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World’s fanciest sleeper cars

From Moscow to Paris, take a tour of the most luxurious sleeper cars around the world. Until luxury train travel is resurrected in the States, you’ll have to go abroad for your fix.
Image: The Eastern and Oriental Express, Thailand
In Thailand, the Eastern and Oriental Express' two Presidential Suites capture colonial-era opulence in 125 square feet.Eddie Buay / Eddie Buay
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Step into your own half of a train car and soak it in: rich carvings and lush tapestries line the walls, blending with the flat-screen TV, stereo system, and fully stocked pantry.

And why settle for one bathroom when you can have two? Step outside and music from a nearby baby grand fills the hallway, down which you’ll find the spa offering ayurvedic massage. Welcome to your sleeper car aboard India’s Deccan Odyssey train. Price tag: $3,000 per night.

If you’ve boarded an Amtrak train recently, rolling palaces with doting cabin stewards, king-size beds, and marble and gold interiors may seem like a fairy tale from a bygone era.

But though the current economic doldrums have put a dent in the industry, luxury trains have found a place in the 21st century and are still plying major routes on the world’s most developed rail systems. And this over-the-top luxury is seen most clearly in sleeper cars.

“The standards and expectations of rail passengers just keep going up,” says Eleanor Flagler Hardy, president of the Society of International Railway Travelers travel agency. Intense competition for a small pool of affluent travelers has led to better and more sophisticated food and service in recent years, making for what she calls an “addictive experience.”

Image: Royal Scotsman, Great Britain
The Royal Scotsman?s State Cabins are Edwardian fantasies of varnished wood, polished brass, and fine fabrics. Windows open to let in the bracing Highlands air, and the train berths every night to ensure deep slumbers. Your cabin comes with all the tangibles: tartan d?cor, marquetry walls hung with old-fashioned prints, a dressing table, full-length wardrobe, and antique ceiling fans. Meanwhile, efficient and thoughtful service might include coffee with a touch of Baileys before bed or the day?s newspaper when you wake. Deluxe Detail: New, fluffy white towels appear in your en suite bathroom daily. Two-night trips through the Scottish Highlands start at $2,170 for single occupancy; $3,610 for double.Courtesy of Orient Express

Luxury train travel expanded rapidly in Europe and beyond in the 1980s when private companies began to buy up and restore antique rail cars.

Beyond the “standard” features such as individual climate controls, a stocked refrigerator bar, and a safe for your bling, the most luxurious sleeper compartments are set apart by their generous size (the Deccan Odyssey’s Presidential Suites are nearly 200 square feet), commodious beds (king size on the Pride of Africa), rich furnishings (antique brass radiators and Turkish drapes on the Royal Canadian Pacific), and attendants who provide wake-up calls, deliver breakfast, tidy your room, and remember your drink preference.

For now, anyway, this is a strictly overseas experience (though you can charter a private rail car in the United States).

It’s not that American companies haven’t tried to create a luxury line: the most recent such venture—a partnership between Amtrak and GrandLuxe Rail Journeys that traveled between Washington and Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago, and Chicago and San Francisco—launched in 2007 but stopped running after less than a year.

So, until some brave company resurrects luxury train travel in the States, you’ll have to go abroad for your fix.