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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Who has travelled with Smart Tours or Friendly Planet??

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I could use some advise. I've been looking into some tours with Smart Tours and Friendly Planet. It appears they may be one in the same company. I would like feed back about them. It seems to me I had heard some negatives about both and before I take my plans any further, I;'d really like to know who has travelled with them and what your opinoins of them were? I really appreciate your input.

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    Day One: We arrived at JFK and looked around for the orange tags that Smart Tours provides. We spent the morning searching for more Smart Tour travelers. The South African Airways plane was set to leave at 11 am so that was good since it wasn’t some early flight at some unforgiving early hour in the morning. The flight was about 14 and half hours long from JFK to Johannesburg Airport. This is the airport that you are made to fly in to connect to your flight to go to Cape Town.
    Day Two: We arrived early in the morning and were set to get to our second flight even though we have a five hour layover before boarding. Let me address why this is important for anyone flying into this airport; this airport is beautiful but extremely confusing. Be aware of the porters around who will try to get you to pay them money just to direct you to your gate. The gates do not display on the flashing board until you are past security (yes you will have to re-check your bags and go through security again). We made the ignorant mistake of taking for granted that one of the porters upon asking him for directions would tell us where to go, instead he took us in one big circle and them demanded to be paid, do not fall for this, go directly to the security gate and show them your ticket they will tell you to proceed through security. This airport is huge and very beautiful but full of people who are looking to take advantage so just be alert.
    The five hours went by quickly and then you are off to Cape Town and are greeted by a beautiful city with rising mountains in the distance and gorgeous waterfronts. The hotel we stayed was the Protea Presidential and this was a great spot and beautiful hotel. I have to say the welcoming was so nice of the hotel staff and overall the stay was very relaxing and safe. That night you go to welcoming and information orientation, but you are so tired; that I will recommend drink some coffee before going to the meeting. Our guide was Jeremy Poole, who is the most knowledgeable and best guide anyone can have on this adventure. He is very detail, takes care of you, patient in all circumstances, passionate about his love for his country and overall you feel that he is looking out to assure you the best experience while in South Africa.
    Day Three : You are up at 6:30 am and after breakfast you go on a motor coach site seeing in Cape Town, Table Mountain in the morning and then near the 12 Disciples and then off to some shopping. In the afternoon you have an optional tour to visit the township the Shanty Town area (about $50 for this tour). You get back around six in the evening; you have a choice of dinning in the hotel or going out. If you go out take a taxi do not venture on a walking tour by yourself or with others we were warned not to venture outside at night. You may want to get a taxi all available at the hotel towards Camp Bay which is full of restaurants, just bring what you are going to spend. Afterwards you will be tempted to walk around, don’t there are taxis all over take it back to the hotel.
    Day Four: Full day you are out at 8:00 am and off to see the African Penguins, The Cape of Good Hope, Simon Town and False Bay, not to mention an amazing view of the ocean. You will stop at some point at a waterfront where there are curios shops, at this fisherman wharf, bargain your price down and if you really see something you want buy it. We found that this place had some unique boxes that we found elsewhere for twice the price. Wear comfortable hiking shoes for when you visit the Cape of Good Hope, you can hike down the side and yes it a small trek and you have 45 minutes to yourself so make the most of it. There are several baboons so do not wear anything too flashy or eat outside they will come to you and you do not want that.
    Day Five: There is the optional Wine Tours (approximately $60) and would say do it is viewing all the vineyards along the way and then stopping at a vineyard and wine testing. Along the way you also get to stop at a university town which is really nice but also another view of South Africa. Afterwards you get the choice of staying to you are dropped off to the hotel or being dropped off at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (from there you can take a taxi to your hotel about $8 (US Dollars) in Rand you are paying about $70 Rand. This is full of shops and it’s a mall with a beautiful waterfront full of restaurants and so many shops. After wards we took a taxi to the Green Market try to make it before five since they start closing the curios shops. The Green Market is bigger than any of the curios shops you have visited at this point and yes you can bargain here and get lots of souvenirs. Take a taxi back to your hotel do not try to venture on walking or taking public transit be safe and alert. At the winery they sell a Styrofoam container which is worth buying for that one bottle of wine you must have with you. Do not try to take it with you to the airport, the folks at the airport will take it from you and tell you that it’s not allowed because of its size which is again why I advise buy one container stuff it in your check in luggage and lock it up! Yes lock up your suitcase because in Johnsonburg they will try to take stuff. Also watch your wallets when you get them from putting it x-ray machines; we had one try to steal my partner’s credit card and claim to be looking for dangerous items.
    Day Six: You are off to the airport and on your way to Durban, here you get a chance to dip your feet in the Indian Ocean and see an amazing and open land that makes you realize that you have just left the city and are now on your way to the wildlife. The bus ride is long so you spent it making some stops along the way and taking snapshots at the endless view of trees along the way. You arrive at the hotel in a city whose spelling is different from how you pronounce the word. Along the way, Jeremy is giving you details about the city you just entered and the history and facts that make the journey more interesting. The hotel at this location is very safari in that it really gives the feeling that you are in the jungle, beautiful sitting and lobby area, and the rooms are big so you are not in a tight area. The beds are queen size and that’s for a double. You have dinner at around six or six thirty and it’s really a good spread, I would recommend try everything and yes the water is safe to drink in all of South Africa.
