As we’d had already travelled on the daytime train to Cornwall we opted to take the Night Riviera sleeper service back to London so that I could maximise the time we had beside the seaside before returning for work in London. This fairly unknown sleeper service seemed the perfect way to minimise travel time.
The service runs in both directions between Penzance and London Paddington, every day (except Saturday – I don’t know why). Passengers can buy a sleeper supplement to their standard ticket to sleep in a cabin or can use the seated carriage at no extra cost.
After we’d explored the old town and found a nice pub for dinner – where we obviously spoke like pirates throughout – we walked down to the station to sleep our way back to the big city.
Although it departs Penzance at 21:45, passengers can board at Penzance from 21:15. From the moment we walked towards the train until we left it at Paddington, the customer service provided by on board staff was excellent. This began when a host greeted us on the platform, gave us a personal welcome to the service and showed us to our cabin.
The cabins seemed to be very similar to the Caledonian Sleeper train with bunk beds and a sink, the shared toilet being at the end of the carriage. We were informed that, though the train would arrive at Paddington at 05:20, we were welcome to stay on board until 07:00 so we opted for a wake up call at 06:45, turning down the complementary breakfast (tea/coffee, orange juice and bacon roll) in favour of more time to sleep. We were also asked whether we had any connections from Paddington, such as Heathrow Express (which I thought showed a pro-active approach to service).
I thought it was odd that the host didn’t give us a key to the cabin, we were told instead that when we returned to the cabin we’d need to find her in her cabin and she would open it for us – I immediately became concerned about getting locked out in the night if I went to the toilet. Other sleeper services I have used allow passengers to come and go as they please.
Most surprising was there there were no power sockets in the cabin; in fact, there were no power sockets anywhere on the train. This is a significant inconvenience for anyone who uses a mobile phone.
Being able to board the train early certainly gave us an opportunity to settle in and head for the cafe car before the train departed. There is definitely something romantic about sitting having a quiet drink as you glide past rural houses and stop to pick up additional passengers at what looked like tiny village halts. The atmosphere on board was very calm, even the staff seemed relaxed throughout the journey. The train remained pretty much silent for the rest of the night.
I visited the buffet and was offered a selection of complementary tea, coffee, water and crisps; opting for a nightcap, I was surprised by the quite limited selection of drinks on offer – no Baileys and no port, which seemed odd for a evening service.
I spoke with the member of staff at the buffet who told me that, despite it’s calm feel, the train was actually full that evening. She told me that in recent months the train has become a lot busier, she suspected as a result of better advertising. I also learnt that an extra carriage is added on Fridays and Sundays to accommodate the additional demand from regular travellers.
Somewhere near Truro the motion of the train had lulled us almost to sleep so I retired for the night to my pitch dark cabin thankful that I didn’t have to wear ear plugs or a sleep mask. There’s little to say on the rest of the journey as the next thing I remembered was my wake up door knock – not a bad 8 hours of sleep!
We stepped onto the platform right next to Paddington Bear, who was up early to welcome us to London. Sleeper passengers can use the First Class Lounge which made up for the early eviction from the train as we were able to wake up with a coffee in the lounge. It’s worth noting that there’s a hidden, heritage, part of the lounge. Sitting in here continued our charming journey on the sleeper train.
There were no showers on board. Travelling into London, I was offered the use of showers at Paddington (free of charge); this is not an option if you are travelling in the opposite direction. Like the lack of power sockets, I know that this is a factor of the old carriages that are used but they need to be provided in the refurbishment to come.
Although, I did have some criticisms of Great Western Railway’s standard daytime service, the Night Riviera provided exactly what I wanted, an extra day in Cornwall and an uninterrupted night’s sleep back to London. No complaints there.
It is clear that GWR’s premium services do provide a higher level of customer service and an enhanced experience but not all passengers will have reason to use these services so it is important to focus on the ‘standard’ experience so that it too lives up to the promise of the GWR brand.
Author: Liam Henderson