There are some experiences in life that we know are going to be good. In the travel world, when it comes to luxury there are few who can outmatch the service and quality of experiences offered by provider Abercrombie and Kent. It’s just a known fact, just as we know flying First Class or staying in an overwater bungalow will be wonderful, so do we also understand that Abercrombie & Kent is one of the standard bearers in the world of luxury travel. One reason for that is that they in large part helped create the concept of experiential luxury travel when in the 1960s, travel pioneer Geoffrey Kent created the first mobile luxury tented safari experience. He brought the luxuries and conveniences of modern life into the African bush, whether it meant a chilled martini in the middle of the Serengeti or a comfortable bed with crisp linens in the evenings. Many have copied their style, but few have been able to match what Abercrombie & Kent offers their guests. It was knowing all of this when I excitedly accepted their invitation to join them on a classic safari experience in Tanzania. Although they offer travel experiences in every corner of the world, I wanted to join their safari trip because it’s at the core of who they are as a company. It’s how they started, it’s what they’re best known for and it’s what they do better than anyone else. That’s why this post isn’t going to be a standard review, because we all know what that would look like. It would be overwhelmingly positive and glowing – I knew that before even leaving home. No, instead I want to share some key experiences and moments along the trip in order to help everyone better understand what the Abercrombie and Kent difference really means and to see what traveling with this famed company is like in reality.
For me, luxury travel is all about the details. Anyone can buy nice things and put them in a hotel, but service and the fine touches are what normally elevate a trip into a true luxury travel experience. That’s certainly true for Abercrombie & Kent and is ultimately why they have such a fiercely loyal customer base. They simply don’t make mistakes and never forgo any detail, no matter how trivial. Arriving in the middle of the night into Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport, even before immigration we were met by a smartly dressed gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. With a broad smile he welcomed me to Tanzania, told me which immigration line to stand in while he grabbed my bags and before I knew it we were in a van, being whisked away to Arusha to spend the night. Three people were on hand to help us that evening, the airport representative, the driver and the Arusha representative. This is normal practice for Abercrombie & Kent, and from the very start of the adventure it set the tone that I needn’t worry about any detail.
Answers were given to questions I hadn’t even formulated in my mind yet, and throughout the trip the service of those helping me experience the best of Tanzania was impeccable. Before leaving Arusha on the first day, our guide for the week mentioned that he had stocked bottles of water in the truck’s mini-fridge. I asked if we could stop by a store so I could buy some Diet Cokes for the road, but that had already been done. An off the cuff remark I made the day before prompted him to go ahead and make sure my beverage of choice was available to me for the duration of the trip. Again, this is a small detail and a very minor thing, but when put altogether these details transformed the experience into something remarkable.
Details aren’t just found in Abercrombie’s legendary service either, when it comes to safari even the trucks used every day for game drives have been specially engineered for comfort and convenience. Once again Abercrombie & Kent were innovators in this part of the safari experience, originally designing the now common style safari vehicle you find throughout the national parks of Africa. Inside are six individual seats with padded liners making the long hours spent searching for wildlife much more comfortable. There’s a mini-fridge, air-conditioning and even a place to charge electronic devices. The tops of the safari trucks pop up, enabling better views when you finally do find something to admire and when put all together, these rugged, retrofitted Toyota Land Cruisers are the ultimate resource for a great safari experience.
There were a thousand other details that made the trip something special, from my Diet Cokes to our guide literally placing our bags on the flight back to Arusha at the end of the safari. Few companies pay this much attention to the details, and it’s why Abercrombie & Kent is known as amongst the best in the world. You just know that everything will always be perfect when you travel with them.
