After a quick but fun-filled and busy stay, we checked out of The Victoria Falls Hotel after two nights, and were off to Johannesburg on the part of our AMA Waterways tour/cruise. We had an outstanding time in Victoria Falls, and only wish we had more time there to enjoy it, as we were quite busy from morning until night, trying to cram in some of the highlights of the area.
In the lobby, DOS settled the bill, and we said bye to some of the members of our AMA group, who were going off on a different tour via Rovos Rail. We’ve been together as a group for the last 9 nights, and really gotten to know our fellow passengers, so it was a bit sad, but we exchanged contact information.
The people leaving us were journeying on via the Rovos Rail luxury train, back to Johannesburg, while the rest of the group was flying to Johannesburg for a 2 night stay there, and later going on a Safari up near Kruger National Park. Steve (DOS) and I had considered taking the Rovos, and do hope to do that one day, as it’s an overnight train for a couple of nights in the luxurious style of The Orient Express. We didn’t do it this trip as we have not done a safari before (those taking the train had), and we also didn’t want to dress formally each night while on this African Safari vacation. Rovos will be a good future trip when we’re not doing safari, and enjoying Capetown, the wineries etc, and are not limited on the clothing and luggage limitations of intra-Africa flights.
The Rovos Rail left from the same place our sunset dinner train had left from on our first night in Victoria Falls; directly next to the hotel. Only this time, there was a long red carpet leading to the train departure point, something reminiscent of a glamorous Hollywood premiere!
I did walk up to the train, hoping to take a peak inside, but they were cleaning and preparing for the trip (it boards at 4pm) so I wasn’t able to, other than look up at the windows high above the rails. It really looks like it would be a fun and luxurious adventure!
Anyway, as we made our rounds saying goodbye, I saw our local Victoria Falls guide Melanie, and returned the book she had lent me on the history and construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge. Melanie was a delightful person, and with her accent and mannerisms reminded me of one of my Australian friends. We gave Melanie a hug, and exchanged cards so we can be in contact again on her continent or ours. Thanks Melanie – you were wonderful!
After identifying our luggage that was to be loaded on the bus, we departed The Victoria Falls Hotel for the airport.
The Victoria Falls Airport was quite modern and very nice. We were surprised we were on a wide-body Airbus 330 jet from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg, and not a smaller regional jet or even prop plane.
At checkin, we didn’t have any trouble checking in like we did in Cape Town, and only had to pay a small excess baggage charge for an extra bag, which we were expecting. While not as big a deal as Cape Town, you still have to pay at another desk, and then bring your receipt back to your original checkin agent, a bit of a pain, but as our AMA guide Delia told us ‘You’re in Africa baby!’ She had told us several times before on our trip, unfortunately corruption is rampant and you have to take precautions. Delia had told us to make sure we lock our luggage, and even the checkin agents aren’t trusted to take money or credit cards. No problem; we paid via credit card at the payment desk, and fortunately no one broke into our luggage the whole trip. But, again as Delia stressed throughout the trip: DO take luggage locks for everything, and DO use your hotel safe for passports, money and valuable everywhere you go. And no, we weren’t taking Ethiopian Airlines, but I had to get a photo with the check-in poster – she looks pretty real right?
Once we were checked in on South African Airlines, we went thru security, and then immigration control, as we were leaving Zimbabwe, and taking an international flight to South Africa. As always, you can’t take photos going thru there, but I must say Zimbabwe’s security and immigration were so far superior to Johannesburg we would later find out, that we should have appreciated it more in Zimbabwe had we known.
Once we found the gate, we walked around a bit, and DOS bought a couple last minute souvenirs. We then boarded the wide body Airbus 330 South African Airlines plane to Johannesburg.
As we were traveling as a group, we were unfortunately all seated in the coach section of the plane, walking past the glamorous First/Business Class section that had sleeper seats. The only complaint I have about AMA Waterways, is they don’t offer First or Business Class as an option on the intra-Africa portion of the tour. We would (and I think everyone else on the tour) would have gladly upgraded to First, but the way they ticket the group tickets, you would have to buy a whole new First Class ticket, basically forfeiting the group ticket that was included in your tour. For an hour or two it’s not worth it, but as everyone on the tour had flown Business or First internationally to Africa, I’m sure most people would have paid the upgrade fee for the intra-Africa flights if it was an option. Here DOS and I are sitting and feeling a bit disappointed in coach, as well as our friend Allison who was cramped in the middle section.
It was a bit confining, but fortunately the flight was only an hour and a half or so. A sign of the times; people are getting larger, and the seats are getting smaller!
Once we got to Johannesburg, and deplaned via the jet bridge, we went thru the tedious process of immigration, and later customs. While we didn’t have issues at either one, it was a fairly slow and not very organized process; they simply didn’t have enough agents to handle the amount of people, and many of the lanes were unstaffed.
Next we were off to our tour bus, and yet another adventure this time in Johannesburg. We drove to our boutique hotel in the very nice Stanton subdivision of Johannesburg. Along the drive we saw one extreme to the other; nice areas, and slum areas, and lots of regular areas in between for the modern city it is. It was Sunday, so the traffic wasn’t bad getting to our hotel.
When we arrived at our hotel in the Sandton section of Johannesburg, we were pleased to see it located in a very upscale residential area; i.e. the Beverly Hills of Johannesburg, with each gated home having a sign on the gate warning intruders about their home’s alarm system.
As we pulled up to our gated hotel, The Fairlawns, we soon realized we would be treated to an incredible two night ultra-luxurious stay at this unique boutique hotel; which really felt like and looked like a Beverly Hills if not Newport, Rhode Island mansion!
The Johannesburg adventure continues with the next post. Welcome to Johannesburg!