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The World as a FIRST-CLASS SPECTACLE

May 18, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

S hould you put off traveling abroad? Admittedly the headlines have had an unsettling effect upon the world. As a result, many have postponed their travels until things are "back to normal." Unfortunately, such Utopian prospects may never be. Every year has its time of unrest, periodic flare-ups and political changes.

If all this strikes a familiar chord, it merely goes to prove that the more the world changes the more it remains the same. That's because the above words--spoken by the late dean of travel, Bert Hemphill--ring as true today as they did when they were published in The Times 24 years ago.

In the years since then, wars have been fought and terrorism still bedevils the world. But the people operating the company Hemphill founded after World War II refuse to be intimidated. Indeed, they continue to package more and more upscale tours for the affluent--grandiose tours, loaded with snob appeal.

Call it the Life Styles of the Rich and Restless.

Anybody out there got $23,000 that's just gathering interest in some stuffy old savings account?

Because that's the price for a 36-day trip around the world that's being worked up by Hemphill's son John and the latter's partner, Ron Harris.

They promise no problems with luggage. No frantic searches for taxis. No worries over hotel reservations. And none of those long, worrisome lines at the airport. Because this select group will be flying aboard its own private jet.

An L-1011 has been refitted to accommodate 88 passengers in all first-class seating. This plus a lounge that resembles the bar at 21 or the one at the Bistro in Beverly Hills.

No one will suffer with jet lag. Not on this flight. The reason for this is because the pilot will be following the sun. No early morning takeoffs. No nights. Besides this, passengers will be spending three days minimum at each destination. And so, hopefully, no jet lag.

Leaving LAX Oct. 8, their flight heads west over the Pacific on an adventure that would stir the imagination of Phileas Fogg. Billed as the grandest tour of the '80s, it promises more surprises than a performance by Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus. As a matter of fact, that's precisely what Hemphill Harris produced on their globe-girdling tour last year, a circus.

In Sri Lanka, Hemphill Harris rounded up 100 elephants and 2,000 dancers to re-create the Perahera for their tour members.

Another time they chartered the Hilton Corp.'s river boat to the tune of $65,000 for a trip down the Nile. On still another occasion Hemphill Harris chartered South Africa's celebrated Blue Train at a cost of $40,000 a day.

This year in Port Moresby the company is arranging for 5,000 natives to perform a sing-sing. Later, in Morocco, hundreds of riders will put on a fantasia, exclusively for the group.

What else do you get for your $23,000? Well, there's a la carte dining wherever the troupe travels. And on board the aircraft the bar will be operating nonstop. A crew of eight flight attendants will be serving Moet et Chandon Champagne. This plus mounds of caviar. Leaving Los Angeles, the jet will be loaded with $30,000 in beverages and $2,500 worth of caviar.

One spry woman in her 80s insists that Hemphill Harris "satisfies your every whim."

The yearly round-the-world trip began with Bert Hemphill in 1948 when he rounded up a dozen passengers who spent 52 days and $3,740 each, traveling aboard a commercial Pan Am jet.

Ron Harris and John Hemphill introduced the private jet in 1976, permitting freedom of scheduling and giving everyone the impression that they'd just become a member of an exclusive travel club.

This year the group from Los Angeles will fly to Fiji, then on to New Guinea, Japan, the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Mauritius and Africa (Kenya, Ivory Coast and Morocco).

Each leg of the flight will move west with the sun. Besides the sing-sing in New Guinea and the fantasia in Morocco, the group will be entertained by fire walkers in Fiji and Thai dancers in Bangkok, where they'll hole up in what old hands describe as the world's finest hotel, the Oriental.

In the Pacific they'll visit an exotic island by private yacht and in Japan the H&H group will ride the bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto. First-class? Of course.

So if $23,000 is a trifle steep, Hemphill Harris does other trips.

They'll send you off for 26 days to track rare mountain gorillas in East Africa ($4,260). Or there are helicopter trips out of Paris to visit private chateaux for more Moet et Chandon Champagne, sumptuous meals, conversations with the hosts and sleeping accommodations once occupied by royal figures. The tab runs from $2,995 to $6,995 for three to seven days.

Harris, 47, and Hemphill, 41, recently bought a fleet of barges in France. Now they're featuring cruises with hot-air ballooning in Burgundy and the Loire Valley.

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