Switzerland: Europe's Crown Jewel - July 03, 2019


We (Scott & Judy) will be on this tour next year. We're excited about seeing Switzerland in some depth to include the train rides. For those of you who also like trains, you might consider (as we plan to do) arriving early or staying after the tour since both Lausanne and Lucerne have another iconic train nearby. They are:

Lausanne - the Golden Pass Panoramic train (http://www.goldenpass.ch/en/goldenpass/offer/view?id=14) which runs from Montreux to Zweisimmen. There is a direct connection from the Lausanne train station (10 minute walk from the Tauck hotel) to this trip. Leave Lausanne at 9:17 AM and return at 2:43 PM (2018 schedule...will need to confirm next year).

Lucerne - the Mt. Pilatus Cog Railway (https://www.pilatus.ch/en/discover/cogwheel-railway/), the steepest cog railway in the world, is a short tram ride from Lucerne station (10 minute walk from the Tauck hotel) and offers many round trips to the summit of Mt. Pilatus daily.
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Comments

  • Interesting.. I see that Tauck changed the starting location from Montreux to Lausanne for the 2019 tours. For those traveling in 2018, you can take the golden pass train trip directly from Montreaux. Thank you for the info.
  • Thanks for the info!! I was just starting to make notes for things to do in Montreux when they updated the itinerary for 2019 with the change to Lausanne. I haven't booked yet, but we're thinking of Sept. 1 for our trip. Will look into both suggestions you made.

    Thanks again!
  • Hi Portolan! It looks like less than a month until your trip. So happy the forums are back up and running. I'm booked on the Sept 1st tour and was wondering if you were extending your stay for the Mt. Pilatus Cog Railway? I am going 1 day early and 1 day later do do the cog railway and was hoping to sk some questions if you were also. I hope you have a great trip!!!

  • Kathy,

    It's me, Portolan. The site has prevented me from reclaiming my username.

    Yes, we're not only doing the Golden Pass Panoramic Train on our early arrival day, but will also do the Mt. Pilatus cog railway on an extra day at the end. The Mt. Pilatus tickets can't be booked on-line (with the railway...you could book a tour through Viator or similar), but we are confident that we can get the so-called Golden Circle ticket the day before when on the walking tour of Lucerne. The Golden Circle ticket includes transportation from Lucerne to the cog railway, the cog railway trip and the cable cars which get you to the summit, and then a return by boat on Lake Lucerne.

    After our trip, I'll post the details about both trips.

  • Thanks so much!! I am mostly interested in which direction you take for Mt. Pilatus. I believe you can go one way on the cog railway, then the other via the gondola/aerial cableway and wasn't sure which is the best way to go. Up on the cog railway or down so I'm looking forward to your opinion on it. Do you think concierge would be able to sell the golden circle tickets in the hotel?? If I email them and get an answer, I'll let you know!!

    I don't have any plans for our first day there. Not sure if we just want to rest and hang in the area, but again, would love your input on the golden pass tour you have planned.

    Have a great time!!!

  • edited June 2019

    In the mode of good news, bad news, I've got my username back...but they deleted my old user account so every previous post I've made is now listed, as with this thread I started, as [Deleted User]. I guess that unless this happens to a lot of folks, I've become, in the style of Prince, the poster formerly known as [Deleted User].

  • Another possibility out of Lucerne is to go to Mt. Titlis. This is included on the Ultimate Alps and Dolomites tour and is wonderful. You take cable cars up the mountain - one even revolves so you don't need to worry about where you stand. At the top there are a number of activities included with your ticket. You can ride in a six person ski lift over the glaciers, walk through an ice cave, walk on a bridge that takes you over the glaciers or even sled down a hill with an electric walkway to bring you to the top. We were there on a gorgeous sunny day and it was one of the best places we have ever been.

  • When I awoke this morning to stories about the takeoff for the moon landing 50 years ago, I was brought back to our stay at the Schweizerhof last year. Each room is dedicated to a personality. We were fortunate enough to be assigned Room 188. You enter the room to the strains of the Star Spangled Banner and then see a display case with pictures of the astronauts and information about the moon landing. The room is dedicated to Neil Armstrong and his famous quote is on the wall above the bed. Enjoy your stay at the Schweizerhof and hopefully, someone on your tour will be fortunate enough to get that room!

