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South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)

South Africa, Safari in Maasai Mara Kenya, & Mauritius (UA J, SA J, XAK, LX J, AC J)

Old Dec 6, 13, 11:27 am
  #31  
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Johannesburg Arrival Experience.



We arrived to O.R Tambo Johannesburg Airport. I had read about baggage mishandling and theft from the Johannesburg Airport but looking out the airplane window, the baggage handlers were creating new world records for carelessness with the bags.







With 250 other of my new best friends on the Airbus 340, we got off the plane and made a mad dash for the South African immigration line. It seems that the SAA Beijing flight was arriving at the same time so we all crushed together in a long serpentine queue waiting for entry stamps. SAA does not issue Fast Track cards for international arrivals at SAA and the immigration officers seem to like to chit chat here about nothing relevant to the immigration process. It took twenty minutes for us to make it through. Make note that this is not a fast process if you’re rushing for the last airport train to downtown.



I made the seventh and final inquiry with the SAA baggage desk in the secure side of the airport. As expected, even though I had a slight glimmer of hope, my checked bag did not turn up. I was told to expect it within 120 hours at the maximum but more likely within 2 – 3 days. I became convinced then having seen the issues with the recovery of the bags and the ones littered over the apron, that there were two kinds of bags - checked and lost.

We cleared customs, bypassed the closed SAA Arrivals lounge, and headed over to the South African Airways connections desk. We were traveling on to Cape Town International on a separate ticket purchased on SAA via the SAA website. After presenting our passports and reservation, the agent seemed to have difficulty with the booking. One boarding pass spits out of the printer, despite both being on the same reference number, and we are told “You’ll have to go upstairs to check in to get the manager to hit the override button.”

With a bit of groan, we checked our only remaining bag and left the connections desk. We changed some money and headed upstairs to the dark Terminal B Departures hall. The hall, built sometime ago when large monolithic concrete buildings were the in vogue style, was dark and dimly lit. We found the SAA priority check in desk area for business class and Star Alliance Gold in the Terminal B departures hall. It looks brighter in these photos than it actually was.





After presenting the passports and reservation and explaining the “override” story. We were told “One of your tickets did not go through. You’ll have to go over to ticketing to get it sorted out.” It indicated your credit card was declined.

Getting increasingly bored (and honestly irritated with this being our eighth unnecessary stop combined with all the luggage issues) with the standing at the counter waiting game, we headed over to the ticketing counter to sort the mess out.



We learned that one ticket (despite both passengers on the same PNR) did not finalize when we made the change by phone in Washington 36 hours ago. An administrative note on file indicated that the American Express credit card was declined. Further to this, the administrator notes on file indicated that SAA had allegedly emailed and SMS’ed purchaser’s account. Of course, neither message made it through to our smartphones and we had previously called Amex to advise them of our travel plans. Keeping in mind that the SAA website was unable to accommodate a simple electronic ticket change with a ticket purchased through their initial point of sale. If this was travelling in Africa in 2013, we were going to be in for a bumpy trip.

After about 15 minutes the ticket agent was able to sort us out by running through the second charge on an old fashioned credit card embossing imprinter (click-click) of $161 to change the ticket. Of course, they couldn’t issue a boarding pass at the ticket counter. That would be too easy. “You’ll have to go back over to check in.”

We both had some steam coming from our ears by this point dealing with this at the end of an overseas flight, but we were frankly too tired to put up a fuss. Looking back in hind sight, it was more the fact that we had these inconveniences after an overseas flight, being re-directed from person to person without any real answers.

We returned to check in. Boarding pass finally printed and we headed off to the smaller Terminal A gates and the domestic South African Airways Baobab Lounge.

Last edited by worldtraveller73; Dec 6, 13 at 11:36 am
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Old Dec 6, 13, 11:35 am
  #32  
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South African Airways Baobab Lounge - O.R. Tambo Johannesburg Terminal A (Domestic)

The lounge itself was located along with all others immediately above security. It was accessed using an tiny 5 passenger elevator that smelled like the water closet of a london pub - sticky floors, an odour of stale cigarettes and filth all over the floor.

The lounge itself had an earth tone theme going. Only two flights remained for the day. Lots of space here at the moment but food and beverage pretty packed up for the night. We had a small glass of wine poured in a regular glass as they had packed up all the wine glasses for the evening.













