There’s nothing like traveling with Adventures by Disney, especially when it’s to somewhere as amazing as South Africa. Recently our agent Millessa Oberhauser decided to pack her bags and take on this once-in-a-lifetime itinerary, on a solo trip she’d never forget. Let’s take a look at everything she experienced to see why this may be the dream vacation you never knew you should dream of.
Photo Courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Arrival Day (Day Before Actual AbD started)
There was a large group of us that arrived a day early on a United flight to Cape Town. I think 17 out of the 33 in our total group. Once cleared through customs, Adventures by Disney had a driver waiting with an orange “Adventure by Disney sign” in the baggage claim area. It was a very low stress process getting from the airport to the hotel. In Cape Town, we stayed at the Table Bay Hotel. It was very nice and was located in the very upscale waterfront district. It felt very much like a place most visitors in town for business stayed (lot of suits). It felt very safe. In fact, guest would have to show their room key to enter the hotel area. You also had to have a room to access the hall that held elevators to get to the guest rooms.
Two ladies who were kind enough to befriend me right away when they learned I was traveling alone; they invited me to join them for dinner. The food here is AMAZING and so cheap. I had a 3- course meal, two drinks and a generous tip for $29. I was blown away. Random tip: Local goods were also extremely cheap, but any luxury goods (think Gucci, Chanel etc.) were actually more expensive than the US because of their VAT taxes.
South African Currency and Anti Malaria pills for the trip
This is the true arrival day for your adventure. This day is used mostly to get settled and meet your guides for the first time. There were no planned events. A few of us who had arrived early decided to take a tour of Robben Island which is where Nelson Mandela spent many years in prison. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Cape Town and it is not part of the AbD itinerary. It is a pretty ferry ride over to the island as well and departs right from the waterfront where the Table Bay Hotel is located.
Once we returned, we met up with Craig and Ralph, our adventure guides, for the first time. There were letters in our rooms letting us know when to meet and where. I could tell right away how great they were! When traveling with Adventure by Disney, one guide is always from the country you are visiting and the other (usually) is a cast member from the US! Craig was from South Africa and Ralph was from the US and played Iago in Aladdin at CA Adventures for almost 10 years …before applying to be an adventure guide. I could tell right away he had a BIG personality! The guides took food orders for meals that they wanted ready for us right when we arrived and for one private charter plane ride later in the adventure.
We had a breakfast buffet provided and then went to a conference room to meet as a group of 35 for the first time. The guides went over the itinerary for the week. They warned us there may be times where we would need to change the schedule around, but there is always a plan B, C and D. (Mostly the conversation was just to know that we were going to have an amazing time and to leave all the details to Adventures by Disney)! We went around the room and introduced ourselves by saying our names, where we were from, and what we were looking forward to the most. This is when I realized I was the only person traveling alone and got a little nervous. But it ended up being unfounded because everyone was so kind and inclusive. I never felt like an outsider!
The original plan was to head straight to Table Mountain and take the gondolas to the top but the weather was not cooperating. So, it was one of those times we had to shift gears. Our guides decided we should go to another mountain top to take in the views and do a short hike. It is a popular spot for hang gliding. So it was fun to watch!
As we headed back down the mountain in our motor coach, Craig told us about his experience growing up in South Africa. It was fascinating listening to his experiences. As we drove through parts of Cape Town, they told us we were going to District Six. This is a section of the city where people of all races and religions have coexisted in harmony for years, despite the narrative some may have been told.
When we arrived at District Six we pulled into an abandoned lot. Craig had arranged for a special visitor (and dear friend) to come speak with us. His name is Noor Ebrahim. Craig wanted us to hear directly from someone who had experienced the other side of apartheid and who had lost his home in District Six. …A home, in which three generations of his family had grown-up in. This empty lot where we stood was the location of where his beloved home used to be. His stories were heartbreaking and yet he had such a warmth …such a sense of the good in humanity. This afternoon listening to Noor will be something that stays with me forever.
