I travelled top notch from Paris to London on Eurostar but then switched to no-frills Megabus for the ultimate leg of a return journey to Newcastle on Tyne. What’s it like going from unadulterated luxury to cheap-as-chips?
Actually, not that bad. If I could afford it, naturally, I’d plump for the posh option every time, but it surely’s not each day that I get invited on an all-expenses-paid VIP trip from London to Paris. (I used to be gifted money-can’t-buy side-of-the-stage access to the Rock en Seine music festival courtesy of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme – see fact box below.)
Because it was my paltry bank balance taking the hit for the hop home, it was a no brainer to book Megabus.
Carlton Reid journeyed on a Eurostar from Paris to London – and had a seat within the train’s swanky Business Premier section
The ticket price for Carlton’s journey in Business Premier (above) was £276
Fast-track: Carlton was in a position to whizz past the queue at Gare du Nord
Free fruit smoothies within the Eurostar Business Premier lounge at Gare du Nord
The 212-mile train journey from Paris to London in a Eurostar Business Premier seat with fast access past the station ticket queue cost my benefactor a whopping £276, while the 286-mile coach journey to Newcastle was a comparative snip at just £17.
While Eurostar deposited me in London greater than an hour and a half late, the Megabus into Newcastle was just five minutes behind schedule. Given the vagaries of road travel, that was a minor miracle.
The view of the tracks at Gare du Nord from the Business Premier lounge
Booze for breakfast? There for the asking from a Eurostar Business Premier seat (left). The food in the highest Eurostar carriages is overseen by superchef Raymond Blanc
I slept for as much of the trip as possible, but even for anyone with diddy legs, the seats were cramped and only really cozy for the primary ten minutes. Snoozing, I squirmed periodically, trying and failing over the seven hours of the journey to seek out a remotely comfortable position. Numb bum syndrome is par for the course, I assume.
Most individuals got off the coach in Leeds, including the wide person sitting next to me, and that gave me an additional wedge of wriggle room, but you do not travel on Megabus for the comfort.
The Megabus journey to Newcastle cost just 16 pence per mile, while the lavishly catered and bottom-friendly journey from Paris to London was five times dearer at 79 pence per mile.
Carlton’s 286-mile coach journey to Newcastle cost just £17 (stock image)
‘The Megabus journey to Newcastle cost just 16 pence per mile, while the lavishly catered and bottom-friendly journey from Paris to London was five times dearer at 79 pence per mile,’ reveals Carlton (stock image)
The Megabus nudged 70mph on the motorway; the Eurostar cruised at greater than double that and travelled at 186mph for long stretches. Throughout a lot of the journey the Megabus bucked like a jet hitting turbulence, while there was no spilling of the free drinks on the greater than twice-as-fast Eurostar.
Needing a pee, I could only marvel on the teeny-tininess of the half-a-cupboard that housed the on-board lavatory on the Megabus. I’m compact and bijou and even I only just managed to squeeze through the gap. How I used to be in a position to close the door behind me remains to be a wonder.
Alternatively, you might throw a socially distanced party in the massive loo on the Eurostar – a commodious party that would not feel like a dice with death. The Megabus micro-space loo proved to be terrifying to make use of at motorway speeds so once out, I used to be thankful to be back in my seat and within the seatbelt’s tight embrace.
On the Eurostar earlier that day, I had dined on Raymond Blanc’s idea of a 140mph breakfast. In some distant branding exercise, the Michelin-starred chef decided that I ought to be served with pistachio granola and a yogurt atop a sweet plum compote. Plus, an obligatory croissant. Roast apricots, orange segments and watermelon chunks followed. (The new breakfast alternative was an Emmental and Comté flan, accompanied by rosemary-infused bacon, spinach, and mushrooms. Do you have to want it, all meals include wine, even at breakfast.)
Carlton says that one in all the highlights of the Megabus journey were the tongue-in-cheek names given to the wheelchair-accessible coaches
On the Megabus, I self-catered, forking out on a £1 flapjack. The apple I also ate had been stashed from that morning’s visit to the Eurostar lounge, open only to passengers holding Business Premier tickets.
The second-floor lounge, converted from grandiose railway offices in 2017, is zoned into classy compartments, some overlooking the waiting trains. I grabbed a choice of free newspapers and upscale magazines at the doorway and checked in with the lounge gatekeeper. She told me my train had been delayed but, should I so desire, she would switch me to the sooner service. I did so desire, I answered.
It was only later that I learned that standard-class passengers needed to queue and grizzle to be in with the prospect of the same switch while my ticket was successfully amended quietly and efficiently. I assume that this personal service — super-useful when travel glitches arise — is the form of cosseted profit that first-class passengers take as a right.
One other key profit is space, not only in your legs and hips but in your bags.
