Rovos Rail boarding into a era from the past
I have somewhere along the line become obsessed with train journeys simply because it is something not very common in South Africa.So when an invite from Rovos Rail arrived in my inbox I literally jumped for joy and mentally started ticking this off my bucketlist. When it came to finding a suitable date the only one that was available and could work was actually on my birthday.Now what an extraordinary way to enter my 40th Birthday than experience the opulence and luxury of Rovos Rail.
The Rovos itinerary
Pretoria – Cape Town
(Breakfast 07h00-10h00 • Lunch 13h00 • Tea 16h30 • Dinner 19h30)
12h30 Depart Kimberley and proceed overnight via De Aar and Beaufort West to Matjiesfontein.
10h30 The train departs for Cape Town via Touws River and Worcester.
18h00 Arrive at Cape Town Station’s Platform 24.
Having never been to Kimberly or Matjiesfontein I was rather excited to explore another part of South Africa.
What is Rovos Rail ?
Rovos Rail runs its train-hotel to a regular schedule on various routes throughout Southern Africa, from South Africa to Namibia and Tanzania. The trains consist of restored Rhodesia Railways (NRZ) coaches with two lounges, two restaurant cars, private sleeping compartments, each with private en suite facilities.It is described as the most luxurious train in the world.
Pre Trip Planning on Rovos Rail
1.The first thing was to decide which journey we would take.Mum and I opted for the Pretoria to Cape Town route.
2.Once date and trip were decided I had to fill out several forms with our personal details ,eating habits ,drink preference and if there was a celebration be it a birthday ,anniversary or honeymoon.
3.With the paperwork completed ,a document pack arrived with the Rovos Rail trip itinerary as well the what was expected off us.
4.I also needed to source out flights to fit the dates we were travelling and they had to be single tickets.And yes that meant looking for the cheapest flights in SA.
5.Accomodation had to be booked in Cape Town as we would only arrive at 6pm on Sunday evening and we would not make the last flight to Durban that evening.
6.Packing for the trip was very important as there are dress codes on Rovos Rail.
Our trip started pretty early on the morning of my birthday with us leaving home at 5am to make sure we made our flight.I had chosen to fly into Lanseria as it was closer to the Rovos Rail Station and it gave us a chance to have Brunch with my cousin who shares the same birthday as me.After careful planning we opted on dressing smart casual and took one suitcase 2 hand luggage bags.
After a wonderful brunch Mimosas we headed to the Rovos station.The train was expected to leave at 3pm and we could check on anytime after midday.As we approached the station it felt like we were entering into the past.The luggage attendants instantly whisked away our luggage from us and began tagging our bags.The friendly receptionist checked us in ensuring all our details were correct my uncle and aunt were invited to join us in the waiting room will we awaited our journey to start.
Glasses of bubbly ,fruit juice and hot drinks were offered along side platters of high tea treats.Evetything felt like going back in time even down to the decor and comfortable couches.The outside are had a beautiful old English station feel complete with the Red London postboxes.At half two we were welcomed by Mr Vos and given an introduction to the team ,our journey and a few housekeeping rules.We were reminded about afternoon tea and dinner times as well as phone etiquette while onboard.
– Days on board are smart casual: Neat, conventional yet relatively informal in style combining casual and formal clothing pieces.
– Evening attire is more formal: For gentlemen a jacket and tie is a minimum requirement while for ladies we suggest cocktail/evening dresses or suits. On long journeys we enjoy theme evenings where guests can dress up accordingly or opt for smart casual:
• Golf Safari, African Golf Collage, Dar es Salaam and Lobito: 1 x “AFRICA” evening and 1 x “1920s” evening.
• Namibia Safari: 1 x “AFRICA” evening.
– Off-train excursions: We recommend comfortable walking shoes, sun lotion and hats. If required, blankets and rain capes are available.
– Game drives are on open vehicles so please dress accordingly: mornings can be cool then warm up considerably; afternoons can be warm then cool down considerably.
Mobile Devices and Internet
In maintaining the spirit of train travel there are no radios or television sets on board. The use of mobile phones, laptops and essentially anything that has the ability to disturb other passengers is confined to the privacy of your suites only. The reception is poor while the train is moving. It is advised to contact your service provider to ensure the correct settings for network services are activated. WiFi is available at our lounges in Cape Town and Pretoria and at most off-train accommodation.
Some may say the “rules”are a lil hard but I love the dressing up part and the phone calls I totally get as some people tend to have really loud conversations on their phones and it is rather disturbing to others.As it was my birthday I missed several calls especially ones from #mytravellerheartbeat all the way from London.I did however enjoy the digital detox as I only used my phone to take pics and my phone remained on silent for the journey.There is no wifi onboard and mobile reception is erratic at most times.So not using your phone is not really a problem.
