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Owners at Maasai Mara Bush Dinner

Thirty-four Bluegreen owners experienced the scenic beauty and the abundant wildlife of Kenya and Tanzania from February 6 to 18 on our Majestic Landscapes of Africa guided tour. It was the first Owner Adventures vacation of 2018 and Bluegreen’s first Owner Adventures vacation in Africa. This 12-night camera safari included game-viewing drives in some of Africa’s best game parks and reserves.

Melissa Williams, supervisor of Travel Programs and a Bluegreen host on this trip, said Africa is “stunningly beautiful. You really feel isolated when you are out in the bush. There is nothing around except nature, and the occasional Maasai warrior who pops up.”

Owner feeding giraffe at Nairobi Giraffe Center.The adventure started with a Welcome Dinner and two nights in the vibrant capital city of Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi looks like any big city around the world, with skyscrapers, traffic and neighborhoods, except within the city limits you have free-roaming elephants and giraffes at Nairobi National Game Park.

The owners paid a visit to Nairobi’s Giraffe Center, established to protect the endangered Rothschild giraffe found only in East Africa. They also toured the Kazuri Bead Factory, a women’s cooperative that helps single mothers earn a living.

At the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a haven for orphaned elephants, the owners received a unique souvenir: an elephant fostered in their name for a year. The owners got to meet their special elephant baby, and they’ll receive email updates on the elephant’s growth and progress over the next year.

Amboseli National Park

Elephant and baby in Amboseli National ParkOn the third day in Africa, the owners divided into groups of up to six in 4×4 safari vehicles with a guide for the five- to six-hour drive to Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants. They saw many of them. Amboseli is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The owners were able to see more or less of it, depending on the cloud cover.

Steve and Suzy Saddler, owners from Sturgis, Michigan, had been on an Owner Adventures trip to Iceland in 2017. Africa was a destination they had considered in the past but didn’t know how to start the planning. Bluegreen’s trip fit the bill.

“Game drives made me feel like an observer in a part of the world where man is not at the top of the food chain,” Steve said.

Elephant in front of Mount KilamanjaroAt the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge where the group stayed, Melissa said the guests were given a little club attached to their room keys to ward off the many monkeys that hang out on the property. One of these creatures went through an owner’s cosmetic bag, and another snatched a banana right out of an owner’s hand.

Little extras and celebrations are always a part of an Owner Adventures vacation. Many owners book a trip to mark one of life’s milestones. On this adventure there were three birthdays, two anniversaries and one retirement to celebrate.

Arthur and Paula Wood from Waynesboro, Mississippi, were on their first Owner Adventures trip. He celebrated his 64th birthday while they were in Amboseli, and the tour hosts and lodge and kitchen staff sang “Happy Birthday” to him. It was a birthday he’ll always remember.

Ngorongoro Crater

Owners in Ngorongoro CraterThe owners crossed into Tanzania to the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled caldera. Melissa described it as being “like a fishbowl full of animals.” They saw zebra, wildebeest, lions, black rhinos, hippos, elephants, baboons, hyenas and more.

“The owners were enamored by the variety and concentration of animals in Ngorongoro,” said Josh Lindsey, supervisor of Travel Support Programs and a Bluegreen host on this adventure. “In the jeep you would look in one direction and there’s a lion, and then look in the other direction and there’s a rhino.”

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge where the group stayed was perched on the rim of the crater, so they had excellent views of the beautiful landscape within the crater and could even see the animals down below.

Owners Lee and Karen Coburn of Apache Junction, Arizona, had been on Owner Adventures trips to Australia in 2015 and Peru in 2017.

“Kenya was on our bucket list, and from participation in other Owner Adventures, we knew it would be a trip of a lifetime,” Karen said.

On game drives in the crater, Karen said a highlight was watching the birth of a wildebeest. “The other females formed a perimeter to protect the mother during and immediately after delivery,” she said.

Serengeti National Park

Lion near jeep in Serengeti National Park From the relatively compact area of Ngorongoro Crater the owners headed to the vast grassy plains of the Serengeti, Tanzania’s oldest and most recognized national park. Viewing animals here was more challenging, as the grass is tall and the animals are more spread out, but the group saw many big cats, like leopards, cheetahs and lions, plus herds of Thomson’s gazelles, zebras and wildebeest.

The owners were suprised at how close the animals would come to the safari vehicles. Lions came right next to the jeeps when they stopped and other animals crossed the roads right in front of them, providing great photo ops.