After chatting with Noor more (and inviting him to join us for lunch!) we all headed back in the motor coach to make our way to another part of Cape Town, Bo-Kapp. Bo-Kaap is a predominantly muslim community within Cape Town. Mosques were plentiful and the buildings lined the side of the mountain, overlooking the rest of the city below. The place we went to lunch was called Bo Kaap Kombius and was the home of the sweetest couple. The bottom half of the building was the restaurant and top half their home. They really were the loveliest family, so welcoming. Plus, the food was delicious!
After lunch the fog had lifted and we headed straight to Table Mountain. We took a gondola to the top and then had just over an hour to explore the top of the mountain and do some shorter hikes. My favorite part was facing off to the East and you could see off in the distance right where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet, which we will be driving to on tomorrow’s adventure! All the views from the top were just stunning though.
After heading back down the mountain, we boarded our motor coach again and headed back to the hotel where we would have an hour and half to refresh before dinner.
Dinner was a short drive away at a restaurant called Gold. Oh my, it was extraordinary! We started with drum lessons that were surprisingly a big workout! Then we were served a FOURTEEN course meal that represented special dishes from all over Africa! We had dancers and musicians come and treat us to performances during our meals and we even had gold dust sprinkled on us (pixie dust?!?) and our face painted. It was such a cool experience and the ostrich on the menu (yes, I tried it) was actually quite delicious.
Day Three on the itinerary is titled Penguin Pursuit as visiting the African penguins whose home is Boulder Beach. It was a highlight of the day. However, it wasn’t our first stop! Our motor coach set off and we headed to the south for the coast.
We drove out of Cape Town and started through a small surf town called Muizenberg. I thought to myself, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was driving in a small town on the North Shore of Oahu. Right after thinking that, the guide said this is the “Hawaii of South Africa,” where everyone comes to surf! On the side of the cliffs, overlooking the serene beaches below, there are small green huts. Craig explained those are watch out tents set up to keep an eye out for sharks. If they see one, they sound an alarm and all the surfers know to get out! He said a decent number of great whites are spotted every year; but there have been very few attacks ever. This is coming from someone who has said one of his passions is diving with sharks though! We continued our journey down south and our first stop was at Cape of Good Hope, which is the most South-Western point of the African Continent. We spent a few minutes exploring the beach but after taking pics, we didn’t stay too long because it was chilly and windy.
On our way down to our next stop, we had our first wild animal sightings! We saw out our windows a very large troop of baboons and their babies! We stopped and were able to watch them for a bit from our motor-coach. Baboons can be extremely aggressive so it was not safe to go outside. Just a few more minutes down the road we spotted ostrich and elands! The guides were delighted because they said it is a treat to spot one but rarely do you get to see all three!
We made it to Cape Point which is part of Table Mountain National Park. The local flora in this area is interesting. It is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms with a huge amount of plants the indigenous to only this region (I think it was 6,500 species). At Cape Point, we took a funicular (trolley car) called the Flying Dutchman partially up the cliff. From there, there were many hiking trails and you could take stairs up to a lighthouse that was built in 1859! From the lighthouse overlook, the views were breathtaking! You could either take the funicular back down or use one of the trails and I decided a little extra exercise was a good idea.
Once we all made it back to the motor coach, we had a short drive to Boulder’s Beach, where we would be treated to a delicious lunch (we had pre ordered so our food came out super quickly) and then finally it was time to see the penguins! I was honestly surprised at how many there were because Craig had told us during September and October many of the parcels of penguins go off hunting for schools of fish (they hunt in groups). There were SO many and they were absolutely adorable. They make a sound that resembles a donkey! Most kept their distance; but there were definitely a few that were curious and less fearful of their enthusiastic visitors and would waddle over to check us out. You face a steep fine though if you are caught touching any of the penguins. After penguin time, we loaded back up and started our trek back up to Cape Town.
We had about an hour to get refreshed and meet in the lobby to walk as a group to our dinner location. It was another outstanding meal served with delicious South African wines.
It started with our normal breakfast buffet, where we would then meet in the lobby by 8:15am. We jumped on the motor coach and headed out. We thought we were driving straight to Stellenbosch to visit a sanctuary for injured Eagles and Owls. However, Craig and Ralph let us know that we had skipped a stop on Day 2 because of the poor weather that morning, so they were going to squeeze it in today. We drove to the city center of Cape Town and visited Company Gardens. A lovely green area in the downtown area, with impressive statues and a beautiful view of Table Mountain in the distance. They wanted to get a “family photo” which is what the Adventure Guides call a picture of all 35 of us that are on the tour.
