Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hotel and Safari Reviews...

The Fairview Hotel in Nairobi is an affordable, clean, perfect and safe hotel for starting or finishing your safari. The hotel grounds are beautifully manicured. Actually, they are exceptional! We were amazed at the amount of time that must have been devoted to not only developing the grounds and water features, but maintining them. When I am in African cities or any large city that I'm not familiar with, I love staying at hotels that have secure fenced grounds. It makes me feel safe and at home and Fairview is just that. We only stayed there one night, so I'm sure we didn't get a good perspective on all that it has to offer, but from what we saw, we enjoyed. The dinner menu is good and reasonably priced and we had a good comfortable sleep. A "continental breakfast" is included in your stay. In North America that usually means you can make your own toast and have a bowl of cereal with a glass of orange juice. At the Fairview hotel, their idea of a continental breakfast is bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, eggs benedict, a variety of cereals and a chef ready to create your perfect omlette. This along with a variety of juices, tea or coffee. It was the perfect place to start our safari.
Fairview hotel water feature at night

Giraffe Manor was a fantastic way to start our safari. They picked us up from the Fairview Hotel, then gave us the overview on how to feed the giraffes and the background of the manor. Included in our stay were three meals a day plus drinks and an afternoon snack. Included also were excursions anywhere in the Langata region.

Lynne at Giraffe Manor
They took us to the David Sheldrick Elephant SanctuaryKazuri Bead factory and of course the Giraffe Centre which is about 100 meters from the Manor. All were very interesting visits. At the Manor, guests had dinner together in their formal dining room. The dining room doesn't have any lights, so dinner served by candlelight was a nice touch. The highlight of the thee days that we stayed there were definitely the giraffes. The Giraffe Manor is located on 140 acres and is home to nine giraffes. Each giraffe has his or her own personality and by the end of our visit we could tell them apart. I'm not saying I was right 100% of the time, but most of the time I could figure them out. Jock Jr. is the mature male. He is a little bit lighter in colour than most of the others and of course he is a male. Lynne is very personable and usually the first to come for treats. Patrick and Helen are the two babies. I think they are about a year and a half old or so. Patrick is a little darker and a little smaller than Helen is. Kelly is Patrick's mother (Jock Jr. is his father) Kelly is the same colouration as Jock Jr except of course she is a lady. We didn't see much of  Laura and to be honest, I think I would confuse her with Lynne if they were together. Daisey II has a large discolouration or scar of some sort on her side and we didn't see much of her either. Okay, actually I don't remember how Arlene is different either. We met Lynne and Arlene the first morning that we were there...And I am missing giraffe number 9. Help me out if anyone knows who I am missing or how you can tell Lynne from Arlene and Laura.

This all sounds quite corny I know, but the giraffes are so friendly and personable that you can't help but be taken by them. Some are more skittish or shy than others. Some are more gentle than others, then there is Kelly who you have to be careful of as she has a little bit of a grumpy streak in her. It was an amazing experience. The rothschild giraffes are beautiful. Even Gaye who could care less about the giraffes when she first got there had to admit that visiting Giraffe Manor and feeding the giraffes was one of the highlights of our whole trip to Africa and we went to two countries, three national parks, two safari companies and stayed at numerous hotels. We saw hundreds of thousands of animals during the great migration, watched lions, cheetahs and elephants playing. We saw all kinds of interesting things and yet, one of her top three highlights was feeding the rothschilds giraffes at giraffe manor.

