Grand Circle Cruise Line

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Grand Circle Cruise Line fleet

Review of Grand Circle Cruise Line

From its early days in 1958 as a travel arm of the American Association of Retired People (AARP), Grand Circle Travel has expanded as an independent company that is focused on offering meaningful experiences for the "over-50's." Today the company offers a full range of cruisetours and land programs, but its original operations focused on discounted extended-stay programs in Europe, most occurring during winter in the south of Spain. Later, Grand Circle began to provide escorted tours all around the world, with a strong emphasis on enrichment, though cruise vacations were not part of the product mix at the time.

In 1985 the company was acquired by Alan and Harriet Lewis. They took operations to higher levels by building on firm's original base and expanding the destinations and offerings available. A continuing feature has been the right decision to avoid public advertising, focusing on referrals, past guests and direct requests for information. The Program Directors of the company started out as resident hosts, lecturers and guides and developed over the years into hallmark service for the Grand Circle company. With each new program and destination, regional offices were opened across the globe, providing support and monitoring operations in an area. The new options often came at request or suggestion of past passengers, who form sort of an "alumni" association. 

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Starting in 1997, the company began promoting European river sailings on partially or fully chartered ships to its clientele. Due to the enthusiastic response, Grand Circle tried to ensure both excellent quality of the product and control of the operations by deciding to have its own ships built - River Symphony was the first one in 1998, followed by a series of constantly improved ships over the years in various regions of the Mediterranean, Europe, Russia and Egypt. Grand Circle also runs chartered operations in Antarctica, Europe, Panama, China and Burma, under both the Overseas Adventure and Grand Circle brands.

Along with the current operations, mention should be made of company's sense of commitment to responsible tourism in the regions where it operates. During the last 20 years the Grand Circle Foundation has committed more than US$92 million to advancing education and preserving cultural traditions. In Egypt's Valley of the Kings, Grand Circle has funded the construction of shade/information pavilions to make the travel experience more worthwhile. The Foundation also supports around 100 schools in 30 different countries. 

Grand Circle Cruise Line Experience

Grand Circle Cruise Line offers a full range of small-ship cruises for the over-50 set. 

As with all Grand Circle Cruise Line's programs, company's passengers are over 50, in some cases even much more so. The line doesn't market to families, and doesn't accept kids as passengers. Its guests are generally well traveled, with a large percentage repeat passengers and members of their Inner Circle loyalty program, an organization for those who have made 3 or more trips with the line. The majority of passengers are married couples, though clusters of friends sailing together and singles are not unusual. Given Grand Circle's focus on learning experiences, most of company's guests are open-minded and curious, eager to try new things.

Since Grand Circle is an American cruise line and generally does whole-ship trips, the language of the day at all times is English. The crews, and most especially company's Program Directors, are at the very least conversationally fluent. Most of Grand Circle passengers are Americans or American-connected.

While the ships of the line are designed for the regions in which they operate, they are as much about comfort as destination. 

  • All cabins are well appointed and quite spacious. On the ships operating in Western Europe the upper-deck staterooms have true balconies, while the lower decks feature large windows. Generally, Grand Circle's Europe-based ships have twin beds only.
  • Onboard bathrooms are excellently fitted out, and rooms are kept spotless. CNN, movies, alternate music and language channels are available, along with line's onboard info channel.
  • Dining is also professionally handled. Depending on the ship, there is a mix of buffet (breakfast and lunch) and served (dinner). Though menu options vary, regional and local specialties are always included. Specialty evenings are also offered - for example an Egyptian buffet - depending on the itinerary.
  • General entertainment is casual and low-key. Nobody goes on a cruise by Grand Circle for bingo or karaoke, though both may be offered. Sometimes there may be a costume night, black-and-white dress evening, or passenger talent show. 
  • The real focus of any voyage by Grand Circle Cruise Line is the chance to experience other histories, traditions, cultures and people. Through excursions ashore and onboard lectures, meals and talks with local people, demonstrations by or visits with local artisans, passengers truly have the chance to expand their understanding and knowledge of other places. 

Itinerary of Grand Circle Cruise Line

Currently, Grand Circle Cruise Line's fleet includes the following vessels:

Note: You can see the CruiseMapper's list of all river cruise ships and riverboats in the "itinerary" section of our River Cruises hub. All river passenger shipping line companies and their fleets are listed there.

Grand Circle cruises to Cuba

Starting in January 2017, Grand Circle Cruise Line offers Cuba cruises on the MV Clio ship (former Tere Moana). The itineraries are 11-night in length, leaving one-way from Miami Florida to Havana, or the reverse from Havana to Miami. The sailing part is 7 days, visiting the Cuban ports of call Caibarien, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Remedios, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad. Passengers will disembark in port Cienfuegos and will be transported overland to the capital Havana (with included 3-night hotel stay there). Then cruise passengers fly back to the USA. The reverse 11-night itinerary starts in Havana and ends in Miami.

  • Grand Circle Cruise Line's Cuba cruise prices start at USD 6,800 pp. fares are inclusive of visas, accommodations, meals, guided land tours, gratuities, port fees, airfare (Miami-Havana, or Havana-Miami), also of the airport transfers in Miami.
  • The 89-passenger MV Clio (formely known as Tere Moana) was acquired in 2015 from Paul Gauguin Cruises. Grand Circle invested over USD 5 million in the following refurbishment. The vessel entered into service in May 2016.

The current list of passenger shipping lines offering cruises to Cuba in 2016-2017-2018 includes:

  • Carnival-fathom (ship MV Adonia, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Royal Caribbean (ship Empress of the Seas, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Oceania Cruises (ships Marina and Regatta) starting in 2017, Cuba circumnavigation, stops in Cienfuegos and Havana, also part of some Panama Canal transition itineraries.
  • Compagnie du Ponant (yacht ship Le Ponant, leaving from Miami Florida)
  • Pearl Seas Cruises (ship Pearl Mist, leaving from Fort Lauderdale Florida)
  • Lindblad Expeditions (chartered sailing ship MS Panorama II, leaving from Havana)
  • Celestyal Cruises (ship Celestyal Crystal, leaving from Havana and Montego Bay Jamaica)
  • International Expeditions (leaving from Havana, charter flights out of Miami)
  • Victory Cruise Lines - MS  Victory I (former MS Saint Laurent) - fly-cruises from Miami to Havana (home-port Cienfuegos /departures)
  • Note: According to the current Cuban law, US citizens of Cuban origin (born in Cuba) are not allowed to visit the island country (including on cruise ships). Regardless of their US citizenship status, Cuban-born Americans were denied booking on cruise itineraries visiting ports in Cuba. However, the situation changed in April 2016, after Carnival Corporation negotiated with the Cuban government for allowing ships with Cuban-born passengers, as such US citizens are allowed to visit the country on USA-Cuba charter flights. The Carnival-fathom line started Miami to Cuba cruises in May 2016.