River Cruise Review: Grand Circle
Ever since its acquisition in 1985 by passionate travelers and dedicated philanthropists Alan and Harriet Lewis, Grand Circle has placed great emphasis on immersive travel as a form of enrichment. As such, the company insists on using resident English-speaking hosts, guides and lecturers throughout the world, carefully selected for their credentials in history, geography and local culture and their ability to mesh well with American travelers. Thanks to these long-established relationships with locals, Grand Circle offers distinctive shore excursions, such as a coffee morning in the home of a German family or a visit to a local school.
Grand Circle's custom-built ships are consistently highly ranked, scooping up Condé Nast Traveler's World's Best River Cruise Line award for the past 2 years. The attentive service of Grand Circle's crew and cruise directors and the spacious luxury of its ships receive the highest praise.
The attractive ships accommodate fewer passengers than other cruise lines' similarly sized vessels, making for larger cabins and more space in public areas; for example, the delightful 46-passenger MS Provence, which operates on the smaller French waterways in a league of its own.
Selling point: The combination of Grand Circle's comfortable ships, insightful shore excursions and attentive service make it an excellent choice for culture vultures with a penchant for luxury. Grand Circle also prides itself on being tailored to American tastes and expectations, ensuring guests feel at home throughout their European experience.
Keep in mind: Grand Circle doesn't offer week-long cruises; the shortest itinerary is 11 days. Also, passengers are exclusively American, giving little sense of cultural diversity.
Operating since: 1999 (the company had been chartering river ships earlier but started building its own fleet in 1999)
Number of ships: 11
- Europe: Danube, Elbe, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, Saône, Seine and the Dutch Waterways
- Asia: Irrawaddy
- Russia: Volga
Most popular route: The 15-day Grand Rivers of Europe voyage along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers (March to November, from $2695 per person).
Contact: 800-221-2610; www.gtc.com
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