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Getting oh-so-close to finalizing our E. Africa itinerary, but still have some ?s

Getting oh-so-close to finalizing our E. Africa itinerary, but still have some ?s

Old Oct 26th, 2007, 06:53 AM
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Getting oh-so-close to finalizing our E. Africa itinerary, but still have some ?s

We will be flying into the Mara, but we were hoping for a private safari.
Thanks atravelynn and Patty for giving me the tip that it can be done.
And, Patty, great suggestion about pricing out the options of a private camp vehicle vs. tour operator vehicle.
Here was the response from Roy's:
"The private game drives with Wildtrek vehicle in Mara would be US$240 total for the two of you over the 4 day period.
However the private camp vehicle is charged at US$400 per day so it is far more expensive to use the camp vehicle and it is also not guaranteed as this depends on their availability at peak times.
You are getting much better value by using the Wildtrek vehicle as we can guarantee the vehicle is reserved for your exclusive use when you confirm your booking."

I am 99% sure we want the Wildtrek vehicle...sounds like a bargain to me.
Anyone have any experience with this (any info on drivers, guides, type of vehicles they use)?
Would you recommend this?


Also, it was suggested that we do this at Samburu, too. But in order to keep us in the vicinity of our budget (which, of course we keep inching over ) I'm thinking of going with a shared vehicle in Samburu.
BTW, we decided to do 2 gorilla treks which is why we are trying to cut back where possible.
We'd only be in Samburu 2 nights and it would be the only shared drive of our whole trip.
Plus, that way I figured we'd get to experience both kinds of drives.
Thoughts??


Next question is about our lodging in the Mara.
Currently we would be at the Mara Sarova camp, but we could upgrade to Mara Serena Lodge for $30pppn (4 nights=$240)

I am having trouble deciding this one. It seems like the Serena Lodge is in a more desirable location of the Mara, but we were kind of looking forward to the tented camp experience. The only other tented camp in our itinerary right now is Kikoti in Tarangire for 2 nights. For that reason alone, I'm tempted to keep Sarova, that way we'd have 2 camps and 2 lodges on our safari (see itinerary below).

My other question is about flight to/from Rwanda.
We will be flying JRO-KGL then KGL-NBO.
Roy's wants $510pp for the airfare. I was hoping to find it on my own for less but am having no luck.
(I am aware that the direct flights JRO-KGL only operate on Mon, Wed, Fri)
All the travel sites (expedia, etc) say they are unable to process my request.
And the only airline I can find that flies JRO-KGL is Rwandair Express, but their website is very un-user-friendly.
It doesn't let you book on-line. You have to leave your request and an e-mail address, which I did over a week ago, with no response.
Ideas on how to book my own airfare?

Still not sure about where we should stay in JRO and NBO. Both are short term stays (arrive in the evening, depart in the morning).
In JRO, our proposed lodging is Karama Lodge or Impala Hotel, but I've also inquired about Kibo Palace and Mount Meru Hotel (not Game Lodge), haven't heard back yet about pricing.
In NBO, our proposed lodging is Panafric, but I've also inquired about Fairview Hotel. No word yet on pricing.
I'm trying to have us in nice accommodations but trying to stay within a moderate price range.
Basically, I just don't want to be on a vacation that's costing $16K and arrive at a hotel and think, "Ugh"...know what I mean?
Any ideas on these or other hotels?


That's it for now...I'm sure there'll be more to follow
Thanks
Lisa

Itinerary: Sept 23 - Oct 10, 2008
1 night JRO
2 nights Tarangire - Kikoti Tented Camp
2 nights Ngorongoro - Serena Lodge
3 nights Rwanda (for 2 gorilla treks) - Gorilla's Nest
1 night NBO
2 nights Samburu - Serena Lodge
4 nights Masai Mara - Sarova Camp (or Serena Lodge)
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 07:43 AM
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$510 is not bad for the airfare. I checked kayak.com and the lowest combination I came up with for your dates was $583. There's very little competition on many intra-Africa routes and fares are typically high.

If you have the Rwanda portion at the beginning or end, you could have NBO-KGL or KGL-NBO (on Kenya Airways but not Rwandair) included as part of your award ticket, but then that still leaves you with having to purchase 2 flights - KGL-JRO or JRO-KGL plus JRO-NBO or NBO-JRO so wouldn't save you much overall. Let me think about it a little more and see if there's any other way to do this because you can have either an open jaw (which is what you're planning to redeem now into JRO/out of NBO) or a stopover.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 08:46 AM
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luv2globetrot - I don't know anything about the trekking, so I'll leave that to others!

