The small but popular cruise line, Grand Circle, acquires two new ships in the last week
Grand Circle Cruise Line, as it is officially known, is a small but surprisingly popular cruise line with a very loyal following. The Grand Circle X-factor is that the line does not market through travel agents – which is a very hard thing to do in the cruise business today. They only sell cruises directly to the consumer.
Not only does this mean that if you walk into a travel agency they will not mention Grand Circle, but it also means that a lot of the normal press that a person might read online about other cruise lines won’t be so easy to find for Grand Circle, because many (probably most) of those articles seen online are written by and for the travel agent community.
Still, Grand Circle is very successful cruise line because it has developed a solid reputation and core following, especially with seniors and also with the highest percentage of solo cruisers in the industry. Solo cruisers are especially attracted to Grand Circle because of its “Solo Friendly Travel: Guaranteed” policy.
Not only will the company match you up with a roommate if you ask them to do so, you can also opt to go to their online community and seek your own travel companion, much like our own “Seeking Cruise Companion” forums. When you opt to try the Grand Circle solo cruiser program they will guarantee that you will not find a lower price for a solo traveler on any comparable international trip for Americans – but if you do, they will not only match that price, but they’ll also deduct $500 from the cost of your vacation (restrictions apply). Not only that, but if for any reason they are not able to find you a roommate, they will put you in cabin by yourself for the same price as a shared cabin.
Grand Circle says it offers “four star cruising at three star prices.” This is, in fact, a very accurate statement. We all know the “star-system” of rating cruise ships is something of a fable, since as soon as the top cruise lines started achieving the top tier “five-star” status, some other cruise lines came along and claimed to be “six-star” cruise lines – a completely self-bestowed and hence meaningless honorarium.
Grand Circle does not pretend to be anything more than what it really delivers, and still it has been awarded the “best small ship cruise line” award by readers of Conde Nast Travel, for example, for many years. But the line does not focus on luxury “yacht-like” cruising where you might see a tuxedo-clad waiter bringing you caviar while you wade in the surf. What you actually get is a great cruise (or land) vacation at far better than expected prices. The focus is always upon the destination more than the vessel. The tours are comprehensive with the best guides and onboard experts in the business.
But even at three-star prices, you are going to find extraordinary vessels. In the month of March, 2014, alone Grand Circle acquired two new (to its fleet) vessels which came from very respectable stock.
First they acquired the River Cloud II, a river boat formerly owned by Sea Cloud Cruises and under operation by the prestigious Abercrombie and Kent who referred to it as “a five-star floating hotel.” It holds just 88 passengers with a crew of 35. The staterooms come in two very respectable sizes; 154 square feet, or 118 square feet.
Grand Circle will be renaming the boat the M/S Chanson and will sail on a new 13-day Bordeaux: Vineyards, Vintages & Chateaux itinerary. This trip explores Paris, Chartres, Amboise, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Cadillac, Pauillac, Blaye, Libourne, and Saint Emilion.
The River Cloud II - soon to become M/S Chanson
The cruise tour includes:
- One night at the Pullman Paris Montparnasse Hotel (or similar) in Paris, France
- Two nights at the Novotel Amboise hotel or similar in Amboise, France
- Two nights at the Best Western Masqhotel in La Rochelle, France)
- Seven nights aboard the Chanson
- 29 meals all together with complimentary beer, wine, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard
- Eight tours are also included
- Baggage handling for one piece of luggage per person, including tips; and all port charges and gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers
The M/V Corinthian
The other vessel that Grand Circle just acquired is the M/V Corinthian, a 98-passenger, ocean faring vessel that currently operates in Antarctica. Grand Circle Cruise Line had chartered the ship for the past year and will expand the Corinthian's operations with the launch of three new small ship cruise itineraries in 2015.
This ship was being chartered by the very prestigious (and expensive) Travel Dynamics International cruise line. Travel Dynamics will continue to operate the Corinthian throughout 2014, with Grand Circle Cruise Line assuming operational control when the ship returns to Antarctica in the fall.
The Corinthian is an ice-strengthened vessel with the latest technology for navigation, communications, and safety equipment. It is 297 feet long and carries 98 passengers in 49 outside-facing suites—each at least 225 square feet in area. All suites feature individual climate control, mini-refrigerator, safe, telephone, TV, DVD/CD player, a sitting area, and a private bath. An elevator serves all passenger decks. The ship's well-appointed common areas include a restaurant, two lounges—including one with panoramic windows—and a library with Internet access.
If you do not know – Travel Dynamics regularly charged as much as $500 per person per day for its Mediterranean cruises. We do not yet know what the prices will be for Grand Circle, but I would be surprised if they were that expensive. The average Mediterranean cruise on Grand Circle is closer to $175/day.