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Author: svncontinents

Joined: 11/25/2011
Posts: 230
Traveler Since: 2007

May 23, 2012

We've taken a combined 9 trips with Grand Circle and OAT, and some time ago, we noticed that Grand Circle and OAT sometimes have trips which cover many of the same venues.  We decided to look into the difference, and what we have found may be useful to travelers deciding between the two, when the intineraries appear to be quite similar.  Grand Circle trips are generally less strenuous and do not have any 'adventurous' esxperiences, such as hiking or any kind of physical activity beyond getting on and off the bus.  OAT, OTOH, may involve some hiking, walking over unpaved and back country roads and trails.  Additionally, OAT clients may visit more 'rustic' areas and get more involved with local people than will clients of Grand Circle.  Grand Circle clients will visit more upscale restaurants while OAT clients will visit more authentic restaurants.  Regardless, the food is good on either trip.  Ditto for the hotels, although all hotels are up to and excede western standards, regardless of whether you choose Grand Circle or OAT.  Additionally, OAT groups are smaller( never more than 16 ), while Grand Circle trips have up to 40.  You'll get closer to your program director on an OAT trip, although you won't be ignored as an individual on a Grand Circle trip; the program director will still send you a welcome e-mail and will know your name by the time you get on the bus for your first experience.

Of course, OAT will be a bit more epensive than Grand Circle primarily due to differences in group size, and your tips will be higher than with Grand Circle, pretty much for the same reason.  But the fundamental difference is in the nature of the experience you will get.  OAT offers are more authentic experience, while the Grand Circle trips offer you more of an experience as a 'tourist.'  

So, when planning a trip and deciding between the two, if both offer a trip to the same locale, choose according to the type of experience you want in that part of the world.  Regardless of which you select, you won't be disappointed.  We never have been, which is why we have take 9 trips, with a 10th upcoming, and continue to travel with Grand Circle/OAT( we have pre-booked an OAT trip to Nepal for 2013 ).  We cannot recommend them more highly.

Author: oldbog

Joined: 2/6/2011
Posts: 39
Traveler Since: 1999

May 23, 2012

 I'm not sure that I would catergorize GC trips as having "upscale restaurant" meals or less authentic ones.  Most included meals are good but not lavish/top chef types.  The various home-hosted ones are certainly authentic....a village meal in Fiji comes to mind.

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 958
Countries Visited:

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, Russia, Ukraine

Traveler Since: 1999

May 23, 2012

That's a really good comparative description. 

Except that I agree with oldbog about the "upscale" restaurants.   To me, they're more mid-range.  The food is usually very good, but upscale describes the kind of place you take someone for a celebration meal when you don't mind paying a lot of money.

GCT groups are now limited to no more than 36 to 38 people.  And on the river cruises, the travelers are divided into groups of no more than 40.  I think that on what were OAT cruises, the groups are limited to a maximum of 25.

The home-hosted meals I had were, with a couple of exceptions, really good and authentic (as far as I could tell).  One exception was when we were all taken to a restaurant that was owned by the host family rather than to someone's home.  And the other was the first one I went to  -  in Torremolinos where the family served a very perfunctory selection of what were supposed to be Spanish dishes, didn't make any attempt to be friendly or crack a smile, and then demanded money before we left.  Fortunately, our PD had come in to tell us the bus was there and put a stop to that.

 

Author: jandb

Joined: 3/10/2010
Posts: 33
Traveler Since: 1999

May 23, 2012

 We have taken trips with Grand Circle and with OAT.  We are leaving tomorrow for Prague and the cruise from Budapest to the Black Sea.  In November we will go to Patagonia and the Wilderness Beyond.  These are two very different trips and our expectations for them are very different.  

When GCT/OAT offer similar trips, I prefer the OAT trip because of the smaller size group and the activities which frequently go beyond the usual tourist experience.  

Author: svncontinents

Joined: 11/25/2011
Posts: 230
Traveler Since: 2007

May 24, 2012

 There's one other difference that we forgot to mention:  Shopping.  We have found that there are more obligatory shopping stops on Grand Circle than comparable OAT trips.  Perhaps that's just a conicidence. If we had our druthers, we'd eliminate the shopping stops in favor of other cultural experiences.  After all, it's a short trip to see all there is to see in a few short days at each location.  And time wasted shopping, is IMHP, toime wasted.  I sarcastically say that Grand Circle should offer a 'shopping' optional excursion on their trips, where those who travel to shop could take it and leave the rest of us free to see the cultural things we came to see.  Grand Circle could also make money on it as well. 

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 958
Countries Visited:

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, Russia, Ukraine

Traveler Since: 1999

May 24, 2012

Sometimes, the stops for shopping are also stops for using restrooms.  Sometimes, you are taken to visit a craft place, such as the Avoca weavers in Ireland.  Sometimes, there is a gift shop attached to the place you stop for lunch.  I don't mind spending a little time doing that.  I do object to time wasted when the stop is only for shopping and the guide is obviously getting a commission.  But that only happened to me once with another tour company many years ago.

