Given the Choice, Pick a Sleeper.
This blog seems to be generating an increasing number of questions about train travel including three in just the past few days from people about to undertake their first overnight train ride. I couldn’t be more pleased to chip in with suggestions and answer any questions.
A few days ago, I exchanged several emails with someone who wants to travel from a suburb of Philadelphia to Seattle, then down to Los Angeles, and return home by way of New Orleans. He said he was retired and his wife would be traveling with him. Of course I told him it’s a great itinerary. He had a few more questions then, almost as an afterthought, came an email saying that they were planning to travel the entire way in coach because it was less expensive. He said they could afford the additional cost of a sleeper and wondered if I thought perhaps they might find a bedroom somewhat more comfortable.
Good heavens! He was planning a rail journey of almost 8,000 miles, including seven nights on board . . . in coach! I invited him to call me and we had a nice chat, during which I described what one night in coach class could be like, then asked him to multiply by seven. Needless to say, those folks will be traveling in a sleeping car for their entire journey.
Make no mistake: coach class is an important and necessary service, providing affordable public transportation for millions of Americans. But traveling in a sleeping car is absolutely the way to go if you can afford it, and that is always my advice when I’m asked.
Yes, the coach class seats are big and wide and comfortable. And yes, there is a lot of legroom and you can get up and walk around and spend time in the lounge car. But you still have to sleep sitting up and you’re still in rather close proximity with as many as 70 other passengers.
Do I travel in coach. Of course I do. And I’ll be in coach class on several trains in just a couple of months: from Seattle to Vancouver; from Toronto to New York and again from there to Washington. And after the NARP meetings, I’m in coach again from Washington up to Boston.
But those are all daytime trips. Overnight? No thank you! I am too old and too soft for that. If I want to try to sleep sitting up while a five year old kicks the back of my seat, American Airlines provides those amenities with remarkable regularity.
Even if you can sleep sitting in a coach seat, there is more noise in coach. During the night the train stops at various places, and people get off and on the train. So there is this additional source of noise, which will waken light (and maybe heavy) sleepers.
Absolutely right. Thanks for adding that.
Yep, if you want to take an overnight train, sleeper is best. The only exception to me would be if you need to get out of the train in the midst of the night, it’s probably less painful to get out of a seat than to get out of a comfy bed.
I’m in sleeper to Scotland, next week. Looking forward to it! Hopefully I get some time to write some cards as well…
I made that trip last summer and discovered to my great disappointment that there was no dining car service on weekends … or perhaps it was on Sundays, which was when I traveled. I also found the ride up to Edinburgh was quite rough. I didn’t notice that problem on the way back to London, although it was all at night … which, alas, meant no dining car again. If you have a moment, send me a note and let me know about your experience.
Thanks, I will. I’m on the Fort William sleeper, so the combined Highland sleepers up untill Edinburgh, and as we leave around 9.15 pm and won’t arrive in Ft William until almost 10 am, I’m hoping there’s going to be some dining options… Breakfast is ordered for in advance, there’s only one sleeper car, which is not enough for a dining car, I assume. And by weekends, you mean Sundays, as there is no night train on Saturdays in GB. Not the Caledonian sleepers, nor the Cornish Rivièra Express run that day, for maintenance and track work.
I’m back from my little trip to fair Albion, and here are my findings. Until 4 am, when the Highlands sleeper is splits into its different destinations’ parts, there is a restaurant car on board, with proper food and real china. I already ate before boarding, so for investigation purposes only, I ordered a light salad with venison and some beers, and I wasn’t disappointed. Really a shame so few people were enjoying the food. Of course it was a Tuesday evening to big cities such as Inverness, Fort William and Aberdeen in low season, but still. Of course, they had a large whisky selection, but I didn’t try those.
The beds left somewhat to desire, though, they were very prickly. At first I thought it might have been the (glass fiber?) protection on the mattress, but since I have discovered bite marks on my legs…
Breakfast was no china, but scrambled eggs and cold smoked salmon in a cardboard box and thea, and a warm bacon sandwich for my sister. Good, but not outstanding. All in all, I would do it again, but perhaps after they’ve replaced the old stock, in a year or so. No remarks about the staff, theydid an excellent job. I had booked for next month by accident, but because there was room and our reservations could be changed, our steward did everything to get us on. We don’t do as much tipping as you guys, but I didn’t hesitate to give her one. We had a lot of luck with the weather, too.
Excellent report! Many thanks. Is it possible that many or even most of the passengers were unaware of the restaurant car … just assuming, in these days of cost cutting, that there was none? What a pity, in any event.
Caledonian sleeper does advertise with its prize-winning food, but as I said, the train was far from sold out, there are only two sleeping carriages to Ft William, I believe, and ours was hardly filled halfway. I guess it’s something similar to the other destinations… Also, with a departure at 9.15 pm, many people probably ate before. And I might be mistaken, but I thought I saw 2 lounge cars, as it was a pretty long train in its combined form, and I have no idea about people there. Still, some 5 people were enjoying a drink, and one other person had a bite, too.