1st ever Safari to celebrate 2 milestones

Old Oct 21st, 2007, 05:48 PM
  #1  
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1st ever Safari to celebrate 2 milestones

Fodorites - I'm on a mission!

To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary and my husband’s nth birthday, I am planning an exciting safari for us.

About us: We are urban folks but like and do adventure stuff, and like many people on this board, have visited many countries/continents.

This will be our 1st safari and 1st visit to southern Africa. I’ve been lurking on the Africa board reading all I can about safaris to get ideas and help formulate our plan.
For this trip, we want to visit South Africa (see Big5, stay in luxury lodges, see Cape Town and environs), Victoria Falls and perhaps Chobe if time permits.

Our tentative 14-day itinerary for August or September 2008:

Fly MIA-IAD–JNB–CPT

Cape Town: Cape Grace (4-5 nights)
-Rental car for 2 days only (self-drive to wine lands, etc)
-Shark cage-diving at Gansbaii (a must for hubby)

Fly CPT–JNB–VFA
Victoria Falls, Zambia: Royal Livingstone OR Toka Leya Lodge (2 nights)
-Vic Falls tour
-Chobe day trip

Fly VFA-JNB
Johannesburg: overnight InterContinental Airport Sun or Saxon

Fly JNB–Kruger
Fly charter hop to Singita
Singita Lebombo (3 nights)

Fly charter hop to Londolozzi
Londolozzi Private Granite Suites (3 nights)

Fly charter hop to Kruger
Fly Kruger–JNB-IAD-MIA


Questions:
1) How is our general itinerary? Is this too rushed? Seems like every day is an early AM wake-up. Were the early mornings a problem for anyone?

2) How is SAA’s business class IAD to JNB?
I read that SAA flies this route nonstop, other than 2 months (July-August) when there is a refueling stop enroute at Dakar which adds 2.5 hours into the flight. Might be better to safari in Sept 2008 then.

3) Every TA I’ve spoken to seems to push Cape Grace in Cape Town.
Is it worth it? It is pricier than the other hotels we’ve considered (Radisson, Table Bay), but the TAs all say it is the best hotel to stay in Cape Town. Hmmm...

4) Is it better to self-drive or just sign up for tours/private guide in Cape Town? Having our own car allows us to keep our own schedule.

5) TOKA LEYA Lodge in Zambia – a new, tented camp owned by Wilderness Safaris to open May 2008.
Will cost more than Royal Livingstone (because food, drinks, activities are covered), but if we spend 1 whole day on a Chobe day trip, we wont leverage our Toka Leya stay.
My hub-unit is leaning towards Royal Livingstone instead of Toka Leya. What do you guys think?

6) We are bypassing a Botswana stay due to time constraints. Perhaps we can do Bots next trip.

7) InterContinental Airport Sun – anyone stayed here? I’ve checked other sites and the location is pretty good (across from JNB). We’ll only be here like 14 hours or so between flights.
The Saxon looks lovely but we don't want to pay that much for a 14-hr stay!

8) Singita – We want to stay in Singita for our 1st safari. We got availability in Singita Lebombo.

9) Londolozzi – We heard good things about Tree Camp, but there was no availability. So we’re looking into Private Granite Suites (only 3 suites). Anyone stay here?

10) Has anyone done private land transfer between Singita and Londolozzi instead of the charter hops?
I read it's a 2.5hr land transfer between the 2 lodges.
It may be interesting to do this to see the landscape, wildlife and local color.

I tried to get FF miles but wouldn't you know it, our airline and their partners do NOT have seats available!

I will look at using AMEX Platinum 2-for-1 next.


Thanks in advance for your feedback.
mistik321 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 08:00 PM
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7) InterContinental Airport Sun – anyone stayed here? I’ve checked other sites and the location is pretty good (across from JNB). We’ll only be here like 14 hours or so between flights.
The Saxon looks lovely but we don't want to pay that much for a 14-hr stay!

I've stayed at the I.C.Airport Sun and recently at the Southern Sun ORT Airport (Joburg), only a 5 minute shuttle and found them to be comparable in comfort, elegance, food and amenities. The Southern Sun is about 1/3 the price of the I.C. Sun and has a nice garden like setting. I'd recommend this hotel.
matnikstym is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 08:05 PM
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In August 2008, we did a similar trip, except we did not go to Vic Falls. We decided it made the trip too crazy, and we'd save it for when we go to Botswana, Zambia and/or Zimbabwe. It also added a lot of expense that we felt we spend better elsewhere.

