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  • Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

    Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

    We travel a great deal and seldom complain, however my wife and I were extremely disappointed with the trip we just completed with GCT on December 20, 2003 to Egypt. Our major concerns are as follows:

    1. Unhygienic practices aboard the riverboat M/S River Anuket. At the farewell cocktail party, I observed waiters who picked up used glasses of wine and put them back on the serving tray for other passengers to finish. There was a great deal of sickness among passengers on this trip including my wife and myself and there is no way of knowing what part this type of unhygienic practice played in the spread of the various illnesses passengers experienced. If this is indicative of the wait staff, who knows what was going on in the kitchen.

    2. Incompetence of Grand Circle staff in handling our flight arrangements at JFK. Due to a major snowstorm in New York on December 6, we were unable to make it to
    JFK. I phoned Grand Circle that evening and was assured we would be on the next Egypt Air plane out on Sunday, December 7. We arrived at JFK early in the morning of December 7 and were assured by the Grand Circle representative who was on-site that we had confirmed reservations on that flight. When we attempted to check our luggage and get our seat assignments, we were told that we did not have any reservations, that we could not check-in, and that the flight was overbooked. The Grand Circle representative was unable to find out anything definitive for several hours. We were told to stay there and wait to see what happens. There were no seats available in the terminal, and we had to stand for 4-5 hours milling around not knowing if we were going to be able to get on the plane. We also learned there would not be another plane to Egypt until Tuesday, but there was no guarantee that we would be on it. As the hours passed, it became more unlikely that we would be able to board the plane. I called the Grand Circle counseling number and tried to find out if I could use my return flight tickets to go back to Dallas the next day. The person I spoke to could only keep repeating that I had to make travel arrangements with Egypt Air. I told her that I was not going to sit in JFK for two more days if I could not get on the plane that evening; I simply wanted to know if I could use the tickets. The Grand Circle contact was totally unable to respond to this question and should not have been in a contact position. Finally, at the last minute, dozens of us were told we could get on the plane. We hurriedly got our boarding passes and checked our luggage. With all of the last-minute confusion, my checked luggage arrived with our plane in Egypt and my wife's luggage arrived 6 days later.

    3. Failure to provide vital information in advertising material. Grand Circle should be fully aware that the Esna locks close for maintenance every December. However, there is nothing in their literature to advise clients of this. Other travel tour groups do provide this warning about traveling in December. Had we known that this was a distinct possibility and that we would have to be bussed several times because of the lock closure we would have booked the trip at a different time. Riding on a bus for hours with no bathroom is not the same as cruising on the Nile.

    4. Wasting more time. After we completed a carpet factory/training facility tour, one couple made a major purchase that was apparently somewhat involved. As a result, 2 bus loads of people (as we were traveling in a convoy) had to sit on busses an additional 45 minutes while the one couple completed their purchase. Arrangements should have been made for the couple to get back on their own or to return to the carpet factory at another time rather than inconvenience 80 people.

    There were several other annoyances, but I don’t need to belabor the point that this was a bad trip. We have been on other GCT trips that were good to excellent. However, as has been noted by travelers on other message boards, when things go wrong on a trip with GCT don’t expect much help or satisfaction. The day after we returned from Egypt I called Grand Circle and reported the above problems. The individual I spoke with said I should put my concerns in writing and send them to Grand Circle’s Quality Assurance Department which I did and was told I could expect a reply within 30 days. The 30 days has passed, and we have not had the courtesy of a response.

    Egypt is a fascinating country but there must be a better way to see it.

    Chances of going on another Grand Circle Travel trip; slim and none.

  • #2
    Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

    We took a GCT tour to China last June and this was the first time on any type of tour so I was ready to pick them apart. We always traved on our own. We went to 4 cities in China and everything was PERFECT. I was trying to find a problem with GCT but had no luck they were better than we expected.

    We liked them so much that we have booked an Egypt trip for this May and another trip in July to Peru. A couple on our China trip had just gone on a Egypt trip and gave it an A+ and loved it so we'll report back in June on our experience.


    • #3
      Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

      Do NOT go through Grand Circle Travel (GCT) for your Canadian rail trip. We did so last September/October and were very disappointed; not only with the trip itself, but also with the response we received from GCT. After returning from our Canadian rail trip, we sent a letter to GCT with the following facts:

      1) Our tour director did not have leadership skills needed for a successful tour. One person in our group thought he was the leader, and at one point during the tour became verbally abusive with us. Most of the time our group was confused as to what was next on our agenda (i.e., meeting time, meeting places, etc.) as the tour director was not clear in her communication. Sometimes she would change her mind and not communicate the changes to the whole group.