Where to stay in Mara - I have stayed at the Serena and have stopped for lunch at the Sarova. Although the Sarova is tented, I think it is quite large and busy. If I remember correctly, the entrance is quite impressive - you walk over a wooden bridge into the lobby. The restaurant was large and we chose to sit outside on the verandah - our view was of the tents below! The buffet lunch was very nice. The loos were posh - with marble walls?

We had lunch there because it is very near the gate that leads to the road to Narok. It is for this reason that I would choose the Serena - it is completely the other side of the Park. I think that on drives from the Sarova you are likely to meet vehicles from a lot of other lodges in that area - the Serena is more out on its own, although it is large and not tented. If you want tented, I'd go for Intrepids - but you don't seem to be considering that.

Where to stay in Arusha - I've sat in the lobby of the Impala (and used the loo - never pass up a decent loo!!) but not stayed or eaten there. It's big and right in Arusha. You mention Mount Meru Hotel. I've not heard of this so googled it - pictures seem to be of a large hotel, but some of the reviews with them must be of Mount Meru Game Lodge because they mention the Sanctuary. I have stayed at Mount Meru Game Lodge for one night the first time we went to Tanz. We found it pleasant and very quiet - they had warned us about the monkeys on the tin roof! My husband reckoned that the coffee he had for breakfast was the best coffee he's had in E. Africa! I don't know anything about the other 2 places in Arusha you mention.

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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For the Masai Mara we decided to splash out on Serian Camp - I'd come across the website but didn't know what it was like but it was endorsed both by Eben (Climbhighsleeplow) and Sandi here. Plus a friend of mine, a professional wildlife photographer who has spent much of his adult life in the Mara, recommended it highly.

All guests get their own private vehicle for the duration of their stay.

We've also opted for Elsa's Kopje in Meru, the new Saruni in Samburu as the other two stops in Kenya.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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PS Our budget went out of the window!
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 09:08 AM
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Thanks Patty

Wingi,
Thanks for the suggestion of Intrepids. It's not that we won't consider it, I just thought that it would be too expensive.
I assume it would be more than Serena or Sarova?
I haven't asked my tour operator to price that one for me yet...maybe I should?? It looks wonderful!
The thing is I'm trying to stay within the range of Sarova or Serena (which added $240 for 4 nights, which I can handle...much more over that and we start to get too much over budget).
The hardest part is knowing which camps/lodges fall into which price category. It'd be nice if there were some list...is there?

Thanks Kavey, but thats sounds like it won't fit in the budget
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 09:36 AM
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luv2globetrot,

The guide books like Bradt and Footprints give you a vague idea of how the lodge prices compare against each other - but I think the prices, and the lodges themselves, are changing all the time so you don't really know until you get your quotation from your agent. I also think that if you are having your own vehicle and driver instead of using camp/lodge ones, this affects pricing differently at different places - I just leave that up to the agent!
Both B and F have Intrepids as more expensive than Serena, btw.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 10:06 AM
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I'm pretty sure Intrepids is more than Serena and I can't think of any inexpensive camps around the area where Serena is. There are some camps outside of the Talek gate like Basecamp, Ilkeliani and Fig Tree (the latter like Sarova is also pretty large). I've listed those in order of descending price (at least as of the last time I checked).

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 10:22 AM
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We just stayed at some of the places you're asking about in the past month, so I thought I'd chime in.

Like Wingi, we stopped at the Mara Sarova on our way into the park and had lunch there. It was nice and very pretty, but did seem big and crowded. Also, it took quite a bit of driving from the Sarova into the park before we started seeing any animals or interesting scenery, so the location did not impress me much (although of course that could change depending on when you go). Our guide mentioned that he did not like staying overnight in the Sarova area, because there was "always a traffic jam of buses" from different lodges in the morning. Also, in terms of the tents it looked much more like a "big lodge" experience than the smaller tented camps we stayed in at Samburu and Tarangire. But someone who has actually stayed overnight there would have a better take on that.

