We were a family group of 11 (6 adults and 5 children) staying at the Mara Serena at the end of October. Let me start by saying that if you choose to stay here you will no doubt have a brilliant time - the safaris are out of this world and the Serena really does have the prime location in the Masai Mara. Our game driver (Nicolas) was fantastic and the rooms and food at the Serena are both excellent.
However, and it is a significant however, the Serena could do so much more to make your holiday a holiday to remember. On our second day I logged on to Tripadvisor to read the other reviews which had persuaded us to book there and, sadly for us, they didn't quite match our experience. The Serena is charging premium prices and at these rates you expect a little bit more when it comes to customer service and attention to detail. Perhaps it was simply that we were staying at the end of high season and everyone was ready for a break or maybe our expectations were too high but we felt like we were missing out. Let me give some examples.
As a family group of 11 who had booked together and were on a holiday of a lifetime together we obviously wanted to eat together but for the first day we were told that we had to eat on two separate tables as another group was using the big table. This would have been understandable if it wasn't for the fact that the restaurant was full of tables which could have been pushed together to accommodate us but we weren't allowed to slide them together - we don't know why. Three times we asked the restaurant manager if we could just push the tables together but we were told that we have to wait until the following day when the larger group had gone. It isn't a biggy - but it wasn't the best start.
Our frustration was compounded on our first game drive. We started in 2 separate vehicles (which is worth noting if you're a large group - other lodges have larger vehicles) and the heavens opened. One of the vehicles only had canvas sides and the occupants were getting cold and wet and wanted to head back. The other vehicle was far better and the occupants wanted to push on. Our drivers were excellent offering to give us an extra game drive the following day if we headed back but the young children wouldn't have coped with three drives on the same day so they wanted to keep going - some of the adults wanted to head back and take the extra drive the following day. The problem was that we were told that as we were a single group both vehicles had to do the same thing. I honestly can't see how it made a difference whether we were one or two groups but given the dining room experience (being treated as two groups) we were less than impressed.
The reception desk epitomised the lack of customer service. You are given information packs which say you can borrow binoculars from reception but when we asked reception seemed mystified and told us that there were no binoculars. Whenever you went to speak to reception staff members were often too busy speaking with colleagues to actually speak with customers so you slightly felt as though you were in the way.
One other niggle worth mentioning is that the rooms are quite noisy. If someone down your row flushes the toilet then you hear a rushing noise for four or five seconds. Not a problem in the day but quite a pain in the middle of the night. It seemed to be every 20 minutes or so that we were disturbed.
I could give loads more examples but you get the impression. There are plenty of positives I could give you too. I spoke with the Assistant Manager Dan about my concerns and he listened brilliantly and made sure we got the big table in the restaurant but a free bottle of wine on our table or a small token of an apology wouldn't have gone a miss. There are free bottles of water in the rooms and they are replenished twice a day which is a nice touch (particularly as you have to pay for water in the restaurant - no free tap or filtered water) the free WiFi was a bonus (although a pain that you had to call reception for a new password every 24 hours) and the rooms were kept immaculately clean (thanks Richard). The pool area is stunning - great views over the park where you could spot hippos, lions, elephants etc. (although the pool itself was a little chilly). It really is a great place.
I guess the bottom line is that you aren't going to the Serena Mara for excellent customer service - you are going to see the wildlife, and wildlife you will see. On the first morning drive (after the flood the day before) we saw a black rhino, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, elephants and plenty more. The location at the corner of the Mara triangle means you can quickly get to the river and escarpment and find the usual haunts of all the animals. Our guide was excellent and they are in radio contact with other guides to help them find the animals you want to see. It does mean that when you find a rhino you are suddenly surrounded by 3 or 4 other vehicles but it's better that way than just tree spotting all day.
We chose the Serena Mara because it seemed the best option for kids (interlocking rooms, children's menu in the restaurant, swimming pool etc.) and it certainly was. We would probably even go again for the same reason but it could have been so much more with 10% more effort. Perhaps someone will read this and give the staff the rallying call they need.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Mara Serena Safari Lodge, set on a saddle of a hill, overlooks the 1,800 square km of rolling plains at an altitude of 1625 meters at the Masai Mara Triangle, one of the world's richest wildlife sanctuaries. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Mara Serena Safari Hotel Maasai Mara National Reserve
- Mara Serena Safari Lodge Kenya/Maasai Mara National Reserve