Spain and Portugal
September 16 - October 4, 2014

Up until now I've traveled independently, but it seemed a good time to try an organized approach. The Grand Circle Tour lasted two weeks, and I added one night at the beginning in Madrid and three nights at the end in Lisbon. What attracted me most with Grand Circle is that they waived the single supplement. The tour was $2,300, not including airfare or gratuities for the tour director and bus driver. I used points for my flights.

My usual travel buddies haven't been available since 2009 and I was getting tired of going to Europe on my own. Once I reached the point where I could let go of my need to be in control, I fit right into the guided tour mentality. I even surprised myself.

Of the 39 tour participants 11 were single people -- and very nice people with whom to travel. I'm guessing the age range of all the participants was 50-75 and they were pretty well physically fit. According to Grand Circle's literature, the tour company was created for AARP members.

The downside to taking a tour is always going to be giving up control -- too long in one spot, not long enough in another, staying in large, tour-oriented hotels versus small, charming inns, etc. Since I'm pretty well attached to my camera, there was many a missed photo op. In this case, the upsides balanced the downsides. It was nice getting to a hotel and not having to stand in line to check-in or to check-out. Guided tours in each location were organized for us, our bus was always there without my needing to make advance arrangements or having to rent a car. Someone else handled my luggage. Speaking of luggage, I had a hard time leaving my bag outside my door that first time. I'm not very trusting and I hoped my bag would not disappear into thin air. At least we needed to get our bags outside our rooms only 15-30 minutes before the bus departed.

In 13 nights we stayed in five hotels. My preference is to stay 3-6 nights in each location. I'm not sure why tours feel the need to jump around so much. At least on this tour there were three hotels where we stayed three nights each. With the extra nights I added, I stayed in seven hotels in 17 nights. It's a good thing I pack light.

The tour hotels were all four-star and well situated. All offered air-conditioned rooms, free wi-fi and buffet breakfast. My only complaint was how hard the beds were -- and that seemed to be across the board. One thing I found nice, traveling solo, was not getting the smallest, worst room in the hotel as is typical in Europe. Buffet breakfasts, for the most part, were extensive and good. The group meals were just okay -- some of the locations were unique, but the food was rather bland. Most lunches were on our own and so were about half the dinners.

One of the best benefits of taking this tour was Alberto, our tour director. So charming and informative. He watched over us like we were his flock of sheep. Hmmm, I guess there's some truth there.

That about sums up my thoughts about the tour concept. This was my first time in both Spain and Portugal. They were not on my radar and I booked late and spur-of-the-moment. Hotel stays were in Madrid, Cordoba, Torremolinos, Seville and Lisbon. Along the way we also stopped in Toledo, Granada, Malaga, Ronda as well as Sintra and Cascais in Portugal.