  • Portolan - I saw you posted on another chat, so I know you're back!! Would love to hear about your trip, especially if you went to Mt Pilatus. We just rec'd our documents w/the day to day info. I'm getting excited for the trip!! We're going a day early and staying a day later for Mt. Pilatus.

    Thanks for any info!!!

  • (A not so) Mini-review of Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel based on our July 3, 2019 Small Group tour

    Bottom line up front: a wonderful trip with a great group which left us feeling we really saw the (literal) length and breadth of Switzerland.

    Why we took this trip: we reviewed several tours across several companies and chose this Tauck tour because it took us all the places we wanted to see and had a healthy dose of trains (Glacier Express, Zermatt Express, Gornergrat cogwheel train (at the Matterhorn), Jungfraujoch cogwheel trains (3 separate lines) at the Eiger/Mönch/Jungfrau, and the Harderbahn incline railway. You might (correctly) gather that we like trains! In fact, we arrived a day early at rode the Golden Pass Panoramic train R/T from Montreux to Zweisimmen (connecting to Montreux from Lausanne by commuter train) and then stayed an extra day to ride the Mt. Pilatus cog railway.

    As one comes to expect with Tauck, the accommodations were excellent…in some cases clearly the best available. Our rooms always had a great view: Lake Geneva from the Lausanne Palace, the Matterhorn from the Mont Cervin Palace, Lake Lugano from the Hotel Splendide Royal, surrounding alps from the Kempinski Grand, portions of the Jungfrau from the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand, and Lake Lucerne from the Schweizerhof. All locations are 2 night stays except Lausanne (where we added an extra night as we found much of the group had done and is highly recommended) and St. Moritz. Unexpectedly, St. Moritz was the least interesting location so while a second night there would have reduced the bag-drag (and we recommended that on our feedback form), we wouldn’t have traded a night from any other location. We used the “gift of Time” for a third night in Lucerne which allowed for the Mt. Pilatus trip. In the larger cities (Lausanne, Lugano & Lucerne), we received local transportation passes good for buses and trams.

    Dinners were mostly a la carte (meaning choosing from the regular menu) in the hotel restaurants except for the welcome reception/dinner, the Harder Klum in Interlaken (fantastic meal with entertainment and direct view of the Eiger/Mönch/Jungfrau mountains), and the farewell dinner. Two dinners were on our own, 1 of the 2 nights in Zermatt, and 1 of the 2 nights in Lugano. As a much appreciated option in Zermatt, we could choose the dinner included night from either of the 2 nights. We would have appreciated the same option in Lugano, but the included night was as listed in the itinerary. Why would we have liked the flexibility? There were a lot of great meals included in the trip: breakfast, of course, and many special lunches as well as the dinners as described above. The problem (!) was that the days with special lunches as well as included dinners were too much good food. We used the unexpected flexibility in Zermatt to opt for a light dinner on our own on the first night since there was a very robust meal of fondue and raclette that day in Gruyeres. We actually recommended (in our feedback form) that Tauck not include lunches and dinners on the same day. That’d be 3 less meals. As experienced Tauck travelers know, the tour director has discretionary funds to use as he/she sees fit. Our great TD (Danny Tonarelli) arranged several things, but most notably, the trip on the Glacier Express was in 1st Class with lunch and wine included. This should probably be included on all departures.

    The scenery was non-stop and defies adequate description so we won’t.

