CroisiEurope, a leader and model for the European river cruise industry, is best known in France and across Europe for its boutique ships, refined cuisine, and impeccable guest service. Now sailing in multiple seas of the world, the family-run cruise operates an exquisite tour of Southern Africa. Arrive in Johannesburg and via a combination of flight, drive, and sail, journey north up to Victoria Falls. This ‘all-included’ package encompasses lodge accommodation, meals, game drives, and any associated fees, not to mention the sails themselves. Upscale Living joins the glorious African Dream, and here’s what happened on each of the nine days.
Upon landing at JNB, we met guide number one waiting at arrivals with a CroisiEurope sign. Transportation quickly whisked us over to our one-night stay, the five-star 54 on Bath Hotel, an excellent introduction to the plush Croisi experience. Not least because it featured a Perrier-Jouët Champagne Bar. The group met over lunch, our fellow travelers consisting of an American family and a French couple: seven bodies in total. The African Dream accommodates 16 passengers aboard eight boutique cabins, so expect to become fast friends with both the guests and crew. All crew are multi-lingual since 50% of their guests are French. This was one of the reasons our new American pal booked with CroisiEurope—she was studying French and wanted to immerse herself. Day One consisted of a panoramic city tour of Johannesburg, the richest town in Africa, plus a stop at the Apartheid Museum. Opened in 2001, it’s famous the world over for being the first museum centered on South African history in the 20th century. A requested room-service dinner, and we hit the hay early after a long and productive day of travel and sightseeing.
A commercial flight on Airlink and a scenic boat ride featuring crocodile sightings took our party to CroisiEurope’s Cascades Lodge, their Namibian eight-private bungalow property designed to hold cruise passengers exclusively. This Namibia-Botswana portion of the trip was covered by guide number two, a fabulous and energetic Namibian host that was always one step ahead of every need. The lodge offered a traditional safari experience, and a chance to bask in the wilderness. Our bungalow featured a private plunge pool, a large patio with deckchairs overlooking the river, and an outdoor shower. Indeed, the location was teeming with African birds, and we could hear resident hippos along the banks. The welcome dinner gave guide number two a chance to run through the following day’s activities before the group tucked into a three-course meal paired with wine. The tour’s all-inclusive package encompasses every meal, drinks during them (wine, water, beer, juices, and coffee), and even drinks from the bar. There was weak Wi-Fi in the lodge, which was welcoming, as it encouraged us to disconnect from our phones and reconnect with nature.
Day three was the big one: our first full day of safari. We got up before sunrise and made our way toward Chobe National Park, crossing the borders of Namibia and Botswana over and over the day with expert navigation from guide two. Most of the group was not prepared for the chill of the Southern African morning, but guide two had hot water bottles, ponchos, and blankets waiting for our arrival for use throughout (though, by 11 am, there wasn’t too much need for them). The Jeep excursion of the park was the trip highlight, within minutes we were spotting giraffes and kudu, and our skilled driver was even able to track down a pack of lions. We couldn’t believe how close we were getting to wildlife. After lunch at a floating restaurant, it was time to float along the Chobe River via private boat. Again, the skilled team was able to detect the moment a herd of elephants planned a crossing (fact: Chobe National Park supports one of the world’s largest elephant populations). They also sailed us right up along the banks where grazing Cape Buffalo congregated.
It was nice to have a culture day thrown into the mix and a chance to discover the region today. We took a trip to the authentic villages of Impalila Island, Namibia, and were treated to song, dance, and informative exploration. What’s great is that most of the staff in the lodge are native to the island, some even graduates of the school which we visited. Or driver took us to meet his lovely family, a personal experience itself that you wouldn’t get on any regular safari cruise. Afterward, we also enjoyed a barbecue with grilled impala—an exciting first for every person in the group.
Guide two had everything prepared for our departure from the lodge: transfers, immigration forms (pre-filled in), and a private plane ready to usher us into Zimbabwe, where the African Dream ship would be waiting. It was a particularly windy day, so the small plane flight was rocky, but an hour and a half later we landed safely at Kariba Airport. Note that Zimbabwe was the only destination on this trip where a visa was required for us, and needs to be paid in exact cash upon arrival ($30 for US passport holders, and $55 for UK passport holders). Here, we met with guide number three and boarded our ship for the next three nights. It would sail the stunning Lake Kariba, the world’s largest artificial lake and reservoir, and a destination abundant in wildlife. All eight luxurious cabins come with an exterior view via a panoramic window or French balcony and are equipped with TV (and a great selection of DVDs—we watched ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ one night), safe, hair dryer, air-conditioning, a bathroom with tall shower and private toilet. On-board amenities included a sun deck, jacuzzi, lounge/bar, and restaurant.