Our itinerary:

- 3 nights Cape Grace
- 2 nights Grande Roche (if I had to do it again, I would have just done the winelands from the Cape Grace
- 3 nights Phinda Rock
- 3 nights Phinda Vlei
- 2 nights Singita Ebony
- 2 nights Singita Lebombo
- 1 night Saxon in Jo'burg

We took the flight you are planning to take. Business class was great. Direct on the way out with the stop on the way back. I believe they always make the stop on the way back, but I could be wrong. The flight is always late (according to the guy sitting next to me who takes it every three weeks) and it takes a while to get your luggage, so give yourself plenty of time to catch your flight to Cape Town.

I had stayed up so late the night before packing, that I was able to fall asleep right after dinner. As a result, I fell asleep easily at 11 pm our first night in Cape Town, and had no problems with the early mornings.

The Cape Grace is wonderful. I'd definitely try to book Selwyn or his brother to tour you in Cape Town. I'd also consider hiring him to take you to the winelands. We had four fabulous days with him including two days of touring vineyards, and it was very nice not to have to worry about drinking and driving.

I went to Singita Ebony and Lebombo in August. I loved Ebony but was severely disappointed in Lebombo. I haven't finished my trip report, so I'll elaborate for you.

First and foremost, you are paying a lot of money for a high level of service, and the level of service was non-existent at Lebombo. The list of bad service examples is lengthy, but here's just one. When we arrived, my mom went to pour herself a glass of white wine. The bottle had been opened and there was maybe one glass left. She called to have it replaced. She called again when she got back from game drive. She called again in the morning. She called again when she came back from game drive. She told a manager at lunch. She told another manager when we went to dinner. Still no replacement bottle of wine. While not a huge deal on its own, it was when you combine it with at least 20 other things that occurred over our two nights.

While the rooms are beautifully designed, they are completely disfunctional. I was also disappointed in the quality of the game and our guide compared to Phinda and Ebony.

While I enjoyed Ebony (we had a great guide, Andre), I preferred the small lodges at Phinda (Rock and Vlei) at half the price. Half the size of Ebony and 1/3 the size of Lebombo, the service was better and the staff friendlier. The size also contributed to the intimacy of the lodge - both with the guests and staff. The guests at Phinda gathered around the fire at night and were very engaging. At Ebony and Lebombo, most of the guests looked at you like you were crazy if you tried to engage them in conversation. I also thought our sightings at Phinda were better.

If I were to do it again, I'd keep the six nights we had at Phinda and the two at Ebony, but would have traded our 2 nights at Lebombo (and the one night in Jo'burg) for 3 to 4 elsewhere. I probably also would have added another night in Cape Town.

I've finished my trip report for the first three days at Phinda, so I can post link if you are interested.

Btw, I'm from Miami, but now live in Chicago.
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 08:11 PM
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p.s. feel free to email me at hills27 at gmail dot com if you want more details. I'll be traveling a lot over the next 10 days, so I won't be on Fodors very much after tonight.
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 08:14 PM
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Oh, I don't believe Londolozzi and Singita Lebombo are a 2.5 hour drive. I don't remember exactly how long our guide told us, but I remember thinking, "thank god we're flying!"
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 09:20 PM
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Hard to believe Singita and Londolozi require a 2.5 hour drive. They share the same border/boundary according to my map. I would think a vehicle transfer could be arranged between the two camps. Would even be quicker than fooling around waiting for the charter plane etc. Who told you that you could not do a ground camp transfer? If a TA, I think they are being lazy and taking the easy way out at your expense. That charter plane for two is costing you about $240, yes?

I have stayed at both I.C. Hotel and Southern Sun. The I.C, is super convenient, you just walk across the street. But it is over twice the cost ($350 vs $150) of the Southern Sun which is an easy 5 minute shuttle ride.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 10:05 PM
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Hi mistik321

It could well be 2.5 hrs between Singita Lebombo and Londolozi, but as long as you were in a covered vehicle due to the sun in the middle of the day, the transfer would probably be done after breakfast and you will in arrive in time for lunch.

Have stayed at Londo a few times, but the rooms that you speak of have all been renovated and should be lovely and new - even new dining areas for those 3 suites. If seeing the Big 5 and staying at luxury lodges is your criteria, it sounds as if this would be perfect.

I always preferred the IC Sun as so easy from the Airport, especially on a later arrival and earlier departure. Does cost more but worth it for me.

Kind regards

Kaye
KayeN is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 10:41 PM
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Singita Ebony/Boulders are in the SSGR and share a border with Londolozi.

Singita Lebombo is a private concession within Kruger, located in the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique (about 110 km northeast of Skukuza), and does not share a border with Londolozi.

