Cuba with Grand Circle Foundation

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I am interested in a tour to Cuba offered by Grand Circle Foundation . I have never travelled with Grand Circle (or OAT which I believe may be affiliated). I know the tour has only been offered very recently but if anyone has taken the tour to Cuba or has heard from someone who has, I would appreciate any comments, both good and bad, about the tour. Also, comments about Grand Circle Foundation's tours are appreciated. (Not sure if their regular tours differ from the Foundation tours.) Thank you.

I have not been to Cuba, so I cannot comment on that end of it. However, since you've never travelled with Grand Circle before, just want you to be aware that generally their tour groups are large in number (they can be 40 people or more). There are quite a few companies that offer smaller group tours to Cuba, so you might want to do further research and comparison before you commit yourself to Grand Circle. OAT is owned by Grand Circle, but they limit the size of their tour groups to no more than 16-24 participants. OAT's website does not presently indicate that they offer a tour to Cuba (nor does Grand Circle's for that matter), but if they do you would be better off with OAT in terms of group size. Lots of other tour companies have "gotten in on the action" as well, so hope you don't think that Cuba is offered only by Grand Circle.

One other piece of advice is that if Grand Circle and/or OAT does offer a tour to Cuba and you still decide to take it, do not book their first departure. You don't want to be a "guinea pig". Because Cuba is a "developing country" the first tour offered by Grand Circle is likely to have some kinks in it that will need to be sorted out for subsequent departures. The reason I say that is because Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) offers several educational study programs to Cuba and from some feedback that I saw about it on their "social network", it looks like their first one last fall had a number of things that didn't quite go as planned.

According to Grand Circles' FAQ section (

How many people will be in my group?
Depending on your trip, Grand Circle groups number 35-45 travelers. The group size on OAT's land adventures is 16; Small Ship adventures range from 16-32, depending on the size of your ship.

OK, I see your program now at

It is accessible through OAT's homepage at, but is not listed as a tour destination in OAT's pulldown menu (nor is it listed in Grand Circle's pulldown menu of tour destinations), which is why I initially couldn't find it.

It specifically states small group, never more than 12-20 travellers, so you are OK on group size.

Its first departure isn't until May 1, 2012, so there's no one who would be able to comment about their experience yet.

The departures are every 3 or 4 days from May through December (with the exception of July and August when the trip doesn't operate). 10 out of the first 11 departures are already fully booked, so you don't have to worry about being in the first group after all.

Not previously familiar with any other Grand Circle or OAT tour offerings listed under the auspices of Grand Circle Foundation. However, group trips to Cuba are not "tours" in the true sense of the word. In order for a US tour company to qualify for a license to Cuba under Treasury Department regulations, they have to be "people-to-people" trips focusing exclusively on meeting Cubans and learning about their culture. For more information on the subject see

Thus Grand Circle might have felt that in order to distinguish their Cuba "people-to-people" trips from an ordinary tour, they had to list it under the auspices of the Grand Circle Foundation as opposed to their Grand Circle or OAT tours per se.

That all being said, while you're fine on group size and you won't be in the first few "experimental groups", I recommend that you still compare their trip with other companies in terms of price and itinerary.

Two of the most experienced organizers of open enrollment people to people trips are the Center for Cuban Studies and Insight Cuba. Compare their programs and prices at and

Keep up to date with many options by checking

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

We have been in Cuba for 12 days. There are Americans everywhere. We have run into Grand Circle Foundation, National Geographic Expeditions, other tour companies. We also heard about tours being offered by the University of California, some art museums, etc. I would suggest closely looking at the itineraries before making a decision.

My husband and I participated in the second Grand Circle Foundation tour to Cuba on December 6th, 2011. We are veteran OAT travelers and Foundation donors, and were therefore given an "invitation" to participate before the trips were opened to the general public. Here is everything I know. Hopefully the information will be helpful.

1. The trips in November & December, 2011 sold out quickly, as have most of the other trips offered in the winter and spring. No matter when you choose to go, you will not be on an exploratory departure. They have already happened.
2. The Foundation is offering the trips rather than either OAT or GCT because of the legal requirements of the US government. We traveled legally on a People-to-People program and were able to fly directly to and from Miami, without having to come in through Mexico or Canada.
3. Most of the particular details of the trip were actually overseen by Cuba........where we stayed, sometimes where we ate, what groups we met, what performances we saw. Almost every aspect of this was exceptional. We met with artists (visiting their homes and studios), dancers, musicians, senior citizens, pottery makers, basket weavers, coffee growers, children, organic farmers, religious groups, etc. We visited museums, Hemmingway's home, a botanical garden, and many historic areas. Special arrangements were made for us everywhere. Someone in our group wanted to see a Cuban baseball game. The guide got tickets for us (we only stayed for a few innings, but it was a lot of fun). Someone else in our group loved the old cars. They hired cars to drive us around in Havana. We popped in to our bus driver's home and met his wife. We rode in every kind a vehicle imaginable, including horse-drawn wagons used as taxis. And we still had free time to wander the towns and absorb the flavors of Cuba. Our tour bus was spacious and very comfortable and our driver - exceptional.
5. Some of the down-sides included a few "touristy" things such as the craft market, and the sugar mill restoration. The hotels were variable - but that's Cuba!!
6. And lastly, the guides (which "make" the trip) were fantastic. We had two - the Foundation guide (fluent in Spanish) who oversaw the details of the trip and the Cuban guide who was amazing (a University educated linguistics major, fluent in non-accented English, who has never been outside of Cuba!) and made many special experiences possible for us.