I’ve wanted to book a private sleeper berth on a train ever since I saw North by Northwest , and read The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, etc., etc. So, when I found myself needing to travel from Inverness to London my thoughts immediately turned to the Caledonian Sleeper. A private compartment came to somewhere around $350 which was comparable and probably even a bit cheaper than paying for airfare and a night in a hotel so I booked it. (If you are traveling as a couple the price will be much cheaper than airfare/hotel, so that’s something to think about, too.)
And … it was pretty fun although not quite as glamorous as the website would have you believe. The train runs from Inverness to Euston station in London, and leaves around 8-9 p.m. There’s a lounge across the street from the station where you can wait. It was OK, but not really luxe. I was way early so had a really long afternoon tea at the Royal Highland Hotel next to the station. Lobby was quite stately, and would have been statelier if they’d run a Hoover over the carpet sometime in the last decade; scones were leaden enough to qualify for the periodic table.
When I got on board my train was fairly empty, but the dining car was overwhelmed. Also, even though I’d reserved a sit-down dinner in advance for some reason the (overworked) waiter didn’t want me to sit down at the reserved tables and was surly for the rest of the meal which was sad. (Don’t want to think he aimed to move the lady-on-her-own to the back of the queue, but … ) Anyway, pro tip here is if you have booked the dinner go to the dining car right away to get yourself a seat and be prepared to be polite but firm about your right to do so, as I did. You’ll also get to choose from the full menu; they were running out of choices only about an hour into service.
The food was quite good, about equal to business class in the air and ticked off waiter or not it was an absolute thrill to watch the Scottish sunset fly by my window as I sipped a glass of wine.
The cabin was basic. First class is the same as second class, just the top bunk isn’t let down so you have a bit more vertical real estate. Horizontally, there’s barely room to stand next to the bunk. There’s a little sink but you have to go down the corridor for the toilet. I had a window but it was high and small so I couldn’t actually sit in my cabin and look out at the scenery. In my opinion, they’d have been better off skipping the sink and making the window bigger.
Sleeping wise, you do get to stretch out, which is a plus. Also, the linens are crisp and fresh. However, the train jerks to a stop about 1 million times an hour which, if you are me, wakes you up every single time. So, it wasn’t absolutely restful.
Breakfast came with my fare and the cabin attendant showed up promptly with some nice scrambled eggs and salmon and coffee. (The cabin guy was much nicer and more cheerful than the dining car fellow. In fact, cabin guy put me wise to the dinner routine and if he hadn’t I would have missed out on the one really great thing about the trip. Thanks, cabin guy.)
We got into Euston around 8 a.m. I had booked a room at the nearby Ibis and asked to get into my room super early and they did have one waiting for me which was awesome.
Summing up, I’m glad I did this; it really was a different way to travel. I have a feeling it’s more fun to be going from London-Inverness than the other way around and I may do that in the future. (I appear to be getting seriously addicted to Scotland.)