We had an amazing trip - we enjoyed all of the places we visited but the highlights were Toka Leya and Monwana. Those accommodations were amazing and Victoria Falls and Thornybush Game Reserve were spectacular. However, all of the places we visited offered something different. From Capetown to Stellenbosch, and Livingstone to Thornybush, none of the experiences were redundant and each fit together into a very nice, complete trip. It was everything we we hoping the trip would be.
We got to visit several parts of South Africa (Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Thornybush) and really enjoyed them all. We wee struck by how friendly and customer-service oriented everyone was at the various places we visited. It made the trip very enjoyable. In the Cape Town area, we particularly enjoyed our visits to Cape Point and Robben Island. Stellenbosch was very relaxing and the grandeur of the wineries there was very impressive. We really enjoyed our time at Monwana in Thornybush. The quality and proximity of the animals we saw in the reserve was breathtaking.
Because our time in Zambia was limited to the Toka Leya lodge, we only saw a small slice of the country. However, our experience in Zambia, through the lodge, was spectacular. Reality sometimes doesn't live up to your expectations, but Victoria Falls was just as breathtaking as we imagined. We also enjoyed the opportunity to visit a local village. It was a perspective-broadening experience for us and, in particular, our kids. We also loved the opportunity to do game drives in the reserve, to see white rhinos up close, and to boat up and down the Zambezi. The proximity to the river and to the falls provided a different experience and different animal viewing opportunities than the other places we visited in South Africa.
Our room was spacious and well-appointed. The staff were very friendly and helpful and the complimentary breakfasts were very good. The roof top pool was a little underwhelming and seemed secondary to the bar that it is surrounded by (which was a bit disappointing to the kids). The location of the hotel was ok. It was not far from the Waterfront and other sights, but not really close either. We ended up taking a taxi to most things where it would have been preferable to have more things right outside the hotel. Our stay at the hotel was satisfactory, but, due to location, if we returned to Cape Town, I would probably look at other places.
We really enjoyed our time at Spier. The hotel is perfect for families and provided a really relaxing stay. We loved the decor and all of the amenities on the grounds. Our kids immediately made friends with other kids staying there and they enjoyed the kids' club on one afternoon. My wife loved the spa. The variety of restaurants and the food was good. We particularly liked the HogHouse BBQ. It's location in the heart of wine country was great and made it easy to visit some of the many surrounding wineries (we particularly liked Waterford). We commented that, if we lived in Cape Town, we'd come frequently for weekend getaways.
Toka Leya was a real highlight for us and we would recommend it without hesitation. The camp's setting on the Zambezi is spectacular and the room was luxurious, but still conveyed the feel that you were on a reserve in Africa. The service at Toka Leya was absolutely superb. Everyone knew our names and worked to make sure our stay was as perfect as possible. They made our kids feel particularly comfortable. Our guide, Godfrey, was superb, knowledgeable and great with the kids. We liked that each family had the same guide for the duration of their visit as it really helped to build a rapport and comfort-level. There was also a great diversity of outings - from visiting a local village, to Vic Falls, to game drives, to river cruises. There's a lot you can do in this one area. The food was extremely good. We also enjoyed the spa facilities. My wife thought this resort was her new benchmark for customer service.
This was the one accommodation we felt was underwhelming. We understand that Hippo Hollow was just a convenient overnight stop on the way from Zambia to Thornybush, but we would not recommend it to friends. There were bugs throughout our room and on/in the bed without mosquito netting available. Service was not on the same level as the other places we stayed and we thought the food (generally buffet style) was overpriced and underwhelming. I'm sure Hippo Hollow suffers in comparison due to the quality of the other places at which we stayed, but we were very happy we were only here for one night. My understanding is there are other places in the same area that could satisfy the "stop-over" function with greater quality and a comparable price point.
We absolutely loved Monwana lodge and would highly recommend it. We loved the small, camp and the quality of our rooms was top-notch. The food and service were also exemplary. Absolutely everyone at the camp was friendly and worked to make our stay wonderful. The game drives themselves were great and we saw something amazing on each of our six. Highlights included watching a leopard stalk warthogs for 30 mins, a cheetah eating it's freshly killed impala, a lion roaring so close to us we could have touched it, and more elephants than we could count. The watering hole right next to Monwana is also a real perq. We were able to sit on our deck and watch elephants (including a 2-day old baby elephant), zebras, baboons, and impala come to drink. One note - We liked how the camp only hosted 8-12 visitors at a time. It worked out perfectly for us in that another family of 4 with two kids of similar ages stayed at the same time as us. Everyone got along wonderfully, which was great because you end up doing everything (meals, game drives, etc.) with the other guests; however, I could see this becoming challenging in a different dynamic (for example, had we been paired with honeymooners or retirees looking for a different experience). While it ended up being a plus for us (we're still in touch with the other family), other visitors may want to inquire about other visitors when booking). Overall, a spectacular experience - one we hope we will someday be able to repeat.
Nikki put together a great itinerary for us, particularly accounting for the fact that we have 2 small(ish) children. She was open to answering our questions and flexible when we asked for changes or wanted to know more about the rationale for why she chose a particular location. She was also able to book us into Monwana when other sites said it had no availability.