On the Eurostar, there was ample room to maintain my large bag with me so I could access its contents throughout the journey, which is crucial for a digital nomad requiring a laptop, charging cables, and the like.
Carlton enjoyed ‘a grandstand view over London’s traffic jams’ on the Megabus
Carlton ‘could only marvel on the teeny-tininess of the half-a-cupboard that housed the on-board lavatory on the Megabus’ (left). Pictured right are the charging points on the Megabus
On the Megabus, I needed to store my bag within the locked-away luggage compartment beneath the bus. I had forgotten to unpack a few cables, so I could not plug into the on-board USB sockets to charge my iPhone. Yes, I could have stretched my legs and asked to access the baggage bay at one in all the several stops en route, but I didn’t since the drivers (there have been two changes along the best way) were clearly on a decent schedule.
One in all the highlights of the Megabus journey were the tongue-in-cheek names given to the wheelchair-accessible coaches: My bus was called Queen Elizabus II. I spotted a Jenson Busson. Other names for these Volvo workhorses, suggested in a social media competition, include Basil Bus, Bus Lightyear, and but-where’s-the-joke Mega-tron.
One other highlight was the peak. Seating is at the highest of the coach, giving a grandstand view over London’s traffic jams. I had my beady eye on one sports automotive driver who was blithely texting as he drove beside us. (He had German numberplates, so I assume reporting his illegality could be pointless.) But, oh, those traffic jams. It was painfully slow at the beginning of the journey, taking greater than an hour to achieve the outskirts of London. Great for sightseeing, but not so great for those who’re used to already being a 3rd of the approach to Newcastle when travelling on LNER.
The Megabus (stock image) nudged 70mph on the motorway; the Eurostar cruised at greater than double that and travelled at 186mph for long stretches
Carlton says that he was impressed by Victoria Coach Station in London
The red Transport Trust plaque explaining that the Art Deco Victoria Coach Station dated from 1932 and was the ‘largest in Britain’
The Megabus arrived into Newcastle just five minutes behind schedule (stock image)
I used to be impressed by Victoria Station. It was cleaner than I remembered it (I’ve done my justifiable share of red-eye National Express journeys down the years), and while the toilets were whiffy, at the very least there was a red Transport Trust plaque explaining that the Art Deco constructing dated from 1932 and was the ‘largest in Britain’. Then and in addition now? The plaque didn’t explain, even though it stated that the station was ‘purpose-built’. Possibly that explains the station’s excellent ventilation because, despite being stuffed with idling coaches, there was no feeling that standing before them meant respiration in a cocktail of chemicals.
Cocktails of an altogether different kind were available within the Business Premier lounge on the Gare du Nord in Paris. A round bar serves signature concoctions created for the lounge. One in all the boozy offerings relies on Toujours 21, a gin developed by the ever present French chef for Eurostar. After all, Raymond Blanc, who owns Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a restaurant in Oxfordshire with two Michelin stars, is not available to cook the finger food within the lounge, but there may be a ‘mixologist’ to repair the cocktails.
I could get used to travelling like this.
The view of the Eiffel Tower from the upper suite in Le Metropolitan hotel in Paris
Marriott Bonvoy’s money-can’t-buy Moments
Because of those friendly folks on the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme, I gained a close-up view of Doncaster’s pop punk star Yungblud as he wowed the Rock en Seine annual music festival in Paris. You could not pay for this side-of-the-stage access. VIP tickets got you close up to the mosh pit, but only invited Marriott Bonvoy guests were guided to the back of the stage by one in all the festival organisers. What a thrill! We were also led through the band-only chill-out zone, picking out the hammocks for every band, including that night’s headliners, the Arctic Monkeys.
Marriott Bonvoy sponsors many other music festivals worldwide in addition to major sporting events and in addition organises special one-off events allowing members to make use of their points to purchase tickets or, for the more select offers, bid on money-can’t-buy experiences called ‘Moments‘.
For example, a recent Moment – only available otherwise for those who were a profligate billionaire – involved staying in a Marriott Hotels guest room created for one night only inside Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground – the pop-up suite ignored the pitch on a match day. There’s also a semi-permanent Marriott Bonvoy couch sited above the dugouts and available only to Moments guests.
Other experiences have included rides in Steve McQueen’s 1956 Jaguar XKSS from the Petersen Automotive Museum’s private collection in Los Angeles.
Most of the experiences ship with a hotel stay. Successful bidders for an F1 Moment in Kyoto, Japan, on Friday will stay on the luxurious Ritz-Carlton before gaining practice day access to the VIP lounge utilized by the Marriotts-sponsored Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team.
Marriott’s loyalty scheme is the world’s most extensive hotel programme, with 6,700 participating properties in greater than 100 countries worldwide.
As a part of the Rock en Seine Moments package, I stayed at Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Portfolio hotel with an uninterrupted view of the Eiffel Tower.