In early October we were contacted by the Caledonian Sleeper and asked if we would be interested in a first class return trip to London with them. Neither Michelle nor I have travelled using the sleeper service and we were keen to give it a try. We checked our availability and Caledonian Sleeper booked us our cabins, travelling down from Aberdeen to London Euston overnight on a Friday night and returning overnight on the Sunday night. They also provided us with hotel accommodation in London on the Saturday night.
Now if we are both honest, we were not sure what to expect, sleep was our main concern. The service has only last year been taken over by Serco and they are in the process of upgrading the carriages with new livery. In 2018, Serco will be introducing a new fleet of carriages which will offer guests a new experience. These will include a new berth set up with showers and en-suite bathrooms as well as a new lounge style car. Its worth noting the photos below are before these upgrades. However, we went with open minds. Our train departed Aberdeen at 21:44 however we were able to board 30 minutes beforehand and get settled in our cabins, finding a seat in the lounge car before the train departed the station.
I have to confess that we were both pleasantly surprised, the cabins are a reasonable size, with sinks and hanging space, and we had an adjoining door, ideal if travelling with friends or as a family. We were both provided with a complimentary sleep pack, containing Arran Aromatics products, but perhaps most important an eye mask and pair of earplugs, essential for sleep. And sleep we both did, perhaps better on the return journey as we were more used to the motion of the train by then. We found the cabins comfortable, warm but not too hot and the bed was comfortable, I’m 5’8″ and did not have any problems sleeping, which is rare as I often find it difficult to sleep when travelling.
As first class travellers we were offered a large variety of breakfast options, all Scottish produce, which arrived nice and hot in plenty time before our arrival. We were also given access to the first class lounges in both Aberdeen and London Euston. Whilst we did not use the Aberdeen lounge, we did use the facilities at London Euston. On arrival in London we were able to shower (towels were provided at the lounge) and get ourselves ready for the full day ahead of us.
We were both impressed with the staff on board the sleeper service, whom we found to be both friendly and helpful. We used the lounge car on both the journey to and from London. On the way to London the lounge car was an older set up, much like the traditional train seating arrangement but with a little more space. We found this set up really comfortable, we were able to sit opposite one another, have a drink and work through our plans for the coming weekend on the table between us.
However on the return visit the lounge car had been upgraded, with cafe style tables and chairs along one side and sofas along the other. The busy train meant that Michelle and I were sat at the end of different sofas with a very small drinks table between us. We were not sat facing each other so we had to twist round to talk, not very comfortable. We noticed the woman next to us had nowhere to put her tea tray so she had to sit with that on her knee. Further there was a family, two adults and two children who had to spread themselves between the table chair arrangement and the sofas. Whilst this new lounge set up looked more modern, in our opinion it needs rethinking, a lack of comfort and inability to have a quiet conversation with the person you are travelling with meant we had a quick soft drink and then headed back to our cabin.
Now to costs, yes on the face of it the sleeper service is expensive. However for two full days we only had one night’s accommodation ( approximately £120/ twin room) rather than the two nights we would normally have if planning a weekend in London and travelling by air. Also the sleeper allows you to arrive in the centre of London, which means you are out of the station and straight onto the tube network, no need for lengthy and often expensive onward travel (if using the Heathrow Express, up to £72 return for family of 4). We were able to come off the train, shower, head across London via the tube to our hotel in Chelsea where we dropped our cases. We then travelled back into the city centre and were at Borough Market drinking coffee by 09:45 – impressive!
What the sleeper allowed us was two full days in London itself. We spent Saturday morning in Borough Market, a great place to visit if you are a foodie as you can just graze away a morning quite easily. We then met up with my friend who lives in London, she recommended lunch close by at Cote Brasserie, with views across the Thames, highly recommended. It was then a quick walk to The Shard for an afternoon of cocktails and catching up, I’d like to say the views were spectacular and I’m sure they would have been had it not been a wet, miserable and rather foggy afternoon in London!
We completed our day with dinner at Medlar in Chelsea, I’ve been there before and knew Michelle would enjoy it, at £46 for 3 courses it offers a very reasonable dinner for central London. I reviewed Medlar the last time I visited and it’s still as good, see our review here.
Sunday morning saw us having a lazy start (a luxury for any mother) before heading to London Euston to drop our bags. As we were so central this was the sensible thing to do, allowing us the rest of the day to explore. Kings Cross has seen much investment and regeneration in recent years so we wanted to find somewhere close for brunch, we came across a few good reviews for Caravan and decided to head there. We had a great brunch and whilst there we shared our food on Instagram. After seeing our photos and location one of our fellow bloggers told us about a great place for dinner close by. Dishoom was just around the corner so we headed there straight from brunch to book a table for dinner that evening. We have reviewed both Caravan and Dishoom separately on our blog.
Having eaten well we then decided to spend what was left of our day being tourists, we headed to the Southbank and then onto Leicester Square where we enjoyed some festive spirit, as well as some mulled wine and boozy hot chocolate, at the city’s Christmas Markets. The Southbank is a larger affair altogether, ideal to wander around with the kids as there is always plenty to do.
The Leicester Square market is somewhat smaller, however this is the first year for this particular market and there was still plenty to walk around. After an afternoon’s sightseeing it really was then time to head back for dinner and onwards to our train.
So would we use this service again? The answer is a simple yes! We found the whole experience very relaxing, at no point were we thinking about our departure time and having to get to London Euston. We simply booked a table for dinner at one of the new eateries close to King’s Cross Station and factoring in a relaxed walk to London Euston, knew we just needed to be there in time to pick up our cases (dropped at left luggage first thing that morning) and head for our train by 20:15. No security to contend with, no queues boarding, just simply walk up to our steward and we were shown to our cabins. A real plus point, no restrictions on luggage, allowing you to shop to your hearts content if you wanted. We talked to a family with young children and they were using the sleeper for the first time, they found the experience an ideal way to travel with young children. They used a family railcard and this gave them discounted travel for their children, worth noting. Train travel is an adventure, and we should never tire of those. This is why we are both planning on a trip to London next year with our husbands and children aboard the Caledonian Sleeper in the next school holidays.
The views expressed in the post above are entirely our own. We were provided with first class train travel and one nights accommodation in London to experience the sleeper and write about our experience. All meals and other expenses were borne entirely by ourselves.3