At sunrise, we set sail and admired the rare and mysterious landscapes of Lake Kariba where drowned trees reach skywards from the depths of the reflecting water. A small boat navigated the group along the Gache Gache River to see its inhabitants, partly made up of a large population of hippos. We saw so many in fact, that our camera rolls were filled by the close of the day. A much more secluded river for boats than the Chobe River, wildlife here are less acquainted with motorized vehicles and thus were more skittish, so expect to observe them from a safe distance. In the evening, we opted for fishing, and though we didn’t catch anything, enjoying free-flowing drinks and snacks against the warm amber sun was a wonderful way to cap another successful day of natural wonders. While three meals a day with our new friends was no bother, tonight, we requested room service so as to enjoy our meal from the room balcony. The crew was more than happy to organize this at no extra cost at all, so guests can enjoy group time or alone time as much as they desire.
After the highs of the land safari on day three, the group was excited to be picked up by Jeep for a game drive of Matusadona National Park. This 1,400km² of untouched area is home to numerous animal species such as elephants, zebras, and waterbucks. Though, as detailed previously, the off-the-beaten-path destination meant wildlife were much less used to vehicles and kept their distance. This was more of a wilderness experience, however, with few to no other human explorers on our route, and we were still lucky to see elephants up close. Tonight’s final dinner aboard ship was a scrumptious lamb with roasted parsley potatoes, paired with a South African Shiraz. Even though you’re in Africa, CroisiEurope brings French refinement to the table, and all foods are safe for consumption, including salad. We did not once experience an upset stomach throughout the trip, so dig in and trust the team’s top-class level of preparation.
On our final full day, we headed by small plane (this time a smoother ride thanks to good weather) to Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls was discovered by David Livingstone in 1855 and named in honor of Queen Victoria. These views are among the most breathtaking in the world and we watched the plunging cascades under a glittering rainbow. Our fourth (and final) guide also treated us to an exceptional lunch cruise on the Zambezi River, and our overnight was at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The resort is superbly positioned by a waterhole that’s frequented by warthogs and impala—some curiously make their way over to the lodge balconies for in-room wildlife viewing.
In a flash, our trip had come to an end. Nine days of Jeeps, ships, and planes; countless wild creatures in their natural habitat; and a perfectly orchestrated itinerary of activity, meals, and lodging. The CroisiEurope experience takes out all the hard work so you have no choice but to surrender and enjoy the ride. Guide four dropped us off at Victoria Falls Airport where we boarded a connecting flight at Johannesburg. We reflected on the trip at the Bidvest Premier Lounge at OR Tambo International, one of the best lounges on the continent. A friendly team, just like that of team Croisi, welcomed us to an afternoon of lounge facilities that span meals, beverages, showers, fast Wi-Fi (to upload our safari photos on!), and more before our long haul back home. This was our first CroisiEurope adventure, and honestly, we couldn’t have hoped to see more in Southern Africa. It checked everything off our safari bucket list, wrapped in European comfort. No doubt, we’ll be back to explore more of their worldwide cruises.
| Images courtesy Chase Dorsett
Bonus: What We Packed To Safari Cruise
Comfort is key on safari cruises as opposed to traditional cruising. For the long haul flight, a pair of TGM Joggers gave airplane seat time added comfort in style and sustainable fabrics. During game drives, we opted for long-sleeved tees to avoid mosquito bites. Royal Robbins’ Hempline Pants were ideal for both on-and-off-ship: made with a breathable, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking material. It was also smart enough to sport for dinner. Long sleeves aside, you’ll need to slap on repellent and sunscreen to any exposed areas, and in all CroisiEurope accommodations, they were provided, so there’s no need to pack those items. Protect your eyes too; our Costa Sunglasses were ideal on water tours and stayed on during speedy moments. Limited space means you’ll need to pack smart day-to-day. We used a Niru daypack from LOJEL, made with recycled nylon, a lightweight, expandable backpack is essential for all your wildlife-watching needs. Separate compartments for binoculars (which can be borrowed from your lodge), battery packs, water, and snacks are easy to reach so there’s little need to take eyes off the sights. Speaking of which, ensure blackout all the way home, A Tarryn Silk Eye Mask aids sleep on the flight back.