Test Driving Megabus Gold

Experiences with Megabus in the States did not make me eager to try its European counterpart. It’s at best cramped and at worst unbelievably unreliable (or, you know, deadly—it’s hard to forget one unfortunate encounter between a bus and a bridge near my hometown).

But as I struggled to fit a day in Edinburgh into my most recent trip to the UK, I knew I was going to have to travel back to London overnight to make it work. My options were the cheapest possible ticket on a Caledonian Sleeper train (too expensive), a seat on a regular overnight Megabus (too uncomfortable)… or a bunk on the relatively new Megabus Gold service.

At just £25, Megabus Gold wasn’t much pricier than the fare for a normal Megabus from DC to New York, and it was certainly cheaper than a lie-flat bed on a sleeper train would’ve been. After reading a couple of reviews, I bit the bullet and booked my ticket.

On the evening of my journey, we got off to a not-so-great start thanks to a wave of delays caused by Storm Desmond—our departure was delayed by about 45 minutes. But seeing as I’ve experienced way worse delays stateside without a major weather event as an excuse, that was forgivable. And once our coach finally arrived, the journey was… surprisingly excellent.

As we boarded the coach, a conductor pointed me to a top bunk (as I’d selected in the booking process) on the lower level of the bus. Each bunk is equipped with a power outlet, a reading lamp, and a little pocket to store any items you want to keep close at hand. You also get a pillow and a fleece blanket—you’ll probably want a better pillow or just some sort of extra cushion (since my bus wasn’t fully booked, the conductor did me a solid and tossed me an extra pillow from an unoccupied bunk), but the blanket was plenty warm—and given that I’m 5’10”, I was super impressed that it was actually more than long enough to cover my feet.

I’d probably recommend the top bunk—it’s narrow, but there’s still plenty of room, and the netting at the sides of the bunk helped convince me that I wasn’t going to bounce into the aisle halfway through the journey. Best of all, there’s no risk (as it appeared there was with the lower bunks) of sleeping in close quarters with a stranger.

Once I’d settled into my bed, the trip was over in a flash. I fell asleep just after we pulled out of Edinburgh and slept until we’d entered London. According to my Fitbit it was very light, fitful sleep, but I’m a terrible sleeper when I’m traveling, so it was nothing short of miraculous that I slept in any form for the entire journey. It’s obviously not a luxurious experience (although decorative touches like faux wood paneling really try their best to convince you otherwise), but the accommodations do the job, and they do it well.

After waking up in London, I shuffled off the bus to find a bin of chocolate croissants and apple juice boxes set out for passengers—this after they’d handed out muffins and bottled water at the beginning of the journey. Getting two free meals (or, like, food of any kind) on any budget transportation option is kind of unheard of, so the fact that the food was also actually really tasty truly astonished me. Well done, Megabus.

The biggest challenge of the whole journey came after I got off the bus: where to wash up before a day of museum-hopping and afternoon tea? After 24 hours without being washed, my hair starts looking like it’s never seen a drop of shampoo. And Victoria Station doesn’t have showers. And checking into my hotel that early wasn’t an option. And as this was my last day in London my hotel was half an hour away at Gatwick anyway. So.

Some investigating led me to the Queen Mother Sports Centre, just a five minute walk away, where you can pay £1.65 for access to the locker room showers and hire a towel for another £1.50. It’s spacious and clean and by the time I got there at 9 a.m. it was almost empty. If you try a Megabus sleeper but don’t want to look/smell/feel like you just slept on a bus, it’s a great solution.

My expectations for Megabus Gold were admittedly very low—as long as it got me from point A to point B in a reasonably timely manner, it would’ve cleared my super low bar. But the friendly and genuinely high-quality service I encountered impressed me enough to rattle off several hundred words of praise, so even if you’re a Megabus skeptic, it’s worth giving it a go.

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