What's the difference in 1st or 2nd class couchettes? Also, what's the difference in 1st and 2nd class seating for that matter as well? Thanks.
We have always found second class more than adequate for our travels. Only take first class if we can get deal and it is cheaper than second. To relate it to the airplane, second class is closer to business class and first class is first class. Second class will always be more crowd - more seats taken than first. We have ridden in first class a couple of times when we were the only passengers. However, first class in Germany gets you access to the First class lounge and the first class window if you have ticket problems.
For seating, in Germany, at least, probably in all countries, 2nd class has two seats on either side of a center aisle. First class has wider seats, arranged two on one side of the aisle, one on the other side. 1st class probably has better upholstery, too. If there are still any side aisle coaches with compartments, 2nd class has six seats, 3 facing 3. 1st class has 4 seats, 2 facing 2. For couchettes, if they are designated by class, a 2nd class couchette will have six bunk, 3 on either side of the compartment. 1st class has 4 bunk, 2 on either side, thus more vertical separation. On a lot of night trains, CNL or EN, for example, you can reserve either a 4 or 6 person couchette with a 2nd class ticket or pass. You can only reserve a deluxe single or double sleeper (with WC in the compartment) with a 1st class pass.
In Italy, the ES trains have 2 + 1 seating in first class, but the IC train we rode had first-class compartments for six people, not four. We never did figure out the benefit of 1st class on that IC train (went from Levanto to Milano).
Jennifer, In my view the difference between 1st and 2nd class is not all that great in Germany when taking an ICE train. True, as pointed out above, the seats are more comfortable and wider in 1st class with more leg space. Most of the time I sit in 2nd class on an ICE but have sat in 1st class also just get "far from the madding crowd"...locals and tourists. It's a 15 Euro difference between 1st and 2nd class going from Frankfurt to Paris on the TGV or ICE. In France if your ride on the TGV is more than 3.5 hrs, pay the extra to reserve a seat in 1st class, well worth it. This summer I went from Paris to Perpignan, 2nd class, 5 hrs on the TGV. On the way back I sat in 1st class for the 5hrs...much better as regards to space, both seat and leg room.
Couchettes: 6 berths in 2nd class, 4 in 1st. 1st class thus cuts the odds you will be with a heavy snorer (other than yourself) by 2/5.
You'll also often be given a meal or snack in 1st class. The food is typically a step or two up from airline food. 1st class tends to be quieter and more comfy. But for shorter trips, there is little reason for most people to pay the extra fare. Couchettes are typically sold as 6, 4 or 2 berth compartments. Class has little to do with it other than sometimes a 1st class ticket is required to book the 2 or 4 berth compartment. For couchettes, just pick the type of compartment you want and don't worry about "class."
This was helpful, thanks everybody! I will be taking a train from Milan to Paris that is a six person compartment in "1st class" and it will be my first couchette experience. I couldn't see if there's a WC in the compartment but maybe there will be. I also like the possibility of maybe getting a snack since its first class :)
If you look at the website of the man in seat 61, he has photos of a lot of the different types of train accommodation. www.seat61.com
Jennifer, I've never heard of a six-person couchette compartment being "1st class." You're certainly not going to have 1st-class style space or comfort. Also, there will definitely not be a WC within the couchette compartment- there will be one for the carriage. I don't mean to sound all negative- I took many 6-berth couchette trips, it can be a great way to travel, but I was a shoestring budget traveler with low expectations for "luxury."
The WC will be down the hall. If the compartment is full, it will be cramped. As previously noted, there is no difference in 1st and 2nd class couchettes. It all depends on the type of couchette. You will have a sink with your own fresh cup of water and some basic toiletries provided in the compartment. There is room to store luggage below the bottom seat/bunk or over the door. If you have very large bags or several, you might struggle to find a place for it especially if your bunkmates also have large bags. A few other things to expect: The conductor will probably collect your passport for the night and return it in the morning. The compartment door locks from the inside and is secure. Some trains will have a shower down the hall but I don't recommend using it. You'll be given a light, not very tasty breakfast served in your room. And don't expect to sleep very much.
Jennifer, If you haven't already booked your ticket, I strongly suggest that you go for a bunk in a four-person couchette. Much more space for both people and luggage and well worth the extra cost. If you book well in advance (up to 90 days allowed) on trenitalia.com, you can get a Smart Price fare as low as €45 for a bunk in a four-person couchette. There are no sinks in couchettes. You will be provided with a bottle of mineral water. There is no free meal either. For detailed descriptions, including photos, of night trains between Italy and France. go here.