As the ticketing issues gobbled up most of our time, we didn't get to spend a lot of time here. The lounge, as with other SAA lounges, had an odd layout. It was perfectly adequate for a quick stop with a small selection of food available.
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Old Dec 6, 13, 11:51 am
  #33  
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South African Airways
Economy Class
JNB-CPT (O.R. Tambo Johannesburg International – Cape Town International)
SA 223 – Economy Class (L)
6:30 PM – 7:20 AM
November 5, 2013
Booked: Boeing 340-600
Flown: Boeing 320-200


About 30 minutes before the flight, we headed down to the gate. On arrival, people were lined up already waiting to board at the podium. There was no priority boarding call and we again did the mad crush for the gate.



The gate agent didn’t like our roller board suitcase and laptop bag combination said we would have to gate check one of the bags. The gate agent held up the line while he filled out a limited release and the forms needed to tag and gate check the carry ons.

It's funny how when you get really irritated, your mind reflects back to things you have perhaps experienced or seen in the past. In this case, it was the words of Kate Winslet’s character Rose Dawson from the movie Titanic when she ran away from Cal’s bodyguard with Leo “I’m through being nice! After the end of our fifth consecutive flight and about 40 hrs of continuous travel, we’d had it by this point with the lost luggage, stubborn ticketing issues / interruptions and short sleeps and decided as soon as we were out of the gate agent's sight, we’d sneak on the bags. Around the corner we tore off the gate check claim tags and just rolled on our suitcases onto the plane, which thankfully no one seemed to notice.

Today’s flight was served by one of SAA’s brand new Airbus 320-200’s. The crew was very proud of the aircraft. By a stroke of luck, we were seated in the bulkhead.



Brand new A 320-200. New upgraded next generation GPS display system.



On the way down to “The Mother City” of Cape Town, a beverage service including complimentary bar service was offered. A complimentary meal was also offered with a choice of chicken and rice or beef with strips.



We arrived to a non gate position and boarded a bus to the terminal. A bit of rain on the ground in Cape Town on a cool evening.



As we were arriving at about 10 PM, I decided back in Chicago that we’d attempt to book the car service for our transfer to the hotel. The Westin Cape Town was attentive enough to respond to emails within 24 hours. By the time we had arrived in Johannesburg, the process had been confirmed. On arrival in Cape Town, we were met by the Westin meet and greet service and were taken to the hotel in a pleasant E Class Mercedes for a 20 minute transfer to the hotel.

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Old Dec 6, 13, 11:53 am
  #34  
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Any reason why you did not travel with carry-on only? As a business class passenger, you can bring two on board for free.
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Old Dec 6, 13, 1:22 pm
  #35  
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Westin Cape Town
Junior Suite, King


There are a few international hotel chains in Cape Town, and our choices for this trip were really limited to the Westin, the One and Only or the Table Bay hotel. We ended up at the Westin and our decision did not disappoint us. Some photos from assorted times through our stay.



On check in we were recognized as an SPG Gold. Were offered bonus Starpoints as the welcome amenity or a free drink in the bar. We accepted the points as glasses of wine in the bar started at $3 USD.



Our check in agent Jan offered us a “nice” room and said that he had upgraded us to a suite for our stay. I was super impressed has a suite upgrade at the desk has never happened to me before. As a result, we ended up in a Junior Suite for our stay. Jan also explained the process for executive lounge access and the complimentary van shuttle to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront which ran every 30 minutes (travel time 12 mins).

The room itself was spacious and comfortable. The room was accessed behind a glass keycard door limited access to the floor. Security signs were prevalent around the room. We locked our bags at all times and did not have any issues.

















Security signs were prevalent around the room, a theme that we experienced through all of our stays on the African continent.



View from the room toward the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.



The upgrade to the executive lounge meant that we had an included complimentary buffet breakfast. The executive lounge access made our trip as we ended up taking breakfast (continental) up there every day. The views from the 19th floor over breakfast were also spectacular. There was a small $4 USD up charge for egg items off the menu but in practice, they would often waive the charge. We only were asked to pay once over our 5 day stay.

There were limited dining options immediately around the hotel, and the main restaurant in the hotel downstairs only offers a full priced buffet. With no coffee shop near the hotel, I'd recommend getting a breakfast included rate if at all possible. The executive club restaurant is also open to guests not on the executive floor via the executive reception, although most other guests appeared to end up in the lobby restaurant.





There are also some interesting views of the partially completed elevated freeway system around Cape Town. I was told in 1998 that South African did not have expropriation laws on the books which meant that some freeways had to be built in phases. It seems that some projects did not get completed.



Lounge area of the 19th floor. There is no second part to the photo - the seating area is extremely limited. Free wifi was offered through the hotel.



The hotel was fully featured and offered a gym and small pool area. The pool had a 12 and older age restriction.