We stayed at the Mara Serena and had a great time there. I know a lot of people on this board do not like the big lodges, but we chose it because of our budget and its location, and really couldn't fault it. Our game drives were fantastic every day (we had our own vehicle and driver from Nairobi). Also, we did not need to get up at an ungodly hour to catch the hot air ballon ride (and the pilot there is a great guy), and several of the Serena's activities were outstanding experiences for us -- their night game drive, especially, and also the "Breakfast with the Hippos." The room was very comfortable, view was great, and all night we could hear hippos and lions and hyenas -- something I did not at all expect when staying in a "brick and mortar" lodge. If you do stay here, I'd highly recommend having your own guide and vehicle from Wildtrek and making sure you leave a little earlier than usual for your game drives, though. We did this each time (on our Eastern & Southern guide's recommendation), and never got stuck in a traffic jam heading down the hill from the lodge, which he said can happen.

In Arusha, we stayed two nights at Karama Lodge and loved the place. The location is close to town, but you feel like you are in the "jungle," and we could hear bush babies all night and a riot of birds in the morning. Some people might find the cabins a bit "rustic," but we really liked that about them. We had no problems with electricity or hot water or anything, and the food was very good (they have a really neat lounge/bar with views of the mountains on a clear day). I think it would be a fine choice for anyone who's not expecting total luxury. Check out their website -- it has some good pictures of the cabins.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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Gee, no matter what I always seem to get a typo in there. I meant "balloon."
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 11:25 AM
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OK, so I'll look into Fig Tree.
Patty, another question for you...once the dates are firm (which I'm getting ever closer to )and now that I think I pretty much have the order of everything set, how easy is it for me to change the lodging?
Is it going to make my tour operator crazy if I keep asking "well what if we stay here?" or do you know if it's just a matter of her plugging in a property and she can easily tell me how that changes the price?
I just know I must be driving her crazy!
Also, I assume that once the deposit is paid, no changes can be made to lodging or is this not the case?

MyDogKyle, thanks for all the input.
The more I hear about Sarova, the location is seeming less desirable.
And the Serena is sounding pretty good to me.

Maybe we'll look into a tented camp at Samburu, but I'm pretty sure Larsen's will bump up the price (I KNOW Joy's will).
And thanks for the positive feedback on Karama.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 12:09 PM
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It's not a problem to ask for comparison quotes with multiple lodges. I always my TO for the price difference between at least 2-3 properties at each location. It's also possible to change the lodging after you've made a deposit. I've once changed to a completely new set of dates after having paid our deposit because better awards seats opened up for our flights. I've also changed parts of my itinerary after paying a deposit. My trips are continually evolving

The only issue you might run into is an individual lodge or camp's cancellation policy. This isn't so much an issue at the bigger places, but some smaller camps may have stricter policies.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Patty, when you've traveled off season, it's much easier to switch around an entire itinerary. It's not that easy when visiting during peak season as OP is.

Even with the itinerary shown by luv2globetrot, that space still has to be confirmed. Possible that some space, especially consecutive nights (4/nts in the Mara) might not be available and have to be waitlisted. The TO, should offer a cover booking to be certain client has a place to lay their head, then follow-up the closer to actual travel dates. There are lots of "block bookings" holding space at this time and won't be released till closer time of travel.

The deposit will be put down for those lodge/camps confirmed, which can usually be changed up to the point when cancellation penalties apply... either 90-60/days out. Some lodges/camps are more flexible than others.

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 01:02 PM
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That's true. I always travel in off season or go to places nobody else seems to want to go

Sorry, I didn't mean to give the impression that I was easy to change, just that it was possible to do so after paying a deposit, subject to availability and cancellation policies, of course.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 04:28 PM
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Wildtrek private vehicle wins on price and availability.

No Wildtrek guide info. Everybody has opinions on the best vehicle. I’ve been in several kinds and other than preferring a completely open vehicle, which is not an option, all have been good and I don't remember much about them, just what I saw from them.

Share the vehicle in Samburu, that will be fine.

You have stated the conflict in choosing Serena or Sarova and hit the nail on the head. I think you’ll be happy with either decision. I liked Serena (never been to Sarova) and I know people who liked Sarova and they were at Sarova about the same time of year as you will be.

Splitting the difference, you could do 2 at one and 2 at the other. I generally like staying put instead of moving around and that would be a downside—the unpacking, repacking, unpacking. I also don’t know if there is a transfer charge in there too. A final downside is cost vs. remaining 4 nights at Sarova.