    Besides raving about the trip in general, we offered a few suggestions on our end-of-tip feedback:
    • This was a small-group departure which is supposed to be capped at 24. We had 26. It was a great group of people and we enjoyed traveling with them all, but if Tauck advertises a size limit, they should adhere to it.
    • (no doubt this will be controversial ) Include tips for the TD and bus driver in the trip cost. We believe one of the reasons that Tauck doesn’t do this is that the TD’s are independent contractors which relieves Tauck of many employer responsibilities. But we feel that the TD and bus driver should receive at least the equivalent of the recommended tips. Not including them (as most high-end land and sea tour operators do) artificially seems to lower the trip cost and, we feel, is awkward and demeaning for the TD. This shows up (for example) as awkward reminders that at a certain point we’ll be saying goodbye to the bus driver (hint, hint, hint…). Tauck already includes ALL tips on their river and ocean cruises, so it is not without precedence for them. Of course, extraordinary service, like helping with emergency complications could always be rewarded separately.
    • Avoid having included lunches and dinners on the same day. Finding great food options in Switzerland isn’t challenging. It’s not like on an exotic trip where the availability and quality of meals might be hard to deal with.

    Bottom line (again): this was delightful trip!

  • Mt. Pilatus, for those interested. Doesn't appear you can ticket this in advance on-line. Only same-day ticketing in Lucerne. Head to the train station (10 minute walk from the hotel) to arrive at 9 AM when the Information Office opens. It's to the right of the tracks as you enter the train station and also has an outside entrance on the west side. There are two round trip options: silver which is train-cog railway-gondola/cable car-bus, and gold which is bus-gondola/cable car-cog railway-boat trip. Both options start and end at the Lucerne train station. Because the farewell dinner includes a cruise across the lake and I wanted to ride the cog railway up, I opted for the silver package. With a senior discount and leveraging the local transit ticket the hotel provided, it came to about 75 CHF/pp (~$75). It's the steepest cog railway (in Europe? maybe world?) and one of the earliest built (trivia question: oldest cog railway...Mt. Washington cog railway in New Hampshire). Even though there was a low cloud cover so we were, at times, literally with our heads in the clouds, it was still a great excursion. Bonus was the gondola then cable car trip down. Rather surprisingly, considering the hundreds if not thousands of aerial tramways in Switzerland, none are included in the Tauck tour.

  • Thank you so much for this Portolan. We just booked this for next year and so looking forward to a scenery focused tour and the trains. I agree with you on the "go ahead and include the tip issue" and not having both a big lunch and dinner the same day. I have a few questions/concerns.

    On previous land tours if I wanted to bring my small underseat roller carryon, I just brought it down to the bus on departure days and picked it up once we pulled up at the hotel. I'm assuming with the train travel here that might not be so workable on certain days.

    The usual attire question. It's seems from reading the itinerary that it's a fairly casual tour with only the welcome dinner as a dress up occasion (if that). Mostly a matter of the right shoes, layering etc. However, is there any pressure to dress up for a la carte dinner in the hotels or are they fairly casual?

    I Noticed that while the itineraries read the same from 2019 to 2020, the activity and pace codes went from 2/3 to 3/3. Any idea why?

  • Portolan - great info, thanks!! We leave in about 6 weeks! Regarding Mt. Pilatus... I like the input about the Silver vs Gold...I'll have to see if we want another boat ride. Do you know is there a difference in riding the cog railway UP vs DOWN?? Did you have to pay for the local transit ticket the hotel provided??

  • edited July 2019

    Portolan, July 19. . . . . We believe one of the reasons that Tauck doesn’t do this is that the TD’s are independent contractors which relieves Tauck of many employer responsibilities.

    Concerning the oft debated TD gratuity issue, I have two questions that get to the heart of the issue, but I have never seen answered:

    1. Does anyone know for an absolute fact that any, all, or no Tauck TD's are "independent contractors?"

    I know one popular TD who started his employment with Tauck in the Accounting Dept. I don't know if the information is current, but if it is and is true, according to what I just read on glassdoor at this link, TDs are most definitely not "independent contractors." However their compensation is a mix of salary and gratuities, but they get a full and very generous benefits package.

    Check it out: "Benefits for eligible Tauck Directors include: medical, dental, vision, life, travel, long-term disability, and worker's compensation insurance programs, a 401(k) company plan and a profit-sharing plan. Annual eligibility is based on the total number of weeks worked each calendar year."

    I suppose there may be some TD's who do not work enough weeks to be considered a full employee, but that would seem to be a personal decision.

    1. Does anyone know whether Tauck consulted the TD's on tips- i.e. did the TD's, as a group vote on tips, and if so did the company respect that decision?