For me and many other travelers, where we spend the night is important. I’m not a roughing it kind of guy and will always splurge on a nice hotel when I have the chance. So it was with a little bit of curiosity that I went into this Abercrombie & Kent safari experience, knowing that we’d be mostly staying at tented camps along the way. Naturally, I should never have worried – this is Abercrombie & Kent after all, and even the tented camps they frequent are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Sanctuary Retreats was originally started by Geoffrey Kent out of necessity. With so many luxury travelers on safari in Africa, he needed permanently situated camps that they could use. Now a separate company, this concept still remains at the heart of Sanctuary Retreats and especially at their tented luxury camps. During the course of a week I stayed at three of these sites, and while they were all very different from one another, they do share many characteristics in common. A luxury tent is not your standard way to camp. Entering our accommodation at the Sanctuary Retreat Swala in Tarangire National Park, I was amazed by what I found. Perched on a permanent foundation was the largest safari tent I’ve ever seen and inside it looked more like a five-star hotel room than what one normally finds inside a tent. Large and comfortable beds, sitting areas, a full bathroom with plumbing, including both an outdoor and indoor shower, and all of the normal perks you’d expect in a great hotel. Except this wasn’t a hotel, it was a tent. In the middle of the African bush and far away from anything else. But that’s the great thing about the three Sanctuary Retreats I visited, they’re perfectly situated so that you can enjoy the best of being outdoors with all of the comforts of a great luxury experience. Sitting there one night, eating an expertly crafted dinner, I looked up and saw a herd of impala looking back at me, just a few feet away. In the distance was the laughter of hyena and from the corner of my eye I spotted some mongoose brothers playing with each other. It was extraordinary and perfectly summarizes why Sanctuary Retreats are so very special. They combine the best elements of safari and luxury travel in one amazing package.
My safari also included a marvelous stay at one of the best hotels in the world, the Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge. Almost immediately I understood why it gets so many awards – the hotel easily ranks amongst my favorite in the world. And like the Retreats, the Four Seasons does a great job in bringing guests closer to the African bush. Elevated walkways connect the buildings and since there are no fences, animals are found throughout the property, including at the watering hole directly in front of the hotel pool, providing guests with game viewing opportunities from the comfort of a lounge chair. Add in the Four Seasons’ amazing service, some of the best guest rooms I’ve ever seen and delicious food and this is the perfect addition to any safari through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Ultimately though, one decides to go on an Abercrombie & Kent safari to actually go on safari. Yes, we all want to be comfortable and those champagne toasts at sunset are perfect, but we travel halfway around the world with one goal in mind – to see as much wildlife as possible. Abercrombie & Kent understands this, and our guide for the week – Ima – is the perfect example of how they excel when it comes to game viewing. Working for more than a decade as a safari guide, Ima was amiable, funny and just an all around great person. That was good for us since we spent most of the day, every day for a week with him as he showed us the best of his country. The guides Abercrombie & Kent use are amongst the best in the regions they serve, if not the best, and from years of experience they know exactly what animals to find and where. Whether it was the giraffe I was hoping to see or cheetahs on the run, we found almost every animal on our list that week. Ima spent hours scouring the bush looking for the unusual and the special, all in an effort to provide us with the best experience possible. This level of professional expertise can’t be faked or replicated, it just has to exist. Chatting with some other folks, some of the best hotels and resorts in the Serengeti also hire Abercrombie & Kent to provide their hotel guests with expertly run game drives, they’re just that good. If you want to experience the safari of a lifetime, there are many companies from which to choose, but if you want the best there honestly is no one better than Abercrombie & Kent. In this case it’s less of an opinion than it is empirical fact.
The mark of any great travel experience is leaving happy and satisfied, but not entirely sure why. It’s the intangible element of a trip that is created from the spark of perfection found all around. It’s in the ether and envelops the traveler in a sense of euphoria, of contentment. Everything has to be just right for this to occur, this special travel umami, but when it does it’s something extraordinary. That’s what happened with me by the end of my Abercrombie and Kent safari in Tanzania. I knew it would be amazing before I left home, I think anyone would expect that. What I didn’t necessarily expect was how that perfection would make me feel. I’d been on safari before, I’d seen these beautiful animals in the wild, so that wasn’t it. No, it was the perfect amalgamation of everything at once. Seeing the animals, sleeping in comfortable beds, having every need seen to and even surprised from time to time. It all worked seamlessly and came together as a single unit, instead of separate and disparate travel moments. The entire trip was a travel moment, the adventure itself was a life experience that I know I’ll treasure forever.
Is this post glowing? Yup, sure is, but it’s deserved. The one thing I don’t do in life is lie or overly embellish, a character trait that doesn’t always work in my favor. But in this case I have to be flowery and superlative, this safari experience deserves that and all I can hope to do is convey even a slight inkling of just how amazing a travel partner Abercrombie and Kent is and why they should be the only choice for anyone who loves experiential luxury travel.