Last weekend, I visited York as part of a birthday treat for my mum.
I booked tickets for the 9:30am train from Newcastle to York back in August. I own a 16-25 railcard, making my outbound fare £10.75 and my inbound £8.70 - relatively cheap for a First Class journey. We arrived at our home station, Newcastle Central, in an Uber and walked through the ticket barriers, sighting the First Class lounge across the bridge.
Newcastle Central First Class Lounge
Entering into the lounge at Newcastle Central, I noticed it was large and had plenty of seating. It was pretty busy for it being a Saturday morning, with many passengers there for the Rugby World Cup match later on in the day. I did stop to get my tickets out to ensure that we weren't questioned whether we were travelling First Class or not but no such checks were ever carried out, which is concerning as free tea & coffee was on offer, along with cold non-alcoholic drinks and packets of biscuits. A rather tempting offer for a Standard ticket holder not wanting to pay £3 or £4 coffee and snacks in the cafés across on the other side of the bridge.
We managed to find a seat at the other side of the lounge towards the "business centre", which consisted of three desks, two with power points and what looked like ethernet sockets and one with a computer, although I'm unsure whether this is for staff or passenger use.
I opted for a hot chocolate whilst my mum opted for a latté which came with a considerable amount of froth atop. There were plenty of screens around the lounge displaying the next two hours worth of trains departing the station so it would have been hard to miss your train - unless you were to fall asleep.
When our train was arriving, we exited the lounge and walked towards the top of the platform next to the stand for Coach M.
Onboard the Virgin Trains Experience
It was an electric train - which I prefer, rather than the old fashioned slam door ones - and was clean and tidy inside as I've experienced in the past but in the Standard coaches. However, the First Class coaches were a lot more spacious and had plenty of seating for both families, couples and solo travellers. Seating arrangements are segmented down to three different options; 4 seater with large table in between or 1 seat with a small half table or 2 seats facing each other with a table in between. We opted for two seats facing each other - seats 39 and 41.
The train left Newcastle on time and we were swiftly served with a wide selection of drinks, although none were alcoholic and quickly learnt that alcoholic drinks weren't served on a weekend. I opted for a Diet Coke whilst my mum opted for tea - especially as Virgin Trains East Coast serve Yorkshire Tea. Condiments were already on the table, along with teaspoons.
Breakfast was served next, which consisted of a pre packed croissant complete with butter and jam. There were biscuits too but as I had already had two drinks, I didn't want to overfill myself too early in the day. The croissant was chewy and cold, so warming it up before serving wouldn't go amiss next time.
I've got to hand it to Virgin - every station we called at, further drinks were offered although I didn't partake in any. It didn't seem as though we were on the train half an hour and the guard announced that we were arriving into York. Our one hour journey has elapsed.
Returning to Newcastle
After a tiring day in York, we walked back to the train station and checked the departure boards for our train. Luckily, a Virgin Trains advisor was around and helped us locate our train - the 18:37 to Edinburgh which was leaving from platform 9. Sadly, York station doesn't have a First Class lounge so we retired to one of the many waiting rooms in the station, nearest our platform, for around 45 minutes.
When our train arrived, I forgot that the First Class coaches would be at the very end of the train so we had to run down the platform as it pulled in. We made it and found our seats - the exact seat numbers as before - in a very empty coach M. As we pulled away, the First Class hostesses made their way down the aisle to our table. I tweeted Virgin Trains about my mums birthday and they greeted us with two bottles of Prosecco to celebrate with, along with a range of snacks and sandwiches to enjoy on our way back to Newcastle.
Even though I experienced the Weekend menu as opposed to the Weekday menu, the latter which consists of fully cooked meals, I can certainly recommend travelling First Class. The hosts are attentive, the food selection is good - I assume its better on a weekday - and I prefer it to Standard class, where it seems to take forever for the trolley to come through the entire train.
Disclosure: This review was a personal review with no financial contributions from Virgin Trains East Coast or any related companies. The Prosecco was a birthday gift prearranged between myself and Virgin Trains on Twitter. Travelled October. This review consists of direct personal experiences.