African Dream is all about providing passengers with an authentic and in-depth experience of Lake Kariba, and its surrounding nature, wildlife and local culture. I certainly achieves this with up to two daily excursions, which are all included in the fare. Tours are accompanied by the onboard English-speaking guide.
After the ship docks at different islands and bays on the lake, passengers are taken out on the excursion tender to sail in different areas, passing through an ethereal waterscape of petrified trees -- submerged when the dam was constructed between 1955 and 1959 -- and stopping whenever wildlife, such as hippos, crocodiles and elephants, are spotted. The tender is well shaded and has comfortable seats, and complimentary water, sodas, beer and snacks are always available. There is also a toilet. On sunset cruises, passengers have the option to fish (on a catch-and-release basis) and the guide serves cocktails, wine and other beverages as the sun starts to dip over the horizon.
There is one early morning land-based excursion to Matusadona National Park, bordering the lake, where passengers are driven around in jeeps on a game drive by regional guides, along with the onboard guide. Minimal walking is involved, and drinks and snacks are served at the halfway point.
Every time passengers leave the vessel, they hand in their keys to a crew member at the tender embarkation point. Upon return their to African Dream, passengers are given cold towels and a refreshing juice.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment Onboard entertainment is virtually nonexistent, as the star of the show is Lake Kariba and the natural environment.
A small library of novels in different languages can be found in the lounge, along with board games and puzzles. There are three floor-mounted telescopes which offer close-up views of the lake and its wildlife, and there is also a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, which is mainly used to publicize the next day's program.
Relaxed and tired after the day's excursions, most passengers tend to head to bed straight after dinner, with a few staying up for a quiet nightcap in the lounge.
On one day the crew set up a craft market on the open deck selling colorful and inexpensive locally made crafts and jewelry, which make great souvenirs and presents. They also stage an enthusiastic performance of drumming, song and dance on the last evening.
Enrichment On one afternoon, the well-versed guide hosts an insightful "round table" gathering in the lounge to talk about the creation of Lake Kariba and its dam, wildlife, the history of Zimbabwe and answer any questions. There is a dedicated session for English speakers. The purser gives a daily predinner talk outlining the following day's program. Passengers can follow the route on a map on the Main Deck, and a recap of the following day's schedule, including meal and excursion times, is also featured on the TV screen in the lounge.
Chobe Space (Sun Deck): By day, this area is a panoramic observation deck when the ship is sailing across the lake. It is set out with four low wooden tables, two with three chairs and the others with an L-shaped rattan settee with comfy cushions and pillows. By night it turns into an outdoor lounge, and the guide will come with a flashlight to point out any passing wildlife, such as elephants, and the glinting eyes of crocodiles on the bank and in the water. Any lake breezes keep away the bugs. It is a standout area on the ship. After dinner, with faux candles set out on the stairs and oil lamps flickering on the tables, it is absolutely magical.
Lounge Bar (Upper Deck): Situated forward on the middle deck, this attractive space with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows is the heart of the ship, and the hospitality begins with the captain's welcome and introduction to the crew at the start of the cruise. Large enough to seat all passengers on the vessel, there is a bar with four stools next to the entrance and three tables with a mix of comfortable banquette and armchair seating. It is decorated with attractive handicrafts, including a large wooden giraffe, and cool bright orange pillows decorated with stylized African animals and specially designed for CroisiEurope. (The line is probably missing a trick here, as many passengers ask if the cushion covers and ornaments on the ship are for sale. They're not!).
The bar opens 30 minutes before breakfast for tea, coffee, juices and other beverages and stays open until the last passengers go to bed. All alcoholic beverages and sodas are included in the fare. Unlike CroisiEurope's European program, there is no premium drinks list which is available at extra charge. On our sailing, there was a large choice of liquors, wines and beers; however, certain choices sometimes run out, for example, there was no sparkling wine on our sailing. Due to the remote location of the ship and very limited Wi-Fi and phone signal available to crew members, it can take weeks for extra supplies to arrive. Therefore, any passengers used to getting their favorite tipple on demand should be open minded and put it down to being part of the quirks of an off-the-beaten-track and an "it's Africa" experience.
Nuts, chips and biltong (African dried meat) are set out before lunch and in the early evening to snack on.
There is no rest room serving the lounge or restaurant, and passengers have to use the facilities in their cabins on the deck below.
There are two small open deck areas at the front and back of the ship. The one accessed from the lounge has a pool -- jokingly described by the purser as "Olympic-sized" -- which in reality is the size of a hot tub (albeit not heated) and is a refreshing place to cool off on warm days. It is cleaned daily. There are also two tables, each with three chairs, in this area. The second area is accessed from the dining room. It has two larger tables, each with four chairs, which provide a shady place to sit outside, and beyond this area, right at the back of the vessel, are eight loungers.
Upstairs is the Sun Deck, which has an attractive artificial deck covering that resembles traditional wooden decking, where passengers can stroll around briefly or sit and watch the surroundings under parasols when the ship is docked.
The doors to the vessel lead to the Main Deck, and stairs lead to the Upper Deck and reception desk, which is manned during throughout the day and evening. If passengers have an emergency or need to help outside these hours, they can go to the wheelhouse on the Main Deck at any time and summon the captain, whose living quarters are situated there. There is a TV in the reception which shows the lunch and dinner menus approximately one hour before mealtimes (although on our cruise the purser preferred to announce the dinner menu as a surprise during his evening briefing).
The ship does not have an elevator and all decks are reached via flights of wooden stairs -- 12 steps in each case from the Main Deck to the Upper Deck and then on to the Sun Deck.
Ice is freely available from the bar during opening times. Smoking is only allowed in designated outside areas on the Upper Deck and Sun Deck where ashtrays are provided.
The ship does not have a laundry and there is no Wi-Fi available for passengers, satellite TV, nor -- for most of the time -- any phone signal while on Lake Kariba. The ship carries a first-aid kit, which is taken out on all excursions. However, passengers with medical conditions and mobility issues need to consider the remote and active nature of elements of the trip.
There are no spa or fitness facilities on the ship.
As a family-owned company, CroisiEurope traditionally welcomes children across its fleet. Although the itinerary is not directly marketed for families, and there are no facilities for kids on the ship or at the lodge, children as young as 8 have done the cruise–safari, and there are sometimes multigenerational groups spanning three generations where teenagers travel with their parents and grandparents. The ship will provide child-size portions in the restaurant.
While younger children will probably get tired on excursions in hot weather and need to take a nap when back onboard, there is not much space for them to run around and let off steam without being a nuisance to other passengers. That said, any youngster interested in nature and wild animals would be very excited by the exotic nature of the destination.