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Comments on Grand Circle Tours?

Hi and TIA for responses to my question. I am a solo traveler who (in Europe) either plans my own trip or takes a RS tour combined with some self-directed travel. However, outside of Europe I usually take a tour (and sometimes combine a bit of self-directed travel--it depends.) As a result, I have used 4 different tour companies. Next year I am thinking of branching out and am considering a trip by Grand Circle Tours (GCT). I know they are affiliated with O.A.T. and fellow travelers have spoken highly of O.A.T. tours. Since considering the tour in 2017 I have searched these forums and generally people give the GCT river cruises pretty positive reviews. I have also done a brief search of the net and found several websites with reviews of GCT. One website was mostly positive while the other was dominated by either total slams (1 star ratings) or raves (5 star ratings.) Does anyone have any personal experience with GCT? If so, I would appreciate your feedback.

Posted by
172 posts

Have done one.It was good for less mobile travelers who want to roll up to the sight..get off..take move on. Usually 40-45 on the tour. Hotels can be far from sights. You have to cab or bus to seethings during your down time. We did GCT to England..Wales..and Scotland. Several sights were pay extra for them. We had to scramble to see Carnaevon castle..Shakespeare's home..and Wordsworth'house in Lakes district..highlights of each area. We were among only three or four of tour to seethese sights because we immediately scambled off the bus and hustled there and back. Steves tours seem more expensive but in the long run you see the best sights and have time to venture on your own because you are right in the middle of the old town or sight. The cost ends up being the same. It is a matter of mobile you are..and what you want to experience. We are on on our 4th Steces tour..we like the 24 people and the style. HANK Novaro..CA

Posted by
1068 posts

Thanks for the reply. It isn't the cost...... Rick doesn't do tours in Africa. I am not too crazy about the size of the group on GCT, but I like the (at least described version) of the tour itself. I will continue to do research.

Posted by
380 posts

The question is not the specific cruise line, but do you want to do a cruise? In general, touring on a cruise is more superficial. Half a day in a town then on to the next.

If you are the type who want to see/learn things more in depth, river cruise may not be for you. Also look at the itinerary and activities, are those places/activities of interest to you? Your port of calls are limited to what is near the river, otherwise you have to take long bus rides to get to the major cities/tourist sites.
I personally am not attracted to O.A.T. because of all the surcharges for the side trips. I hate being nickel and dimed. By the time, you add up all the extra charges, they are not any cheaper than other tour companies. My personal preference is Road Scholar which is all inclusive without tipping. I prefer land tours and visit places in depth.

Posted by
2165 posts

What specific trip are you thinking of? I'm like you - Europe I do on my own. As I start to branch out from there these days, I am trying a few tours. Smartours for China. For Egypt I'm using a company for a private tour - located on this site. I've looked at GCT and OAT endless times. I know people who've gone and they're pretty happy....except don't let GCT or OAT book your airfare...I hear routine bad stories about the numbers of connections/layover times etc.

Posted by
9929 posts

Ray, I was just going to post for you to take a look at Road Scholar, too. I see that is Chun's recommendation.

I have done 4 domestic Road Scholar tours and 2 International ones. Of the 4 domestic ones, 2 were activity based (hiking and birding) and 2 were genealogy so really not active at all so not a fair comparison. The 2 international ones were a week in London and a tour of Wales. The one of Wales was spectacular altho there were a couple of people on that tour that were not physically up to even getting on and off the bus by themselves. My preference is to take a Rick tour if there is a comparable itinerary because the people are more active and the No Grump policy is in place. HOWEVER, I have signed up for another Road Scholar tour this Fall in England as it is walking the ancient footpaths in the Salisbury/Bath area. It is listed as challenging so I think it will self-select a more active group.

Having said that, I would look at them for Africa or Asia. Those trips are more challenging and again, would self select a group of more active folks.

There are some reviews/comments on the Senior Forum on Trip Advisor regarding Road Scholar tours and in particular there were some comments about a trip to Madagascar, I think. I can dig that up if you can't find it and are interested.

