Before we get going, I just want to clarify one point: this was my first time lodging at anything that resembles an all-inclusive resort. Never have liked the idea of them, and still don’t. Nevertheless, the Mara Serena Safari Lodge did a relatively decent job of warming me to the idea.
Furthermore, I just want to clarify this post’s title, to head off anybody who get’s a certain strange satisfaction from pointing out technical inaccuracies in blog entries. For purposes of this article, the term Serengeti refers to the greater ecosystem, not the park that resides in neighboring Tanzania. Okay, that out of the way, on to the review!
The Mara Serena Safari Lodge exists on what can only be described as a topographic island among the grassland. It sits perched atop a medium-sized hill, surrounded by vegetation that is a bit stark in contrast to the surrounding landscape. From a distance, the only sign of it’s existence are several poorly disguised cell towers. It’s almost as if the developer took a map of the Masai Mara Reserve, stuck a pin in the middle of it, and said Here! It is not until one gets settled, that the reason for the resort’s location become apparent. It has, what I might consider, the best hotel views in the world.
Mara Serena Safari Lodge Arrival and Check-In
The architecture common to buildings located in the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine. That’s immediately what I was reminded of upon arrival. Considering the Mara Serena Safari Lodge predates Star Wars, I assume George Lucas was previously a guest, and borrowed some ideas.
Ties to science fiction aside, check-in was quick. My party had arranged lodging as part of our safari package. Because it was a travel purchase, it was made via my Chase Sapphire Reserve. Earning 3x Ultimate Rewards and avoiding any foreign transaction fees in the process.
A quick passport copy, and we were sent on our way, keys in hand. Worth noting, is that the property hasn’t yet made it to the 1990’s when it comes to room-entrance tech. One is issued an old-school key with a giant room number affixed. If misplaced, one better hopes the finder is trustworthy. But, as they say when in-country, TIA(this is Africa!)
Entering my room at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge, my suspicions regarding Lucas’ inspiration turned to confidence. The Star Wars creator must have stayed here prior to filming. Just take a look at the room pics below. I felt like I had just walked into Yoda’s hut.
While thrilled to be sleeping in a Jedi Master’s lair, I was a little confused by the layout. Three twin beds? This certainly wasn’t requested. In fact, I’m not exactly sure who this room was meant for. A couple and their kids, that doesn’t work. Maybe a girl’s trip to the Mara? In any case, it would of course be in one’s best interest to make sure the bedding situation is sorted before arrival. I’m assuming, but not completely confident, that different arrangements are available.
Interestingly, the all-masonry construction of the Mara Serena Safari Lodge means that one is unlikely to hear any noise from one’s neighbors. Conversely, the windows are only single pane, meaning that any exterior sounds are clearly discerned. In practice, this means any number of African savanna creatures. One regularly hears chirping insects, birds and the occasional elephant trumpet. Outside of my room, was an avian of unknown species. So desperate to find a mate, he was signing like Luciano Pavarotti. Initially quite relaxing, but after several nights, it became rather annoying.
Truthfully, my only real complaint with the room itself was the quality of the beds. Well-used, hard and giving off a slight odor. I didn’t dare lift the sheets to see the monster lurking beneath. I’m sure it would not have been pretty. One can clearly see the pronounced concave shape, of what should be a flat surface, in the picture above. I’ve slept on floors that offered a more comfortable rest. At least they don’t cause one to roll to the center. For those used to the high-quality mattresses typically found in western hotels, plan to be uncomfortable.
Bathrooms were about as run-of-the-mill as one could imagine. The Mara Serena Safari Lodge provides guests a clean place to take care of one’s personal hygiene related tasks. While one won’t find much in the way of luxury, one won’t find much to complain about either. Always worth keeping in mind, is the potability of water. It’s never guaranteed in less-developed countries. Even when brushing my teeth, I treat the water using my UV sterilizer(Amazon). In countless hotel stays, some offering water with noticeable tints, I’ve never gotten sick.
Those of size might find the shower somewhat constricting. I’m only 5’8″ and about 160 lbs. Anyone much larger than I should get acquainted with the idea of having their derriere rub against the shower curtain.
Finally, the availability of outlets was very disappointing. Not only were they few and far between, only one was of the universal variety. Those attempting to plug in a US or European style cord will require an adapter. I use a global one featuring built-in USB charging(Amazon). I consider it among my most-essential travel gadgets.
