Steve's Travel Agency
Based on 56 reviews
I just got back from a wonderful two-week trip to Southern Africa and want to thank Zicasso for putting me in touch with the travel agency and Shannon, who did a wonderful job of constructing my dream trip. Everything was top-notch and well-executed, and Shannon was friendly, responsive (I'm very picky and made many revisions), and a great communicator.
When there was a wrinkle (which fortunately was very rare), she was right on top of it (in one case a lodge had booked us into their other property and tried to move us there, but Shannon showed them proof that we had booked over a year in advance and insisted we stay in the original property. They honored that).
Here is my review of specific aspects of the trip:
Cape Town. I can't say enough about the hotel, which was one of the best we'd ever stayed in. The property itself (it's a very modern and beautiful boutique hotel steps from the beach) and the customer service were wonderful. We stayed for four nights and I can't imagine a better place to stay in Cape Town. We spent one night in the wharf area before coming to the hotel and I'm so glad we opted to stay near the beach instead. Having a beautiful ocean view and being able to walk to the beach to watch the sunset every night was incredible.
Also, the staff were over-the-top amazing; they were so flexible and accommodating (if you wanted breakfast early or after the regular serving period, they would happily oblige; if you walked in with take-out, they would plate it for you and bring it to your room. They would also pick up take-out and deliver it to you).
There were also many special touches - free wine, free, stocked mini-bar, free hot cocoa, and popcorn that they would deliver to your room any time - we felt very cared for. One of the managers led us on a guided hike up Lion's Head mountain, which was super-fun (he not only brought tea and snacks, but is an excellent photographer and took beautiful photos of us that he shared). I highly recommend the activity to anyone who is reasonably fit (the views at the top are outstanding). We also did a peninsula tour and an all-day food and culture walking tour the next, and highly recommend our guide - she was delightful and fun.
The lodge. Wow, I had read all the five-star reviews of this lodge on a private reserve near Kruger before we left and wondered how it could ever meet such high expectations, but it exceeded them. This was more like 10-star than 5-star. The staff (much like the staff at our hotel in Cape Town) were so friendly, professional and responsive. They would do anything to make you happy. And like them, all of the warmth and special treatment felt genuine rather than fake or forced.
The food was amazing (and plentiful - all meals, alcohol and high tea were included), but what set this lodge apart was the amazing rangers (we were lucky to have the head ranger and his tracker). I learned so much from them about animal behavior as they were incredibly knowledgeable (and extremely respectful) of the animals. As a result, we saw all of the big five multiple times (my favorites were seeing three leopards and seven lions, including both male lions sleeping after a kill and female lions slowly hunting Cape buffalo in the early evening). We met people at this lodge who had stayed at multiple other five-star lodges and all said this one was the best, which I can believe.
Victoria Falls. The lodge was the number one rated lodge in Victoria Falls and though it was very nice, it did honestly pale by comparison to our lodge near Kruger (the outdoor bathtub and pool were both dirty and not usable. I'm not sure how one would remedy this, other than to re-order the trip so one ends in Sabi Sands).
The staff were nice and the food was wonderful, and like our other lodge, activities were included (the guided trip to Victoria Falls was very informative as was the private "sundowner" river cruise we had on our arrival night. We saw male elephants engaging in "horseplay" in the water, a trip highlight. However, the game drive (no tracker and a much smaller park) paled in comparison to those we did in Sabi Sands).
The optional (extra charge) elephant interaction at their sanctuary was really amazing and we highly recommend it to anyone staying in Victoria Falls. The falls were about a third dry because we went after the winter dry season. Shannon had warned us about this in advance, so they were a little underwhelming, but I'm still glad we went because we wanted to see them and weren't sure if we'd get back to this part of the continent on another trip. If you want to visit the falls, be sure to look at photos of how they look during certain months so your expectations are met.
Chobe River Cruise (Namibia). I'm so glad we did this cruise because it was a great way to end our trip on a really high note. We originally wanted to book the Zambezi Queen (which is bigger, more modern, and more luxurious), but only the Chobe Princess was available for our dates and we ended up getting the smallest (four rooms) of the three CPs. I thought it might be underwhelming, but I was wrong. We had a great time on our small ship with six members of a German family.
The staff were wonderful (amazing food from Chef Edgar!) and "game drives" on the river turned out to be a game-changer. Although we saw many animals during our land-based safaris, we did see different behavior from the water (elephant herds crossing the river; baboons at play for 30 minutes at a time, whereas on land, the baboons would run away; huge groups of giraffe in an open field).
Unlike on land, where you would sometimes drive 30 minutes or an hour in search of a sighting, we saw animals the entire time we were on small boat excursions from the larger boat. Essentially, we'd spend 30 minutes watching elephants and then move to crocodiles, baboons, and giraffes, etc.). Of my top recommendations for people going to Africa, it's to do this river cruise in addition to land-based safaris.
Thanks again to Shannon (and Zicasso) for making our dream trip come true. Although we've been to many wonderful places (including Patagonia, Bora Bora, Australia/New Zealand, etc), my wife and I agree that this was the best trip we've ever taken. And we will be back!