What's new on the Caledonian Sleeper Train
Junior writer Rebecca Hay and her young family hopped aboard the London to Scotland Caledonian Sleeper to experience two very different journeys, taking in the delights of The Highlands and the Lowlands, as well as London.
Train travel is on the rise as we slowly accept our responsibility to the planet in pursuit of exploring the world. This together with the growing trend of more people taking their pets with them as they travel, means train companies are investing heavily to ensure sleek hotels on wheels for all the family. Here's what we thought of the Serco owned Scotland Caledonian Sleeper...
Sleeper Train: What's the Journey really like
There is something magical about travelling by train at night and waking up fresh as a daisy and ready for adventure. The Caledonian Sleeper saves all the hassle of airport check ins and hotel noises and eight hours or so after setting off from London, you can wake up to the lovely landscape of The Highlands or the modern cities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The train’s timetable means you can arrive early, spend the day looking around your new destination and then hop back on board to travel home overnight, saving on a hotel bill.
It’s great for families, couple and business people who want that freedom to explore without taking up too much of your time.
Top Tip: Up to two pets are allowed on the train free of charge, but only in the carriages with room and you have to pay a £30 cleaning charge per journey. Bikes, apart from tandems are welcome too and free as long as you book in advance.
All Aboard: What the new carriages feature
The old-fashioned trains made way for the new £150m fleet last year and now all routes have the all singing, all dancing sleek new mode of transport, which not only look good, but make you feel even better when you realise that trains can use 50 per cent less fuel than planes for the same trip.
From the outside it looks like your ordinary train, but step on board and it is a different ball game. Gone are the dull and out of date fittings and fixtures and instead it is all very pleasant, light and modern. From electronic service boards which give tourist information on each place you stop at, to the gentle golden livery throughout the corridors, first impressions are great.
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It’s a long train and divided up into carriages for those who just want to sit and enjoy a normal train service, to the more upmarket sleeping accommodation from bunk beds to a nice cozy double bed. There are a range of ticket types too, catering for all pockets and rail cards can be used to cut down the cost.
The seated service is airline style with a table, footrest and lights and there is plenty of room to stretch out and relax and it is a great way to travel if you are on your own. There are also lockers for safe storage and charging points and Wi Fi
Top Tip: Catch the meet and greet customer service operator at the start of the train to guide you to your seat as it is a long, long train.
Sleeping on a Train: The lowdown on the bedrooms
The accommodation is split into three tiers, classic room, club room and Caledonian double and with their tartan carpets and mod cons, they offer great way to relax. The club room and doubles come with the extra bonus of a complimentary breakfast, access to station lounges and the club dining car.
The classic room and club room offer bunk beds with a Glencraft mattress (favourite of The Royal Family), plump pillows and divine duvets , with plenty of room underneath the bottom bunk to store luggage. There are hangers for coats and a small wash basin and table. The classic room is a great one for families as you can have interconnecting doors to give the children that independence they (and you) are yearning for.
In the club room, the en suite bathroom doubles up as a toilet and shower. Designed as a wet room, the toilet seat put down converts into a platform for you to stand on and shower. All your towels, floor mats and extra toilet seats are hung up in a rope bag to allow more use of the space. Bed side dimmable lights and mobile/tablet chargers are also provided and with complimentary toiletries including ear plugs, a pillow spray and an eye mask, means dropping off to sleep as the train gently rolls along, is just bliss!
The top end of the market accommodation wise is the double room with all the assets of the club rooms, with a bit more space thrown in. All the rooms allow you to control the temperature and have Wi Fi and you are as safe as houses as access is by key card only. For people needing accessible accommodation, there is space in the seated carriages for wheel chairs and in the rooms there is more space than the club and double rooms and two alarms in case of emergency.
Top tip: If you are lucky enough to bag a room on your own, then grab the bottom bunk and fold the upper one into the wall and your space will double instantly!
Little Luxuries: Is the food and drink first class?
After waking up to a new and hopefully beautiful morning, everyone can take advantage of the luxury food and drink on board. People in the seated carriages can enjoy their own food and drink menu and eat at their seats.
A special dining car is reserved for club and double rooms and you can wile away a few hours in the tartan lined carriage where waiter service is on hand. Locally sourced produce is on the menu from the traditional dishes of haggis, neeps and tatties to steamed Scottish trout. There are sandwiches too and snacks including every child’s favourite, Tunnocks teacakes. Drinks are catered for well too, with an extensive wine, beer and cocktail menu.
Breakfast is ordered the night before and can be eaten in the room or dining carriage and includes porridge, bacon rolls and smoothie bowls with Eggs Royale and a Highlander breakfast on offer to the club class customers.
Top Tip: Get up a little earlier and grab a table by the window and enjoy the stunning scenery, particularly on The Highlander route which takes you through some magnificent landscape and if you are lucky, you may spot a deer or two enroute.
Pre-Travel: What's the Station Lounge
People with the club or double rooms can start or finish their journey by enjoying the station lounges. Inverness, home to the Caledonian Sleeper, has its own lounge across the road from the railway station and housed in a fine Scottish stone building. The other major city stop offs allow people to use lounge facilities shared by other train companies and include complimentary soft drinks, snacks and access to showers.
Top tip: If you are in a room without ensuite, ask for a shower token to use in the lounges on arrival, they are free and help wake you up!
Final Destination: What to do on Arrival
We travelled on the Highland and Lowland trains and enjoyed a day out in Glasgow, Inverness and London, three very different citiies!
Top Tip: If you are short on time, but want to explore close by to the station, try out the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, London. This was where Dickens famously wrote Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby. www.dickensmuseum.com
Glasgow City Chambers is just a short stroll from the station and is a magnificent building inside and out. It is most famous for its Statue of Liberty, closely resembling the one in New York and which adorns the top of the Scottish building and looks down on the majestic George Square. www.glasgow.gov.uk
Inverness Castle was built in 1836 by architect William Burn and is a red sandstone building which perches on top of the hill overlooking the River Ness. It houses a wonderful museum and tells a fascinating tale or two. www.visitinvernesslochness.com
The flexible tickets are fully refundable, with no administration fee, if requested by noon two days before your scheduled arrival time at your destination. After this time no refunds are allowed. Available for Caledonian double, club and classic rooms. Up to two dogs and cats are allowed in the rooms free of charge, but there is a cleaning charge of £30 each way.
People wanting a seat only can use national rail tickets between stations served by the Caledonian Sleeper for part or all of the complete rail journey. With these tickets or passes you can travel in Caledonian Sleeper seated accommodation if you make a reservation through the Guest Service Centre on 0330 060 0500