Rating this safari tour operator is a little difficult as I believe that a company is only as good as their travel agents and the people they contract with in Africa. My travel agent was the only reason I chose this company. She made the trip and itinerary come alive for me and I was "sold" the very first time I spoke with her. Unfortunately, I have heard she is leaving this company, therefore I would have some trepidation about recommending the company.
The trip did not start out the best. When I arrived at Kilimanjaro there was no one to greet me! Fortunately two gentlemen from another tour company assisted by calling the contract company in Africa's representative, Justin, for me. Justin laughed and said he thought I was supposed to have arrived the day before, then had a taxi take me to my hotel in Arusha where he met me and minimized the issue with a brief apology. Not a good way to start a journey!
Happily, the contract guide was fabulous. He was with us the entire time we were in Tanzania and not only found game for us, but provided interesting history and facts about the animals and the country. He was truly amazing and I would not hesitate to recommend him as a guide. He made the time in Tanzania much more memorable.
When we flew from the Serengeti to Kenya (several take-offs/landings) we arrived at Arusha where Justin met us and drove us to Kilimanjaro (Serengeti-Arusha-Kilimanjaro-Nairobi Wilson). A very harrowing experience through traffic and nearly hitting a man on a bicycle. We found out later we could have flown directly to Kilimanjaro, but Justin wanted time to "chat" with us before we left Tanzania! That does not show thoughtfulness toward the traveler.
Upon arrival at Nairobi Wilson we were met by Daniel, a 'stand in' for our scheduled guide Ken. On the way to our camp we had a short game drive with very little input from Daniel. After the experience with our terrific guide we were not impressed with this "welcome". However, upon meeting Ken later in the evening our hopes brightened considerably - especially since he told us he was the best guide in the Maasai Mara. He proved to be very good and made sure we had superb game viewing.
The accommodations were wonderful: Mt. Meru Hotel in Arusha was beautiful - with a large garden area in the back, gorgeous pool (although it was too cold for us to use), friendly & helpful staff, and I had the best Caesar salad ever!
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge (Tanzania) is a marvel. How they got all the materials up there is a wonderment. We had quite a walk to our room (although some were farther than ours), but we managed. The meals were all buffet and I would rate them only a "good", as I've had much better. There was quite a variety, but there was just something missing. I'm sure others have rated their food higher - all depends on taste. The rooms were huge and hot water bottles were placed in our beds - a very nice touch since it was quite cold. The best part of the lodge (in my opinion) was the view into the crater and watching the sunset.
Kati Kati Camp (Serengeti) was fabulous on all counts. Not luxurious, but that's not what we wanted, as we asked to be on the plains surrounded by the sounds of animals. Our tent was large & clean with a sink, toilet and bucket shower. Our dining tent was open and faced the plains. It was staffed by wonderful men who looked after our every need and served the most delicious food - with a new soup each night: tomato, peanut, & cucumber - each one better than the previous. Sitting around the campfire with our glass of wine watching the hyenas circling was something I will never forget, nor will I forget drinking coffee watching the sun rise on the Serengeti.
Sarova Mara Camp (Maasai Mara, Kenya) was like an oasis. Unless we looked at the sides of our 'room' we never would have believed we were in a tent - beautiful wood floors, marble bath and shower, mosquito netting around our beds (although it was not needed when we were there). The grounds were beautifully kept and the facilities were exceptional. From the moment we entered the staff was there to assist and during our stay always greeted us by name no matter where we were. The food here was also buffet and was very good - something different every night and I tried several new dishes. They had a pasta station at night and an omelet station for breakfast, along with salads, pastries, coffee and many kinds of tea. I also had a wonderful massage the night before leaving - only $60/hour and well worth it after riding the bumpy roads in a Land Cruiser all day. Sarova Mara would definitely be on my 'recommendation' list!
