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How to Choose a Family Safari

How to Choose a Family Safari
By Candyce H. Stapen

For years I dreamt about taking my children to Africa. There is something joyous about watching animals roam free in their natural habitat. However, before we embarked on this dream trip when my daughter was 10 and my son 21, we thought about it carefully, wondering whether the journey was worth the long flight, the high cost and the inconvenience of getting inoculations and taking anti-malaria pills.

Like many first-time safari-goers, we selected Kenya, known for its wheat-colored savannahs and teeming herds of animals. Also, visiting Kenya had the added bonus of allowing us to meet a foster child we corresponded with and supported for years.

Not fifteen minutes outside of Nairobi Alissa yelled "Mommy look," pointing excitedly toward two giraffes munching acacia leaves, strutting roadside. My son Matt turned and said "Wow" with a smile I hadn't seen in a long time. That’s when we knew we had made the right decision.

Would I recommend a safari for families? Absolutely, but choose the company and the departure wisely. Here are some suggestions.

Make sure the trip is really family friendly. Family designated departures come with the bonus of other children--instant friends for your kids--but look closely at the itinerary. Some companies simply slap a “family” tag on their regular departures instead of creating workable schedules for children and adults.

Family friendly itineraries include flights between distant game parks. Avoid long van drives as these provide ample opportunities for boredom and squabbles about windows, seat space and almost anything.Also, be certain that the van is large enough so that everyone has a window seat plus room for cameras. A nine passenger van should not be booked for more than six people.

Be sure that you stay at most lodges at least two nights. If you change accommodations every night, you’ll be cranky from packing and unpacking and being cooped up in the van. Plus you won’t really get to enjoy the lodges.

Pick places to stay that have swimming pools. Typically, morning game drives start around 6:30 am or 7:00 am. Breakfast is served after you return around 9 am. Afternoon game drives depart at 3pm or 4 pm. Cooling off by splashing in a pool is a great way for kids to work off energy, meet other children and enjoy themselves between game runs.

Since we’re a family of night owls, we didn't know if we could be dressed and bright-eyed for the early bush run. To prevent the dreaded "hurry-up-and-get dressed" pre-dawn nagging scene, we slept in our sweat pants. Waking up meant washing our faces and jumping in the van.

My daughter, like most grade-schoolers, needed to eat soon after awakening. We vanquished the no-breakfast-until-9:oo a.m. problem with granola bars. Tummies sated, we were free to admire the brown silhouettes of elephants in chorus line formation, and the rap-like dance of the crested cranes against the burgeoning blue light.

Were we bored? Never. Each game run revealed a different nuance. Ten feet from a lion, Alissa, after she accepted the reality of our safety, smiled at his cat-like cuddliness. Matt marveled at the freedom the scores of galloping zebras, and wildebeest conveyed. One morning Matt photographed a lion climbing into the crook of a tree. Alissa captured a frumpy looking warthog with her camera. Our visit to Africa remains one of our all-time favorite trips.

Outfitters that offer family friendly trips include Abenteuer Afrika Safari, Abercrombie & Kent, Micato Safaris, National Geographic Kids, Smithsonian Journeys, South African Airways Vacations and Wildland Adventures.

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