      2) When we originally booked our tour, we were told Gold Leaf service was sold out, so opted for Red Leaf service. On the second day of the tour, another couple upgraded from Red Leaf to Gold Leaf, while no one else was given the upgrade option. The Red Leaf vs. Gold Leaf service separated the group as a whole. We felt like second class citizens in Red Leaf as Gold Leaf passengers tended to separate themselves from Red Leaf passengers for the rest of the tour. We believe that all GCT travelers should either travel Gold Leaf or Red Leaf to maintain the camaraderie of the group.

      3) GCTs policy regarding exposure to controversial topics should be reviewed. Due to this policy, our tour director had our Vancouver motor coach driver drive out of his way so we could see an abundance of drug users congregating in a park. We could do without these controversial topics while on vacation as we face many of these controversial issues at home. A vacation is a time to get away, relax, and enjoy.

      4) We joined the optional excursion to Whistler at the wasteful cost of $95 each. The dog sled portion of this tour was very unauthentic. The dogs were restrained by an all-terrain vehicle that pulled a wagon, similar to a hay ride. The dogs also appeared to be underfed as their ribs were showing.

      5) The Whistler excursion also included lunch. After arriving in Whistler, we were told only one restaurant was open to accept our $15 food voucher. The highest priced item on the menu of this restaurant was under $7. Consequently, we lost $8 of our food voucher.

      6) GCT should institute a policy for passengers to rotate seats on the motor coach. This is a policy with other tour companies we have used in the past. This is fair and equitable as everyone gets a front seat view at least once. On this trip, the same passengers sat in the front section of the motor coach for the entire trip.

      7) VIA Rail Canada was approximately 12 hours late departing Jasper, Alberta. GCT did not have a contingency plan in place for the trains late arrival into Jasper. Our tour director made many phone calls to GCT for guidance. GCT decided to extend our tour of Jasper National Park that afternoon; however, after the tour, we spent approximately seven to eight hours in the Chateau Jasper hotel lobby. A few travelers were assigned hotel rooms due to their health. This was a nice gesture, but this gesture should have been afforded to everyone as we all paid around the same price for this tour. We finally boarded the train around 11:00 p.m. after a very exhausting day.

      8) We booked this trip with another couple. Due to their health, they were assigned Car 213 on the VIA Rail, while we were assigned Car 216. The tour directors reasoning was that 213 was closer to the dining car, which we felt was very reasonable. After the room assignments were handed out, the tour director told us that we would be in dining car B, while the other couple would be in dining car A. Although we do understand the bedroom assignments, we still are not quite sure why we couldnt sit together during meals.

      9) After spending the first night on the VIA Rail, the toilets stopped working in Car 216. VIA Rail employees were not sure when they could be repaired, so after smelling the urine stench for most of the day, we asked for another room. We were then moved to Car 222, even further away from our traveling companions in Car 213. In addition to the Car 216 toilets being inoperable for the entire trip, it should be noted that the bedrooms on the train were not clean as they were dusty and had dirt on the walls and in corners.

      10) Due to the 12 hour delay of VIA Rail, we spent three nights instead of two nights on the train. Several times while on the train, the tour director informed us that we were missing all of the good scenery, as it was dark outside when traveling pass these scenic areas. It was very disappointing to have been told this several times. Additionally, we spent a night on the train that should have been spent at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. We lost one night of luxury to another sleepless night on the train. During the night, the train was traveling at approximately 90 mph, and being in the back of the train in Car 222, we were whipped around causing sleepless nights.

      We have traveled with several tour companies and have never experienced anything as deplorable as our GCT tour. For the reasons outlined above, we attempted to get some type of compensation from GCT, but were only offered a $200 voucher to use on a future GCT trip.

      Needless to say, we were quite disappointed with GCT and have decided not to travel with Grand Circle Travel (GCT) again as this was a very expensive trip with very little compensation offered for such an awful experience.


      • #4
        Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

        Yes, we have had endured a similar experience with GCT. We had booked a river trip in late April/May 06, and, as we all know, there was terrible flooding on the rivers, the Danube was highest in 100 years. We were alarmed, so we (all of us in our group) independently called GCt to get info on the situation, were we even going, was there to be a 'deviation', a cancelled/postponed tour, etc. We are all told, independtly, by different GCT agents that 'all was well' and that 'travellers were on the river as we speak," "no news of trouble", etc. When we got to Bucherest we were told that it was going to be a 'bus' trip, and the itinery would be on a day to day basis. We tried to call GCT from Romania and were put on hold, then told that they would respond in 24 hours. Never heard from them again. We were thus dragged all over Eastern Europe, a place I never wanted to see (it is pretty much ruined, thanks to so many years under Communist care). Lots of folks were elderly and infirm, and couldn't handle the 10-12 hour bus days, and we were forced to travel in a 3 bus convoy for 'security' reasons, (so they told us). We were never given any information as to what to expect from day to day, the sanitary facilities on the bus were non existent, and folks who became ill were really in sad shape, forced to wear diapers to deal with their symptoms. Only toilets we found were very primitive and since there were three busses of us, long lines ensued. We finally did have two days on the river boat Adagio, and the captain of the boat told us that no boats had left the dock since April 2!!! We were the first to go anywhere on the Danube. Since returning home and trying to communicate with GCT we have been 'stone walled', and get only very late form letters to our registered mail. We have had, on other occasions, some very satisfactory trips with GCT, so I guess that they do well when there are no problems,but do not handle situations well. They have been bumped out of the BBB for similar response, or lack thereof, to customer complaints. The thing is, when most, if not all, of their client base is elderly people, they need to be more reassuring in future that they can and WILL meet travelers needs and issues, seen and unforseen, as they develop. We will never travel with the again.


