Grand Circle: A Family Tradition

More than 25 years of travel with Grand Circle has provided unforgettable experiences for this family

Linda Totten, 17-time traveler, Waco, Texas

It occurred to me recently that Grand Circle has become a family tradition for us. It began with my mom and dad, Betty and Alexander, who started traveling with Grand Circle before the Lewises bought it from AARP. But my parents’ travels began well before that …

My mom and dad went away together for the first time on their honeymoon in 1935. They were married in Waukegan, Illinois, and drove to Canada to honeymoon. Due to various events, they never had much money to travel, but in 1954, we went as a family from Pittsburgh (where we were living) to St. Petersburg, Florida, for Christmas. Our family vacations usually took us to places in Wisconsin where we could fish, swim, boat, and hike through the woods. We rented a basic cabin with a screened-in porch and outside plumbing. It was a lot of fun for my brother and me, although maybe not for our mother!

In 1960, they traveled for the first time to Europe on their own. They continued visiting Europe by themselves for the next few years, planning each mode of transportation, hotel, restaurant, and tourist site visit. By the time the 1970s rolled around, my folks began traveling with AARP travel companies—visiting the Far East, Great Britain, and staying in Torremolinos, Spain in the Bajondillo Apartments. My father claimed he taught the bartenders there how to make a decent martini.

Grand Circle trips have become something of a family tradition for Linda and her family: Along with Linda and her husband Doug, her parents and brother and sister-in-law have also traveled with Grand Circle. Pictured here from left at Victoria Peak in Hong Kong: Linda’s brother Ross Wyllie and his wife LaVeta Wyllie, and Doug and Linda Totten.

My dad passed away in 1983, but my mother kept traveling on her own. I went with her to London, Paris, and Vienna in 1987—which was my first Grand Circle vacation. Since Grand Circle was bought by the Lewis family, my mom has stayed at Dolphin Square on an extended London trip, traveled through the United Kingdom, visited Canada, and went back to Torremolinos a few more times. She was an artist and liked to do watercolor sketches of the new destinations she visited, like the mountain villages in Spain, which she painted in oils when she got home.

In the late 1990s, my mom didn’t feel she was able to travel anymore because of her health, but because of her wonderful past trips with Grand Circle, my husband Doug and I decided to continue the Grand Circle tradition. Since then, we’ve traveled all over the world with Grand Circle, and at present, we’re planning our 18th trip.

Our first River Cruise was The Great Rivers of Europe, which we traveled on with my brother Ross and his wife LaVeta. It was fantastic because we were able to go through many locks, and cruise down three important European rivers: the Rhine, Main, and Danube. It was on this trip that we discovered the delights of river travel. We only had to unpack once, most of our meals were provided for us, we covered a lot of territory, and the walking tours gave us an up-close and personal view of the cities and towns we visited. Another bonus is the fact that you spend more time with other travelers during meals, entertainment on board, and port talks. This provides an atmosphere in which it’s easy to make lasting friendships. We’ve continued to travel and communicate with several people we’ve met during our River Cruises.

Linda and her husband Doug (in black) traveled on their first River Cruise—The Great Rivers of Europe—with her brother Ross (in red) and his wife LaVeta (center).

On our Romance of the Rhine & Mosel River Cruise, we not only met some people who have become life-long friends—Gus and Betty Lou Allen—but Doug took me up Mount Pilatus from Lucerne … the way he visited the location many years before on a business trip. We really enjoyed our Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River CruiseTour. The extensions in Prague and Romania were “icing on the cake.” We particularly liked Romania and the people we met there.

This year, we took two River Cruises: Burgundy & Provence to the Cote d’Azur and Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg. France is very picturesque and lovely with its little villages and towns. We traveled on this River Cruise with Gus and Betty Lou. Together, we’ve traveled along the Dalmatian Coast with Grand Circle’s sister company, OAT; seen the Highlights of South Africa; visited Ireland in Depth—and we’re now going with them to Sicily this February.

Linda and Doug met Betty Lou and Gus (at the head of the table)—whom they continue to travel with—on their Romance of the Rhine & Mosel River Cruise. Here, Doug and Linda enjoy dinner with some of their fellow travelers.

Russia was so surprising to us. We expected “Stalin-esque” gray buildings and dour people. Instead there were colorful, Western European-inspired buildings, friendly people, and many churches that were either in use or in the process of being restored. Our Program Director took us to the house he grew up in and introduced us to his parents. It was very special.

One of our favorite trips was Highlights of South Africa. We were charged by an elephant; raided by baboons; and made reservations at the Casbah Bar to have a beer so we could visit an opulent and famous Palace Hotel in Sun City. It was a country of contrasts, beautiful views, and fantastic animal preserves and parks.

Betty Lou and Gus joined Linda and Doug on their Highlights of South Africa vacation—one of their favorite trips. Pictured from left at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa: Doug, Linda, Betty Lou, and Gus.

Doug and I love Grand Circle because they provide so much for the best price. The service is fantastic from our first call to Boston until we are on the plane coming home. Our Program Directors seem to get better with each trip—they’re amazingly informed, tactful, organized, and people-oriented. When we travel on a trip, we are provided with the total travel experience, including visiting homes and schools where we can interact with local people and discover what their everyday lives are like. We have been gratified, horrified, astounded, and thrilled by some of the things we have learned. And sometimes, our experiences have just been plain fun.

Our trips continue to get better and better. On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank the whole Grand Circle crew for providing us with unforgettable travel experiences.

Have generations of your family traveled with Grand Circle? I’d love to hear about your travel experiences with us. Please share them with me at