After some photos, we hopped back on our bus and took off for Stellenbosch and the Eagle Encounter. It was about a 45-minute drive from Cape Town. We arrived at the rehabilitation center where they take in about 400 injured birds annually. About 76% of these birds they are able to release back into the wild. Others that survived, but cannot make it on their own in the wild, spend their remaining days at the center.
We were split into two groups, some headed off to hang with some owls. I went to go see their most majestic Eagle. Her name was Walhy (pronounced WALL-E) because she is a Wahlberg’s Eagle. I was given a very large leather glove and entered the enclosure with her trainer. Sometimes she needed to be coaxed ( but never forced) to jump on someone’s arm but she hopped right on. We hung out for quite a while, she seemed to enjoy me gently rubbing her chest. She was gorgeous!
After our time there was over, we headed to our first official wine tasting of the tour at Spier Winery. We were given 3 wines to taste along with three bars of chocolate. …Also, a glass of sparkling wine as a “pallet cleanser.” They were SO yummy! I was surprised at how well the chocolates brought out and enhanced the flavors of the wine. Our sommelier said it was crucial to have both in our mouth at the same time vs. tasting the chocolate and then tasting the wine right after. He was correct!Then we headed to the next winery, Boschendal, where we were treated to another tasting and a lovely lunch buffet.
Ralph and Craig told us they had a surprise for us, something they have never been able to pull off on a tour before. They had invited Christo Brand, one of the guards who had watched over Nelson Mandela… who then later become one of his closest friends and confidants, to come speak with us! He talked about his experience as a young guard and how his friendship with Mandela grew and strengthened over the years, making him see that maybe what he thought he was protecting wasn’t worth protecting at all. We were all given a signed copy of his book! I am pretty sure there was not a dry eye in the house by the time he finished his talk.
We then loaded back up into our trusty motor coach and headed to the actual town of Stellenbosch which is a thriving, absolutely ADORABLE college town! We were given an hour or so to walk around and shop and visit the plentiful galleries and a museum. All the little boutiques and galleries closed right at 5! I would love to spend more time in Stellenbosch someday in the future! After we had our goodies and I had a delicious latte, we started our journey back to Cape Town for our final night in the city. We were on our own to have dinner wherever we liked and we had to have our bags ready to go by 8:00pm. Our driver Naveen, and an associate of his would gather them and take them and our motor coach for a long drive to George where we would fly to early the next morning! Naveen would sleep while his associate drove so he would be rested in the morning to drive us after we arrive at our next destination! I decided since we had to be in the lobby by 4:50am to head to the airport, I would do a night of room service (cheeseburger was enormous) and catch up on some work.
Day Five and Six
This part of the adventure is called the Garden Tour. On Day 5 we had to be up and in the lobby by 4:50am to head to the airport to catch our 6:45am flight to George. They had breakfast to-go boxes and coffee ready for us to eat on the bus on the way to the airport. It was a smooth process and a short 45 minute flight. They also served muffins and coffee/tea/juice on the plane.
Since Naveen and his associate had driven our bus there overnight (with all of our luggage on it so we didn’t have to deal with any check bags at the airport), they were there to pick us up when we landed in George! It was amazing. We headed out and our first stop was at Wilderness Beach. It was cold and windy but they wanted us to get a picture of our first sighting on the Indian Ocean, our second ocean on this adventure! It was very cool.
We then headed to Birds of Eden, the largest netted bird atrium in the world. Hundreds of species of birds coexist in this amazing bird sanctuary. If you are a bird aficionado, this is definitely the place for you! I made it without any “good luck” charms dropped on me but many of my fellow adventurers were blessed with good fortune on their heads and/or clothes! Then we headed out to Bramon, a gorgeous winery where they had set up an outdoor lunch for us among the grapes vines. It was absolutely gorgeous and honestly, it felt like we were lunching in Tuscany vs. South Africa.