        • #5
          Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

          We've been on about 10 Grand Circle trips and really think they are the "best bang for the buck." Other tour groups might stay in better hotels but they charge a lot more than we want to pay. Perhaps the best part about Grand Circle is that they always get you "close to the local people." Almost always we end up at some local home for lunch or dinner.....and once, in New Zealand, we actually got to stay with a local family overnight. The people in their groups are usually older, mostly retired, and tend to be really experienced travelers. Grand Circle usually provides a significant discount (instant savings) for first time travelers. I have certificates which will save the first time travelers between $100-$200 each. Let me know if you need one:


          • #6
            Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

            Just got notice of your reply...We have used GCT in the past, on more than one occasion, and had satisfactory results. However, they have some pretty shady business practices, do not reply to complaints, either during or after a trip, and change fees, policies, etc., without warning. They have been dismissed from the Better Business Bureau, at least in Boston, for these reasons. We had a very dissatisfying experience as noted in my post of 2006 and, after several complaints, including calling them long distance from Budapest, we witheld and contested some of the fees charged for this river trip that never happened..Seems that when things go wrong, they do not address problems, and therefore have a huge population of travellers who wouldn't touch them. Enough said. Just hope that nothing goes wrong.


            • #7
              Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

              We also just had a bad experience with GCT - fortunately we had the experience before we traveled with them, and were able to cancel the trip. We booked a trip to China 1 1/2 years in advance so we could get business class seats. Nine months later we were informed there weren't anymore business class seats available. In the meantime they have had our money for 9 months. I think something is fishy. We just retired and plan on traveling extensively the next 10 years, and it won't be with GCT.


              • #8
                Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                Interestingly, we got at least 1/2 of our money back by challenging the credit charge to our AMEX...two other people with same expeience challenged the entire amount, and CGT never protested. So, indeed, the lesson learned is to put it on a reputable credit card, and if you can document that you didn't get what you paid for, challenge them. GCT knew they were in the wrong, and just let it pass, in every case.


                • #9
                  Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                  I guess we've just been lucky. We have always put together groups and for the past 5 or 6 years we have used GCT for all our group travel. In our 10 trips with GCT we have never been disappointed. Even when problems arise, they have responded with very fair treatment. For example last year we took a group of 26 people on their Sicily trip. When one of the Hotels in Taormina canceled our group at the last minute, GCT found a better hotel for us and extended an "open bar" for the entire group for the full 6 nights. They also included our dinners every night at no cost. Our entire group felt they did a lot more that would be expected. Our groups have numbered over 40 people on some of the trips.....and not one of our members has ever had a major conflict with Grand Circle. Problems can arise with any tour group. For us we have always found GCT to respond appropriately. We have seen a few people unhappy about some specific.....some people like a mandatory seat rotation on the bus, others hate mandatory seat rotation. You can't please everyone! When our groups travel, people want to sit with friends......that's why they are traveling together in the first place. But not everyone is the same. Maybe the difference is that most in our group are pretty experienced travelers.....and they have the ability to cope with some things that are less than perfect. Grand Circle has sure met our needs very well.


                  • #10
                    Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                    fWell, guess it's a grab bag with them. We took a wonderful trip all over Mexico with Caravan, and had done one with GCT another prior year. Caravan was ever so superior...good guide, all was included, including most dinners. Might give them a try sometime for comparison...


                    • #11
                      Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                      Originally posted by norminaz View Post
                      Maybe the difference is that most in our group are pretty experienced travelers.....and they have the ability to cope with some things that are less than perfect. Grand Circle has sure met our needs very well.
                      My husband and I have made 20 trips to Europe in the last 25 years. I have organized and led study tours for college students--talk about the ability to cope with things that are less than perfect! Try going with 20 college students!

                      The problems with Grand Circle are far beyond what even experienced travelers should have to cope with. Maybe you've just been lucky.