Well, the animals of course! We saw all of the Big Five and more - a leopard taking her kill up an Acacia tree, a lioness just after bringing down a zebra, the prides of lions with their cubs, the herds of elephants with their babies, the gazelle with their little black tails constantly swinging, the zebra staring at us as we passed by, the goofy, crazy wildebeest, the rhino with the longest horn ever, the families of baboons, the cheetah brothers being followed by a hyena, the giraffes and babies, the pools of hippos, the beautiful birds, vultures fighting over a carcass, a balloon ride and champagne breakfast, on and on and on. As each day passes, I remember more events!
Two events stand out above all the rest:
1. Getting to see the Great Migration - one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Africa at this time of year. Although the crossing we saw was small in comparison (only about 7,000 wildebeest) it was nevertheless an awesome spectacle.
2. My travel agent set up a visit at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi - where I got to meet my adopted baby elephant, Kamok, along with all the other rescued baby elephants. My agent also introduced me to the Sheldrick Trust and I will be forever thankful to her.
I don't know if I would do anything differently - except maybe pack a little lighter! I stayed at the 33# requirement (which was never checked) but my back pack got pretty heavy by the end of the journey.
A recommendation for anyone looking to book with a group....DON'T! At least don't book with any more than four in your party, with two being optimal. We saw so many large groups crammed into vans and no way could the people in back get good photos or even see everything.
Another recommendation: Check out your guide before booking - he can make or break the safari experience.
Oh, and I wouldn't fly Qatar Airlines! Totally inept at communication on ground and in the air. I don't know how they can claim to be a "premier" airline.
Travel Company's Comments
I am happy that the Creecy party had a good trip overall. The positive comments on the safari outweighed the negative. If a traveler is unhappy no matter what the issue, we need to address their concerns. The missed pick up from the airport never should have happened. I cannot think of the last time the trip our company arranged missed a pick up for a traveler but this is no way to start a trip.
I have called Ms. Creecy and spoke to her about the trip and apologized once again for the errors that occurred. There are no excuses, it happened due to a miscommunication on our end and it will not happen again. All services promised were performed with the exception of the initial pick up. Our associate in Tanzania said to take a taxi only because it would have taken him over an hour to get to the airport and this was the most efficient/quickest way for them to get to the hotel without any further delays.
Justin, is the owner of our Tanzania transport company. He is a caring man and typical of East African personalities, it is their nature to respond with a smile in a negative situation. They feel if they smile and make light comments, the traveler will not be upset. Justin was trying to react in a way that would please the traveler and make the missed pick up and cross town trip a bit more palatable. I understand that this reaction can be easily misunderstood as disrespect for the traveler but it is a difference in our cultures. They are very proud people and do not like saying a mistake was made or placing blame. I have seen this many times during my years of working in East Africa. We would prefer they just tell the truth, that is what our clients want to hear. Arusha Town is crowded and traffic awful. I certainly can imagine how hair raising a rushed drive would be
As far as the stops on the internal airlines within Africa, unfortunately, tour operators have no control of the multi-stops on the flights. These flights are set-up by the airlines and will do multiple stops to pick up travelers. If a traveler has an issue with flights, small aircraft, multi-stops, we'd like to know in advance and will adjust the itinerary to avoid any discomforts.
Ms. Creecy did say that she loved our choice of properties, itinerary and guides. From her review our tour guide was outstanding. Ms. Creecy pointed out a very important issue, make sure you have a good guide and we did provide the same. We are very proud of our guides and hand select them for their knowledge and personalities. This guide has led many of our safaris. In the Mara, they were booked in a game package with a Mara Sarova staff guide. For the airport transfer, a representative is sent to meet travelers, he is not a guide. On the game drives they met their professional guide, Ken and state they liked him as well.
I would like to assure Ms. Creecy that I strive to have a caring and knowledgeable staff. What she found so appealing in her agent is our standard. The comment is that your trip will only be as good as your agent…. is so true. Our company is also only as good as its’ staff and our associates. Mistakes are made and believe me I wish there was never one mistake, it happens. As President of the company, I try to make sure that the staff not only knows the destination but can turn that into a successful trip down to every small detail that are so important in making a trip a success. Ultimately I am responsible for the quality of a trip and any errors that are made. Our company has been planning safaris for over 40 years, there is a reason we have this staying power, it is because we care, but we are not perfect.
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