Sleeper trains are more than just a practical way of covering a large distance in one overnight journey. They are laden with the promise of excitement and adventure, evoking a golden age of rail travel romanticised by Agatha Christie. Minus the murders, that is.
A UK staycation gave me the chance to try out the first class room on the iconic Caledonian Sleeper service from London to Scotland. But was the Club Room worth it?
This Caledonian Sleeper First Class review is based on my journey as a solo traveller between London Euston and Fort William in June 2021.
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What is the Caledonian Sleeper?
The Caledonian Sleeper is a sleeper train service linking London with cities in Scotland. Strictly speaking, it is two services.
Departing London Euston, the Highlander train splits into three at Edinburgh Waverley in the wee small hours of the morning. The three sections terminate at Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.
The Lowlander train dissects at Carstairs and the two halves continue their respective journeys to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
A sleeper train between Scotland & London is not a new thing (there’s been a service since 1873). The Caledonian Sleeper as such has been operating since 1996.
With the help of a total of £110m in subsidies, Serco replaced the ageing carriages with new stock. In 2019, the new Caledonian Sleeper was launched with much fanfare, a ‘hotel on wheels’ featuring en-suite rooms.
Why Should You Consider Travelling on the Caledonian Sleeper?
The Caledonian Sleeper between London and Fort William has been consistently voted as one of the world’s greatest sleeper train journeys. There’s something very special about leaving the urban sprawl of London at night and waking up in the Scottish Highlands.
But there are more reasons for travelling on the Caledonian Sleeper than merely ticking off a travel bucket list item.
There’s a lot to be said for sidestepping the hassle of travelling to an airport and queuing at security during these restriction-riddled times. And you can forget being scrunched up in that middle seat on a plane and stressing about the size of the shampoo bottle in your carry-on luggage.
You can also feel safe in the knowledge that your journey on the Caledonian Sleeper is reducing your carbon footprint compared to flying to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Inverness.
Planning Your Caledonian Sleeper Journey
What are your room options on the Caledonian Sleeper?
There are three types of rooms available on the Caledonian Sleeper:
- Classic Room
- Club Room
- Caledonian Double
If you are travelling on a budget, there are also Comfort Seats. These are reclining seats (but not lie-flat) in a standard rail carriage.
Comfort Seats feature a pull-down tray table, footrest, an individual reading light, charging point and access to lockable storage. Wi-Fi is available and all Comfort Seat passengers receive a complimentary sleep kit, which includes earplugs and an eye mask.
What are the differences between a Classic Room and a Club Room on the Caledonian Sleeper?
There are few differences between a Classic Room and a Club Room on the Caledonian Sleeper. Or one big difference, depending on your point of view.
Twin bunk beds
|Twin bunk beds|
|Complimentary sleep kit with Arran Aromatics toiletries||Complimentary sleep kit with Arran Aromatics toiletries|
Breakfast available for purchase
|En-suite with toilet & shower|
|Station lounge access where available|
|Priority access to Club Car|
The most significant difference between the Caledonian Sleeper Club Room and Classic Room is the en-suite toilet and shower room. No more scuttling down the train’s corridor to the loo in your PJs when you book a Club Room.
But the rooms themselves are identical, including square footage. It’s just that the Club Room has this en-suite facility.
What’s the Caledonian Double like?
The Caledonian Double offers the same amenities and facilities as the Club Room, but has a double bed instead of twin bunks.
Can you book a room on the Caledonian Sleeper as a solo traveller?
In these Covid-ridden times, if you are travelling alone, you will need to book a Classic Room, Club Room and a Caledonian Double on the Caledonian Sleeper for solo use. Unsurprisingly, you will pay a supplement for the privilege of having one of these rooms to yourself.
However, when you book a Classic or Club Room as a single traveller both beds will be in place, which is a pity.
How much does the Caledonian Sleeper cost?
In 2021-22, travelling from London Euston to Fort William, Comfort Seats start from £53; Classic Rooms from £145 for solo travellers and £175 if you’re sharing; Club Rooms from £205 for solo travellers and £250 if you’re sharing; Caledonian Doubles from £395 for solo travellers and £470 if you’re sharing.
Accessible rooms are priced separately as a twin or double room.
You need to book well in advance to take advantage of the lowest fares. The best value fares are the Fixed Advance tickets which do not allow changes, refunds or upgrades. For more flexibility, opt for the more expensive Caledonian Sleeper Flexible tickets.
How often do the Caledonian Sleeper trains operate?
The Caledonian Sleeper service to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen departs London Euston at 21:15 every weeknight and at 21:00 on Sunday. It is scheduled to reach Fort William just before 10 am, Inverness at 08:42 and Aberdeen at 07:45.
The Lowlander Service to Edinburgh and Glasgow leaves London Euston every weeknight at 23:50 and at 23:30 on Sunday. This service is scheduled to reach both cities at 07:22.
There are no Caledonian Sleeper services on Saturdays.
You may have noticed that you will arrive at some of these destinations bright and early. Whilst this is good news in terms of maximising your time away, your accommodation may not allow you to check in until later in the day. Therefore, you will need to check that you will be able to leave your luggage with them or find somewhere also to leave it.
Booking the Caledonian Sleeper
Book your Caledonian Sleeper ticket online. You can make a reservation up to 12 months ahead of the date of travel.
Tickets are sold as one-way journeys. If you want to book a return journey, you will need to book two one-way tickets.
Caledonian Sleeper First Class Review
First Class Lounge at London Euston Station
The Caledonian Sleeper First Class lounge at London Euston is shared with Avanti West Coast. This is located on the mezzanine level of the station, overlooking the station’s concourse.
