights, the trip is all-inclusive of ground transportation, dining, sightseeing options, special events, activities and enrichment programs. The concierge can help coordinate unique plans with staff in the various places.
“We have a really like-minded group of people traveling with us. Within the group, there will always be people who are on the dot of time while others are always 30 seconds late,” Butler explains. “We always break out into smaller groups so whenever we’re sightseeing, we’re in a group of 10 to 13. The early birds are already out the door and sightseeing before the others who need a little more time in the hotel room. We don’t want anyone waiting around, but at the same time, we don’t want the others to feel bad. … They might not meet or see each other for a week and a half because they travel differently.”
Despite the differences, one similar characteristic Butler points out is how adventurous and open travelers are to being immersed in new experiences.
“Overall, travelers today are different than travelers 10 to 15 years ago. They’re healthier, more active …,” adds TCS President Shelley Cline, who has been with the company for more than 20 years. “[We] look at the kind of options we’re providing them and we look at how to keep them challenged.”
One of the ways TCS is “challenging” travelers is by showing them places they may have visited before in a new light. “Just recently, we did a special event at Angkor Wat and we had a private dinner there,” Butler explains. “If you were on your own going to Angkor, you’d be with hoards of people but with us you can have a private dinner at the temple. Every single spot, we look at why would they come here with us versus being on their own.
“We can also get access to places that you don’t get to on your own,” Butler adds. “When we visited Istanbul, we visited the Hagia Sophia as a private showing. First, we went to the cisterns and we had [a group] performing for us and we learned more about the culture. Then, we walked over to Sophia and it was just us at that huge iconic monument. That access—like having a meeting with the queen of Tonga or the royal family of Bhutan—is really special.”
During the upcoming Timeless Treasures trip, for example, an African safari through the Serengeti, Tanzania’s largest national park, is enhanced with a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. A microcosm of the Serengeti, the volcanic caldera offers a close-up view of the densest population of big cats and other animals.
On the same trip but in Rio de Janeiro, rather than just tasting the cuisine, guests take private cooking classes with local chefs and learn ways to incorporate Brazilian traditions into their home cooking.
“Even if we were to operate a program with an identical itinerary, [the world is] always changing,” Butler says. “There will be new museums or a new special opening that we can go and see—and even new hotels. The guests are the key, as well. Even though we get 35 percent repeat guests returning with us again, it’s a whole new experience each time.
On the Itinerary
March 19 – April 11
$122,000 per person, double occupancy
Day 1: Los Angeles
Days 2-4: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Days 5-8: Sydney
Days 9-10: Luang Prabang, Laos
Days 11-13: Udaipur, India
Days 14-15: Serengeti Plain or Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Days 16-18: Cape Town, South Africa
Days 19-20: Sossusvlei, Namibia
Days 21-23: Rio de Janeiro
Day 24: Orlando, Fla.