You’ll Soon Be Able to Sail—Yes, Sail—on the Orient Express

The world’s most renowned luxury train brand is building a sailing ship that looks just as exquisite and over the top as you would expect.

Exterior rendering of Orient Express Silenseas

Inspired by 1930s cruise ships, the Orient Express Silenseas will feature classic interior design while also showcasing state-of-the-art sustainable shipbuilding technology.

Courtesy of Orient Express

The 140-year-old Orient Express offers train journeys that transport travelers back in time, to a golden era of passenger rail travel. And soon, travelers will be able to have that nostalgia-driven luxury travel experience out on the open water—but with some distinctly modern upgrades.

The Orient Express this week announced that it is currently building what is being billed as “the world’s largest sailing ship,” the 120-passenger Orient Express Silenseas, slated to launch in 2026—and the first bookings will be made available in early 2024.

When it sets sail, the 720-foot-long, three-masted vessel will feature 54 suites, including a gargantuan 1,415-square-meter Presidential Suite complete with a sprawling private deck, two swimming pools, two restaurants, an oyster bar, and a speakeasy, bien sûr. There will also be an Amphitheatre-Cabaret for live shows, plus a spa and meditation services.

The massive sailing yacht is being built by two French companies—hospitality powerhouse Accor, which includes such iconic luxury hotel brands as Raffles and Fairmont, and shipbuilding company Chantiers de l’Atlantique. The agreement with Chantiers de l’Atlantique is for two yachts, with the first slated for delivery in March 2026 and the second one early 2027.

Just as the Orient Express is known for bringing vintage rail travel into the 21st century through renovated classic trains and elevated service seemingly of a bygone era, the Orient Express Silenseas will also take its cues from the past. The streamlined hull is inspired by 1930s cruise ships, and the vessel’s interior designer, Maxime d’Angeac, who re-envisioned the interiors of the original Orient Express train, found inspiration in “the elegant and refined style of the French Riviera to create the interiors” of the new sailing ship, according to a statement about the ship launch.

A rendering of Maxime d'Angeac's design vision for a suite on the original Orient Express train—a design vision he plans to bring to the forthcoming vessel.

A rendering of Maxime d’Angeac’s design vision for a suite on the original Orient Express train—a design vision he plans to bring to the forthcoming vessel.

Courtesy of Orient Express

While classic in style, the Orient Express Silenseas will embrace modern building processes and technology and will run on a combination of wind power and a hybrid propulsion system that uses liquefied natural gas (LNG). The vessel will be powered in part by three rigid sails made of glass-polyester panels that fold like fans and that will be hoisted onto tiltable 328-foot masts to maximize the natural power of ocean winds.

Where will the “Orient Express Silenseas” sail?

Once it launches, the Orient Express Silenseas will cruise in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Aegean seas during the summer months and in the Caribbean Sea during winter. Port visits will include “exclusive experiences to discover exceptional sites dedicated to art, culture and nature,” according to a statement from Orient Express.

Orient Express has not yet released pricing for the forthcoming cruises and has said that prices will vary depending on the itineraries and experiences during the sailing.

Just as with the trains, the sailing vessel will be a contemporary ode to the past.

Just as with the trains, the sailing vessel will be a contemporary ode to the past.

Courtesy of Orient Express

A story that has come full circle—from sea to rail and back to the sea

When the Orient Express was launched in 1883 by Georges Nagelmackers, the sophisticated rail experience was inspired by Nagelmackers’s transatlantic sailings nearly two decades prior. The founder of the Orient Express was “fascinated by the grandeur of these huge boats . . . the luxurious travelers’ suites, with their rich and sumptuous decor, adorned with exceptional marquetry. He experienced the social scene in the restaurants and the unique ambiance of the lounges, libraries, and entertainment venues,” according to the Orient Express.

That experience on the high seas helped Nagelmackers develop his vision for what would become the legendary Orient Express.

Since then, the Orient Express has evolved into a luxury travel brand that includes a collection of exclusive trains, experiences, and will soon also feature its first hotels around the world with the Orient Express La Minerva in Rome and Orient Express Palazzo Donà Giovanelli in Venice opening in 2024. The newest luxury train, Orient Express La Dolce Vita, will welcome its first passengers on board in 2024.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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