                      We expected less than convenient air connections because of the price we paid, but Grand Circle habitually books connections that are impossible.--for example, 30 minutes to change from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 at Heathrow. Any experienced traveler knows that Heathrow's own information says to allow at least 75 minutes for that transfer.

                      We don't do bus trips--we hire cars and drive in Europe, but we wanted to do Grand Circle's river trips. We've done 4, each with more problems than the last.

                      This month we went as "Inner Circle members"--a big joke. We got a name and telephone extension for a personal travel advisor and then discovered that when you call, there's not an oppportunity in the automated system to enter an extension.

                      I had questions about air arrangments and the person I was talking to at GC hung up on me.

                      They don't want people with travel experience--we're more likely to know a rip-off when we see one.


                      • #12
                        Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                        Would you please write some of your impressions about the Program Directors? I have just applied for such a job and would like to know, what your expectations would be in such problematic situations. I welcome any remarks about your experiences.
                        Thank you.


                        • #13
                          Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                          According to grannyonthego : we wanted to do Grand Circle's river trips. We've done 4, each with more problems than the last.

                          My wife and I have only done one River Cruise with GCT and that was on the Nile. We thought it was a delight in every way. The above writer has had 4 bad experiences with GCT. From reading other discussions, a lot of people have bad experiences with a lot of different tour companies on River Cruises. Of course if the water is low, they have to bus people. Locks sometimes have to close for repairs, etc. But it is a fact that: In 2007 TRAVEL AND LEISURE readers voted Grand Circle: THE WORLD'S
                          BEST......THE #1 BEST VALUE CRUISE LINE

                          That seems like a pretty heavy endorsement to me.


                          • #14
                            Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                            It's not 'because the water was low' that one of our trips (the absolute last with Grand Circle) was ruined. It was because they 'out and out LIED to us' and said, when we called 2 days in advance of the scheduled trip to ask about the condition of the river, etc. They said, "oh, everything is fine now; there are boats on the river as we speak...don't worry'

                            And when we got there and spoke to a few others ahead of us, and to a boat captain or two, they confirmed that there had not been any boats on the river for weeks...and the big "bus Trip' was a certainity...never any other plan. And when some of us called long distance back to the States to GCT, they wouldn't respond, just said, 'put yourselves in the hands of the Tour Leader'...wouldn't return our call, etc, put us on eternal hold, etc., and other tactics that were intended to discourage us. We felt very trapped.

                            And then, first night in the hotel, before the beginning of the bus trip, we met the bus trip group that had preceded us, now at the end of a very disagreeable experience, and they were of a group mind to sue!! They said the trip was very disagreeable, no toilets available, bad food, no freedom to roam, 10-12 hour days on the bus, etc..

                            So we embarked feeling pretty bad about it all; one man on the bus was totally blind; nothing was done to ensure his safety, the busses were not very nice or clean;Tour Leader was very dictatorial and insensitive to the needs of the 40 elderly people on his bus, who had come intending to be on a river boat, and were not prepared for the rigors of a long,long bus ride, flexibility, and a very Eastern European, condescending attitude. One of our stope to have "hungarian gulosh' a traveller found a huge piece of glass in her response!!! from anyone, the Tour Leader, cafe owner, or anyone. In Prague, we paid full price to hear a concert, full sympony, etc., picking our our individual reserved seats on a symphony hall chart (with a printed ticket to confirm a certain seat and price; the reality was it was a string quartet, in a small side hall, with no seats for us...all were already taken!!!! so we made a huge fuss in the hall until they finally vacated a few for us...complaints to GCT tour leader next morning were just shrugged off.!!! And so it went, the entire bus trip...a nightmare.

                            People have a right to know these things. And when we returned to the states, at least 100 people complained to gCT, with absolutely NO response, explanation, etc. This, in my opinion, is fraud.!!!! naked fraud.


                            • #15
                              Re: Grand Circle Travel (GCT) - not so grand

                              For "Symbol": On our 4 Grand Circle river trips, the program directors were all nice, caring young people who apparently just don't have the authority to make any real changes. My impression is that they are just as "trapped" by decisions made back in the offices as the travelers are.

                              As oldgirl notes, we're not complaining about things that truly are out of the company's control, e.g. the weather, the water level of the Rhine. I'm talking about things like having our air itinerary changed at the last minute and their failing to notify their own people in Europe that the changes were made. When we failed to arrive on the originally scheduled flight, we were marked off as no-shows. I have a letter in the mail to the owners of Grand Circle right now about this month's trip, and I state in the letter that the only thing I'm asking for is an honest explanation for our shabby treatment.

                              The Company knew very well before oldgirl's group left that the water levels wouldn't allow the boat trip--that kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. Why weren't they allowed the opportunity to decide whether they were up to a bus trip or would prefer to cancel?


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