Southern Africa with Vantage Deluxe

This item appears on page 28 of the November 2008 issue.

My wife, our 23-year-old daughter and I took the tour “Best of Africa: Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia & South Africa,” June 5-22, 2008, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 800/322-6677).

The cost, including airfare from Philadelphia for our daughter and from Houston for my wife and me, was $5,751 each (which included $195 in taxes/fees and a $357 early-payment discount) plus a $500 single supplement for one of us. Overall, we felt this was a good value.

We rated all of the hotels and lodges “excellent,” and we rated Brian Haysom, the Vantage Program Manager who accompanied our group of 25 the entire time we were in Africa, “outstanding.”

We would have rated the entire trip “excellent” as well if it had not been for several negatives, not all of which were under Vantage’s control.

First, United Airlines used their regional partner, Mesa Airlines, to fly our daughter between Philadelphia and Washington Dulles. On the flight out to Dulles there was a 3-hour delay on the runway, and upon our return to the States we learned that her flight home to Philadelphia had been canceled (both problems due to mechanical difficulties).

United tried to reschedule her on a flight departing 14 hours later, which, after traveling for 28 straight hours from South Africa, was unacceptable. We ended up paying $60 for a taxi to take her to Reagan National to catch an earlier flight.

Second, the pilferage problem at Johannesburg, South Africa’s, O.R. Tambo International Airport has become epidemic. Fully a third of our Vantage group members had their checked bags broken into at least once (we flew through JNB a total of five times). Our daughter had her suitcase rifled twice. My checked bag was broken into once; fortunately, the items stolen were not significant in value.

Warning: if anyone is flying through Johannesburg international airport, do not put ANYTHING other than old clothes into your checked bag. And don’t lock it; the thieves simply rip open soft-sided luggage with a box cutter.

The final negative aspect of this otherwise wonderful trip was what was advertised by Vantage as an included full-day Zululand tour out of Durban. Round trip, this turned out to be a 5-hour bus ride for a visit to a former South African TV show’s set, now called “Shakaland.” There is nothing authentic about this “Zulu village,” which is staffed by reenactors who could not have been less enthusiastic about their jobs.

It was a real shame that Vantage flew us all the way to Durban for the Shakaland tour, our only event while in Durban. If we had known what we were getting into, we would have opted to spend the day at our hotel, the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was beautifully situated on a cliff overlooking a working lighthouse and the Indian Ocean.

When I wrote to Vantage, I received a reply from them with a $250 certificate, which I found to be very generous.

While the South Africa trip was our first trip with Vantage, based upon the overall positive experience we have already booked another trip with them, “Grand Norwegian Coastal Voyage.”

Houston, TX

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Vantage Deluxe World Travel and to O.R. Tambo International Airport (Private Bag X1, Johannesburg, Gauteng, 1627, South Africa) and received no reply.