Krabill Family (October 1-11, 2011)
Larry, Kathy, Laura, Michele, Elizabeth, Marqui, Virginia and Logan
I have started this letter several times and can’t find sufficient words to express the joy, gratitude and overwhelming awe we all experienced on safari, due almost entirely to Africa Dream Safaris. Maybe our best advice would be to change your name – Africa Dream Safaris does not do your company justice.
As Marqui recently wrote, “I have seen and experienced beauty, thrills and culture that I only dreamed about before. In fact, my wildest dreams were too dull for the adventure and majestic beauty we beheld in Tanzania.” I am, by nature and occupation, a skeptic and particularly distrustful of advertisements. Even a few days before leaving for safari, I worried that Africa Dream Safaris could not deliver the experience and service it had promised. Well, I am happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, ADS under-promised and over-delivered at every turn.
First, our ADS representative, Sharon Lyon, planned the trip down to every detail. She answered our countless questions before our departure for Tanzania, always patiently and with good humor, allaying our many concerns and providing suggestions and invaluable pre-trip guidance.
Second, four members of our group were delayed on the way to Amsterdam and ADS representatives in both the U.S. and Tanzania (at 1:00 a.m. Tanzania time) answered calls, and gave us assurances that any adjustments could be addressed – luckily, we made the flight to Tanzania and all eight members of our family arrived together as scheduled.
Third, the meet and greet staff at the airport held our hands throughout the visa and customs process and got us out of the airport and to the hotel without us lifting a finger (well, except to be fingerprinted for our visas). We were never concerned and everything was taken care of for us every step of the way. This was just the beginning of ADS exceeding our expectations and even our highest hopes. When we arrived at the Mount Meru Hotel, the suites each couple received could have housed our entire group.
The next morning, we were escorted by our meet and greet staff to the Arusha airport. We had been concerned about the weight restrictions on the flight from Arusha to the Serengeti, particularly because my sister Elizabeth was bringing her wheelchair and walker in addition to her luggage. (Yes, one of the many “special needs” of our group was my sister’s handicap, which was never an issue during our entire trip.
In fact, Elizabeth’s handicap was less of an obstacle and more seamlessly addressed in Tanzania by ADS than in most other places that we’ve traveled as a family – including in the US). Rather than us having to deal with the air carrier about our additional needs or the weight restrictions, ADS arranged a charter flight for just the eight of us at no extra cost! The pilot circled around the landing site a few times so that we could see the wildlife from the air before even touching down in the Serengeti. (Logan is still sure he saw a rhino from the plane.)
Upon arrival in the Northern Serengeti, as promised by ADS, we were greeted on the tarmac by our guides, Peter and Mellel (“Raphael”). They were both so genuine, kind, informative and helpful from the moment we met them that every person in our group instantly connected with both of them. Not only were Peter and Mellel extremely knowledgeable about every animal, bird, tree, flower and location we saw, they were fun to be with, were always striving to ensure that we were having the best time possible, and were excellent “spotters” – finding wildlife that we would have never seen on our own.
In fact, on several occasions, other non-ADS guides were simply going to drive away from a location because they could not see the leopard or other animal our guides had spotted, and either we told the other tourists how to find them or the other guide had to ask Peter or Mellel for help so they could show their group. Peter and Mellel also understood animal habits and behavior so well that they always knew where to be and when. For instance, we stopped for lunch our second day in the Serengeti on a hill under a tree by the Mara River, while wildebeests amassed on the opposite river bank.
Several other safari operators started gathering down the road where it appeared the wildebeests might cross. We started to second-guess our guides, wondering if we should move to where the other cars were waiting. Well, within fifteen minutes after we had finished lunch, the wildebeests began crossing the river immediately in front of our location. Peter and Mellel sped us down to the river bank, and we were the first cars to arrive as the wildebeests began emerging from the river.
Soon, wildebeests were streaming on either side of our cars. It was exhilarating! It was probably the most exciting thing we saw and we didn’t even think we would be there for any of the migration! We enjoyed every minute we were with our guides from the moment we arrived in the Serengeti to the night they dropped us off at the airport for our return flight home. They truly made our safari the amazing adventure it was and we cannot thank them and ADS enough for giving us the opportunity to meet and befriend two such wonderful people.
Beyond our ADS representative, our meet and greet staff and our guides, the accommodations provided by ADS consistently exceeded our expectations. We stayed at a variety of places, and everyone in our group enjoyed all of the lodging. One amazing thing about the accommodations was that ADS managed to arrange lodging with enough variety to meet the disparate desires of every member of our very diverse group.
In particular, we stayed at two Lemala tented camps, which were probably Virginia and Logan’s favorites because they felt so intimate and close to nature; Buffalo Springs, with its amazing food and wonderful staff who bent over backwards to ensure that our slightest whim was satisfied – we think Elizabeth may now be married to one of the staff there who carried her up and down the only set of stairs we encountered during our entire trip, like a husband carrying his new bride over the threshold; Bilila, an absolutely incredible haven of luxury in the middle of the Serengeti, complete with our own individual plunge pools, dik diks grazing outside each enormous suite, and baboon viewing from the bathtubs in our rooms; and finally Swala where lions roared nearby during dinner and elephants sauntered by the porch of our tents as we drank the coffee that came with our “wake-up call.” Every one of the lodges was unique, and combined helped make our “luxury safari” more opulent than we had dreamed possible.
And, last but not least (and I only left it for last because it is not entirely attributable to ADS), the game viewing was amazing! As I mentioned, we saw wildebeests (about 4,000) crossing the Mara River. We saw eight leopards, including one with a dead aardvark in a tree, and three in one tree with a dead gazelle. With the group of three, one of the leopards ended up knocking the gazelle out of the tree and all three then dragged it to a different tree and brought it up again while we watched.
We saw at least five cheetah, one black rhino, and countless lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, hippos, crocs, impala, wildebeest, hyena, cape buffalo, ostrich, baboon, vervet monkeys, topis, reedbuck, waterbuck, dik dik, and klipspringers, not to mention tons of the most incredible birds I’ve ever seen – and I am not a bird person, or wasn’t before this trip. We got incredible photos, again with many thanks to Peter and Mellel who both knew how to position the car to get the best view and best light for every shot!
Our only criticism of ADS – and it is a serious one – is that you have made it impossible for us to fully enjoy any other family vacation that is not in Tanzania. Any other place would pale in comparison to our trip-of-a-lifetime dream safari. Thank you, ADS!!
Laura Krabill and Family
Raleigh, North Carolina
October 1 to October 11, 2011