To drive to Lebombo from Londolozi, I believe you have to drive down to Skukuza first, which looks to be around 65 km.

When you fly, it's about a 30 minute flight, followed by a 30-45 minute drive, depending on how often you stop to look at game.
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 10:43 PM
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You can download a map here:

http://www.krugerpark.co.za/dnl/kruger-park-map.zip
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2007, 11:03 PM
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thanks hills27, that explains why the flight to Lebombo.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 04:54 AM
  #11  
 
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We were very pleased with Kensington Place hotel in Capetown...a very small place located in the Gardens area. So you could look into that if you decide to take a pass on the Cape Grace.



http://www.kensingtonplace.co.za/show/home

I think you should hire a car with driver/guide for a few days in Capetown, rather than self-drive, since you have a decent budget...

I think Vic Falls and Chobe in one day is pushing it, but maybe not if you can get going very very early..not sure when the Falls view sites open..

We stayed at Siankaba on Zambia side and I loved it. But next time I think I would stay on the Zim side if I were going when the water level was highest on that side, as it will be when you travel.. We met many people who had stayed there, and we had lunch there (VIc Falls Hotel) and none had any problems...
ekscrunchy is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 08:14 AM
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<<Every TA I’ve spoken to seems to push Cape Grace in Cape Town.
Is it worth it? It is pricier than the other hotels we’ve considered (Radisson, Table Bay), but the TAs all say it is the best hotel to stay in Cape Town. Hmmm...>>

I can't speak to the other hotels in Cape Town, but my husband and I stayed at CG for the first 4 nights of our SA honeymoon in May this year, and we loved it. They upgraded us to one of the two recently remodeled penthouse suites with the most amazing patio with a hot tub and view of the marina (we had noted on our booking form that we were honeymooners), so perhaps I'm a bit prejudiced, but the location and service there was just fantastic.

<<4) Is it better to self-drive or just sign up for tours/private guide in Cape Town? Having our own car allows us to keep our own schedule.>>

We did not have a car the first three days we were in CT and just utilized the complimentary car and driver that comes with a stay at CG -- it's free within a certain mile radius, but includes most major attractions such as Table Mtn. We rented a car our last full day in CT and drove down to Boulders Beach and Cape of Good Hope -- so highly recommend doing this, I would have hated being on a bus. Then we left the next day for 3 nights in Franschhoek, and absolutely needed a car there. So, I think you can do a combo of car and no car, but the independence of having a car was really important to us. And my husband was an absolute rock star about driving on the "wrong" side of the road!


<<7) InterContinental Airport Sun – anyone stayed here? I’ve checked other sites and the location is pretty good (across from JNB). We’ll only be here like 14 hours or so between flights.
The Saxon looks lovely but we don't want to pay that much for a 14-hr stay!>>

We stayed there on a ~12 hour overnight before leaving for Singita. Location can't be beat as it is less than 1m on foot to the car rental hall where you meet the Fed Air rep for Singita flights. The hotel is decorated very nicely, but pretty much nothing WORKED - we couldn't leave our room because their key maker was broken and we therefore had no key, and then room service didn't have most of the menu. Nonetheless, I'd stay there again, purely on convenience.

<<8) Singita – We want to stay in Singita for our 1st safari. We got availability in Singita Lebombo.>>
We stayed at both Boulders and Lebombo, and honestly, they are very different experiences. We enjoyed both, but Boulders was over the top when it came to service, luxury, and amenities. Lebombo did not live up to the high standard set by Boulders, but it is a lovely camp nonetheless and the game viewing was much better.

Hope that helps! We are planning our return for our 5-yr anniversary already ... it was honestly the best trip we've ever taken!
abcdc is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 08:43 AM
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If the shark trip is a must for hubby's birthday, schedule more than 1 outing. Weather and seas can cancel the trip. I have scheduled several shark trips this July.

Southern Sun is a nice airport option and I believe it is less expensive. It is 5 minutes from the airport. That's where I stay.

Congrats on Milestone #1 and #2.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 05:26 PM
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Here's a tip re the Cape Grace. Sign up for Leading Hotels of the World's frequent guest program. Then, have your TA add the number to your reservation. You'll get a free upgrade to a corner room with a view.
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 08:01 PM
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Gosh this board is FANTASTIC!
Thank you so much for the great responses.

I've asked the Africa TAs to break out pricing per item, but so far no one has complied. Is this normal?

I've planned almost all our other vacations, but for this Africa safari trip, I'm finding I have to use a TA.


Cape Town -sounds like Cape Grace gets high points all around.


hills27:
I"ll sign up for that Leading Hotels freq guest program.