Monkeyland was next on the agenda. It is the largest monkey rescue in the world and they are allowed to free roam. It was an interesting experience to say the least! I inadvertently wore a black and white striped sweater, that looked exactly like the lummars’ tails, so they followed me all over the rescue. It was hilarious! There were also many monkey babies and we got to watch up close a mother nurse her newborn baby. It was precious.
After Monkeyland, we set out to our home for the next two nights: Pezula in Knysna. This resort is spectacular. It has gorgeous views, large suites and all set on a championship golf course. Since we had all been up since 4:00am or so, we did not have set plans for dinner. You could eat in the main dining room or order room service. I would have thought I was at a high-end resort in Napa or Sonoma except for the signs on all the doors and windows warning to keep them closed because of curious and aggressive baboons!
After an early night, we met the next morning at 7:45am for a buffet breakfast and an 8:30am departure for some shopping at a local street market. After a bit of shopping (we could put our purchases back on the coach), we headed out on a ferry to Knysna Nature Reserve where we were going to do our biggest hike of the trip. It was breathtaking out on the island with an almost 360 view of the Indian Ocean. Those that didn’t want to do the hike could instead do a talk with one of the naturists about the flora and fauna local to the area. After the hike concluded, they served us a yummy buffet lunch. We then took the ferry back to the mainland and headed out on our coach to a big cat sanctuary. Most of these cats are from zoos that are being outlawed on the entire continent of Africa. This was the only time we saw tigers, as tigers are not indigenous to Africa. Each enclosure was very large, close to an acre and they had 20 enclosures. It is always sad seeing animals in captivity but these cats at least had lots of room to move around. They were not forced to come out to see visitors but we did arrive at close to feeding time so they were all out and ready for their dinner! The three lions that were housed together were definitely angry they hadn’t been fed their horse meat! (Most of their meals are donated from local farmers.)
Then we headed back to the local waterfront stores for dinner at a local seafood restaurant. We had already pre-selected our meals so when we sat down, our appetizer course was waiting for us! It was a delicious meal of fresh fish. We headed back for a good night’s rest before flying the next morning up north to Kapama Game Reserve which is a private resort safari located in the Kruger National Park region of South Africa.
Days Seven, Eight and Nine
The morning of day seven we woke up early. We had to have our bags waiting outside our room by 7:30am and then headed to the lobby for a quick buffet breakfast, then boarded our coach for the last time to drive back to the airport at George …to take a privately chartered plane up to the game reserve. When we arrived at the airport, we all said our goodbyes to our amazing driver, Naveen, who had been with us since the start of our adventure. That bus really does start to feel like your home away from home and it was always so comforting knowing Naveen was waiting for us and keeping our belongings safe!
It was a quick process at the airport; Quick show of our passports, weighing our luggage and we head out on the tarmac to board our plane up North. This plane only held us adventurers! It was about a two hour flight and we landed in a VERY rural airport in a town called Hoedspruit. Kapama had sent our rangers and trackers to pick us up in our safari vehicles. We were each assigned a character that would correspond to our truck/ranger. I was put in Rafiki! We met our ranger Jordan and our tracker Bernard and loaded up in our trucks. We took some super fun group pictures and headed out! Jordan told us once we entered the reserve we would likely see some animals but that this wasn’t a game drive where they would be tracking animals so don’t get our hearts set yet on seeing any specific creature, especially the Big Five (Lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephants, Buffalo). Literally, within 5 minutes of entering the gates, Jordan literally slammed on his breaks. Less than 20 feet away were THREE female lions lounging under a tree! It was such an amazing sight, I almost started crying. We crept a little closer and though they gave us slightly annoyed looks they didn’t leave. We sat and watched them sun bath. They could have easily jumped into our truck with one leap, but Jordan explained they had been conditioned over the years to not fear the trucks …and that unless they felt we were there to harm them, they would mostly ignore us. It was very important to stay inside the truck though because if you get out and approach them on foot, that is when they would go on guard and could attack (it’s also why it is important that if a family books this AbD with children, the children understand how to follow the directions given by your ranger without any question).