    Day Seven: Early morning and I mean before the sun is up you are drinking your coffee and running off the to the tour bus for your first safari ride. My advice is try to get in the front seat with the driver yes it’s scary because you really are out there but it is a great view of the animals up close, the other spot I would recommend is the back seats to the right or left not the middle especially if you are picture taker. This one of the better safaris to experience because you will see so many animals out in the open and have that feeling you are in the jungle. In the afternoon you are off to the Zulu village where the men are separated and made to go first and women after, followed by a dance demonstrations from the locals. Afterwards you enjoy a lunch there that is buffet and the food is very good you won’t have to feed on trail-mix.
    Day Eight: Off to Swaziland and the day is pretty much traveling on getting off for the stamps to your passport and getting back on till lunch time where you stop at small village in Swaziland where there are small curios shops of teas, and other souvenirs and one restaurant. There is a small shop that looks like a tree house, good luck bargaining. After this you continue on your way and pass the lovely landscape of this country. You can tell it has so much potential but as we were informed the royals own no matter 51% of all businesses. We stayed at the Lugogo Sun Hotel, lovely hotel, and ambiance. Do not attempt to use their internet or make a phone call they will charge you three or more times the amount for this service.
    Day Nine: You have a choice of either riding the bus to Kruger or taking a little longer and paying $60 to drive in a safari truck. I will say you are in Africa, so I will suggest take the safari ride but here are a few tips: when you choose your driver tell him you want him to slow down for pictures and yes you do want to see all the animals. I saw this because in Kruger our driver sped pretty much through and finally we did tell him that this is not what we wanted and we wanted to stop and see the animals. Speak up and don’t be afraid to say something, after we did that our ride was much better for spotting animals. In the late afternoon, you have another ride, choose another guide don’t go with the same one, some are better than others. The hotel at Kruger was beautiful and it’s about five minutes away from the Kruger National Park, even witnessed a jackal trying to run out of the park and park rangers making sure that it didn’t make it out. You have two safari rides this day so make the most of resting up when you can and also when you are in the shops at your lunch break take advantage of the restrooms and snacks that you can get there, pretty reasonably priced.
    Day Ten: This is a long day drive into Johannesburg, you will stop at the famous pot holes and of course God’s window. Make sure you are wearing shoes with good traction, forget the slippers or soft shoes, you will be doing a small hike and the floor can be slippery at times. We left at 8:00 am and arrived at the famous pot holes, what a magnificent sight and of course there are vendors there as well, you can bargain your price down. You will stop at small towns great for pictures and then finally after what seems forever you end up at Sandton Hotel in Johannesburg which is beautiful. Not at all what the internet had made it look and the service there is so nice.
    Day Eleven: Soweto Excursion: You spend the morning going to Mandela’s house and also visiting a museum from there you have a choice to go shopping (last chance in South Africa) and yes go if you have more items that you want to buy. The day can be spend checking out Johannesburg, again take a taxi do not try to venture alone always go with someone and make sure you are always in the view of other people. At seven we all went to a fare-well dinner that consisted of several items to choose from a buffet that is set up including white or red wine. Again when you pack do not forget to lock your bags, because any opportunity you allow will be taken.
    Day Twelve: Half or more of the folks on the trip will be heading back home; the others will be heading to Victoria Falls. Dress comfortably the weather in Victoria Falls is hot and humid, so don’t over dress. Take U.S. dollars to pay for everything in Victoria Falls. Do not try to pay in South African Rand at the Immigration to get your visa ($45) they (the Zimbabwean’s) will over charge you and unfortunately you can’t argue over their version of the exchange rate; so again stick to having the exact amount. This is the smallest airport and they will make you stand in a long line waiting to get that stamp in your passport. When you arrive at the hotel it is really beautiful and amazing to just take a moment and take it all in. Be aware that there are baboons and warthogs all over the grounds, so do not attempt to feed any of the animals; you will regret it. Victoria Falls doesn’t have that much at night and again you will realize that you are in the country when you venture throughout the hotel and realize that you need a car to venture to any place outside the hotel. We ate at the hotel’s restaurant and it was okay, overly priced and again pay in U.S. dollars not in South African Rand because they will over charge you. While you are there they will suggest you try the BOMA which is about $40 not including drinks, this is one of those places that really is overly priced and because of the ambiance you do it.
    Day Thirteen: Victoria Falls! Where sunscreen and bug repellant! Bring dollars with you because your guide will take you to a market of curios shops full of aggressive male shop owners. They will ask for some outrageous prices do not allow them to intimate you. To be honest I hated this part because some of the men approached the women to the point of trying to bully them into buying something. So stand strong. I brought pens with me and use that to trade not to mention if you have other items like a shirt or cap you don’t care about they will trade with you for those items.
    The Falls bring a waterproof camera or case because your camera will get wet and putting it in a plastic bag will only distort the picture so plan ahead. The Falls are amazing and so I stress make sure you have enough memory, battery and are comfortable. I would suggest go to the dollar store in your packing and buy a poncho this you can put under the poncho they give you. The poncho there is heavier and better but has been used by several tourist so this is why I suggest the second poncho.
    In the afternoon went with Wild Horizons (Smart Tours will make the reservations for you so don’t do it before) here are several reasons why:
    1) Smart Tours will get you a better discount for the price
    2) The Elephant ride that we did was great and we had others who did their own thing and regretted it.
    3) On the other tour company one of the tourist had to ride the elephant without a saddle!

