Do we go for adventure or relaxation? That was the question we asked ourselves when deciding the type of honeymoon we would take. I wanted excitement and my wife wanted pampering. However, we both agreed that we wanted a trip where we could learn about each other, nature, and the world. Fortuitously, we would see a story on 60 Minutes about “Sharkman”, a man who free-dives with Great White Sharks off the coast of South Africa. After further investigation, we discovered this country had everything we were looking for: adventure, intimacy, and a culture steeped in history. Our decision was made. Furthermore, since we had to travel through London to reach Cape Town, we decided that we would do a week layover in Europe on the way back. With my wife’s vacation days piled up, we were ready to spend May 17-June 5, 2010 enjoying life!
Registering on Traveler’s Joy allowed us to book a trip full of different activities. This worked perfectly for us and our guests because we created specific and affordable excursions which enabled each guest to get us something very unique. When putting together our gift registry, we also wanted to entertain our guests with funny blurbs about what they were gifting. For example, for these excursions we wrote:
GREAT WHITE SHARK CAGE DIVING FOR MARK Help Mark achieve his dream of cage-diving with Great White Sharks, or hear about his untimely demise. Either way, you'll see incredible photos of a once in a lifetime event!
SPA TREATMENT FOR LONNI While Mark is cage-diving, Lonni will be enjoying a luxurious spa day at the One & Only Hotel. Help her relax as she wonders if Mark will make it home that day.
What made it even more personal were the photos we would send them in their thank you notes capturing each experience they purchased for us.
After 24 hours of traveling, we landed in Cape Town, South Africa. Yes, we were tired, but with the country getting ready for the World Cup, the intoxicating energy took hold of us and we were immediately rejuvenated. With our driver waiting, we were rushed off to the One & Only Hotel where we would be greeted by a staff that made us feel instantly at home. And with five-star restaurants inside, including Nobu and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, we never had to go far for exquisite cuisine.
Every day we had a new adventure and every night we had a relaxing massage. Not a moment was ever wasted. We visited the Cape of Good Hope, the famous navigation landmark and home to the legendary Flying Dutchman. And while it was truly a magnificent view, what we remember most were the curious baboons trying to steal our lunch at the restaurant. Hearing my wife laugh and scream at the same time while getting bullied by hungry primates is a memory that we’ll never forget.
An excursion to Table Mountain by cable car was another magnificent brush with the beauty of South Africa. And while this macro view was enough for my wife, I decided to get up close and personal by repelling down the mountain. I was like putty in the hands of the licensed activities operator on top of the mountain just waiting for “suckers” like me. Was it scary? Absolutely, especially when they don’t tell you about the “surprise” halfway down (I won’t spoil it for you but if you decide to go, you’ll know what I’m talking about). But it was definitely worth it!
Our trip to Robben Island – the political prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated – exposed us to the historical injustices of the country where political dissidents served hard labor. To actually see the lime quarries where the prisoners worked all day long made us feel lucky to visit this historical landmark as voluntary “guests.” Inspired by tales of determination over oppression, we left thinking how one person can make a difference in the lives of many. Most memorable for us (but for different reasons) was the day we went Great White cage-diving with “Sharkman” Mike Rutzen. One of my dreams come true, I had always wanted to do this with the premier expert on Great White Shark behavior. It was an honor to see these majestic creatures from below the surface. While you might think it was scary, oddly enough it was one of the most peaceful and serene moments I’ve ever encountered with nature. Now, for my wife who stayed on the boat, this was not the case. Unfortunately she got seasick and was “feeding the fish” but in her own way. That being said, her day just got worse. Remember how I said earlier that the One and Only Hotel made us feel at home? Well, it did… a little too much.
Before we left that day, my wife didn’t bring her wedding and engagement rings for fear that she may lose them on the boat. So, she kept them in the box at our hotel room, with our belongings. When we returned, they were gone, box and all. Management poorly handled this devastating event, putting my wife and I through the ringer and ultimately did nothing but cause us grief with the false hope that they would make things right. One of the housekeeping staff members even failed two polygraph tests but we never got the rings back. Material things, yes, but trust me, that’s not what you want to tell your wife on your honeymoon. We learned a valuable and costly lesson, but for this reason, I would never recommend staying at the One and Only Hotel. We were determined not to let this spoil our honeymoon and continued our adventure boarding a small eight passenger airplane heading for the Tinga Game Lodge situated in Kruger National Park to begin a three -day safari.
This magnificent lodge provided views of the Sabie River that were unparalleled. On our first safari we would come face-to-face with enormous elephants, hundreds of gazelles, and even our first glimpse of a lion with her cubs. By the time we left, we saw the Big Five (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) many times over, and every other animal under the stars except the elusive cheetah, but this was to be expected since we had previously gone to a cheetah preserve in Cape Town to learn about these shy and endangered animals.
Eating romantic candlelit dinners on the African plains with just the sounds of nature and each other’s company allowed us to refocus on what truly is important in life. The staff was excellent and the accommodations were nice, including high tea in the afternoon, cocktails on the safari plains, and gourmet dinners prepared each evening. Relaxing in our hot tub on our patio deck each night after early morning and afternoon game drives was the perfect way for us to wind down and enjoy our newly married life together. Our three-day safari was plenty of time to see all of the animals, but if we were to do it over again, we would add an extra day or two.
From Africa, we traveled to London where we stayed at the Dorchester Hotel. Conveniently located next to one of London’s most beautiful parks , one of our favorite ways to start the day was to wake up with a cup of coffee at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen in Hyde Park and watch the people leisurely stroll by. Walking, riding the Underground, and experiencing a “Champagne Flight” on the London Eye (purchased for us on Traveler’s Joy) allowed us to see the city from different perspectives. At night, we would relax in the hotel’s chic bar and listen to live jazz. However, our trip was still not over.
We spent the last leg of our honeymoon by taking a very easy Chunnel ride to Paris. After all, what’s more romantic than toasting to our new life together atop the Eiffel Tower? Our first memorable moment there was when we first arrived and took a boat trip down the Seine River. My wife and I were holding hands and after asking a Japanese tourist to take our photo, a whole group of them had descended upon us and furiously started taking snapshots as if they were the paparazzi and we were celebrities. We all laughed about it, which was a most interesting way to bridge an intercultural gap.
Unfortunately, our trip had to end, but not before the airline crew went on strike, canceling our flight back to the United States. This “forced” us to stay an extra night in London (too bad for us having to enjoy another evening in one of our favorite cities). We spent the last night in London reflecting on how this trip brought us together, how much our parents and friends would have loved it, and being thankful for all of the support that allowed us to grow together as a couple and as people. The trip cost around $25,000 and was worth every penny of it.
I would highly recommend visiting South Africa for all its beauty, culture, and the amazing spirit of the people. Be careful though at night, as poverty and crime is still relatively high. London is a fantastic city if you have never been. Be sure to check out Zuma and Hakkasan, amazing Sushi and Cantonese restaurants, respectively, with fantastic ambiences. And Paris, well….Paris is one of the best walking cities we have ever been to filled with art, history, and fantastic food.
On our flight back, we wondered how much work had piled up for us. My wife didn’t have to worry too long though, as literally the moment our plane touched down in Phoenix, she was immediately fired from her job after ten years. As I’ve heard in a song, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.