No doubt - it is very beautiful to balloon over Massai Mara.
Paying USD 450 (!!) per person - the most expensive single activity ever for us - you are kind of expecting this though. In fact it is probably fair to expect something pretty exclusive, right?
Unfortunately the exclusivity only happens on the homepage (www.maraballooning.com) and the flyers.
...that unless you are having a lodge in the park, they won't pick you up in the morning - you will have to convince your lodge driver to bring you to a gate for them to pick you up there - in the afternoon he has to pick you up there again
...no coffee or freshly baked biscuits in the morning when arriving at the place you are taking off - it gives you more time to get to terms with the fact that exclusivity can mean 16 people crammed in a balloon basket - there were 3 balloons on our morning (count count.... well over USD 20'000... even being used to Swiss prices you are just shanking your head....)
...the flight is beautiful - although Mike (our captain) will ask you at least ten times to look into a little camera to get pictured. Later on you find out, that the pics on a CD can be bought for USD 30 - wow, cool - as far as we understood it is extra money for the pilots... at least spend this money for a charity project for god sake....
...that after landing you are getting a breakfast and yes it is in the middle of the Massai Mara - but the shade of an acacia tree is not there - probably also because the acacia tree able to spend shadow for some 50 people yet needs to grow.... what you get is a buffet breakfast and yes, there is a queue at the buffet...very exclusive!
...there is NO Moet & Chandon but some no name fizzy Wine... ok, we understand: Moet & Chandon would actually cost something...
This acitivity is fine but worth max USD 250 to 300.
So either haggle them down or don't do it.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Hot Air Safaris is committed to being the top provider of Hot Air Balloon Safaris in Africa, and we appreciate your frank opinion, and may we assure you we take it seriously.
1) There are 8 camps and lodges inside the Mara Game reserve, compared to over 100 outside it. The majority of our guests are staying in camps and lodges OUTSIDE the reserve. Your claim that "... unless you are having a lodge in the park, they won't pick you up in the morning - you will have to convince your lodge driver to bring you to a gate for them to pick you up there - in the afternoon he has to pick you up there again" is therefore grossly inaccurate. It applied to only your trip.
The further camps and lodges are from our launch site, the earlier the guests have to leave to be there on time for the launch. The furthest of these are the camps in the Mara North Conservancy, and Cottar's 1920's camps. If you care to check a map, you will see that the distance from these areas to Talek where we fly from is considerable. In fact, we consider it not to be worth the cost of servicing these faraway places...BUT we do! Irrespective of the number of guests, we will necessarily bear the cost in he interest of being the top service provider and go the extra (many extra) miles to ensure we provide the best service we can to everyone who chooses to fly with us.
You may find that the lodge you stayed at was much further to the north of the game reserve, forcing us to request your vehicle bring you to a closer point to begin your journey with us. We have to find ways to balance service with the unfortunate practical realities of operating a business. We understand if this was unacceptable to you. Perhaps in future as we work towards growing our business and with our guests' support we shall be able to provide a separate vehicle to be based at all distant lodges.
2) We have a number of launch sites that we regularly use, and adjust the site based on a number of factors. The most important of these is Flight Safety, followed by considerations like Flight path and landing sites. This is all because of the simple principle that Hot Air Balloons work on; wind direction decides flight direction. Wind speed decides how much space you need to take off. This is why your flight took off from a location inside the game reserve, where there is about 2km of take off space. This means less chances of hitting a tree, and of course translates into not having disappointed (or worse-injured) guests. The sad reality of moving to this launch site is the unfortunate lack of facilities for the provision of tea and coffe prior to the launch. For this inconvenience may we offer our sympathies, and once again hope that in the near future we will have arrangements such that all flights can take off from our main launch site where this situation would never have occurred.
3) Your comments regarding the number of balloons and passengers makes a fair point. However, we are running a business, and as such, the more numbers the lower the operating costs. Having said that, the Landing fees of 50USD per person which we pay, comes out of the cost to the guest, as well as the usual commission fees to agents, drivers etc. this does substantially reduce our ned income. The issue of 16 people Being "crammed" into a basket is an opinion that deserves a response as well. The majority of our guests are rather pleased when they learn that being "crammed" in means everyone is less likely to bounce around in the basked and hurt themselves or someone else. In addition, may I point out that even on an Airline, First class has maybe 10 or so seats, but you pay possibly 5 times more for the privilege. Again, the unfortunate reality of operating a business in a remote and harsh environment such as the wilderness of Africa means.. 16 guests to a basket is the best we can do. May I suggest you consider a "private" flight in our 4 passenger Balloon upon your next visit?
4) The picture CD we believe is a nice and very unique way to share your memories from your flight. On some airlines you pay more for a piece of baggage, or for your meals and drinks during your flight, or for a plastic model airplane for your desk. A share of the money raised from the CD sales goes to the more than 8 staff per balloon that it takes to get an aircraft that size set up to fly and back, safely. in addition, Hot Air Safaris contributes a percentage of every guest payment to the Kenya Wildlife Trust, and I urge you to look up their website, they need all the support they can get! We are committed to working towards conserving the wilderness where we work and live, and appreciate your suggestion of contributing to a charity from our income. Thank you.
5) Lastly, we do accept that it is difficult to get that many people into the shade of a single tree. Your concern over the quality of the Swartland Sparkling wine served at the breakfast has also been noted, and again we are working to rectify this. We reiterate our commitment to being the best, and are prepared to to what it takes to achieve this.
Overall we sincerely appreciate your comments, it makes us work harder to ensure we are better than any other Balloon Service provider at making all our guests happy. Of course, we understand that there is always going to be someone who isn't, and we are sorry for that.
Sincerely and with thanks,
for and on behalf of the Chief Pilot and Board of Directors.
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.