The Westin Cape Town also offered a free manager’s reception in the lobby Thirty 7 restaurant at 17-19 on Sunday. 3 free small appetizers and free pour local spirits and drinks. There is also a high end wine shop in the lobby area, which offered shipping to some countries. It was closed during much of our time there as we often returned to the hotel late.



We did Make a Green choice for 4 nights. Despite this, housecleaning did some spot cleaning twice a day regardless of Green Choice option of varying qualities. Points posted without issue within 24 hrs.

As a bonus, my plastic wrapped lost suitcase arrived at end of day 2, having traveled the original ORD-GRU-JNB routing. Lock cut off and missing but otherwise contents intact. It was a bit of relief since I was running out of clothes by this point! The SAA Baggage Tracer website was hopelessly out of date - as by the time the bag was delivered, the website was still showing as "bag not located - searching continues".



In summary, we had a really enjoyable stay here in Cape Town and would highly recommend this property as a home for your travels around the Cape Town area. In addition to being a comfortable place to say, the property is competitively priced on points and offers good SPG Cash and Points availability with reasonable redemption rates.
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Old Dec 6, 13, 5:44 pm
  #36  
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Europcar
Westin Grand Hotel, Cape Town.


We rented a car for a week through the Europcar location located within the Westin Hotel lobby through the www.nationalcar.com website. The car rental experience was regretfully probably the worst one that I’ve ever had. It seemed that there were major problems in South Africa between reservations made at the point of sale and what was actually delivered. This was not limited to our experiences with SAA, Europcar but also Hyatt as you’ll see later in the Trip Report.

First off, it’s worth noting that this Europcar location is no more than a single person at a desk off the side of the lobby that’s cleaned out at the end of every night. If someone is in front of you, this will mean a long wait. A poor group behind us waited over an hour just to get dealt with. There are no cars here and all reservations are filled to order with cars delivered from another location. This also means no last minute changes to your reservation, as they bring what’s available to park in the garage for your booking.

Despite being an Emerald Club member, with all personal and credit card information pre-populated on my profile and with the reservation, picking up a car here took 1 hour and 10 minutes of actual transaction time at the rental counter. This included manually calling a credit card authorization number and reading off the individual credit card numbers orally over the phone, seeking pre-authorization for a 12,000 rand deposit.

After completing all the materials by hand, I was hit with the demand that “You have to take our extra insurance cover otherwise we can not let you take the car.” I tried explaining that I have it along with the credit card but this was refused. I was apparently supposed to turn up with a letter from the issuing credit card bank indicating that the credit card insurance applied to rental cars. I asked if they could look this information up on the internet but it was declined. I explained that there was nothing like this written in the terms and conditions (having a copy of the reservation with me). My concerns were dismissed as I had booked through the “National Car” website and not the “Europcar Website” as “National car is not part of our company”. Checking after the fact, the information wasn’t spelled out on the Europcar website either, saying only “insurance details available from the Europcar office”. The process concluded with the clerk from Europcar making an international call to American Express Canada and having American Express Canada issue a letter by email indicating insurance coverage. Surprisingly, the AMEX Canada office was open and this process only took about 15 minutes.

The GPS that we requested on the reservation didn’t arrive (“We have too many requests to honor the reservation”), which wasn’t of real concern as the highway signs around South Africa were really well sign posted. However when we returned the car a week later at the Cape Town Airport (no drop fee), the GPS was showing as on the reservation as a chargeable amount. Another 20 minutes waiting at the counter with the supervisor while they sorted this out, which involved calling the original rental location since they “couldn’t change it from here”.

We were sent on our way without a final bill, which was a bit strange but it seemed to be the normal process by other renters returning cars. When we got the bill 4 days later by email, we were hit with a 10$ USD refueling charge, despite the car being returned full of gas. A bit of a disappointment as the gas tank only held $30 worth of gas so a $10 charge would have represented a 1/3 of the tank missing. Two emails to the designated Europcar address to get this sorted out went unanswered and ignored.

I consider myself a patient guy and considerate of other countries issues. In this case, I felt as though 90 minutes of administrative burden on the part of Europcar was an unnecessary and unwelcomed period of to expect customers to wait for a simple pick up and drop off. The wait, the missing GPS, the unexpected gasoline charges and the unreasonable and unexpected insurance coverage charges weren’t the end of the world but certainly an inconvenience that would make me think twice about renting here next time. My overall impression was that they were running a sloppy company. I’d recommend renting elsewhere, as Europcar didn’t make it easy.

Fortunately, this was the last hiccup for our trip. We enjoyed 5 beautiful days in the Cape Town area.
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Old Dec 6, 13, 6:50 pm
  #37  
 
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Originally Posted by worldtraveller73 View Post


Thanks ShortHairFrancis.

