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Switzerland: Lake Lucerne, Summer Family Vacation Fun – Ride the Wilhelm Tell Express.Wilhelm Tell Express Cruise Rail Adventure Lucerne Switzerland Creating a family adventure for three generations can be ticky but who doesn’t love legends, mountains, boats, trains, great food, and lovely Swiss chocolate? Sounds like a sensible formula for and a family adventure.  

Here's the scoop. Central Switzerland is a delightful, first-class European family vacation spot – safe, sunny, clean, efficient, (no bums or long lines) and then there’s real chocolate and lovely wine meant to be shared. It offers the perfect mix of natural beauty supported by a quality of service which is reassuring. One appealing option for families traveling with three generations is to jump aboard a lake steamer and jst relax  taking in some beautiful scenery including the snow capped Alps, glistening lakes, and bucolic meadows. 

The Swiss Rail System offers an excursion ticket called the Wilhelm Tell Express an addition to the Tell Pass. It combines boat and rail travel for a delightful day trip. Named for the famous Swiss folk hero who supposedly shot an arrow through an apple on his son’s head, the Wilhelm (William) Tell Express Premium fare includes the leisurely lake cruise, a first-class meal, and the train trip from Fluelen at the ship’s destination to the Italian-speaking canton of Tessin or Ticino, or vice versa. Bonus points: Onboard passegers may take advantage of organized programs includiing activites for young children. 

Explore the turn-of-the-20th century steam side-wheeler that was converted to diesel. The cruise takes three-and-a-half hours, leaving enough time to watch the mesmerizing side-wheelers visible through glass windows. Good luck explaining the mechanics of the red and green painted pistons chugging along and fully visible from a railing that opens to the engine room. Wait for it! The captain heralds the ship’s arrival with a loud toot of the steam whistle as it docks at many historic sites allowing movement on and off the boat. Look for the stop called Ruetli with its authentic landing structure showcasing the birth of modern day Switzerland. William Tell Statue Central Switzerland

What else happened in 1291 or 1292?  Think Wilhem Tell as a boy. Tell’s legend is just that, of course but certainly fun to discuss with young children.  Tell becomes a folk hero for disobeying the Habsburg overlords back in the 13th century – so the story goes.  Lake Lucerne and the mountains around this large body of water were Tell’s stomping grounds.

Board Wilhelm Tell Express. After disembarking in Fluelen and another short walk through an underpass to the train station, the modern train experience on a very old train route begins. The “Salon Liberté” (literally freedom coach) takes travelers ever higher to the Gotthard mountain region.  Wait for it! The Wilhelm Tell Express takes passengers underneath the massive Alpine mountain range along the world-famous Gotthard line. 

No luggage worries. Traveling with children couldn’t be easier because Swiss ingenuity takes care of all baggage transport from airport to hotels. So what do you do without your entire luggage or if you are not at an airport? Your train station luggage department (at any station) will take your luggage before 9 a.m. and for a small charge guarantee arrival at your destination that evening.  If you know where you are staying, the luggage ticket will let your bell hop pick up your affairs to be delivered to your room.

Location on the planet. Schifffahrtsgesellschaft des Vierwaldstättersees Wilhelm Tell Express Werftestrasse 5 Postfach 4265 CH-6002 Luzern. Tel +41 (0)41 367 67 67.

Make it happen. While there are several cruises on Lake Lucerne daily, the Wilhelm Tell Express Premium boat and connection by train to Ticino) departs Lucerne at 11:12 a.m. For bookings Wilhelm Tell Express Premium contact the Rail Service SBB under the number 0900 300 300 (CHF 1.19/Min.) or from abroad +41 512 25 78 00.  For detailed information and reservations go to

Content by Rene Welti founder of ECHO Trails and certified Swiss hiking guide. Images by Amanda Nelson-Duac. Updated copyright 2014. 
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