Travelling by train divides the Clock Out Check In team. I spent much of my childhood travelling across the country by train. Therefore, I am more than happy to take the scenic route but Vicky prefers to fly or take the bus. I am slowly trying to convince Vicky that travelling by train is fun so we decided to try out the Eurostar on our recent trip to Paris.
For those of you who don’t know, Eurostar is a high speed rail service which connects the UK to mainland Europe. Starting in London you can reach Paris, Brussels and even Amsterdam within a couple of hours without having to go through the ordeal of flying. This post is a review of our experience travelling on the Eurostar to Paris.
Living in London, the Eurostar could not be more convenient. The journey to St Pancras International is very easy and included on our Oyster travelcards. Upon arrival we quickly made our way through check-in and security and were ready to board the train. Overall the transfer and check-in process was much quicker than if we had flown from Gatwick or Stansted airport. In addition, when you arrive in Paris you arrive at the Gare du Nord station in the centre of the city saving on another potentially costly airport transfer. On the whole, the Eurostar was a very convenient way to travel to Paris, especially as the journey time was fairly short.
We also found that the Eurostar was relatively cheap when compared with other options. The headline return fare that we paid (£104 each) is at first glance much more expensive than a budget flight with Ryanair. However, once you factor in the time and money saved on transfers to and from the airport the Eurostar prices were competitive. In addition, you also have to consider the additional costs involved with Ryanair for any luggage and for sitting together. You can find cheaper Eurostar fares if you book well in advance. We booked this fairly last minute because we had to wait to confirm our time off with work.
One of the areas in which Eurostar could really improve is the customer experience in the departure lounges located beyond security at both St Pancras International and Gare du Nord. There is only a very limited selection of shops, cafes and restaurants and the seating areas were overly crowded. If there are delays, as there were when we travelled, then this can lead to a very uncomfortable wait.
In addition, while Eurostar bills itself as a more luxurious alternative to flying, we found our Eurostar experience to be no more comfortable than a budget flight with Ryanair. The trains themselves are now a bit dated and not particularly comfortable. Boarding the train was a bit of a mad scramble; despite the fact that everyone had reserved seats. The on board catering facilities were also poor which was a shame – all I wanted was a nice cup of tea!
Our biggest issues with Eurostar stemmed from the strikes that have been plaguing Eurostar in France since the start of the year. Although our train was only 20 minutes late departing, we had to arrive at the station five hours in advance of our scheduled departure time to ensure that we made it onto this train. Passengers were being served on a first come, first served basis and the organisation at Gare du Nord station was appalling. No apology was made for us having to curtail our weekend in Paris and spend our last day queuing in the station. As our train was technically not delayed we were not offered any compensation either.
In summary, travelling from St Pancras International and arriving in central Paris was very convenient and made this trip worthwhile for us at the price we paid. However, we would have serious reservations about travelling with Eurostar again if strikes were continuing or if prices went up.
Have you travelled with Eurostar? Did the strikes affect your trip? Let us know in the comments below.