After the lion sighting, we were all giddy and enjoyed the rest of our ride to the lodge with a few more animal sightings such as zebras and giraffes! We arrived at the Kapama Lodge and it was absolutely gorgeous with a huge open air lobby, that even had a live tree growing in the middle of it. The structure had been built around it! Kapama is a private game reserve that opened in 2005 and has a 128 bed lodge. There is one daily flight from both Johannesburg or Cape Town to Hoedspruit or you can charter a private flight like we did and arrive from other parts of South Africa.
We were welcomed with a mimosa and were given our rooms keys and itineraries. We were also given gorgeous hard backed safari guides that included pictures and descriptions of the animals, birds, and reptiles that could be found in the reserve. We also found out that Craig and Ralph had reserved one hour time slots for us at the spa if we would like to use them for either a massage or facial. (This would be at our own cost). If you didn’t want the slot, you just let them know and it was canceled!
We headed off to our rooms. They were stunning! Not a tv in sight, instead they boasted huge soaking bathtubs and patios that overlooked the savannah. We had the afternoon free to settle in and do as we like, as well as a buffet lunch that was offered in the main dining area. At 4:30pm we met back in the lobby where they served tea and coffee and pastries, then we headed out for our first official game drive!! It was lightly sprinkling but the drive would happen unless lightning made it too dangerous. Jordan handed out heavy duty ponchos and blankets and we were on our way! He asked what was everyone’s number one wishlist! We each had different answers (there were 5 people in my truck, all the others had six but they could hold up to 9), so he and Bernard had their work cut out for them over the next few days! We would get six game drives during our stay. That first night there had been rhino sightings, so that is what we decided to focus on …and was one of my fellow adventurers #1 animals they were hoping to see. Rhinos are still extremely endangered and a huge target for poachers, so they do not even disclose how many rhinos are at Kapama. They were able to tell us there are somewhere around 45-50 leopards and 60-70 lions. As we drove looking for the rhino, we saw so many impala, kudos, duikers and warthogs along with more zebras and giraffes. Every once in a while Jordan would slow down and Bernard would stare off into the trees or hop out of the truck to look at a pile of dung! This is how he is able to track most of the animals! What that man could tell from a pile of poop was amazing! He could tell how long it had been there, what species it came from and usually even the sex of the animal! It really was amazing. After about 45 minutes of driving we took a break from our rhino hunt and met up with some other trucks to essentially have a “happy hour” out in the Savanna!
The trucks formed a circle of sorts and in the middle the rangers and trackers set up a makeshift bar with wine, beer, and even a few hard alcohol options with mixers …along with some non-alcohol options! It was a surreal feeling standing there sipping a chardonnay knowing you are surrounded by all the animals roaming around their home. The happy hour lasted about 45 minutes and then we loaded up again and headed to the last site the rhino had been spotted. Within 10 minutes we found him and he was HUGE! He just stood there looking at us and then started stomping his feet and kicking up sand. So we started to slowly back away. He started to follow after us, but after a few feet decided it wasn’t worth the effort and headed off into the trees!
Jordan got a message over his headset that a lion had been sighted nearby so we took off! By this time it was pitch black and we were supposed to be heading back for our dinner, but Jordan wanted to see if we could spot her before we drove back! It took a little more than 10 minutes, but we found her! It was amazing and she gave us some beautiful roars. There are just not the right words to describe seeing these animals in their habitat! She walked alongside our truck for some time and I was able to take a very cool video. By this time Jordan was getting angry grams on his headset that we hadn’t returned and we said goodbye to the lioness and took off at full speed back to the lodge! It was still raining, so our original dinner plans were shifted, and we instead had dinner at their very nice indoor dining area which was called Xitsumbeni!
Each morning for the safari’s, we would get a wake-up call in our room from our ranger at 5:15am. We would have to be in the lobby by 5:45am or so for coffee and light pastries and our trucks would leave by 6:15am. The morning drives would last approx. 2 hours and we were always back at the lodge by 8:30 or so where a full breakfast would be served. That second morning we saw a huge herd of elephants, which surprisingly enough we had seen yet. There were baby elephants which are basically the cutest thing on the planet.
