Can anyone comment on the differences between first and second class travel on trains, especially the Regional-Express and City Night Line Bahn Trains? I'm sure the obvious differences apply, ie. price and leg room; I'm just trying to decide if for a 9 hour train ride if it would be worth it to spend a little more for a little more comfort, or if the differences are basically negligible.
For 9 hours you might consider first class if the difference is reasonable. We normally use 2nd class unless we can get a deal for first class. The difference are small - seats wider and little more knee room. It is more like the difference between business class and first class on airlines.
The biggest difference is in the price. I would buy first class if I suspect the train would be crowded. You almost always find some empty seats in the first class (because of substantially higher price). Otherwise there is not that big difference between second and first class.
"You almost always find some empty seats in the first class" For Express trains, the cost of a reserved seat in 2nd class, at least on German Rail, is €4,50. The difference for 1st class is a lot more. If you think the train will be crowded, stay in 2nd class and get a reservation. There are no reservations on a regional express. There it might make sense to do first class. However, a 9 hour trip by regional express would involve a lot of trains and changes. For one route I looked at, 2nd class on express trains, with reservations, was not much more than 1st class on regional trains, and the express trains took less than half the time. On CNL, you need a 1st class ticket to get a "Deluxe" (w/ WC and shower) single or double sleeper compartment. All other sleeping compartments are 2nd class.
First class on an ICE is intended more towards business travelers who have to work en-route, than people who want extra comfort. The compartment sizes are just about the same, but there's fewer seats and more work room. In the open compartment areas, there's more room between rows, but second class seating on Deutsche Bahn is far less cramped than on airline seating. There's also waiter service from the dining car. That's about it, as far as I can tell. I'm not really convinced that 1st class is all that more comfortable than 2nd.
James nailed it in one!! That's why we travel 1st class having done both.
To me it doesn't matter much unless the train is really crowded, in which case 2nd class starts to feel a little more uncomfortable for long trips. If 2nd class isn't crowded and you can score an empty seat next to you, there's really no point in paying extra for 1st class IMO.
Thanks for all the great information! But how can I predict if the train is going to be crowded or not?? I am looking at going from Munich to Venice either taking a CNL departing Munich at 20:05 on a wednesday night and arriving at Santa Lucia at 6:38 the next morning. I can't imagine that would be too crowded but I'd also want to be as comfortable as possible (and safe - solo female traveler here) since it's through the night. That option is 83 euro including reservation for 1st class and 53 for 2nd with the savings fare. There are no changes for that trip but it's actually 12.5 hrs (originating in Fussen so only the change in Munich). Another route I'm looking at leaves Munich on a Thurs morn at 9:30, arriving in Venice at 16:40 with only one change in Verona. The first leg is a Eurocity and the 2nd on Eurostar Italia. Except this ticket says price unknown?? Also, what is the difference between an open saloon and a compartment seat?
You asked about the differences with CNL trains. Second class private sleeper cabins have a bed, table/chair, and sink. First class also includes a toilet and shower...it's worth the splurge IMO.
Booking a private compartment on a night train is very safe. Obviously it's a little less safe if you're sharing with strangers although at least on CNL I think you can request an all-female compartment. This page should answer all your questions about CNL: http://www.seat61.com/citynightline.htm If you take a regular day train, as far as how to predict if the train will be crowded, it's tough. Season, holidays, whether part of your route is a commuter route and if so, what time you're departing are all factors. There's times where it's easy to predict if it will be packed - big holiday travel days (just like in the U.S., Europeans visit family and friends during holidays) and obvious morning commuter times on high speed lines between major business cities will usually be crowded. Ticket price may be unknown if you're trying to price it out too far in advance (more than 3 months, usually). If the trip begins in Germany and is less than 3 months away you should be able to see a price. If not, it means you're connecting to a train that DB doesn't have a pricing agreement with. If that's the case, try booking through the Italian rail site. Open saloon is just a normal open train car. A compartment on day trains, in 2nd class is three seats on each side, facing each other, in a compartment with walls and a door separating it from the rest of the train. When traveling alone I prefer open saloon, as it is kind of awkward to sit directly across from strangers IMO (which can still happen if you sit at a table seat in the open compartment, but otherwise seats all face the same direction, like airline seats.) I also like the option of a fold down tray in front of me.
I think the reason she couldn't get a price on the Bahn website for Munich to Venice with a change in Verona is because the Bahn doesn't usually sell tickets for legs entirely outside Germany (Verona to Venice). Look up the price for Verona to Venice separately on the Trenitalia website. Or, there is an EC leaving Munich at 13:31, and it goes directly to Venice with no change. The Europa-Spezial fare for the train all the way to Venice will likely be the same as the same fare to Verona.
I also prefer airline-style seating (parallel rows with a central corridor and no seats facing each other.