Couple by couple we were called individually and greeted personally by Mr Vos before been shown our carriage.Our luggage was already inside our room and our amazing butler Alisha was on hand to welcome us onboard and give us and orientation of our room.The room is fairly compact but cleverly designed with a space for everything.The bar fridge was stocked with water and bubbly.Since we had a long day , we were glad to settle in and rest before tea that afternoon but a knock on the door brought us more visitors in the form of the waiters and chefs welcoming us and checking on our dietary needs.Having looked at the menus in our room I knew there were a few dishes I would not enjoy , I was told that there are always alternatives to the meal and Mum’s vegetarian meals were taken care off.
At this point the train had started to make its journey out of Pretoria and the landscape started to change.Not too long later another knock broke the silence and we had more visitors.This time it was the Train Manager and the assistant train manager also welcoming onboard and not forgetting wishing me a Happy Birthday.It was rather lovely having staff come to see each guest personally and welcoming them aboard.
One of the first things I do when ever I get into a hotel room I tend to read up on the amenities and safety information.In our room we found a beautiful coffee table book on Rovos Rail which we were given as a keepsake , menus for the entire journey , our itinerary and what would happen at each stop and most importantly it included timings and directions.
Our room was in a middle carriage so we were half way between the meal carriage and lounge carriage which both were on either end of the train.The passageways are rather small so traffic control and pulling in tummys are required lol. We navigated our way to the lounge for tea after we had freshened up.
The lounge area was beautifully set up with a bar area and an outdoor viewing deck.A delicious spread of typical high tea treats were laid out for guests.Biltong,nuts and dried fruit were also laid out for nibbles while you sipped your afternoon G&T and watched the world go by.I loved that Mum and I were able to talk with no distractions of the world around.At 6pm we made our way to our room to refreshen up and get all dressed up for dinner.
At exactly 7:30pm a bell was sounded to announce it was time to make our way to dinner.It was not an easy task walking with heels in a moving train but I made it.Dinner was a seated five course meal paired with a different wine for each course.However if you fancy drinking something else even a cocktail it can be arranged.
Before the meal started the train manager welcomed us to dinner and gave us a run down of the next day which included a trip into Kimberly to The Big Hole and seeing the 50 000 pink flamingos. Timing is very important so we were told what to expect. After that it was time for dinner, the menu was explained by the waiter who then went on to ask if those options were suitable for you.Once your order was placed it was time to enjoy the ambience of the dining car while eating freshly baked bread and sipping on a Mojito.Not a bad way to start my birthday.Each was plated beautifully and full of flavour and as a surprise before dinner I was brought out a rose-covered cake and the amazing staff sang for me I did feel rather special and no it was not like a Spur birthday singalong.After dessert and birthday cake we decided to call it a night and made out way back to our room.
Our room was beautifully turned down for the evening with a beautiful gift box and a birthday card from Rovos Rail. I felt so spoilt and special. Getting ready for bed I realised I needed slippers and a quick call to my butler and suddenly she appeared and so did my slippers.And like that it was time to drift off into the land of nod and to look forward to the next day aboard the Pride of Africa.
After a delicious breakfast ,we found ourselves a good window seat so that we could see the dam of beautiful flamingos.It was truly a sight to behold with all those shades and tones of pink.Then it was time for our big hole tour which is included in the price of your ticket.A tour guide met us at the train station and gave us a guided tour of the diamond mines.Our very knowledgeable guide told us tales of history and the diamond mines I had only read about in books at school.It felt like I really was going back in time and not forgetting about learning about how to select the perfect diamond and the 4C’s of diamond selection.
#DearFutureHusband I do know a few things about diamonds and what I want and like.A princess cut diamond is what the Spicegoddess wants ok thank you.
After a Champagne reception on our return to the station it was time to grab some bubbly,board the train and enjoy a scrumptious lunch as we continued our journey to Cape Town.Totally stuffed after lunch an afternoon siesta and some reading was in order of the day.Dinner again was a beautiful meal followed by a cocktail party which was the perfect way to end the evening.
The next morning we were told that the train would stop 5km outside of Majtiesfontein and a walk into the town with some of the train staff would be happening.We decided not to do the walk but instead have a sleep in while watching the Karoo go by before a leisurely breakfast followed by a walk into the town.Walking through the lil town was utterly beautiful building from days gone by preserved so pristine to remnants of the British time in South Africa.After that big breakfast a walkabout was defo a good idea.Now it was time to head to Cape Town and enjoy the unbelievable landscape.Lunch was a selection of South African food that was a perfect way to end this perfect African adventure.