But the upsides of splitting your stay are it is less costly than 4 remaining nights at Serena; you get that central desirable location and the tented experience; you can explore two different areas while residing in them and don’t have to drive TO the other area, look around, and head back; and the drive between the two can be a game drive and not just a road transfer so you lose no wildlife viewing time and instead may gain some time, especially if instead of the transfer you would be just back at the lodge/camp.

If you did choose all 4 nights in Serena and chose Serena Nairobi, that would be 7 nights in Serena lodging. I’d check if there is a deal there, or for 6 nights.

The best price I got on Kayak was $510, and one $515. I’d take Roy’s offer on the air.

NBO-I stay at Boulevard Hotel and ask for a room not on the street to avoid the noise. It is about 2 blocks from The Norfolk so you can easily visit or eat there. Never stayed in Arusha.

RE: $16K and ugh for the hotel. The big money is for getting you to the wild places and you may want to accept simple city accommodations that are closer to ugh than wow. But I am always impressed with how un-ugh like every place is that I've stayed in Africa.

As for changes and the TA, I wouldn't worry about that because you are being reasonable and you aren't cancelling.

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 05:09 PM
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Thank you so much Lynn (may I assume that's your name? )

You have been an immense help. I really appreciate the time you take to write all this great advice!

I thought of doing 2 nights at each in the Mara, but wasn't really sure I could do that. I was hoping that, maybe since we'll be using the WildTrek vehicle that we might be able to. It's definitely something we'll consider!
I agree completely that the downside is the packing-unpacking thing, but you have really done a great job pointing out the pros!
Love all of your ideas!

Good tip on asking about a package deal if we stay at Serenas for 6-7 nights.

As for the Rwanda air:
I have been talking with R&N Explorer to compare and see if I can get a better deal.
They say the airfare currently is at $375, but that they can't guarantee a price until January. Plus, I think they charge $100 to send the tickets via DHL.
So, maybe I will end up just going with Roy's airfare.

I completely see what you're saying about the cost and the simpler accommodations.
I keep telling myself that the money is for the TOTAL experience. But this is our first trip with a cost of this magnitude and it's hard to wrap my mind around how much it really does cost.
I was so naive that at first I had a budget in mind of under $10K...how adorable is that?
Of course, I know a safari can be had for under $10k, but once we decided that we wanted 15 days on the ground, private safari and 2 gorilla treks...amazing how fast I was able to "up" the budget
Seems like it's probably pretty common here...you see all the amazing options and can get carried away!


We feel so fortunate and grateful to be able to have these amazing experiences!

Thanks again for all your wonderful advice!
Lisa
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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If $375 is the normal ticket price from JRO-KGL, I wonder where R&N gets the tickets. Maybe R&N's whole gorilla package is less expensive than Roy's. $500 seems high, but that's the range it has been on kayak.

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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 11:47 AM
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As the prices have been quoted to me so far, they compare like this:

R&N $2283pp
w/ airfare
2 treks
2 nights Gorilla's Nest
1 night Kivu Sun Serena

Roy's $2920pp
w/ airfare
2 treks
2 nights Gorilla's Nest
1 night Hotel Chez Lando

That's a $637 difference pp ($1274 total).
Which is why I'd like to go with R&N, but my last e-mail from them said,
"As of now the fare is USD 375.00 per person. However as we cannot access the fares for next year from our machines right now, my advice is we check in January."

So, I'm wondering if that fare will go up.
If so, that would drop the savings to $1000, but still enough for me to go with them.
The only drawback I can find is that they charge $100 to mail you your tickets. I think that's a bit outrageous. Otherwise, they say you can pick your tickets up at the Rwandair counter in JRO. That might make me abit nervous...hopefully that's common and we'd have no problem with that.

Anyone have first hand experience with that?

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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 03:25 PM
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R&N probably doesn't actually mail your ticket but rather uses a courier service such as DHL, UPS or Fedex. It would cost me over $100 to send a UPS letter package from the US to Rwanda, so I don't think that's outrageous.

You could also just book the ground package through R&N and have Roys issue your JRO-KGL/KGL-NBO tickets (that way you'd have them in hand) depending on what the cost is in January.

Another thought... does Rwandair issue paper or etickets? The last time I flew Kenya Airways, it was an eticket, so all I had was the eticket printout. If that's the case, they could fax it to you.
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Old Oct 27th, 2007, 05:54 PM
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Outrageous as a % of the total ticket, but understandable. E-tickets would be the way to go here if that is possible. Even with the $100, R&N is still much less.
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