    Without knowing the answers to both of these questions, it is a waste of time suggesting to the company that they handle gratuities differently.

    It is close, but I hope this post does not violate forum policy.

  • Tauck TD’s are not independent contractors, but the LOCAL guides are, I think this might be the confusion.

  • Claudia (with regard to carry-ons): As normal, Tauck arranges for your large bags (or, really, anything with the Tauck bag tag) to be picked up inside your room. Likewise, as you note, for carry-ons you have two options. Both start with carrying your bag to the bus. Then you can, of course, place it near you on the bus (overhead for medium/small items or an unused seat at the rear). Or it can be stored in the luggage compartment (to be placed beside the bus at your destination that day for you to carry to your room.

    Most of the train riding is not part of being transported to/from lodgings and you'd only be carrying what you need for an excursion of a few hours. The two exceptions are the Zermatt Shuttle train from Tasch to Zermatt and then return a couple of days later, and the Glacier Express. For the Zermatt Shuttle, it's a very short 10 minute-ish trip and we just carried our carry-ons and found space for them on the train without difficulty. Your "checked" bags move mysteriously from Tasch to your room though it takes a bit longer than usual. For the Glacier Express, you'll ride on your regular bus to the station in St. Moritz. At that point you should only take what you need for the 5 hour train ride. Your regular bus drives to Andermatt and picks you up so if you left non-essentials with on the bus or in the luggage compartment, that's where you'll be repatriated.

    Yes, dress code is casual throughout. I can give you the male perspective. For dinners in the restaurants, sometimes the guys would have a sport coat (without tie) but mostly not. Collared shirt and no shorts that I saw (and would feel inappropriate). A few more sport coats present at the initial reception, but the farewell dinner less so since you travel by boat across Lake Lucerne. However, you need to consider the range of temperatures. It's easy to get the high/low norms for the locations you'll be staying. But remember that the visit to the Jungfraujoch includes time spent in the Ice Palace (with a nice champagne and nibbles reception) where it is...below freezing. Also a walk on the glacial snow field outside with some wind. Hooded parkas were common. Also bring gloves (or, as some did, use the field expedient of socks). Neither parka or gloves need to be particularly heavy (assuming layers). It's more about wind-proofing and retaining warmth.

  • Kathy: I think riding a cogwheel train up is always more interesting. You see the summit where you are going (new to you since you haven't been there yet). Going down, you are just dropping back into the valley which is still scenic, but not as dramatic.

    Because the cog railway base station is near the boat dock whereas the lower station of the cable car is on the other side of the mountain in outlying Lucerne, I don't think you can change the order of the gold option. BTW, after descending by cable car, there is a walk of a half mile or so to the bus station. Just look for and follow the signs for the bus (#1 as I recall) from the cable car station. There is something that looks like a bus stop right at the station, but that's not what you need.

    The local transit cards in the major cities were all gratis and provided with your room keys.

  • Alan/British: thanks for clarifying the employment status of the TD's. Not sure where I picked up the idea of independent contractor from though it must have been what I considered a reliable source.

    That actually strengthens our feeling about including tips. They are essentially a hidden cost of the trip. I also think that if Tauck asked anyone how they feel about this policy, it should be their customers. Finally, besides the sometimes awkward nature of this policy, it can be quite inconvenient. The tips are suggested to be in local currency. While ATMs are ubiquitous in Europe, less so elsewhere and our basic travel standard is not to have hundreds of dollars (or equivalent) in excess cash on us while we are moving about.

  • I prefer the current tipping arrangement for TDs. Don't forget the origin of the concept. It's to insure good (prompt) service. While I've never had a negative experience with a TD, some did their job, period, and others went above and beyond. While some of that is personality-related, I'm sure some of it relates to the financial incentive.

    Bus drivers are another story, IMO. I've only done international trips with Tauck, and many of the drivers don't interact with guests because they don't speak English. Further, it gets confusing on multi-county trips where the drivers are swapped out after a few days.

    The cost isn't really hidden. It's clearly stated.

  • Look, not trying to be argumentative, but the tipping policy is only "clearly stated" in the documents you receive well after booking. Of course, after twelve trips with Tauck, we know of this and compare trips using the cost with tips included.

