As our consumer editor Alex McWhirter discussed in Sleeper success last year, it’s an exciting time for overnight rail services in the UK. From this June new Caledonian Sleeper carriages will be phased in on routes between London and Scotland, and in the opposite direction GWR has recently revamped its Night Riviera service between London and Cornwall.
GWR’s sleeper cabins have been redesigned, and “modern airline-style seats” have been introduced in the seated carriages.
The Night Riviera runs between London Paddington and Penzance, every night except Saturday, with around 15 stops in between, including Exeter, Plymouth, St Austell and Truro.
The Cornwall-bound service departs London at 2345 (cabin passengers can board from 2230), arriving into Penzance at 0753 (0859 on Sunday), while the London-bound service leaves Penzance at 2145 (2115 on Sunday), arriving into Paddington at 0523 (0503 on Sunday), with passengers not required to disembark until 0645. I was travelling to Plymouth, with an arrival time of 0511. For more details on timings along the route, click here.
GWR’s London Paddington lounge is located on platform 1, from where the Night Riviera also departs. Passengers travelling in cabins can use the lounge from 2100, and when I arrived the space was busy, with most guests glued to the TV which was showing the BBC News coverage of the latest Brexit developments.
There is a mixture of armchair seating around coffee tables, and desk seating towards the back of the room with power outlets. There was also another section of seating which was cordoned off when I visited. I ended up taking a seat at the back so that I could plug my tablet in, and connected to the free wifi, through which I was able to stream a couple of BBC iPlayer programmes without any issue – I was also able to download several podcasts from the BBC Sounds app onto my phone.
The self-service food and beverage area has several fridges with bottles of still/sparkling water and soft drinks, and a jug of orange juice, as well as a coffee machine, although this was out of order when I visited. There was however hot water, with tea bags by Tregothnan Teas including some interesting flavours such as Manuka, and Lemon Verbena. Snacks included packets of crisps, flapjacks (including a gluten-free option), peanuts, cake and biscuits, as well as bowls of apples and grapes.
Other facilities included a departures screen next to the TV, a luggage rack, and a magazine rack with publications including Wallpaper and Time Out.
The lounge also has three smart toilet/shower rooms, which looked like they had been recently refurbished, and will no doubt be popular with passengers arriving on the early morning service into Paddington.
Although the Night Riviera service does not depart until 2345, cabin customers can board from 2230, a clever idea both because it allows guests to get themselves comfortable in their cabins (and perhaps even fall asleep) before the train gets on its way, and also because it gives plenty of time for the attendant to come around to each cabin guest, explain the facilities and take breakfast orders.
At exactly 2230 the lounge staff advised us that boarding had commenced, at which point the lounge pretty much emptied. My cabin 23 in coach F was located opposite the lounge, and having boarded I spent a few minutes sheepishly trying to work out how to unhook the open door to my cabin, before the attendant arrived and showed me the (very simple) mechanism.
I was asked if I wanted a wake-up call, and given a choice of breakfast items including tea, coffee, orange juice, porridge, croissant, cereal or bacon roll – these are served to your cabin at a time of your choice.
Cabin customers also get a complimentary soft drink in the bar carriage – I didn’t really want anything at this point, but walked down to the bar anyway to take a look, as it has benefited from a redesign as part of the Night Riviera revamp.
It’s a smart area, with a choice of sofa, booth and armchair seating, as well as several stools lining the bar – although I didn’t think the stools looked particularly comfortable. The bar is open throughout the journey, and was already busy when I took a look around at about 2245.
I was back in my cabin and in bed by 2300, and was asleep by the time the train departed.
Cabins are either solo (one single bed) or twin (bunk beds) – and can either be booked as an add-on to a normal rail ticket (from £45 for a shared cabin, or from £75 for a cabin to yourself), or by purchasing Sleeper Advance packages (see price below).
It is also possible to book interconnecting cabins, making either a two (two singles) or four (two twins) berth cabin. Note that solo passengers choosing a twin cabin may end up sharing the cabin with another passenger of the same gender.
