Night Riviera sleeper train

(Great Western Railway - prices start from £84 for solo berth, £124 for twin berth)
Reviewed Tuesday 16 November 2021

Sleeper trains are more common across Europe, where you can travel overnight to destinations far away and not have to think about spending all the time during the day travelling and then getting a hotel for the night when you get there. Often there are certain routes which are well renowned for being excellent sleeper experiences and these really are on a must do list for people whon enjoy travellers. The UK has in comparison just two sleeper services: the Caledonian Sleeper, which takes you from London Euston to parts of Scotland including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fort William and Inverness, and the Night Riviera, which runs from London Paddington to Cornwall, terminating at Penzance. It's probably to the geography of the UK to a degree that not more run.

So the Night Riviera is under current stewardship of Great Western Railway, and a few years ago they spent a fair bit of money revamping the sleeper carriages as well as enhancing the experience overall. Unfortunately lockdowns and the current situation had prevented me from trying this out until now, but now that it was reasonably safe to travel, I wanted to give it a go and see how it would set me off on a little break around Cornwall but also be able to see how the whole package works, and indeed if it's worth doing or not. I managed to book a Wednesday night train for £84 for a solo berth, which meant I'd have a cabin all to myself rather than sharing with anyone. If two of you are going as a couple, the twin berth is £124, so effectively £62 each. I'll be basing this review and the information below on the direction I travelled, which is London Paddington to Penzance. There are some differences if going in the other direction which I'll mention later on.

First Class Lounge Access
It's important to note that if you've booked a sleeper berth for the night, then you have access to the First Class lounge at London Paddington. This is normally from 2100 onwards for the 2345 departure of the train, so that gives you a nice chance to unwind, get tea or coffee (including latte and capuccino) from a posh coffee machine, and soft drinks are in the fridges. There's also some biscuits and small cakes as well to have with your cuppa should you wish. The lounge also has Queen Victoria's Waiting Room as part of it, an octagonal space which is just beautiful to sit in and have a relaxing drink. There's plug sockets with USB ports so you can charge what you need, and staff are on hand. The toilets here also have shower cubicles too, so you can freshen up with a shower if you want to (note: these are available on arrival too, so whichever direction you travel, you can use them at each end.)

Check In
From around 2230, the staff in the first class lounge will let you know that you can be ready for boarding. Normally there's at least two members of staff on hand to check you in. Most of the twin berths are in carriages D and E of the train, with the solos tending to be carriages F and G. As it turned out, there was a queue for D and E, but none for F and G, so the member of staff saw to me straight away, checked my ticket, and then asked what I'd like for breakfast from the selection on offer, and what time I wanted it. Normally there's a full tray service around 0630 and a grab and go takeaway bag (but with the same breakfast) from around 0645 so you have the option as you wish. The staff member will hand you the key card and show you to your room, so you can be sure the key card works and you can get in okay. I have to say the staff were lovely, friendly and helpful and really did make me feel very welcomed indeed. If you're a seated passenger only, carriages A and B are the ones for you, and although the seats recline, think of it as a normal train journey as if you were travelling during the day!

Lounge Car
The lounge car is in carriage C of the train and a large portion of it is for sleeper berth customers only. This has sofas, single seat chairs and tables and also a four seater table with chairs to sit at and have a nice drink. The staff again were really friendly and helpful and it's worth noting that any soft drinks or tea and coffee you order from the bar is complimentary, and this includes biscuits and crisps too. You can also take the cuppa back to your room if you wish or have it in the lounge car, the choice is yours. There's also a range of alcoholic drinks on offer which you have to pay for - including wine, prosecco, cider and beer. Notably the St Austell's Tribute ale was on sale for £3.40 a can or £9.50 for three, considering it's a 500ml can that wasn't too expensive. The area where the staff works also has a window for standard seat customers to get any drinks and snacks also (all paid for in their case.)