Thomson Safaris is a very reputable safari company based out of the states. They put together itineraries for safaris only in Tanzania and all of their safari guides are born and raised in Tanzania. We had them custom design a safari for us. We spent two days in Tarangire National Park and two days at the Ngornongoro Crater. While we were there we stayed in somewhat luxurious, environmentally friendly tentts. The food was great, the staff were very good, the widlife was extremely abundant. Our guide was as friendly as he had to be, he was courteous, professional and knowledgable, but perhaps the worst guide that we have had in the past ten years. We were supposed to be on a custom safari. We were supposed to be focusing on the big cats and babies. On our third safari day we finally saw lion cubs. He stopped for five minutes, then moved on. We traveled 20,000 kilometeres to photograph cats and babies and when we finally see them we only get five minutes?! I was choked. I had discussed with my agent at Thomson about the chance of stopping off at Lake Manyara on the way to Ngorongoro Crater. It wasn't on the official itinerary, so he completely dismissed it. It was only Gaye and I on the safari and it was supposed to be a custom safari. There was nothing custom about this safari in Tanzania. For that reason, I doubt that I will ever use Thomson Safaris again. Thomson is a very reputable company. Six months before our safari we got a check list in the mail to help us organize ourselves to get ready in regards to visas, packing, shopping for supplies, etc. That was awesome! I have never experienced any other company with that level of dedication to making their clients feel at ease before a safari . Three weeks before we left, we received hats and a safari guide in the mail that was quite helpful and we thought was very impressive from a customer service perspective. The places we stayed at were great, the food was great, the follow up after safari was also impressive as there was a catalogue in the mail with a discount voucher for a future trip with Thomson safaris. They did all of these wonderful things and yet they assigned us a terribly impersonable guide who would point out interesting sights, but had no interest in any kind of conversation and would only answer a direct question, but would not offer any conversation. We tried to converse with him for four days, but only got short answers each time. After day two we were ready for our trip to be over and just couldn't wait to be rid of this guide who we felt hated us from the get go. The other Thomson safari guides would have dinner with their guests and discuss the events of the day. The guests would ask their guide about the interesting things that he may have seen in his guiding career. The guide meanwhile would enquire about the safari experiences that his guests have had in the past in other parts of the world. These dinner conversations with people in different parts of the world and different nature experiences is like the icing on the cake after a great day on safari.

Maasai Village
We on the other hand were always at a table alone listening to other guides and their clients. It is too bad that Thomson dropped the ball here because they did everything else right. Unfortunately sometimes the devil is in the details and even if you proactively do great things for your customer, sometimes you can fall short on one small area that ruins everything.The highlight of our safari trip was the one time our guide was flexible. He took us to a Maasai Village. We really enjoyed it.

Rivertrees Country Inn Thomson Safari booked this quaint little cottage for us. Arusha is a really busy intimidating African city. Rivertrees is a beatifully manicured, safe, quiet oasis in amoungst the craziness. The food is great, the grounds are beautiful. Even their well behaved resident dog; Santanna was welcoming. I would recommend starting or finishing any safari with Rivertrees Country Inn. My only regret is that we just had one night there.

Little Governors' Camp is located in the masai mara overlooking a marsh. It is a quaint luxury camp with 17 tents and impeccable customer service. The food is great, the wildlife viewing is spectacular and staff to a person will all bend over backwards to help you feel more comfortable.

Elephants outside our tent

Due to tripadvisor comments, we requested Solomon to be our guide and we were glad that we did. We had more fun in the short 15 minute game drive from the airstrip to the camp, than we had in four days with our guide from Thomson Safaris. A safari guide can make or break your safari. We were delighted to have Solomon guide us. He was fantastic! Solomon made our experience really unique. On the first day, he taught us a couple of commonly used swahili words used on safari. On each day after that, he taught us a couple more. It might sound corny, but by the end of our safari, we were having fun with ten swahili words. Solomon didn't only find wildlife, he explained the behaviours of animals and why they were doing certain things and what he anticipated that they would do next. His enthusiastic, positive attitude really set the atmosphere for the trip. It is more fun when you are on safari when you get the impression that the safari guide is having fun too. In reading other comments on trip advisor, it sounds like other guides at the Governors' camps are equally as enthusiastic and fun to be around. That's okay though, when we go back to Little Governors' in 2012, we are still going to request that Solomon be our guide.

Panari Hotel was nice enough to allow us to keep our souvenirs for five days while we were on safari. We booked a day room with them for a mere $210 US. They are located between the Wilson airport and Nairobi international airport. We were supposed to get in at about 4:30pm and our flight to Istanbul was at 2:30a.m. so we needed a room for a few hours that was close to the airport.

Unfortunately for us, the shower head was broken. We had better shower facilities in the middle of the bush in Tanzania. It is a good thing that we were really tired and weren't staying overnight because I don't think the floor was as hard as the bed was. That was the most uncomfortable bed in a hotel that I have ever stayed in. We checked in at around 8p.m. because of our delayed flight, but a short rest a meal and a shower was still appreciated even if it was completely overpriced. Insult to injury, Panari was the first hotel that I have ever spent $210 at that didn't include free internet service. If you need a hotel to stay at that is close to the airport, try a different hotel. This one is terrible!

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