What Wilhelm Didn’t Tell

After a day spent traveling in planes and trains we arrived in Lugano, Switzerland.

Lugano was our destination only because it was the starting point for the special panoramic train tour called the Wilhelm Tell Express.

Notice the lovely curved viewing windows posted on their online brochure.

Immediately after arriving in Lugano, Mark went to the Swiss Rail desk (as the Wilhelm Tell representative instructed over the phone) to pick up our reservations that he’d made two weeks prior. Suffice it to say, our reservations couldn’t be found in the Wilhelm Tell system. We waited over an hour at the ticket booth while she searched in vain. The kids bounced off the walls and were hungry again. She finally just sold us new Wilhelm Tell Express “Premium” tickets. Here’s the description from the Wilhelm Tell web site:

With a 3-course menu on the boat in the 1st class restaurant, a
welcome drink and personal attention by way of a multilingual
tour guide onboard the train, plus other surprises.

I don’t really like surprises. Especially when they don’t turn out in my favor.

Still concerned that we might be charged twice since our original reservations were not found, Mark got online and called Wilhelm Tell himself once we were in our hotel. The WT rep found our reservations by looking up our cc# and confirmed that we would’ve been charged twice. With that problem solved (we hope – they refused to send an e-mail or even a fax to verify that the original reservations were cancelled), now we were set, right?

The next morning, we waited at the station for our wonderful, curved glass viewing car to pull up and take us into the mountains. Instead, we were greeted by a lady holding a “Wilhelm Tell Express Premium” sign. She beckoned us into what seemed to be a regular first class car. This couldn’t be right.

What I saw inside made me freak.

It reminded me of the Axiom starliner, or perhaps a chemo infusion room.

On both sides of the car every three feet there were large video screens. The chairs were motorized and were controlled with switches. The first thing the kids did was turn them on. They don’t stop unless you turn them off, so after a few seconds the kids had two or three whirring around and around with no one in them. Our hostess could not understand why we weren’t happy with our electric mobility chairs and big screen t.v.s for traveling on a scenic ride through the Swiss Alps. She practically insisted (with a somewhat stern German accent) that if we just stay for a moment, have a drink, we would come around.

The train began to leave the station. Besides the flustered hostess, we were the only four people in this “premium” car. It turns out the regular Wilhelm Tell tickets, which cost considerably less, are for the panoramic car. We got the special tickets. Although she tried aggressively to keep us there, I finally had to raise my voice and insist we be moved to the panoramic car immediately and be given a refund on the difference. Seeing that there was going to be no change in my attitude, she began to help us get things straightened out.

Because we’d gotten the three course meal (which would be served to us on the boat part of the tour) she claimed that only half of the difference could be refunded. The mountains were getting larger outside, the views were whizzing by – okay, fine. Just take us to the scenic car!

There was something exciting about traveling between train cars while it was in motion. We passed through three (carrying all of our luggage) before arriving at the panoramic car.

It was great.

Finally, we could sit back and enjoy the wonderful, Swiss scenery. The kids wanted to try and spot an Alpine Ibex goat.

We didn’t see any mountain goats. We did see lots of frisky, mountain cows, however.

Taking photos from a train in motion is difficult, but I tried anyway. I ended up with lots of blurry images with reflections from the glass.

It was a beautiful ride and I’d recommend it, just don’t get the “premium” tickets (unless you prefer wearing headphones and listening to cheesy music while watching a video of a train).

The train ride ended in Flüelen. For the second leg of our trip we were to get on a boat and have lunch. The online description states:

Travelers who board the William Tell Express will enjoy a leisurely, gourmet lunch as they begin their journey with a three-hour boat cruise on Lake Lucerne.

We thought we were all set.

As you can see there weren’t a whole bunch of people traveling at this time, so the boat was not the big paddle steamer but a smaller gas engine boat. That’s okay. We had great seats. The weather and the landscape were wonderful. We made several stops and each one had a building that was a treat for the eye.




After about an hour of wonderful scenery and leisurely travel, we started thinking about food. Mark took out the meal vouchers the lady at the station had given us for our “premium” three course meal. It seemed strange that they were each only worth 19 ₣, since that amount didn’t get very far. This fact was made painfully obvious after looking for dinner the night before in Lugano. Wow has the American dollar tanked in the last few months. It is especially noticeable in Switzerland.

No one ever came to serve us. Mark went to ask, taking the vouchers with him. He was assured someone would come and take our orders, and was given a menu. As expected, 19 ₣ wouldn’t cover half of the entrees, much less a three course dinner. Something was wrong. Again. After another thirty minutes passed with no one showing up, Mark again went back to speak with someone, but this time taking his “somebody better get this fixed” attitude with him.

Three people showed up then; the waitress (that spoke very little English), a man that appeared to run the kitchen and then the original lady Mark spoke with who must’ve been the Staff Captain. Turns out we were mistakenly given the “regular” vouchers, not the “premium” fancy three course meal vouchers. Mark showed everyone that we’d paid for the premium. The lady called and verified this. After having an argument (in German) in front of us, the resistant kitchen man huffed off and the lady turned to us and said “it is all taken care of.” What a mess.

Meanwhile, Lucerne, our final destination, was getting closer. Salads and four pieces of bread were brought to us. “Drinks are not included” we were warned. The bread was inhaled by the children, and Mark and I finished off their salads. Next we were served this:

Does it look a bit like a frozen t.v. dinner? It tasted like one, too. At least with t.v. dinners you get a side of vegetables. I asked for more bread and two small pieces were brought to us. It was such a shock to experience after being in Greece. Ironic in a way.

We were exceedingly hungry so everything but a few french fries and a grizzly meat patty was devoured. The ride became pleasant again as we sat back and waited for dessert.

And waited.

And waited.

Ah, the elusive third course.

It would be nice to have the plates removed from the table at least. We stacked them up nicely about twenty minutes after we’d finished, but they were still there. The staff was no where to be seen.

We saw our final destination come into view. Mark was just about to go find someone when the lady appeared and asked how every thing was. When she saw the dishes and realized we hadn’t had our dessert, her eyes got dark and she said “I’ll take care of this.”

I didn’t realize that meant she would be serving us our dessert, but she came back with glasses of ice cream. We had no spoons to eat it with, so she said “I’ll be back.” I giggled when she said it because her accent sounded just like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We managed to finish our ice cream before the boat pulled into Lucerne. Looking back, I can say that with all of the hassle it took for us to get what we paid for, this was not worth it. One or two mistakes we can deal with – but I stopped counting with Wilhelm Tell, a name not befitting such an inaccurate enterprise.

At least, thanks to The Terminator Lady, we ended on a sweet note.

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About marlashane

Artist. Explorer. Freethinker. Mother of two children.
This entry was posted in Exploring Switzerland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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