We are planning on buying our train tickets for Italy in the station. We are doing MXP-Milan-Venice, Rome-Sorrento, Sorrento-FCO. My question is do you get assigned seats if you purchase 2nd class? Also, how do you know which cars are second class? Will it be a problem having our luggage with us? Can you tell I am a novice at this?
You might find it very helpful to read the "Rail Skills" chapter in Europe Through The Back Door, as that will answer a lot of your questions.
You could also download the free PDF Rail Guide from this website. Click the "Railpasses" tab at the top and then look in the lower right corner.
As I recall, the second class cars have a "2" on the side (as opposed to a "1"). Also, if you have a reserved seat (which is usually compulsory on the EuroStar Italia / Alta Velocita) your Car No. and Seat No. will be assigned.
Regarding luggage - in Cars with compartments, there's a rack above the seats where you can place your luggage (you'll have to lift it, so PACK LIGHT). Those who travel with humongous "wheelie bags" either leave them in the corridor outside their compartment (until the Conductor tears a strip off them) or on the floor in their compartment (if there's room).
In cars with open seating (no compartments), there's often a rack at one end of the car where luggage can be placed. It's a good idea to at least strap the luggage to the rack, as these are often located next to the door. That will prevent a potential thief from grabbing the bag just before the train departs and the doors close.
If you're using slower trains, there will likely be one or more changes between cities. That's another reason to pack light, as you'll likely have to go down stairs, through a tunnel and then up stairs to get between platforms (you WON'T be allowed to walk across the tracks!).
On the trip from Naples to Sorrento, you'll be using the Circumvesuviana commuter train. There's only one "class" of seats on that. Be sure to wear your Money Belt on the Circumvesuviana and watch your Bags.
Thank you for all of your suggestions and help. The more we know before we go the more time to enjoy the trip!
For trains with reserved seats, the train cars will have the car (carroza) number somewhere near the door. The signage can be paper or cardboard in the window, or may be a digital display on newer trains. Once on board, you'll see numbers above the seats (posti). They're sometimes in an odd order, but you'll find your seat quickly. If you're traveling with others and haven't been seated together, you can sometimes trade seats with other passengers. If you haven't already done so, look at the example of a train ticket with reserved seating on page 940 of Rick's 2010 Italy guidebook. That will show you what to look for on your ticket.
Reserving seats is independent of the class you are traveling in. For Italian Eurostar, ES*, trains, seat reservations are mandatory and come automatically with a ticket, regardless of class. Seats on an Intercity train (IC) can be reserved in both 2nd and 1st class, but you will pay extra for the reservations. There are no seat reservations in either 1st or 2nd class on regional trains.
And, incidentally, I think Sorrento to FCO will be a train from Sorrento to Rome, probably to Termini, and then the Leonardo Express to FCO. MXP to Milan is probably a bus, unless you take the Malpensa Express from Malpensa airport into Milan, but that train doesn't come into the central station in Milan.
We actually want to go to the Cadorna station in Milan. So the express will be perfect.
Do you recommend buying tickets before we go in June or printing out the schedules and waiting until we get there?