This past July I traveled to Tanzania to check out the Four Seasons Serengeti on assignment for Passported.com – a new travel site dedicated to sophisticated family travel (yay!) I wrote the following for them and have re-posted it here for my readers.
FS Serengeti is a fabulous, family-friendly spot in the Serengeti National Park with unending views and true intimacy with the animals. I sincerely hope to bring my children back there someday as its programs for kids were among the best I’ve ever seen in the bush. *All pictures here are mine.
FOUR SEASONS SERENGETI TRAVEL REPORT
Smack in the center of the Serengeti National Park with the Mara River and Kenya to the east and Lake Victoria due west, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge has one of the most privileged spots in the whole park, with open ended views out across the plains and an on-property watering hole that elephants loved. And with a sister tented camp farther east towards Kenya planned for 2017, the Four Seasons Serengeti experience will be cover both rugged and more pampered stays in tandem. Of course, this is the Four Seasons, so rugged will likely be a relative term.
With 77 rooms and three standalone villas, plus a separate spa and fitness area, kids’ club room and precious jewelry shop, this is by far one the of the largest safari lodges I’ve ever visited and the resort-feel is apparent. Rooms sit right alongside and above one another with elevated decks connecting the buildings, so the space feels more like a traditional hotel than secluded lodge. The decor is impressively authentic, with Maasai art featured prominently throughout the hotel. Common areas are vast but thoughtful details, like the snooker table at the tail end of the second-floor lounge and the open-air fire pit in the attached Boma Grill restaurant, lend a more intimate feel. The best spot in the hotel is the Discovery Centre, where an interactive museum-style format is a magnet for the whole family. Led by the charming and well-versed Oli Dreike, there is no better place to understand and respect the enormity of the Great Migration.
Synonymous with the Great Migration (the enthralling spectacle of one million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 500,000 gazelles charging across the plains), the Serengeti has the highest concentration of plains animals, including all of the Big Five. Birders will be delighted with the 600-plus bird species in the park, while cat-lovers can be confident they will spot either leopard or lion, likely both, since they are in abundance in the Serengeti. During my stay, camera traps at the lodge captured both lion and leopard wandering nearby.
With daily shipments from Nairobi and Maasai cooks in the kitchen, chef Curtis Smithen (Four Seasons Nevis alum) has created a menu that showcases local vegetables and grains like ugali (beans) and mchicha (spinach), plus chapatti, a delicious fried bread. Breakfast is a continental-style buffet with custom smoothies and an omelet station served up on the second floor, while lunch and dinner are a la carte and served down below either in the dining room or alfresco on the deck overlooking the pool. The food is impressive given the constraints of the location, with the Boma Grill’s local Tanzanian barbecue of Nyama Choma being the best meal of the stay.
There’s a multitude of day trip options, including fishing trips to Lake Victoria, river crossings of the Migration and visits to the Ngororo Crater, but I’d be remiss not to recommend the balloon safari. Though the departure is at the crack of dawn and the take-off is done from a slightly harrowing supine position, the experience is otherworldly as the sun rises alongside your balloon and you glide over the endless herds of animals. It was like being inside the Planet Earth film. Myself and my companions were all grinning like hyenas throughout the hour-long ride.