Steve Saddler was one of the owners who experienced a part of the “circle of life” on the Seregeti. “We were able to get so close to a leopard consuming a kill that we could hear bones crunch,” he said.

“The premier location of all the accommodations on this trip right within the game parks meant we shared the space with the animals,” Josh said. At the Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge, the owners saw a Cape buffalo drinking water out of the swimming pool.

Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara in Kenya is named for the Maasai, the ancestral inhabitants of the area. It is home to Africa’s Big 5, which includes the African elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and lion. Melissa said they saw all these animals in one day at Masai Mara.

Warthogs at Kitchwa TemboAn unexpected surprise was that a Nat Geo Wild TV crew was filming in the park while the Bluegreen group was there. The TV crew was happy to talk to the owners about what they had been filming that day and gave them tips on where to find certain animals.

The owners stayed in the Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, a luxury accommodation with excellent food and service. There were plenty of animals within and around the camp. Warthogs are employed to keep the grass mowed. A couple from the group found a bushback antelope sleeping on the furniture on their porch. And Steve and Suzy Saddler, Verne Shortell and Steve Harvey had blue monkeys snatch pound cake off the table right in front of them—although they were able to save their peanuts.

“At night sleeping in your tent, you could hear the animals—lions roaring, hyenas and jackels,” Melissa said.

A highlight of the trip for many of the owners was interacting with the locals who lived nearby in a traditional Maasai village with a population of about 60. Their village guide was Ben, the son of the village chief, who was well spoken and passionate about his culture.

Bluegreen Host with Maasai peopleTheirs is a polygamous society where the number of cows a man has is more important than money, for they determine how many wives he can have. However, the man does not choose his wives. His parents choose his first wife, and the first wife chooses the next one and on down the line.

The women of the village raised the funds to build a school nearby; many children in Africa have to board at schools for months at a time because there is no school close to their village. Owner Candy Stewart, a retired teacher, and her husband Rich Stewart, owners from Grand Island, Nebraska, were on their second Owner Adventures vacation and went to see the school, which was outside the village proper.

“The hike up the hill from the Maasai village was definitely worth the effort,” Candace said. “The small adobe structure with open windows and door housed 63 beautiful children and their teacher, who welcomed us with big smiles. It was wonderful to see the sacrifices made by these remote Maasai villagers to benefit generations to come.”

The children were learning English, and Candace gave them an impromptu lesson, taking them through the letters of the alphabet and numbers on two charts on the wall.

Candace said the tour company, Kensington, is deeply involved in financing and supporting schools like this is the areas where their guests travel.

On their last evening at Kichwa Tembo, the owners were treated to a Farewell Bush Dinner served outdoors in traditional African fashion.

Traditional Bush Dinner siteThe dinner was held about a 30-minute drive from the camp, and the Kichwa Tembo staff went all out with a beautifully decorated table and glowing lanterns in the trees. The stunning site overlooked a river with hippos in the water below. They had Maasai villagers come to the dinner, who made a point to celebrate each individual owner’s birthday or anniversary. They also entertained the group with Maasai dancing. It was probably the most unique and culturally authentic Farewell Dinner we’ve ever had on an Owner Adventures trip, according to Melissa.

The next day the owners bid Masai Mara goodbye and returned to Nairobi for the trip home.

Lasting Impressions of Africa

Owners had many positive things to say about this African adventure and traveling with other Bluegreen owners in general.

Mike and Linda Spector, owners from Ooltewah, Tennessee, had been on an Owner Adventures trip to Alaska in 2015. They went to Africa because it was a destination on their bucket list, and the local people and the animals impressed them.

Owners with Maasai women“The game drives were fantastic. The drivers were great,” Mike said. “I just wish they would improve the roads.”

Candace and Richard Stewart said they were impressed with the local guides and drivers and enjoyed getting acquainted with so many Bluegreen owners.

Owners Jane Bond and her son Rick Bond of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were on their first Owner Adventures vacation, but Jane is already planning to go on another one with her husband in 2019.

“Everything was organized and first class,” Jane said. “It was fun to meet other Bluegreen owners who shared their stories about visiting Bluegreen locations. I made some new friends that I think I will keep for life.”

Travel on an Owner Adventures Vacation Yourself in 2018 or 2019!

Booking is open for an all-American Owner Adventure tour set for Fall 2018 and four bucket-list destinations planned in 2019. Here’s the lineup:

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