  • Portolan, it’s Ok to have different opinions here.
    I have seen people tip even when we are on Tauck tours that include all tips.
    On one tour where we went to five different countries and bus driver tips were not included, the tour director mentioned about tipping in local currencies. Tough, we did not change any money, we already had taken dollars for tipping, they got dollars. It’s much easier to exchange dollars in pretty much any country. We have only had trouble getting hold of foreign currency in the US, I’m thinking because travel outside the US is still so unusual.
    Being born in England where tipping was unusual, we still think of it as paying someone to do the job they are supposed to be doing in the first place. But we usually tip 20% and often find ourselves doing it for mediocre service.
    Tauck really does bury the tipping rules for the different trips in the bowels of the green book.
    You can always chose not to tip and no one would probably notice.

  • As to currency- my philosophy, is they (TD & Driver) get what they get- USD, foreign currency, or a mix. I'm sure they would prefer that to nothing at all. :) As to tipping or having tips included, frankly, it is what it is. No need to complain or debate- accept it or go with another company.

  • edited July 2019

    Tauck clearly states that all tips, including local guides and bus drivers, are prepaid in the cost of the trip on river cruises. If you tipped the local guides and bus drivers because it was something you wanted to do that is your choice. If you tipped them because you thought they were supposed to be tipped, that is your (harmless) mistake.

  • Thanx for the response Portolan. We're going in September so I know to bring a decent hooded coat, hat, gloves, layering separates, etc. Mr Sails will be happy to skip a sport coat. Re luggage, I'll keep considering my options. I like my baby wheelie bag on the flights over/back but don't want to deal with while in Europe.

    Did you think it was an Activity level 2 or 3 tour?

  • Portolan...did you exchange money when you got there at an ATM or before you left the states? I've exchanged for a previous Tauck tour at AAA, but was wondering what you did and if it was over there, where? Thanks again!!

  • FYI- another data point. We are doing a family (of 10) Disney Cruise in two weeks. Tips for various crew members are not included in the booked amount, however Disney "automatically" adds it to your bill upon check-out! This info is not readily available unless you do some digging or participate in the Disney equivalent of this forum.

    "Automatic" gratuity amounts per each person in the party / per day. You can tip more, but never less than:

    $4.50 Server
    $3.50 Asst Server
    $1.00 Head Server
    $4.50 Room Steward

  • I used to leave a little something for our room steward on the river ships then stopped when I realized how many behind the scenes people work just as hard yet no one ever leaves them anything. When they do the staff parade at the end of the cruise you realize how many you never personally interacted with. I just hope that Tauck really does pay them all well.

  • In answer to a couple of questions:

    We drew cash (including for tips) from ATMs. Switzerland seems to have the highest per capita number of ATMs anywhere. There really isn't any need to have CHF on arrival. Your transfer from Geneva to Laussane is included and Tauck states that all services (except TD and tour bus driver) are included, so we used an ATM after we got to Laussane.

    Activity level is highly subjective. The core tour's itinerary has some modest walking tours which we didn't see as challenging. But, if you come from near sea of so (as we do), exertions at 6000 feet have more impact. We opted for a hike down from the penultimate Jungfraujoch station to the next lower. Probably less than two miles and a descent of 1500 feet or so. Downhill and pretty easy though we were glad to have brought our collapsible hiking poles (1 each). However (spoiler alert), Switzerland isn't flat. We felt we'd earned some of our meals!

  • I just wondered since they changed it from 2 to 3 but the itinerary looks the same. I live at 7,000' so have that going for me. I'll skip the downhill walk. Tried that one summer at Telluride. Road the free gondola up then walked down. By half way down I was ready to lay down on the grass of the ski slope and roll the rest of the way. By 3/4 I was seriously considering waiting for winter and the ski patrol.

    I'm so so looking forward to seeing the mountains. I'll tell my husband to bring his collapsible pole instead of the sport coat.

    Thanx again.

  • Portolan - My mother, who is my travel buddy, was wondering if you knew of any places for laundry on this tour? Thanks!!

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