    Day Fourteen: Botswana! You start at eight in the morning and travel over to Botswana where you disembark the bus for a bit and get back on after getting your passport stamped and also your feet saturated in this weird liquid. Make sure you are not wearing sandals! The liquid is some sort of anti-bacterial that everyone going in has to step into to protect the animals from Foot-Mouth Disease.
    You end up at a hotel in Botswana where you board a tour boat and take in the sights from the river. You spend about three hours looking at animals especially elephants bathing and hippos. Afterwards you are given a lunch and are given an hour before you start on your next adventure to Chobe National Park. This park is amazing just getting there which was a short twenty minute drive in the open safari coach you see baboons alongside the road. This is the park where we finally got to see a leopard! Our driver was amazing and he took us up close to the animals, where it just seemed surreal. There are so many animals at this park, way better than Kruger! Everywhere we went there was an animal, from impalas, to kudos, to elephants, dung beetles, guinea fowl, water buffalo and yes leopard! We got to see him right before he was about to make a kill but the sound of the safari truck plus the ladies screaming get the picture had the leopard run up to a tree and leave the ignorant, happy impala alive. In this safari, it was the first time I had to put on the seat belt because this guide was wonderful at getting us to the animals as soon as they informed him on the radio.

    Day Fifteen: Pack and don’t forget to lock up your bags they will have to go through Johannesburg! Also make sure you keep an eye on your money and wallet and cards you will have to go through several security guards and x-rays machines so as stated before watch the guards they are looking for unsuspecting tourist who trust that they won’t steal from you or take a credit card while supposedly looking for ‘dangerous items’. The trip back will only bring a huge smile and of course that bit of sadness that this vacation is over and you had the most amazing time ever.

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