No outlets were found next to the beds, relegating night-time charging activities to the workstation. I have to admit, it felt a little unnatural falling asleep without my iPhone at my side. A veritable first-world inconvenience.
When one is booking their room, I would recommend requesting a room number between 1 and 25 or 55-78. These will offer the best view, and it’s nothing short of spectacular. Being able to watch the golden sunset over the valley and rivers, while herds of large herbivores walk about is absolutely breathtaking. The example pictures above fall tragically short.
If rooms providing the prefered view are unavailable, one will not be left unsatisfied. The views from rooms 26-54 are almost as good. We’re really splitting hairs here.
Terrible, and that’s putting it nicely. Non-existent in most parts of the resort is actually more accurate. When I was able to perform a speed test, I saw about 1 Mbps up and down. One might be able to check their email, or slowly check social media. Beyond that, don’t expect much.
As I’ve mentioned in other articles, a travel router(Amazon) is always in my bag. It serves as an access-point, range extender and bridge. It’s not necessarily uncommon for hotels to still offer an ethernet connection only. This little device has been a lifesaver on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, the wireless signal at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge was so weak, I couldn’t even extend it.
The comparison of a cruise ship and the Mara Serena Safari Lodge used in this article’s title will become a bit more clear when it’s time to eat. Being the only permanent establishment in Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve, there is literally no other place to eat for dozens of miles. Any traveler with highly specific dietary restrictions might want to keep this in mind when planning a trip.
The food is decent, but is almost always buffet style and never wows. Commonly, you’ll be seated with your group, and offered bread and a salad. Without exception, the grain choices were white or brown(whole-wheat) and the soup was a choice of some broth and some cream. From there, you’ll join the feed line. Despite some day-to-day variety, it all starts to taste the same after a medium-length stay.
Without exception, carbs, meat, veggies and desert are provided. Presumably due to a large number of visitors from India, the vegetarian options are surprisingly good. Usually some type of paneer or masala is offered. Meat-wise, there is usually some fish, some bird, and something red. The salad options are the same each day, though it’s commonly more of a cheese/nut/veggie platter than a true salad. Finally, we have desert. It’s not very good. But honestly, sweetened carbs are not really Africa’s specialty.
The Mara Serena Safari Lodge’s dining ambiance is often quite nice. Due to the fact that a relatively small number of people(the resort isn’t very big) filter in and out over several hours. Crowds don’t appear to be an issue. The dining room staff does follow the “everyone in on spot” practice that is annoyingly common at many restaurants. Of course, I’m referring to their tendency to seat all groups near each other, despite plenty of room and empty tables.
Those celebrating a birthday will be brought a cake and serenaded in Swahili followed by “Happy Birthday” in English. I managed to take a video of the production, posted above. While this sounds nice at first, remember that pretty much every night, multiple people will be celebrating. After hearing it, and the associated horns, for 3 straight nights, you start longing for some peace and quite.
The gym at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge is tiny, but will suffice when one just can’t go for a few days without a workout. Those that have spent any time in Africa know that power, even in the nicest of places, is not guaranteed. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the workout room. For reasons unbeknownst to the staff or I, there was simply no electricity prior to noon. A death-blow to a treadmill user.
Though sparsely equipped, the gym at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge might actually be my favorite fitness facility in the world. Why? The location and the view. I’ve never worked out anywhere else that allowed me to burn some calories, take in the breeze and watch all manner of African wildlife at the same time.
Early AM Wake up Juice
I’m assuming that most who pay a visit to the Mara Serena Safari Lodge are doing so for the nearly unlimited safari opportunities. These exist right outside it’s gates. Anyone who forgoes this should have their sanity checked by a competent professional. I bring this up, because game-drives typically start pretty early. We rarely got going later than 06:00.
To quote Jim Hopper from Stranger Things, “mornings are for coffee and contemplation”. A phrase oft repeated by me since first hearing it. Luckily the Mara Serena Safari Lodge is willing to help out. Each sunrise, as everyone is gearing up to go, the resort staff put out fresh java, tea and pastries. One might consider bringing their own to-go mug though. The ones provided are porcelain, and not well-suited to an open-top Land Cruiser.
Despite some room for improvement, I would not hesitate to visit the Mara Serena Safari Lodge again. In some ways, mentioning the comfort of the bed, or the anemic WiFi, ignores the primary reason one visits the resort. To temporarily reside alongside some of Earths greatest wildlife.
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