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On the heels of the controversial Neom mega-city announcements last year, the kingdom has announced the new Dream of the Desert line.
Cruises took a hit during Covid-19 lockdowns, but they’re most certainly back, with bigger boats than ever. After Royal Caribbean launched its Icon of the Seas—the largest cruise ship ever built—in January, another travel trend is growing: train cruises.
Unlike the high-speed railway travel we see across Europe and East Asia, or the gargantuan, climate-destroying ocean liners crowding seaports worldwide, train cruising hearkens back to the era of India’s Palace on Wheels or the Orient Express. Luxury train cruising has carved a niche in the experiential travel market, with dozens of routes internationally that take passengers through unique landscapes, with stops in otherwise difficult-to-reach locales. Saudi Arabia will soon be offering such an excursion: In partnership with Italian hospitality group Arsenale—which is launching a similar line in its home country this year—Dream of the Desert will offer a cross-country, intimate luxury train cruise, starting in 2025.
The 800-mile Dream of the Desert journey will begin in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh and head northwest toward the Jordan border. The route will pass by significant cultural sites in the city of Ha’il and the Al-Qassim province and through the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve, terminating at Al-Qurayat. According to the Saudi Gazette, the train will have 40 cars and will carry 80 passengers. As Conde Nast Traveler reports, that Arsenale CEO Paolo Barletta said that each car will be "fully customized and inspired by Saudi style and tradition."
The announcement follows the slew of news related to Saudi Arabia’s Neom tourism developments, including Sindalah, a yacht-centered island destination in the Red Sea, and Trojena, a new ski resort. And while Dream of the Desert hasn’t yet been marred by Neom’s unethical practices that have destroyed Indigenous communities for a project for the ultra-wealthy, we can hope that the train cruise will be a small-scale, environmentally responsible luxury land yacht, instead of a Snowpiercer-esque addition to an already-fraught tourism strategy.
Top photo courtesy Arsenale Group