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People and Culture

The History of Grand Circle Travel

Each journey begins with a dream. Grand Circle Travel began as part of Ethel Andrus’ dream to help retired Americans lead more vital, challenging, and politically active lives. In 1958, Andrus—a retired teacher and principal—founded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). She then created Grand Circle Travel to be the travel service arm of this new organization.

Recognizing the power of travel to offer new challenges and to invigorate minds, she insisted that Grand Circle tours be designed specifically for her peer group—offering excellent service, easy pacing, and unique opportunities to discover local people and cultures firsthand. Today, these founding principles still shape Grand Circle vacations.

For many years, Grand Circle Travel was based in New York City where it served members of AARP until 1982 (Grand Circle Travel now serves all mature Americans). In 1985, Alan Lewis purchased Grand Circle Travel and moved its offices to Boston. Both he and his wife, Harriet, felt a particular affinity for Grand Circle founder Ethel Andrus and the company’s emphasis on learning and discovery: Alan comes from a long line of teachers, many of them unorthodox, and Harriet, who knew from the tender age of 14 that she would devote her life to education, was a special needs teacher for inner-city students.

In 1993, Alan and Harriet decided to expand the business and purchased Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.). Founded by Judi Wineland in 1978 to provide more authentic, adventurous, and affordable safari experiences to American travelers, O.A.T. became the first U.S. adventure travel company to offer tented safaris in Tanzania—and has been trailblazing ever since.

A few years later, in 1998, Alan and Harriet launched what is now known as Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises, a fleet of some 60 privately owned and/or chartered ships that bring Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Traveler passengers on river cruises and small ship adventures around the world.

Since opening its doors in 1958, Grand Circle has changed considerably. As of today, more than 2 million travelers have joined us on unforgettable, discovery-filled Grand Circle and O.A.T. trips to more than 90 countries. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the years—and that’s the unquenchable spirit of discovery and lifelong learning that inspires our travelers. Ethel Andrus would be proud. And so are we.

347 Congress Street

When you step into 347 Congress Street you are not just entering the world headquarters of the Grand Circle family of travel companies.

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