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 511
Countries Visited:

Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Monoco, Croatia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji

Traveler Since: 2006

May 24, 2012

I don't recall any upscale restaurants on GCT trips either. 

There were more shopping stops on OAT Morocco than any GCT trip that I've taken and on OAT Egypt we had carpet, perfume, jewelry and papyrus stops. On GCT Discover South America, I remember only one -- a lapis jewelry store, but they gave us Pisco Sours, so it wasn't totally boring. I think both GCT and OAT Turkey trips stop at a pottery studio and a carpet shop. Activity levels and shopping stops differ on trips, so reading the itinerary is necessary rather than assuming that all GCT's trips will have less walking than an OAT trip.

Shopping stops are generally listed in the itinerary too so you know before you go what you're in for but it isn't always possible to opt out. There have been several posts in the past suggesting the shopping stops be optional but I don't know if there have been any changes on that. I hope so.

Many travelers prefer OAT because of the smaller size groups, but I decide based on the itinerary, generally the size of the GCT group hasn't bothered me and there is usually enough free time that I can get out and walk as long as I want to.

Author: gaynell

Joined: 8/12/2010
Posts: 135
Traveler Since: 2005

May 24, 2012

What interesting observations from everyone about the differences between OAT and GCT.  I think that everyone can agree that the quality of lodging, food, and tour directors on both are more than satisfactory. We have taken several OAT tours as a couple, and some GCT tours with my parents, who are in their mid-eighties. I think the main differences between the two are group size, and the level and types of activities.

The larger size of the GCT tours is a real negative for us.  Just waiting while 35 people use the restrooms somewhere is annoying, and there are so many places where a large bus doesn't fit. We enjoy the more intensive dialog with our tour directors and with our OAT traveling companions. We like the more active parts of the OAT tours, and prefer to travel a little closer to the ground  We don't want to return to our backpacking, youth hostel days, or to traveling the world in a VW Van, but we don't want to be isolated from the people and the culture, either. Whenever possible, we choose OAT tours. 

But once in a while, the GCT itinerary for a trip has more desireable sights and activities on it, and we choose a GCT tour alone.  Russia Revealed was one of those; OAT had nothing similar in its list of trips. The itinerary truly is the bottom line. And the Euopean river cruises are so carefree; travelers of any age or ability can enjoy those.

As long as we both have enough stamina, agility,and the will to be horseback riding, zip-lining, hiking, and river rafting, I think we will continue to choose to enjoy more OAT trips. We know from watching our parents that eventually the time will  come when we are no longer to keep up on those more active trips, and hopefully when that time comes for us we can transition gracefully to the GCT tours.  

Author: donaldjudy68

Joined: 8/6/2011
Posts: 14
Traveler Since: 2011

May 25, 2012

We have taken 1 GCT trip last October (Crossroads of Turkey) and 1 OAT trip last Nov/Dec (The Panama Canal).  Both were wonderful trips with nice people and good guides.  I feel that we were  more active on the Turkey trip compared to the Panama Canal.  It wasn't just "get on and off the bus", but we did a lot of walkiing and climbling.  We actually had a younger group on the Turkey trip than on the Panama Canal.  The smaller group is very nice, but we look more at the itinerary for the trips. These were our first group tours as we usually travel independently.

Author: luisa

Joined: 3/13/2010
Posts: 511
Countries Visited:

Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Monoco, Croatia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji

Traveler Since: 2006

May 26, 2012

donaldjudy: "I feel that we were more active on the Turkey trip compared to the Panama Canal." 

I had the same experience, that's why I think it's not a good idea to generalize about age and activity. Of the eight trips I've taken the oldest participants were on two OAT trips; they were fit and active but older than those of the GCT trips.

Author: gaynell

Joined: 8/12/2010
Posts: 135
Traveler Since: 2005

August 11, 2012

Luisa, I agree with you.  It's not so much about chronological age, but rather, about the ability level of the traveler. We have been on  adventure trips with folks in their eighties who could run circles around us, and also on some trips with folks much younger than we are, who couldn't keep up with the activity level at all.  A traveler's age is not important .

I think what is important is to read (and believe!) the "What you need to know" blurb about the trips you are considering, and objectively evaluate whether or not you are able participate in the various parts of the trip. Check out the travelers' reviews and the forums, too, before you sign up for a journey. Some trips, such as the river cruises, are more easily adapted than others. Some may not be possible for everyone. There is some overlap in the ability levels between Grand Circle and OAT trips, as has been pointed out.

I shall never forget a fellow traveler named Luci, a decade older than I am, who wowed me with her grace and stamina on an OAT trip.  She took Yoga, dance classes, and Pilates at home in order to stay flexible and strong so she could continue to travel the world. Someone like that is my hero! 

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