As we packed up a sense of sadness dawned as my week of utter luxury and spoils were coming to an end.Reality kicked in as the majestic Table Mountain came in view and I knew it was time for my Cape Town adventure was about to begin.
Since coming home I have loads of questions about my trip , so I hope the following below answers all your questions.
FAQ about travelling on Rovos Rail :
Meals are served in one sitting only in the charming Victorian atmosphere of the dining cars and are complemented by a selection of fine South African wines. Breakfast is between 07h00 and 10h00, lunch at 13h00 and a formal dinner at 19h30. All meals are served at these times unless otherwise stated in the timetable. A gong heralds lunch and dinner. Tea is usually served at 16h30 in the midway Lounge Car or Observation Car at the rear of the train.
Can you cater for special dietary requirements?
We will do our best to cater for dietary requirements (vegetarians, vegans, diabetics etc.) provided a detailed request has been made on the Reservation Form. If a special request has not been made, the chefs will endeavour to prepare suitable meals with the ingredients available on board. We regret that we are unable to provide meals requiring strict religious observance in the preparation.
Are all meals, drinks and excursions included in the price?
When scheduled and in most cases, yes. Only off-train beverages are excluded on selected journeys.
What is the dress code on board Rovos Rail?
For days on the train dress is smart casual. Evening attire is more formal – for the gentlemen a jacket and tie is a minimum requirement while for ladies we suggest cocktail/evening dresses or suits. Please include warm clothing for cold mornings and evenings. With regard to off-train excursions, we strongly recommend comfortable walking shoes, suntan lotion and hats as well as warm clothing for the game drives, which are on open vehicles and can get very cold.
What service can I expect on board?
A dedicated host/ess is available for full 24-hour room service. He/she can be called from the telephone in your suite. The Train Manager and Deputy Train Manager are on hand throughout the journey to help with any queries.
What languages do the staff speak on board the train?
Mainly English, Afrikaans and local ethnic languages with some German, Spanish and French.
Do I need to leave a gratuity for the Rovos Rail Staff?
Gratuities for the staff are at your discretion. If you wish to show your appreciation in this manner, there is a suitably marked envelope in your suite that you can hand directly to the Train Manager who will distribute any amounts on a pro-rata basis amongst the staff on board. An amount between US$10 and US$20 per person per night is suggested.
What currency do I need?
– South Africa – Rands only. We accept all major credit cards on the train.
– Outside of South Africa – Any off-train expenses or excursions booked while on the train are to be paid with US Dollars. Hotels and major dealers accept credit cards except in the Sudan.
– US Dollars printed before year 2006 won’t be accepted. Low denominations recommended for shopping/gratuities. Larger denominations recommended for exchanging money to local currency (especially in Tanzania) as you get a better rate. The Gift Shop on board might exchange money if currency is available – it is not normally catered for.
Does Rovos Rail take children?
Rovos Rail does accommodate children but we ask parents to be mindful of the sophisticated and adult atmosphere
we endeavour to maintain on board. This is particularly pertinent to our long journeys. There are no child-minding
facilities on the train and no on-board activities for children.
Can disabled people travel on Rovos Rail?
We regret that the dimensions of the passages and layout of the train are not suitable for wheelchair-bound passengers. We are able to accommodate passengers with slight walking difficulties although we recommend that an able-bodied passenger accompany them. Should you have any special requirements please inform your travel agent or the Rovos Rail office at the time of booking.
Can I smoke on board Rovos Rail?
You may smoke in the Club Lounge situated towards the rear of the train. Smoking is strictly forbidden in all other parts of the train. Smoking is allowed in the privacy of your suite, but please be mindful that the train is generally made up of wood; please don’t throw flammable items such as cigarette or cigar butts off the train as bush fires in Africa are a constant and dangerous hazard. Please note on the Reservation Form provided if you are smoking or non-smoking so that the appropriate room might be requested at the hotels.
Can I buy memorabilia on the train?
There is an on-board Gift Shop situated in the Lounge Car/Royal Suite coach. Due to fluctuating exchange rates
we prefer Rands or credit cards for any purchases. We accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club.
Are there games on the train?
There are board games, playing cards and a card table (most journeys).
Is there room in my suite for my luggage?
Yes there is enough space for six large suitcases. These can be stored on the overhead luggage rack or under the bed.
Are there showers on board Rovos Rail?
All the suites have an en-suite shower and Royal Suites have a shower and separate Victorian bath.
Are there amenities on board Rovos Rail?
