After viewing the Trenitalia web site, and guidebooks, I have several questions. What is the difference between 1st and 2nd class? Is it open seating or are you asigned a seat (Rome to Naples). What is the advantage to purchasing ahead of time if exact time is not certain (we are flying in and then taking train)? How do you know if ticket needs to be validated? Any help is appreciated.
1st is a bit plusher and wider. Rick recommends it; we traveled by train for a few weeks and were perfectly satisfied with 2nd class. Look on your ticket to see if you are assigned a car and seat; some trains do, some don't (for both 1st & 2nd class). All tickets need to be validated (stamped) in the yellow box before you board. Purchasing tix in Italy, use the automated kiosks in almost every station. Pick the British flag and it has an english menu.
Don't sweat it! People can give you two dozen rules and suggestions but they can't cover every contingency. But its not hard at all, and once you get there you'll see how easy it is. Remember this is the everyday transport system for millions of Italians.
Mike's right it's not hard. If I can manage to get from A to B anyone can. I tend to go 1st class and reserve a seat as I travel alone and like to know everything is organised ahead of time. However you don't have to do this. Each time I have travelled I have noticed locals just wandering through the train and picking a seat. They don't have reservations and just take the seat that they like. If someone boards and has a reservation for that seat they just move. There has only been one train where I did need a reserved seat as it was full and that was the train from Genoa to Milan early morning. It was full of business men and women going into Milan for the day. The only reason I would book ahead of time is to guarantee you are on the train you want.
The difference between the two classes besides cost, is simply space and availability. On most trains, Seats are 4 across - two on each side of the aisle. In first class, there are 3 per row - two on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other. More room. On availability, most people go 2nd class. Trains don't usually fill up but they do get crowded. 1st Class is a bit better. We started out on 1st class but switched to 2nd. It wasn't worth the upgrade for a train ride taking a couple of hours. On seat reservations, you need them on the faster trains (ES, EC, CIS, IC, ICPlus, etc.). On the local trains (R and IR), they are simply not permitted. Thus, you can't make them. You get on and grab a seat. First come, first served. On validation, you don't have to validate for the Eurostars but I believe you must for everything else. I do it on everything regardless just to avoid a mistake.
We've always traveled as the Italians do...2nd class.
We buy our ticket right before we want to leave, but in some cases, we've purchased the day before - mostly because we were in the train station returning from a day trip, and knowing we were heading out again in the morning to another location.
You ALWAYS need to validate your ticket BEFORE you get on the train. If you purchase at a kiosk, you can sometimes validate at the machine...otherwise, you must look for the yellow box at the track and stick your ticket in until it clicks...doesn't matter which end you stick in! If you are on a train and the conductor comes through and your ticket is not validated...or, if you misplace or loose your ticket, expect to pay again!
If you are taking a train like the one you suggest, Rome to Naples, and it's not a really busy time of year...you should be safe with 2nd class and no seat assignment. If you absolutely want to know you have a seat, pay for 1st class. There isn't much difference!