Alan Lewis, CEO Grand Circle Corporation and Grand Circle Cruise Lines, provides a perspective on small ship vacations and their growing popularity among older, seasoned travelers (age 50+).
Mature Travelers Find Small Ships Perfect for Overseas Discovery
Mature travelers seek out distinctly different vacations. Educated, active, and well traveled, today’s older travelers aren’t just looking for a getaway to kick back and relax, and they’re not looking for an if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium holiday either. What a large number of people in the 50-plus age bracket really want is a totally new, perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true kind of travel experience, one that lets them get to know the world on a deeper, more personal level.
Mature travelers have discovered that small ship vacations deliver just what they’re looking for the opportunity to delve into the heart of a culture at an unhurried pace. And they only have to unpack just once. As specialists in overseas vacations for Americans 50-plus, in the past nine years our small ship business has grown from one chartered small ship to owning and operating our own worldwide fleet of 45 small ships. This year Grand Circle is offering nearly 40 small ship vacations spanning 30 countries on five continents.
Most Grand Circle passengers aren’t new to cruising; many have been vacationing aboard great ships for decades. But a small ship vacation has little in common with cruising aboard a megaliner. Most of our vessels have capacities of fewer than 200 passengers, which allows for an intimate atmosphere and fosters a comfortable camaraderie. And because the ship is smaller, we can tuck into less-traveled ports, where our passengers witness a culture’s routine, not just its famous monuments.
However, smaller ships do not mean Spartan amenities. In fact, our European and Egyptian river ships are custom-built according to the specifications of our travelers. They boast outside cabins only as does our entire fleet sun decks, libraries, window-wrapped dining rooms, onboard entertainment, and elegant appointments. Our vintage barges that ply the canals of France, Belgium, and Holland serve regional wines and local cheeses and breads. Our six-star, oceangoing, 330-passenger Paul Gauguin has been named one of the top five best small ships in the world by readers of Condé Nast Traveler.
Each day brings a mix of onboard activities ranging from folkloric performances, cooking and crafts demonstrations, to special lectures on local history, culture and politics. For instance, while cruising the Rhine our passengers watch an expert German craftsman cast an unformed piece of silver into a work of art. Evenings often find our travelers dancing in the lounge.
Unlike other travel companies, we hire only natives or longtime residents of a region to lead our tours. We believe no one knows a place better than someone who works, lives and plays there, and we want our travelers to benefit from this insider knowledge and perspective. So, in addition to visiting the storied sights from 16th-century baroque castles in Germany to desert-worn antiquities in Egypt our travelers experience bargaining at a spice market in Aswan; chatting to schoolchildren in China; and taking part in a reforestation ceremony in the Amazon. And during every trip our travelers join a local family for a meal in their homes. In fact in China, New Zealand, and Turkey our traveler stay overnight with their hosts.
Our passengers do more than visit a destination, they also give something back because a portion of the cost for their trip is donated to the Grand Circle Foundation, a nonprofit organization that invests in the future through education of young people worldwide and supports the preservation of cultural traditions and treasures. We set up the Foundation in 1992 and to date it has contributed more than $28 million to organizations and schools in the U.S. and abroad. Grand Circle is unique in the way we integrate tourism, learning and philanthropy, and our travelers feel proud traveling with an organization whose mission is to help change people’s lives.
Alan E. Lewis, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Grand Circle Corporation, changed the course of Grand Circle Travel when he and his wife Harriet purchased the company in 1985. Until then, the company, which was founded in 1958, served AARP members exclusively. Under Lewis, Grand Circle began marketing its vacations to all mature Americans. He expanded the company’s vacation offerings by acquiring Overseas Adventure Travel in 1993 and by launching Grand Circle’s small ships division, which has grown to a fleet of 45 small ships since 1997. Grand Circle’s fleet was named to Condé Nast Traveler's 2006 Gold List of the world’s top cruise lines, and was voted one of the top five small ship cruise lines in the magazine’s 2005 Readers’ Choice Awards survey. To date, 1.5 million Americans have traveled with Grand Circle Corporation, choosing from more than 100 vacations worldwide.
For information on Grand Circle Travel go to www.gct.com.