I last visited this lounge when I was travelling in first-class on an Avanti West Coast service. At this time, there was self-service tea, coffee, juices, water and a small selection of cold snacks. Due to Covid restrictions, self-service has been ditched in favour of table service.
The lounge also offers free Wi-Fi and toilet facilities.
Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper
If the promised priority boarding was in place for those travelling in first class on the Caledonian Sleeper, it wasn’t evident. Instead, there was a sole gate attendant at the entrance to the platform trying his best to control the scrum attempting to board the train.
The cheery train attendant checked my ticket at the carriage door and asked for my breakfast order and if it was likely that I would want room service. She also asked if I wished to be informed if the service was running late. I replied that I would prefer it if this was a surprise.
The corridor of the Caledonian Sleeper is so narrow that I wasn’t able to wheel my rolling backpack along it. Instead, I did a sort of side shuffle to my room.
Caledonian Sleeper Club Room
Clearly, the size of the rooms wasn’t a factor in the revamp of the Caledonian Sleeper. To say the Club Room is compact is being kind.
The space between the bed and opposite wall is narrow, and manoeuvring and storing a wheeled backpack was a little challenging. There is modest space under the bed but this wasn’t big enough to accommodate my luggage. This and two hangers comprised the total storage capacity of the room.
Heaven knows how two people cope in this space.
But thought has gone into the interior design of the Club Room. The Edinburgh restaurant designer Ian Smith has used tartan patterns and rusty oranges as well as grey and taupe tones.
The lighting and temperature controls are also well thought out. It was easy to keep the room at a comfortable temperature and the lighting is dimmable. Plug sockets and USB charging points were plentiful.
The Caledonian Sleeper WiFi allowed me to check email but not stream audio or video.
Your own keycard allows you to leave your room securely.
Although narrow, the bed was surprisingly comfortable. Its linen-clad mattress is made by Royal Warrant holders Glencraft and the pillows plump. Although I didn’t have the most restful night’s sleep, this was more to do with the movement of the train.
Next to the bed, there is a small sink, beneath which is a pull-out table.
It’s the en-suite that distinguishes the Club Room from the Classic Room. This is an interesting design. Essentially, you pull the cover over the toilet to convert this into a bench seat for the shower. Although the shower wouldn’t be the most powerful in the world, it does the job and the temperature adjusted as expected.
Just make sure that your morning routine is in the correct order. I wouldn’t fancy using the toilet after the area is drenched post-shower.
A welcome Caledonian Sleeper Club Room perk is the complimentary sleep kit with Arran Aromatics toiletries. Inside the bag, you’ll find conditioning shampoo, hand and body wash, body lotion and an aromatherapy sleep spray. An eye mask, earplugs and a small bottle of mineral water are also provided.
Food & Drink on the Caledonian Sleeper
Due to coronavirus safety measures, the Caledonian Sleeper Club Car had suspended its services, which was understandable but a shame. However, room service was available and I treated myself to a cheeky Macallan as a nightcap.
Breakfast came in a brown bag at the allotted time. This mini-feast of a hot bacon roll, orange juice, porridge bar and cup of tea was an excellent start to the day.
The Caledonian Sleeper pulled into Fort William station a few minutes ahead of schedule at 9.50 am
First class lounge at Fort William station
The friendly lounge assistant in the Caledonian Sleeper’s small but comfortable lounge at Fort William offered me tea/coffee plus biscuits. Self-serve packets of crisps and cold drinks were also available.
The lounge has toilets and showering facilities.
Caledonian Sleeper: Other Useful Information
Taking your bike on the Caledonian Sleeper
Cyclists can take bikes on board for free as long as they fall within the maximum measurements (the bikes that it, not the cyclists).
Bikes require a reservation to travel in a dedicated storage area next to the seated carriage.
Accessibility on the Caledonian Sleeper
The Caledonian Sleeper trains have fully accessible rooms with a double bed or two single bunk beds. Both the Club Car and the seated coach have dedicated wheelchair space
Taking your pets on the Caledonian Sleeper
Cats and dogs are welcome on board the Caledonian Sleeper, provided you are not travelling in the seated carriage. You can take up to two pets on board but at the time of writing (July 21), a £30 cleaning fee per room was levied.
There is no charge for service dogs.
Caledonian Sleeper First Class Review: Is the Club Room Worth It?
A Club Room on the Caledonian Sleeper is not a cheap way of travelling between London and Scotland. I justified it in that it offset the cost of night’s accommodation in Glasgow.
But is the Club Room worth the significant premium compared with a Classic Room?
In my view, unless en-suite facilities are essential, a Caledonian Sleeper Club Room isn’t worth the extra cost. Other than the presence of a toilet cum shower, these two rooms are identical. And equally cramped.
The other perks of Club Room travel – namely breakfast lounge access and priority Club Car access – don’t make an enormous difference to the travel experience. Particularly in this period of scaled back catering, you will be as well off buying your own breakfast.
Although perfectly pleasant, the lounges at either London Euston and Fort William aren’t worth the effort of arriving at the train station early. In 2021, the Club Car was closed.
For a more upscale experience, you could opt for the Caledonian Double which will give you a little more space than the Club Room. But the hefty price tag attached to this room places it out of the reach of many solo travellers.
Setting to one side the pros and cons of a Club Room, everyone should travel from London to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper at least once in their life. The experience of chugging out of the grey suburbs of London at night to be greeted with the dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands in the morning is unforgettable.
But will I do it again? Probably not.