My friend and I will be buying Eurorail passes for our upcoming trip in September. Does anyone know about how long it takes to get the passes after you purchased them? And what is the best way to reserve your seats?
Depending on where and when you are travelling, reservations may be made up to 2-3 days before a train. You will pay a higher rate for getting them ahead of time online and delivered to your place in the states- this also may limit your flexibility.
I did a month long Eurail train voyage through most of Western Europe with a friend and we made reservations roughly 4-5 days ahead of time for each train- or, in some cases, we made all of our reservations upon arrival into a new country. For example upon arrival in France, we made ALL our train reservations at the Montpellier station, to Avignon, to Paris, to Normandy, back to Paris, to Barcelona, etc. There is no guarantee or magic formula to the question about reservations but I think it does help if you can be flexible about travel times which automatically will give you more options if some preferred trains are filled.
Kristen, in my experience, Rail Passes arrive very quickly once the purchase is completed (perhaps within a week or so, I can't remember?). As I recall, they provided an estimate of shipping time and this was quite accurate.
The best way to reserve seats that I've found is to visit the nearest station a day or two before your outgoing journey. Be sure to specify that you'll be using the Rail pass or they might provide a P-P ticket. You'll be provided with a reservation card that shows (among other things) the Car no., seat no. and some times whether this is an aisle or window seat.
Don't forget that your Rail pass will need to be validated before first use. Simply present the pass and your Passport at the nearest station, and this will be "stamped". If you're using a Flex Pass, don't fill in the days before you actually use them.
You might find it useful to download Rick's PDF Rail guide from this website.
Also look here: http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/pdfs/08reservations.pdf These are the only trains requiring reservations. Many other Intercity trains reservations are optional, on Regional trains they usually are not even available. A couple days ahead at most, except for overnight sleeping accomodations or very restricted tickets will be fine.