Book Train Tickets Ahead of Time: ItaliaRail.com
The most common questions people ask me about Italian train travel are: 1) Do I need to book reservations ahead of time? and 2) What's the difference between 1st class and 2nd class? To answer the second question first -- on Eurostar, there's not much of a difference. First class gives you a little more room -- for yourself and your luggage -- and you're given a free drink. I take such pleasure in train travel that I would like the optimum experience and usually spend a bit extra to travel in first class.
Now -- as for booking ahead -- here's when I think it pays to make reservations (and I'll tell you about a new option for booking from the U.S.) --
1) when you absolutely MUST get somewhere at a certain time -- say you're coordinating a train to get you to the airport for your flight home
2) if you're not an experienced traveler and like everything set up in advance
3) if you're traveling on a weekend, on a holiday weekend or on/near an Italian holiday weekend 4) if you're traveling in August (when Italians are traveling en masse themselves)
If you're a fairly intrepid traveler, you can book all of your tickets when you arrive in Italy but this might be cutting it close (especially if you fall into any of the above categories).
That's why you should know about ItaliaRail.com, the first North American Web site to offer a comprehensive, online selection to making reservations on the railroads of Italy at the lowest prices in the market. (Any of you who have tried to navigate the Trenitalia site are probably jumping up and down at this news!)
According to the folks at the new venture, "ItaliaRail.com now offers U.S. and Canadian consumers the same access to booking railroad tickets and passes as Italians have in their own country, and at the lowest price available in North America. At ItalialRail.com, consumers can make reservations online for travel throughout Italy, purchase train tickets and get documents to their doorstep within a few days. Travelers obtain not only regular city to city tickets inside Italy, but they can even get the convenient Trenitalia pass, which allows 4 to 10 days unlimited train travel throughout Italy during a span of 2 months."
If you use the site in the near future, please let me know how you liked it!