Yes, Rovos Rail provides the following amenities: soap (25g), tissues, shampoo (60ml), conditioner (60ml), bath and shower gel (60ml), hand and body lotion (60ml), lip balm (4.8g), sun cream SPF30 (8ml), insect repellent gel (8ml), round cotton wool, ear buds, a shoe mit, nail file, small sewing kit and a shower cap.
Is there an on-board safe?
An electronic safe is provided in the cupboard in each suite.
Is there a laundry service on the train?
There is a limited laundry service on board comprising household washers, dryers and steam irons.
The turnaround is 48 hours so we are not able to handle a week’s worth of washing.
Please note that while we are providing a complimentary service we cannot be held responsible for items that
may be damaged or lost in the process. There are no dry-cleaning facilities en route or on board the train.
Do you provide dressing gowns on board?
We provide a comfortable waffle weave one-size-fits-all gown plus slippers for each guest.
How is the temperature controlled on the train?
All public cars are fitted with gas-filled air-conditioning systems. Each suite has an individual air-conditioner with individual temperature controls that can also be set to heat mode. Fresh-air intake is solved by opening a window. Windows should be closed while operating the air-conditioning unit. Electric under-blankets are fitted on the bed.
What is the electricity voltage on the train?
220V AC 50Hz, 3-point round pronged wall plugs. International adaptors are also available on board.
Are there shaving plugs?
There are 110V/220V 2-pin plugs for shavers.
Is there a TV on the train?
In keeping with the bygone era of the train there are no televisions, radios or Internet access.
Is there mobile reception?
In maintaining the spirit of travel of a bygone era, there are no radios or television sets on board. The use of mobile phones, laptops and essentially anything that has the ability to disturb other passengers is confined to the privacy of your suites only. The reception is poor while the train is moving. It is advised to contact your service provider to ensure the correct settings for network services are activated. Internet is available at our Cape Town Lounge, Rovos Rail Station, Tau Game Lodge and Victoria Falls Hotel and at most of the accommodation used on the Cairo journey.
Does the train have security?
When on board we encourage guests to close shutters or preferably shutters and windows in the suites. If left open the temptation provided for anyone standing on the platform might be too great. Safes are provided in your suite for valuables. The train doors in the passages are all locked from the inside. Your suite door can also lock from the inside.
Can I take my pet on the train?
We have no facilities for pets.
Is there secure parking at Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria?
Yes there is but Rovos Rail cannot be held liable for the safety of your vehicles or any possessions left in the vehicles.
Other information :
Will I require visas for my trip on board Rovos Rail?
The onus is upon the client to ensure that passports and visas, as may be required, are valid prior to departure for Africa. On the various journeys we travel through South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania. Some nationalities are eligible to purchase port-of-entry visas. Immigration forms will be available on board. Please ensure you have a minimum of US$200 in cash with you. Please enquire with the team or check with the relevant embassies in good time regarding applications. Visas are also available through booking agents. Passports must have at least three blank VISA pages (five for Dar es Salaam Journey) and must be valid for at least six months from your return-home date. Please see General Info for consulate contacts.
Will I need insurance for my trip?
Cancellation insurance is compulsory as our terms and conditions will be strictly adhered to and cancellation fees, where applicable, will not be waived. We offer insurance to South African residents. For international guests we suggest you contact your local travel agent or credit card service provider for assistance. Please bring a copy of your travel insurance policy stating clearly the company, policy number and 24-hour medical emergency telephone number.
Can you arrange my flights?
No, please contact your travel agent.
Is there a luggage-weight restriction with respect to the aircraft?
Yes, 15kgs per person. A soft bag is preferable.
Do I need to take anti-malaria medication?
Anti-malarial precautions are recommended. Malaria areas include Swaziland, Kruger Park, Northern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Etosha, Zambia and Tanzania. Please consult your medical practitioner.
Do I need any vaccinations?
– A Yellow Fever Certificate or Medical Exemption Certificate is essential if travelling to/from Tanzania. Although all countries travelled through do not require Yellow Fever vaccinations, countries guests return to after the trip often require them.
– Recommended immunisations (not required): Hepatitis A, Polio, Tetanus and Cholera (low risk).
– Please consult your clinic or doctor. TRAVEL DOCTOR AFRICA local 0861 300 911 or international +27 11 214 9030.
How do I book as an agent?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242. Please see Contact or General Info on the website.
How do I book as a guest?
Contact email@example.com or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242. Please see Contact or General Info on the website.
Have you been a train like this before ? Would you add Rovos Rail to your bucketlist ?
Be Inspired !
PS. I was a guest of Rovos Rail and as always the views are my own of my experiences.