There are 7 of us traveling from Ravenna to Monterosso del Mare. We were told the regional trains are slow and that we would have 4 connections, arriving around 4:15 pm in Monterosso. Would it be better to rent a van and return it in La Spezia for $300 plus? Car rental opens at 3 pm in La Spezia and we would still have to take train to destination.
Who told you? If you take the regional train to Bologna departing at 9:20 am, you have only two changes (in Bologna and Milan) and you arrive in Monterosso at 15:03. The two later legs are on faster ES and IC trains, and you may well be able to get good Super Economy or economy fares! or a group discount.
Although travel from Ravenna to Monterosso al Mare by train will have a few changes, it's not a difficult trip so I'd still recommend using the train. There are numerous departures and this is the route I'd probably use....
- 09:33 Depart Ravenna, 10:53 arrive Bologna Centrale (via Regionale 3000)
- 11:20 Depart Bologna Centrale, 11:55 arrive Firenze SMN (via FrecciaRossa 9521)
- 12:28 Depart Firenze SMN, 13:28 arrive Pisa Centrale (via Regionale 3123)
- 13:42 Depart Pisa Centrale, 14:52 arrive Monterosso (via InterCity 674)
The Freccia and InterCity trains will have compulsory reservations and assigned seating, which will be provided with the tickets. The reservations are specific to train, date and departure time so you can ONLY use the one train listed on the tickets. The Regionale trains don't require reservations but you MUST validate your tickets prior to boarding the train on the day of travel or you may face hefty fines which will be collected on the spot!
The only minor issue I can see with seven travelling together, is that you may not all be able to sit together (depending on how full the train is) on those trains with reservations. Even if you have to sit in different cars, it's not really a problem. First class seating will likely have more seat openings. With the Regionale trains it doesn't matter as there's no assigned seating so it's "first come, first served".
As I recall from my trip last year, Bologna Centrale was in the midst of a massive rebuild, and I believe the project is still in progress. If one of your trains will be using Track (Binario) 16, it's about three floors down.
There are both earlier and later departures than the one I listed. I'd prefer that time as it arrives at destination in mid-afternoon which is a good time as your hotel rooms will likely be ready. If you arrive earlier, the staff may be still be cleaning the rooms.
With a car rental, you'd need a larger vehicle for seven plus luggage. Also, each driver would require the compulsory International Driver's Permit and you'd also be dealing with tolls, ZTL areas, high fuel costs. Also keep in mind that you won't be able to drive in Monterosso as it's closed to traffic, so you'd have to park the vehicle at either end of town and then walk with luggage to your hotel.
Same as Lola noted, I'm seeing the 9:20 departure (runs Mon-Sat, except Aug. 15) with only two connections, which looks like a fine choice. On Sundays, there are earlier or later options with two connections. Reconfirm for your actual travel date. How to Look Up Train Schedules Online](http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/online-schedules) gives you the DB train schedule link and tips for using it.