As you would expect, cabins are cosy to say the least, but there are little innovations to make the most of the space available, including a ladder to the upper bunk that can be folded away when not in use, and an ultra-thin wardrobe which has two fixed hangers inside, on which I was able to hang my coat and shirt for the morning.
It’s important to note that while the Caledonian Sleeper is relaunching with brand new trainsets, the new Night Riviera service is a revamp of existing stock. The redesign was made possible by funding support from Cornwall Council, and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), in partnership with the Department for Transport.
Features now include hotel key-card style door locks, USB and plug points, a service call button, reading lights at each bed, air-conditioning, window blackout blinds, a basin with fold-down lid which doubles as a small table, a rubbish bin under the basin, another storage space at the level of the upper bunk, further storage space under the lower bunk, two small mirrors, and two coat hooks on the back of the cabin door. Customers also get a bottle of water, a hand towel and a bar of soap.
I was in a twin room, and as I was by myself this had the advantage of my being able to use the upper bunk to store items such as newspapers and clothing – although I was wary of leaving anything fragile like my laptop up there in case it fell off during the journey.
I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the single bed was, and particular with the quality of the two pillows and duvet, which I would have been happy with in an upmarket hotel room. The lower bunk is 193cm in length, while the upper one is slightly shorter at 189cm, but conversely the upper bunk is slightly wider (74cm at its widest, 64cm at its narrowest), compared to the lower bunk (72cm at its widest, 62cm at its narrowest).
The only issue is that because the bed is narrower than a normal single bed, and is directly next to the cabin wall, quite a bit of the duvet ends up hanging off the side of the bed and causes it to slide towards the floor after a while, but I found that wrapping it slightly under my body kept it in place and didn’t affect comfort.
Unlike selected cabins on the new Caledonian Sleeper, the Night Riviera does not offer cabins with ensuite bathrooms, so passengers still have to leave their room to visit the toilet. I didn’t particularly find this an issue, but I appreciate some might disagree.
Just before I went to sleep I tried to connect to the wifi, but despite a couple of attempts I got a server error message. Had I been trying to work I would have called the attendant at that point, but I was conscious of trying to get to sleep before the train departed, so I left it.
I’ve since been informed that the issue arose because my device was trying to connect to the lounge wifi (the lounge being just a few metres from my cabin while we were on the platform), rather than the onboard service. When I tried again in the morning it worked fine.
I managed to get to sleep quickly, and slept fairly well until my wake-up call at 0510, although I do vaguely remember a few doors being slammed at stations along the route, and woke up once when we went around a sharpish corner, which caused me to slide down the bed a little.
The attendant brought breakfast to my room at the same time as the wake-up call, just before the train arrived into Plymouth at 0511. I had double-checked the night before that the train would sit on the platform at Plymouth for half an hour (departing at 0545), so I knew this would give me time to eat, pack my bag and disembark without hurrying.
There is a fold-down table in the middle of the lower bunk bed, which fitted the breakfast tray, and I stood to eat as it was a tight space to sit up under the upper bunk (those in solo cabins would not have this issue).
The tea came in a pot, with a couple of UHT milk sachets and some biscuits, and the bacon roll was warm and fresh, with a choice of tomato ketchup or brown sauce.
At about 0535 I disembarked onto the empty platform – there is no lounge at Plymouth, which is a shame, as if you were arriving overnight to work in the city, I’m not sure what you would do to freshen up and wait until it was time to work. The service perhaps works better for business travellers based in Plymouth and heading in the other direction, where passengers can use the lounge at Paddington to have a shower and breakfast. There are however lounges with showers for those arriving into Truro and Penzance.
The revamp has brought cabins up to hotel standard (minus the ensuite) with good-quality bedding, USB charging points and wifi. Staff were friendly and on hand throughout the journey, from the lounge to boarding and breakfast, and the lounge at Paddington is welcome, with showers useful for arriving customers.
- Journey length five hours 26 minutes
- Best for an overnight journey between London and Cornwall in the comfort of your own cabin, with lounge access included
- Price A midweek Super off-peak return in mid-May costs from £193 when opting for shared use of a twin cabin, and from £243 when opting for a single use cabin.
- Contact gwr.com