My husband, my 25 yr old son and myself are meeting my daughter in Italy in March of 2014. She is stuying abroad in Florence for the semester. We are deeling mostly with a travel agent since we have never been out of the country. she has suggested w purchase a train pass before Oct 30th when the prices go up. We plan on 3-4 days in Rome and the rest of our 12 day trip in Florence and day trips on the northern end. Maybe a day or two in the Cinque Terre area. I admit we are very early in our planning. since I only have until Oct 30th for the price breaks on Trains I ahve two questions - How many days would make sense for all 4 of us and should we even pre-purchase Train tickets ro just get them when we are there?
Faith, Railpasses are rarely cost effective for use in Italy, as P-P tickets are relatively cheap. That's not an approach I would likely use. Also note that Railpasses do NOT include the compulsory reservations which are required for some trains. You'll have to pay "out-of-pocket" for those. You may find it very helpful to read: http://seat61.com/Railpass-and-Eurail-pass-guide.htm#Should%20you%20buy%20a%20railpass%20or%20pay-as-you-go It is possible to save money by pre-purchasing tickets on the "premium" trains such as the Freccia high speed versions, but you won't be able to buy tickets for Regionale trains that far in advance. One important point to note is that with pre-purchased tickets, you'll be "locked into" travelling on a particular train, date and departure time. If you board any other train than the one listed on your ticket, you'll be subject to hefty fines which will be collected on the spot! There are some other potentially expensive "caveats" when using trains or other public transit in Italy, but you can deal with those later in your planning. As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd suggest reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as it provides a LOT of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. I'd also highly recommend packing along a copy of the Italy 2014 Guidebook (available on 24 Oct.), as it has an enormous amount of information on sightseeing, hotels, restaurants, transportation, etc. One comment regarding your plans to visit the Cinque Terre in March. Many of the tourist businesses there don't usually "open for the season" until 1 April so it will likely be a bit "quiet", the weather may not be ideal and not all of the trails may be open. Good luck with your planning!
Faith, about the best you can do on the RailEurope Italy railpass is $244 for a pass that permits 4 days of 2nd class travel within 2 months. Then, the next thing you need to know is that you will need to separately purchase seat reservations for the Frecci fast trains between Rome and Florence and possibly any Frecci fast trains that you may be on out of Florence such as Florence/Milan or Florence/Venice. When you buy tickets for the fast trains online at www.trenitalia.com or in person at the station, the seat reservation is included with the purchase. Not so with the Eurail pass. It's 10Euro extra for each fast train that you will be on. The regular fare for the Rome/Florence is 43Euro. Once in Florence, your day trips to the Cinque Terre or other areas such as Pisa, Lucca or even Siena, Cortona, Assisi, etc. will all be on Regionale trains. Regionale train tickets are really cheap. Yes your railpass will cover them completely without extra cost but the regular fare from Florence to the CT is 28,10Euro round trip. If you are just going to do a few train trips, you might be wasting money on a railpass. Your travel agent should know this.
Travel agents put shoes on their childrens' feet by selling things that earn them commissions, such as rail passes.
^^^ Kind of like car salesmen encouraging you to get the rust protection...
Go with Point to Point tickets and buy them in italy. you'll be more flexible. The high speed trains between Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan you can book 60-90 days out from your departure date to lock in low fares like 19 euro opposed to a reagular fare that day of say 50 euro. The seat 61 site above is very good and so is Rick's section on train travel in his book.
The freccia (high-speed) trains can be booked up to 120 days in advance at trenitalia.com. For Rome-Florence the Base (standard) 2nd class fare is €43, the Economy fare is €29, and the Super Economy fare is €19. There is an allotted number of discount fare tickets for each price level. Those tickets are for a specific departure date and time and are non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Be sure you can commit before booking.