1. What is the highlight of the trip? I'd read about the Cinque Terre before my trip, but none of the articles adequately prepared me for the hike north from Vernazza to Monterosso. By the time I was heading down those nearly vertical stairs into Monterosso, I was thankful that I hadn't started at the north end. The most amazing part of that hike was the thriving agriculture. I mean - people actually live there and pack all of there products up those cliffs. When my sister and I hiked the southern leg from Vernazza to Romaggiore the following day, we finally saw how the locals accomplish this feat. And I've never seen a photograph or an article about it before. We were hiking down the trail when we came across a single metal track (like something an old slot car would run on) running up from the beach to the top of the cliffs. At the side of the trail, an old elementary school chair lay bolted to the track with its legs removed. A grimy lawn mower engine with a pull-rope start was attached to the rear of the chair back. That's what they use to get their olives, lemons, and other products out of there! Talk about a hazardous job. You have to go there just to see that.
2. What is the most spectacular sight along the trip? That glistening blue Mediterranean.
3. What is the most important thing for someone considering the trip to know? I doubt that I am the only American that's ever been naive to the ways of European train riding, so I'll just say this: TAKE YOUR TIME. Buy a Eurail (flex) pass in advance so that you can jump off and on any train whenever you want. They're good for 24 hours of train riding per day. If you have questions about the 24 hour time period, ask the on-board train attendant. ALWAYS, ALWAYS date your ticket. When in doubt, ask the train attendant for help right away - BEFORE he fines you (if you wait until later, he will fine you for any mistakes you might have made).
4. What is an insider tip you can give someone to get the most out of the experience? Depending on the time of year, you might feel rushed to get on your train, find your seat, and stay put. If you bought a Eurail Pass, you can go to the ticket booth and reserve a seat ahead of time. This means that your car and seat number will be pre-printed on your boarding card. Once you find your seat, check your windows - if they're so dirty that you can't see out of them, ask the Capo (train attendant) if you have time to clean them (on the outside). That might sound odd, but I really regretted not doing that, then went down to the bathroom, grabbed some paper towels, and did it on the first 5 minute stop.
5. What, if anything, about the trip should the traveler know that might be a problem? Getting fined - it happened to me - 50 Euros for not writing the date on my pass when I entered the train. If you ask the train attendant for help up front, he'll help you with anything, even upgrading to a better seat on the spot if you want.
6. What makes the train so special? You can see the countryside in a way that isn't possible from a car or by air. The other advantages are the ability to get up and walk around, socialize, or get off at any stop you might feel inclined to.
7. Is there a particular route (point to point) or direction (from where to where) that a traveler should take to have the best experience? I don't think it really matters which direction you travel, just get a seaside seat. That may sound easy, but keep in mind that your train might make a stop at a station where it goes head in, then backs out - leaving you on the land side of the train. That's not to say that the view of the land is bad by any means, I just love that view of the Mediterranean Sea!
8. What are the stops along the way a traveler should plan to spend some time at? Monaco is a bit like Vegas on steroids, but I still think it's worth a stop - if for nothing more than to check out the ENORMOUS yachts in the harbor and all of the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentlys, and Maseratis parked in front of the casinos.
10. Is this a good train for children? Wh or why not? Trains are better for kids no matter how you slice it. They can get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, etc. As long as they mind their manners, everyone will be courteous and enjoy your kids as much as you do.
11. What is something that I have not asked about or that is not on the websites that a traveler should know about the train? Food and beverage: not all trains have a food car, so consider that. It's pretty common to see vendors coming through the trains at longer stops with sandwiches, beer, and water, but you can bring your own. When we were stuck on the tracks for 3 hours, it was pretty cool that we had a bottle of wine, glasses, and some munchies to tide us over.