“Let me be straight with you. What I'd rather have is an airplane. We just had a third kid. I don't like flying commercial. I like to take my family to Hawaii. When I go east, I'd like to have pilots I know. ”
Many once-in-a-lifetime vacations are just a flight away when you own a jet or have access to one via charter, a fractional share or a jet card. Even then, however, some destinations can pose challenges. They may be out of range for your aircraft. Or the airports, language, culture or other factors may pose challenges that you're not comfortable facing on your own.
In such cases, you might want to put yourself in the hands of a company that specializes in private jet vacations. Lakani World Tours (lakani.com), for example, has 30 years' experience in this business. Its offerings include a 17-day European vacation on an Embraer Legacy jet custom fitted for just 14 clients. The tour includes stops in Scotland, Latvia, Crimea, Italy, Portugal, Germany and France. Cost is $59,900 per person.
Lakani also markets an African vacation using the same model jet for $67,900 per person. Tourists, who overnight in opulent tented camps and top-rated hotels, trek through Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans, observe elephants and other game in Botswana, sample wines in South Africa's vineyards, ride camels in Mali and explore exotic Marrakech.
Lakani additionally features a Central and South American tour and round-the-world itineraries. These tours utilize a Boeing 757, refitted from the standard 233 seats to accommodate just 52 in two-by-two leather chairs and a stand-up lounge.
Lakani's staff prearranges every detail, from customs clearance to managing the check-in process at hotels. Travelers need not be concerned with luggage, as their bags await them in their suites upon arrival.
TCS & Starquest Expeditions (tcsandstarquestexpeditions.com) is the other major provider of private jet tours. This company flies customized Boeing 757s, refitted to accommodate 78 guests plus staff in a total of 90 seats. A physician travels with the group and remains available 24/7. All meals are included, whether onboard or at world-class restaurants, along with a wide array of wines and other beverages. Dinners are frequently served in sensational settings, such as the grounds of an elephant polo match or a grand banquet hall within elaborate castles. Every effort is made to highlight cuisine, cultural themes and traditional entertainment throughout the journey.
Leading educators, archeologists and photographers often come on the trips to give presentations or act as hands-on guides. Travelers on a TCS & Starquest junket break into smaller groups for in-depth exploration at each stop.
"We had the opportunity to visit places and see things that are typically unavailable to the general public, such as dinner at the Luxor Temple [in Egypt]," said Elizabeth Maget, who recently returned from a TCS & Starquest African trip. "Walking into that temple at night was magical."
Many institutions–including the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation–sponsor trips under the auspices of TCS & Starquest.
The National Geographic's 24-day Around the World by Private Jet expedition, for example, costs $64,950 per person and can whisk you to about a dozen memorable destinations. Trips typically start and end in the U.S. and may include visits to the Amazon rain forest; Easter Island; the Cook Islands; Papua, New Guinea; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; Chengdu and Xi'an, China; Lhasa, Tibet; the Taj Mahal; Tanzania; the Pyramids in Egypt; Petra, Jordan; and Istanbul.
The Legendary Cultures expedition, offered by Smithsonian Journeys, can transport you to nine remote hideaways allowing you to interact with reindeer herders in Arctic Norway, Mongolian families, monks in a Bhutan monastery, tribes in Papua, New Guinea and Javanese families in Indonesia. Price is $56,950 per person.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation runs similar private jet trips. In 2012, it is presenting a tour entitled Heaven and Earth, which incorporates a viewing of a solar eclipse. The trip starts in Orlando, Fla., and visits Tikal, Guatemala; Cusco and Machu Picchu (arrival by train); Easter Island; the Kingdom of Tonga; Australia's Uluru or Ayers Rock and the Olgas; the Great Barrier Reef; Indonesia (with viewing of the total solar eclipse); the Kingdom of Rajastan, India, and the Leonid Meteor Shower; Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan; and London. Cost is $63,950 per person.
International Expeditions (ietravel.com), another company using private airplanes, markets Wings Over the Nile. Its 15-day itinerary includes four flights aboard a de Havilland Dash 7 turboprop and a four-night cruise on the Nile. This trip, usually taken by 32 to 34 passengers, costs $7,400 to $7,900 per person, depending on the cruise accommodations. The excursion starts in Cairo (airfare to and from that city isn't included) and covers six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Egypt, including St. Catherine's Monastery; Petra and Jerash in Jordan; and the Dead Sea. You can extend the trip with an optional three-day guided tour of Jerusalem.
"We got to go to more places and spent more time at the sites because of our special aircraft," said Janet Hollander of Tucson, Ariz., who took the Wings over the Nile trip. "We didn't have to ride long hours on a bus...Flying over Abu Simbel gave me a entirely new perspective on these giants [statues] in the desert. It's a view you can't see any other way."
Help for Do-It-Yourselfers
Want to use your own business jet or private charter? Linda Lockner of the TravelStore and Malaka Hilton of AuthentEscapes can help you arrange odysseys with privileged access anywhere in the world.
For example, should you need privacy, these experts can find secluded sanctuaries or private villas. They can arrange for personal chefs and private guides, helicopter tours, boat charters, cruises or chauffeurs and know the best times, best views and best methods to arrive and see whatever you desire.
For information on the TravelStore, visit travelstoreusa.com or call (800) 850-3224, ext. 15421. For information on AuthentEscapes, visit
authentescapes.com or call (866) 994-9814.