Rovos Rail’s “Pride of Africa” is A True Home Away from Home

11 Aug

The Pride of Africa on the bridge over the Zambezi River between Zambia and Tanzania.  Society of IRT photo by O. Hardy

At the end of our recent Cape Town-Dar es Salaam Rovos Rail trip, they made us leave the train. We could have cried.

For two weeks, we pampered passengers had become almost infantile in our utter dependence and sloth. Coddled and cuddled, we’d adopted Rovos’ Pride of Africa luxury train as our home away from home.

But Rovos’ version of home is tons better than the stationary variety. Consider the following, all included in the fare: laundry service, hair salon, drinks 24 hours a day (alcoholic and otherwise), ample breakfasts, extraordinary four-course lunches and dinners with great South African wines.

Add to that afternoon tea with delicious sandwiches and cakes, and two lounge cars which don’t close until the last guest drags back to his compartment.

Then add in huge suites with king-size beds, ample storage space, mini-bar stocked with complimentary liquor, beer, wine and whatever else is on board, private shower, toilet and sink, and – best of all – windows that open.

IRT Traveler John Friedmann stands at the back of the rear lounge car. Society of IRT photo by O. Hardy

That last point is vital. Photographers have a field day on the Pride of Africa, what with all the windows that fully slide down, plus the gigantic open-air platform at the end of the rear lounge car. Even if you don’t use a camera, the wind-in-the-face connection you get with the African countryside, animals and people is immediate and palpable.

Laundresses ironing in utility car. Society of IRT photo by O. Hardy

Rovos staff, meanwhile, are charming, hard-working and competent. On our trip, that was true of the laundry ladies, ironing away in a forward utility car. It was true of our two expert wine stewards, Gareth and Michael, as well as the dining car servers and cabin attendants and the engineer.

It was true of Train Manager Daphne Mabala, to whose usual duties were added the tasks of negotiating the tour past a freight derailment, late schedules and, most of all, dealing with an unseasonable freeze which knocked out the water lines on 19 of 21 cars. She also worked with us to make sure anybody who wanted them got rides in the engine’s cab in Zambia and Tanzania – a trip highlight for many members of The Society of International Railway Travelers.

Bianca Vos, railway enthusiast. Society of IRT photo by O. Hardy

And it was true of Bianca Vos, 27, daughter of founding father Rohan Vos. Ms. Vos spent a sleepless night working with Ms. Mabala on the water problem. She also mingled with guests, helped manage off-train tours and worked one of the two dining cars bussing tables, fetching coffee and serving food. No hothouse flower, Ms. Vos is a credit to her old man.

The 14-day Cape-Dar trip is Rovos Rail’s most ambitious all-rail itinerary, covering a third of the African continent, 3,568 miles on the rails.  It may be the most ambitious and most comfortable cross-continent rail trek in the world run by any company.

Rovos Rail’s crowning feature: widows that open.             Society of IRT photo by E. Hardy

It is not as long as the Trans-Siberian Express (6,600 miles). But this trip takes in major portions of South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, while touching on parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe. There are major off-train excursions, including a two-night visit to South Africa’s Tau Game Lodge, an overnight stop at Victoria Falls and others. (More about those in a separate post)

But it’s the Pride of Africa itself that passengers write home about. As one of our guests, Mohamed Elguindy of Florida said when we were returning from Tau to the train: “We’re coming home.”

For a photo retrospective of the Society of International Railway Traveler’s July, 2011 Cape Town-Dar es Salaam tour, please click here.  If you joined us on this trip, or you’ve been before, what’s your favorite memory?

Part 2: Life on Board Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa.

10 Responses to “Rovos Rail’s “Pride of Africa” is A True Home Away from Home”

  1. Howard Grabill August 22, 2011 at 12:04 AM #

    I have been back from my Pride of Africa journey 2 weeks and still can’t put it out of my mind. I have to do this one again. But, need to get around the brutal forward facing leg cramping problem. ”
    The “Bus” 380 is beautiful but every 10th row across needs to be purged and spread the other 9 rows.and up the fare 10% if necessary…Now, ‘Business’ is a wonderful, wonderful experience on “The Bus”. Try it. There is no going back to “Bus Economy” after a 12.5 hour flight ‘way up on top’……Howard Grabill

    • Eleanor Flagler Hardy August 24, 2011 at 9:10 PM #

      Dear Mr. Grabill: I am delighted you could get upgraded on your Emirates flight on the return home from your Rovos Rail journey. I am thrilled that you loved your journey. The staff really enjoyed having you on board! Eleanor

  2. John Emery August 23, 2011 at 11:38 PM #

    In a contest for the title of “World’s Most Luxurious Train”
    between Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa and the Royal Canadian Pacific, the RCP would
    probably win. Both were superb examples of high-end hospitality
    but, with four open-platform obs cars in the train and four-course
    dinners with complimentary wines to match each course, the
    Canadians have the edge. For sheer adventure, and its variety of
    off-train activities, I’d still give the overall “value of the
    experience” trophy to Rovos. But for sheer luxury, the Canadians win. (I traveled on Rovos last year and RCP this summer.)

    • Eleanor Flagler Hardy August 24, 2011 at 9:14 PM #

      Hi John: The beauty, the fine dining,, the comfort and warm hospitality of these trains is wonderful. The trains with the open-air platform observation cars are so much fun to boot. This includes the RCP, the Eastern & Orienta Express and of course the Pride of Africa.,Royal Scotsman when it does not have an engine behind it, Andean Explorer and the Hiram Bingham in Peru. Thanks for your comments! Have I left any train out? Eleanor

  3. richard stafford March 22, 2012 at 6:07 PM #

    Well, we are interested. Need price info, schdule of dates, availblity…etc.

  4. Mudau Khangwelo May 29, 2012 at 2:41 AM #

    Indeed it is a warm home away from home,being on The pride of Africa as a Hostess has been an experience of a life time.I will never forget the privilege of being on Rovos Rail.Keep up the good work with your train and amazing staff

    • Owen C. Hardy May 29, 2012 at 8:46 AM #

      We thought the entire Rovos Rail staff was excellent. How long did you work as a Rovos Rail hostess, Ms. Khangwelo? What was your most memorable trip?

      • Khangwelo Mudau September 8, 2016 at 8:11 AM #

        Hi Owen, I worked at Rovos Rail for almost 4 years. The game birds charter to Namibia were always the best and theAfrican Collage. For me those four years were worth it and will remain a life time great experience and memories. Rovos Rail it is indeed the most Luxurious train.

      • Owen C. Hardy September 8, 2016 at 1:57 PM #

        Dear Khangwelo,

        Many thanks for your comment!




  1. Rovos: Club-Like Comfort from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam - Society of International Railway Travelers - September 3, 2020

    […] (Continued from Part 1) […]

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