The Rooms
The sleeper room is compact, but does have everything you need in there. If you've got a solo berth the bottom bed will be made for you, if twin, both will be. The bedding was very soft and luxurious, with a cosy duvet and two pillows, and felt high quality. You've also got a little table that flips up to reveal a sink. The hot and cold water pressures were okay but could be better, but was adequate. Under the sink is a small bin, and you've got plug sockets and USB ports for the upper and lower beds accordingly, as well as light switches as you need. The ladder for the top bunk pulls out really cleverly indeed and when not in use hardly takes up any space, which is good. There's also a small wardrobe with two hangers fixed in there, as well as two bottles of water. It also has the instructions for converting the bed into a sofa for the lower berth, and how to pull out the upper berth bed if not already made up. There's a blackout blind for the window too which really did its job also. It all felt very comfortable indeed.

It should be noted that there are no en-suite or shower facilities on board, hence the option of showering at your start or end destination in the first class lounge. There's toilets at the end of each carriage, which worked well when I used them (word of note though: obviously make sure you've got some pyjamas on or similar when walkng through the carriage) and also you do get a hand towel and some soap as well in the room so if you just need to use the sink and freshen up a bit, that's more than doable that way should you need to do so.

As for sleep, well I have to say I did sleep very well and much better than I expected. The bedding was comfortable and the fact that the slight rocking motion of the train as it moved might have helped some people get to sleep quicker as well. It's also interesting to note for those of you with a twin berth that the upper bed is a few inches wider than the bottom, so well worth noting if there's two of you going in the same berth. They've also now made it so only same families or couples can travel in the berth together: no more awkward sharing if you're going solo, which for me is a better thing because you know you've got your own space and privacy anyway.

The Breakfast
So what of the breakfast? Well I went for the bacon roll with a coffee, and I have to say that it was better than I thought it would be. The roll was actually really nice and definitely didn't feel it had been microwaved to an inch of its life (take note, Avanti) and the coffee was good too. In fact because of the design of the tray and the tray table from the middle of the bed, it meant the breakfast could go there and be easily like sitting at the table. You could have had porridge instead if you wished, or orange juice instead of tea or coffee, so a few options, and spot on served on time by the staff too who again were lovely and friendly.

Penzance to Paddington: The Differences
If you're going the other way from Penzance to Paddington, there's a few differences to be aware of:
* The train departs 2145 Mon-Fri, 2115 Sunday
* The first class lounges at Penzance and Truro open an hour before departure, with boarding 30 minutes before departure when at Penzance
* The train arrives in Paddington around 0500, but you can stay in your cabin until 0645, so you don't have to get off straight away

For those of you who have accessibility needs, there is one (and only one) accessible room which is situated in carriage D. This is close to the large accessible toilet and also the lounge car, although if you're a wheelchair user the chair can't be more than 58cm wide if you want to make your way through. However, the room (as all rooms do) have a room service button, so you can call for service and the staff will gladly get whatever drinks you like from the bar and bring them to you as well. Boarding isn't level, so a ramp will be needed to get on and off if it's required. The accessible room also cannot be booked online, there is a phone number to call to book instead - and a type talk number to use if a deaf passenger (and credit to GWR for proving that number on their website) Obviously, I wasn't able to examine the accessible room to see how accessible it was (because I wasn't using it of course) but that's the information I've been able to verify.

The Night Riviera is a really great product for train travel. All the staff I encountered were really lovely, friendly and helpful and always with a smile, and the fact that you can relax in the first class lounge before departure really does start off the journey well. The complimentary soft and hot drinks and snacks in the lounge car were welcomed, and the alcoholic drinks weren't too expensive either. You could spend hours drinking in the lounge car (it's open all night) but it's also a really good way to unwind too before heading to bed. The rooms are well equipped and the sleep provided by the bedding really sets you off well for any break you have planned.

If there were some improvements to be made, they'd be minor. Having somewhere in Penzance's lounge to drop off your luggage (as a lot of hotels don't let you check in until at least 2pm) would be a good idea, and maybe have the first class lounge in Penzance open a little earlier before boarding. I'd also say maybe having two accessible cabins instead of one might be useful (maybe both at the beginning of Coach D for example) would be helpful too. But I have to say it's a quality product and when can I go to Cornwall this way again please?

Overall Rating: 91%