You're pretty close with the house location - it's actually South Surrey. Built in the same generation as the newer Port Coquitlam houses.

Most of the aircraft that we flew on were in really good condition. However, we did luck out with equipment swaps from what we booked with several flights on their brand new Airbus 320-200's that they have acquired to manage their rising fuel costs.
Ah that's why, since they looks liked the ones I grew up in Greater Vancouver ^
Yes, consider yourself lucky, your planes looks good/new and clean.
The 2 SA J flights I had in aug, still writing that huge TR btw, both either had, seat, tech, cleaning issue.


Originally Posted by worldtraveller73 View Post


You would think JNB airport trolleys would have some sort of netting to prevent this type of stuff, but nope.
Oh ya, remember this fridge well, when I was there 9am, it was the same, sandwiches although they have plastic wraps on them, some light snacks by the coffee/drinks bar, and a mini-station directly across the bar.
Wonder if someone left their unfinished sandwiches in there


Originally Posted by worldtraveller73 View Post
There are also some interesting views of the partially completed elevated freeway system around Cape Town. I was told in 1998 that South African did not have expropriation laws on the books which meant that some freeways had to be built in phases. It seems that some projects did not get completed.



.
The New Bridge to Nowhere
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Old Dec 6, 13, 8:24 pm
  #38  
 
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Great trip report so far. Can't wait for the rest of it
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Old Dec 6, 13, 11:15 pm
  #39  
 
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WT73 thanks for the report! Very enjoyable to read, hope the speed bumps you've had along the way wasn't too stressful for you! The Westin in CT looks fantastic!
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Old Dec 9, 13, 8:33 pm
  #40  
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Originally Posted by Short hair Francis View Post
Yes, consider yourself lucky, your planes looks good/new and clean.
The 2 SA J flights I had in aug, still writing that huge TR btw, both either had, seat, tech, cleaning issue.
Thanks Short hair Francis - we were lucky when it came to good mechanical function - although most of our flights ended up being on the new Airbus 320-200's. All ran well and our inbound Airbus 340-300 was in good condition.

Originally Posted by cardinalkid1891 View Post
Great trip report so far. Can't wait for the rest of it
Thanks Cardinalkid. Am chipping away at the report...

Originally Posted by SKYEG View Post
WT73 thanks for the report! Very enjoyable to read, hope the speed bumps you've had along the way wasn't too stressful for you! The Westin in CT looks fantastic!
Thanks SKYEG - The Westin in Cape Town was a great stay. We would gladly return. We were treated really well.
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Old Dec 9, 13, 8:48 pm
  #41  
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Cape Town,
South Africa


We spent 5 wonderful days in Cape Town and the Cape Point area. We visited Boulders Beach (penguin colony), Cape Point, Camps Bay and Table Mountain. The Western Cape is a beauty queen and easy to photograph.







































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Old Dec 9, 13, 8:59 pm
  #42  
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Robben Island,
South Africa


During our time in Cape Town, we also took a tour of Robben Island. Robben Island is known as the location where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for most of his 27 years in captivity. The tour itself was conducted by ex prisoners of the island and are highly structured. You’ll be lucky if you get fifteen minutes to walk around on your own.

Our guide had been imprisoned as a result of traveling to Angola for African National Congress activities – although he didn’t specify exactly. The advantage to having the “prisoner guides” are the direct connection to the history of the place. The disadvantage is that, with the greatest respect, their presentation skills aren’t as polished as a commercial tour operation and the stories can be a bit hard to follow. We were able to see the limestone quarry where Nelson Mandela worked and his cell where he spent many of his years in segregation. I felt that the island tour was a must do in Cape Town.







The Robben Island Limestone Quarry where prisoners were put to hard labour, causing health complications later on in life.





Nelson Mandela's Cell:



The tours sell out quickly and were booking 48-72 hours in advance of our visit in the spring. Advance Reservations can be made via the web. On our visit, we turned up on the first day and were lucky enough to be accommodated later on in the week.

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Old Dec 9, 13, 9:11 pm
  #43  
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Originally Posted by dieuwer2 View Post
Any reason why you did not travel with carry-on only? As a business class passenger, you can bring two on board for free.
?
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Old Dec 10, 13, 8:38 am
  #44  
 
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Robben Island visit was an important one IMO....and turns out to be a pretty important little side trip in Cape Town with recent events.

Nice TR...keep it coming.
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Old Dec 10, 13, 9:15 am
  #45  
 
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Originally Posted by worldtraveller73 View Post
Cape Town,
South Africa




AMAZING. OK, you sealed it.....I am going.
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