Just for comparison, I've done 7 Rick Steves tours and will always go with them as a 1st choice.

editing to add: I just read Judy's comment about not letting OAT do your airfare. I would also suggest the same for Road Scholar altho if you do let them book they will furnish transport to/from the airport for you. I say this because the people on the 2 international tours who had RoadScholar do the airfare had strange connections. They seemed to put them all on AA which is fine if you live in a place where AA is easy to do. Others had weird US itineraries to get them to say, Dallas, for an international flight when it would have been much easier to hop on Delta to get there (in my view, ,lol!!). Not sure what I would do for Africa or Asia though.

Posted by
1856 posts


Have you tried Odysseys Unlimited? These are small group tours albeit more expensive than RS tours. We have used Odysseys for Peru (5 people on that tour) and are going with them to Tanzania (8 people on this tour) this summer. Most of your meals are included in the tour. If they book the airfare then they pick you up at the airport. The hotels are really nice. The food was great and we got to try foods we had never eaten before. There are no extra charges for any of the "excursions". They do suggest that you tip the guide at the end of the tour which we did in Peru because he was excellent. The only thing we booked on our own with Odysseys was the trip insurance as we found that the one they offered was pricier and did not include all that we wanted insured. We normally do our own travel planning, etc. but have done a few RS tours which were also excellent although the accommodations were not as luxe as the Odysseys hotels. You get what you pay for.

Posted by
1068 posts

Wow, thanks for all of the information. First, I am also not a fan of cruises. I have taken 2 because they are "classics" or (IMHO) the best way to go (e.g., Nile cruise from Abu Simbel to Luxor) but they are not my thing in general. I am considering the GCT...."Highlights of South Africa" with nary a cruise ship in sight. What attracts me to this particular tour is two things which many generic safari/animal tours of Africa do not include: some exposure to big cities and the opportunity to visit Victoria Falls (as well as a considerable amount of time searching for animals, visiting Zulus etc.) In regards to some of the posts, I too prefer Rick Steve's tours in Europe but I think he has turned a deaf ear to my plea for him to offer a trip to Africa! In the past I have taken Road Scholar tours (going on #4 in Sept) and generally enjoy them (although personally prefer Rick's by a hair.) Road Scholar offers several tours with extensions to Victoria so I will likely spend some time checking those out again. I have not tried Odyssey Unlimited but have heard a couple of good things about them. Will look into their tours as well.

Posted by
1813 posts

Odysseys Unlimited is our 2nd choice if RS doesn't offer an itinerary we want. They require a little less mobility and carry your luggage, but it's a small group. It might be worth checking to see if they have an itinerary that would fit what you're looking for. They are based out of Newton, MA.

Posted by
92 posts

If you are interested in a Rick Steve's style of group travel to places other than Europe, I would suggest looking at Imprint Tours ( We have traveled with them to South Africa/Botswana and to Myanmar/Vietnam/Cambodia and will be going to Morocco later this year. Reid Coen, who started the company, guides for Rick Steve's during the summer and leads his own tours at other times of the year. We have been very satisfied with his tours. It is a small company, but very similar to the RS small group style that we prefer.

Posted by
1068 posts

Good info. Checking them out now. Thanks

Posted by
1540 posts

I have been on numerous RS tours and love them, but now I'm retired and on a more limited travel budget.
I am now using Gate 1 Tours. I've been on 8 of them and love the tours, prices, guides, locations, etc.
I would highly recommend They have the basic priced tours, Discovery are smaller group tours and a bit more expensive, and recently added Signature Tours (which I have not tried.)
Happy Travels

Posted by
3696 posts

Take a look at GoAhead tours... while I am usually not a tour person I just wanted a break from doing anything so I jumped on a few last minute... nice savings on those. There are added excursions which I usually won't do as I prefer to be on my own agenda, so its sort of like a tour and a MyWay... logistics handled... nice hotels, about half your dinners. I did a Paris 7 day in Dec.... a Barcelona, French Riviera &Italian Riviera... and Venice Carnavale, Florence & Rome... As far as tours go I think they were a good value... especially the last minute ones.