JNB arrival is 2:35PM and connection to CPT leaves at 5:00PM. We clear customs at JNB, but do we still collect luggage and re-check it in even though we connect on same airline (SAA) to CPT?

I will email you separately too; have more questions about Singita Lebombo; their cost is the same as the other Singitas, so if the service, amenities, guide, etc. level does not stack up at Lebombo, boy oh boy.

Pls post the link to your Phinda report. I'll look into Phinda and have the TAs move the dates around for Ebony or Boulders (the lodges we originally wanted to stay at!)

matnikstym:
Yes, the shark-diving is something hubby wants to do. We have 4 days in Cape Town to allow for inclement weather issues.

abcdc:
We like the flexibility + independence of having a car as well. My hub-unit has experience driving on the other side of the road too, so hopefully he wouldn't terrorize the driving denizens of Cape Town!
Hmm, our TA did NOT mention the Cape Grace's complimentary car service + driver.

ekscrunchy:
Vic Falls tour we plan on doing the afternoon we arrive. The next day is the all-day Chobe trip.
I had asked the TAs about Victoria Falls Hotel on Zim side, and they're not enthusiastic about it, citing logistics, cost and that it's a hotel similar to Royal Livingstone on Zam side.
August is low water season in Zam side: would it still be spectacular?

My husband envisions drinking cocktails at the Royal Livingstone while gazing at thundering Vic Falls. No thundering in low water season then!

Or is it better to stay at Zim side?
I do like waterfalls, and Vic Falls is on my list of the world's must-sees.


matnikstym/cary999/kaye:
I'll price the Southern Sun for the JNB overnight.

One TA just told me the land transfer between Londolozzi Granite Suites and Singita Lebombo is 4 hours.


Any thumbs-up for Toka Leya, Vic Falls/Zambia (Wilderness Safaris tented camp, opening May 2008) vs. a hotel stay (Royal Livingstone or Vic Falls Hotel)?

Honestly, I'm not too keen on the tented experience; I'm thinking monkeys and other animals all over my tent outside while I'm trying to sleep. But we're in Africa, might as well experience it up close.

Thanks everyone!

mistik321 is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 10:01 PM
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Yes, you have to collect your luggage and recheck it. And it's not like in the US where you just hand it over right when you get through customs. You actually have to trek over to the domestic terminal and recheck your bags. We missed the 5:00 flight by a long shot. You might want to be safe and schedule the flight after. We got on because we had an expensive ticket (first), but a lot of people from our international flight did not get on the next flight. It was packed full.

Definitely go with the flight. Four hours in the middle of the day would be brutal. And you'd probably miss a game drive.

Here's the start of my trip report:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...&tid=35058301?

And here are some of my photos (still have to sort, process, edit...just threw up some JPEGs onto the web because everybody was asking):

http://www.pbase.com/hills27/sa2007
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 10:01 PM
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Btw, Selwyn's brother is a guide at the Cape Grace.
hills27 is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 02:29 AM
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I have recently been to Londolozi and i must say that the new Private Granite Suites is fantastic, You cannot go wrong with this choice. Londolozi Tree Camp is also looking superb since its revamp earlier this year. Both these camps offer an oustanding experience.

Singita Lebombo is about a 3 hour drive from Londolozi, However Singita Boulders is approximately 35 minutes drive from Londolozi. Both Singita Boulders and Lebombo are the same rate. For that rate I feel that Boulders or Ebony lodge would offer you a superior experience. Game viewing in the Sabi Sands is oustanding. Although both Londolozi and Boulders are both in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve they do offer two very unique experiences.

The Cape Grace is an outstanding Hotel. It's location is perfect and is a super place from which to explore the major attractions in the area.

All the very best with your planning. South Africa is a wonderful destination and we look forward to hearing all about your experience.
bushmad is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 06:03 PM
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Pricing breakdown is not common. Helpful when you can get it.
atravelynn is offline  
Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 07:50 PM
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Mistik, that time of year the water on the Zambia side of Vic Falls is down to a trickle; nothing much to see. You can hire a driver, or take a taxi, and go to Zim for a day. When we went in Sept/Oct we stayed at the Royal Livingston we wished we would have stayed on the Zim side at the Vic Falls hotel since we were there primarily to see the falls and you have to pay extra for visas to cross). There are mixed reviews of the Vic Falls hotel on this board. But it's the original colonial hotel here, and we loved that slightly faded but still elegant ambiance, like something out of a Graham Greene novel. We had lunch there, and it was excellent. TAs may get nervous about the political situation, or the fact that you may have to pay in cash for most things, or who knows what else.
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