During our free time between safari’s AbD arranges optional activities to do and we all had our various spa appointments! They had a spider and snake expert come in and give a talk about the species found in South Africa and specifically the Krueger region. Of course, he brought some of the snakes and spiders with him! There was also axe throwing and bow and arrow lessons given by an amazingly sweet couple. The husband was also an artist and had some of his art work there for sale as well.
After our safari on the second evening, all the trucks drove us to another one of the camp areas we hadn’t visited yet for a “Braai” dinner, which is basically the Afrikaans way of saying a barbecue or grill out. They are a big deal in S. Afric,a but when we got out of our truck and headed towards the dinner area, I was NOT expecting what I saw. When I envision a “BBQ” it is chicken or burgers and super casual. This set-up was on a par with some of the nicest weddings I have ever attended! The table setting were spectacular, we were greeted by servers with glasses of champagne and wine, and there a band playing drums, a huge bonfire with an adorable setup for s’mores for dessert, and SO much amazing food set up buffet style (but with workers serving each dish so they could tell us what it was and how it was prepared). Also, our rangers stayed and had dinner with us so we could learn more about them and how they came to do this job! I loved learning about Jordan and his love of animals and the outdoors. He is also a coffee lover and loves trying types from all over the world!
It was a late night with another early morning ahead, but it was totally worth the little sleep! The next day we saw the two male lions on our game drive! They were twins and the previous year they had killed their dad to take over ruling the pride! Mother Nature is brutal. For now, they peacefully coexist. When we returned it was finally my turn for my spa treatment and it was AH-MAH-ZING. It ended up being under $70 US dollars with a very generous tip and it was one of the best deep tissue massages of my life. The spa itself is gorgeous also and has an infinite pool. While I was there relaxing at the pool, I saw two hippos, a handful of zebras and a giraffe!
The final night’s safari was my favorite…we still hadn’t spotted the elusive leopard and we found one! Not only that, but it was up in a tree, which is super hard to find …and the tree was being circled by hyenas! All but one hyena final gave up and wandered off, so the leopard decided to risk coming down. It seemed for a minute the hyena were still going to attack, but at the last minute decided against it and took off! The leopard was quite pleased with herself and made the craziest noises and followed alongside our truck for some time. It was surreal for sure!
Per usual we were the last truck back that night and it was time for our farewell dinner. It was such a heartwarming experience! They had the most amazing African band and dancers there to play for us during appetizers. Craig and Ralph performed Hakuna Matata for us, which was hilarious and it was just all-around good time. We had a fabulous three course meal and then at the end everyone said if what they had wished for on our first morning of the adventure had come to fruition. Needless to say, everyone said yes and more! Then they had prepared a very sweet slideshow of a small fraction of the pictures they had taken over the previous 9 days! Most everyone was in tears…from happiness and thinking about having to say goodbye the next day. It was after midnight by the time we got back to our rooms, after being up since 5:15am with another 5:15am wake-up looking ahead. It is these types of long hours that made me realize that though the minimum age is 8, I don’t think my 10 year old could do this many days at this pace. Though I’d have to think with the adult-only aspect of this adventure, our nights were later than those adventures where it is almost all families.
The final morning, we got up and did an abbreviated safari and we saw a momma and baby rhino! It was so neat! They are such amazing creatures and I really hope all the conservation efforts that are happening can save them from going extinct!
We got back to the lodge at 8:00am and had to go finish packing and have our bags out for pick up by 8:45am. Then we headed to our final breakfast before our transfers to Hoedspruit for our plane to Johannesburg where we would all catch our flights back to the US! Even on the drive to the airport we saw some amazing animal sightings!
About half of the 35 of us were taking the direct flight back to Newark and it wasn’t until 7pm, so we hung out together at the airport. Craig did stay with us until about 4pm, when he flew back to Cape Town. It was about that time when we were able to go through security. I promptly headed to United Club to hang out until boarding. There were many sad tears as we all went our separate ways to reunite with our families back home; but you definitely feel like family after spending 10 days extraordinary days together!
About a week after returning home, we received a link from Ralph to all the pictures and videos he and Craig had compiled over the adventure. There were more than 1,700!