The Caledonian Sleeper: Tips for travelling with children
Travel while you sleep and why it may just be the perfect solution for getting from A - B with the family on time says travel writer Janice Hopper
It may sound too good to be true, but the Caledonian Sleeper will travel the length of the UK whilst you all snooze and may just be the perfect way to travel with the family. Just think no motorways, no service stations, no delays (hopefully) and no 'are we there yet' questions? As you go to bed in London and wake up ready to explore Scotland when you arrive, or vice versa.
With a range of Scottish destinations to choose from including Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William and Glasgow Scotland you can hunt for Nessie; ski in Aviemore; or explore Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire. Or, if you're travelling from Scotland you can visit England’s Crewe, Preston, Carlisle or London. Junior find out how easy is it to take kids on an overnight train, and ask the question: do you all actually sleep?
Here’s the lowdown:
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION
To get the most civilised, child-friendly departure and arrival times try to select destinations with the greatest distance between them. For example, the Aberdeen and Avie-more trains depart Euston at 9.15pm, and arrive around 7.40am in the morning. Whilst 9.15pm is still late for little ones we opted to dress them in their pyjamas and brush their teeth at home, then catch the tube to Euston so they were bedtime-ready when we boarded.
The great thing about the Sleeper is that, compared to airline travel, you can pack what you want. That means being able to carry liquids over 100ml, no passports are required, your buggy is never taken apart at security and the train staff don’t check whether you have ‘one piece of hand luggage’. Basically the stress levels, compared to flying, are wonderfully reduced. Bear in the mind though that all luggage should fit into your cabin - which is quite small - so an element of common sense is required. We recommend packing one small overnight bag for the entire family whilst onboard the sleeper train, to avoid rooting about in several bags to find what you need.
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When you arrive at the platform, customers are greeted by the Caledonian Sleeper staff. It’s so friendly: they check you in, we ordered tea, coffee and fruit juice for the morning (included in the ticket price), and guests can place additional breakfast orders and pay onboard. The atmosphere feels a little bit like checking into a hotel (albeit on a railway platform), compared to check in at an airport.
What are the cabins really like? Small! Designed for rest, rather than play. We’re talking two bunks per cabin, a small sink, two pull-down tables, charge points and a storage shelf. Drinking water is provided, as are small towels, and a pack containing an eye-mask, soap and earplugs. A family of four will share two cabins with an interconnecting door, but don’t worry if you’re a larger family - if you’re a party of five (two adults and three children) the Sleeper will give you three cabins at no extra cost. No sharing with strangers required! Toilets are located at the end of each carriage so do remember your pyjamas and slippers. There are no showers, which I thought would really bother me, but I coped. New stock, rolling out in 2018, will provide ensuite toilets, hot showers and even suites with double beds.
I’d underestimated how excited the kids would be once aboard. Yes, at 9.30pm they were knackered, but they didn’t sleep till about 10.30pm due to the sheer novelty of it all. My eldest insisted on sleeping in the top bunk, which, whilst exhilarating for tots, isn’t safe for little ones, so the minute his eyes shut we moved him down to the lower bunk (evil parents!).There is a lounge car with a bar selling drinks, meals and snacks, but we just hit the sack.
From the minute you depart the train makes rumbling ‘train’ noises, in the same way any mode of transport has its own sound. You also experience a fair amount of movement, and the occasional jolt. I slept very well, I found the beds comfortable and the noise/movement quite constant and soothing.
Our kids woke us up at 6.30am but if you are the lucky parents of heavy sleepers then stewards will wake you with cups of coffee and orange juice about half an hour before the train arrives at your destination. We’d also ordered porridge so we tucked into our breakfast to kickstart our morning the right way.
It feels so strange to wake up in a new location, but it’s a fantastic use of time and the day stretches out ahead of you, beckoning you to explore.
Railway stations are usually very central, compared to airports, so your destination is often right on the doorstep. We loved the Caledonian Sleeper, it worked so well for our family, it was fun, and we’ll certainly be doing it again.