These forums were so helpful to me in my planning of my safari, that now I am back from a fabulous two weeks I thought I share some of my experiences whch might help others at some point.
We booked a two week trip with Basecamp (couple of days in Arusha and a 10 day safari). Right from the start, Achmed was brilliant at answering my (many) emails - always promptly and always giving full & honest answers. One of the things I would like to compliment Basecamp on in particular is that the itinerary said "no hidden extras", and there really weren't - I was impressed that all the little extra trips like Mtu wa Mbu and the Snake Park were all included (aside for tips for guides at these places obviously). Also we never had to a buy a bottle of water for during the day at all because it was provided. Little things like that made me very glad that I booked with Basecamp. Also Achmed really cares about his customers, from personally meeting you for a cold Kili beer when you arrive to go through your intinerary, advising you NOT to drink the banana beer (very wise) and reminding you about drinking plenty of water and suncream etc.
Achmed also came to see us when we got back to Arusha after our safari. We did have a problem with one of the hotels we used (dodgy food issue) and Achmed took the problem very seriously and immediately phoned the hotel to find out what had happened whilst we were there.
We stayed at Ilboru Lodge in Arusha which we thought was lovely. We visited Arusha National Park which was a good warm up, particularly we we did a canoe trip and a walking safari in addition to a game drive.
Then we went to Tarangire, we didn't see that much on the game drives except so many beautiful elephants, however we stayed at Tarangire Safari Lodge in the permanent tents and loved that place so much! Amazing view, good food, antelope everywhere around the camp and we even heard lions roaring at night!
Then we went to Lake Manyara - this park was kind to us as in addition to the "usual" game, we saw a leopard and lions high up in a tree. We also took a night game drive here - Achmed warned us that he had received mixed reviews on the night game drive however we really enjoyed it. It was completely different to be in the park in the dark, listening to the sounds and seeing different animals like genets, bushbabies and even a civet! My advice for the night drive is that if you are expecting to see lions hunting then you will be disappointed, but if you want to take in the night, see a few different animals, watch a warthog sleeping and hippo grazing etc, then you will enjoy it.
Then onto the Serengeti - stunning! We loved every moment of it, first going up to Lobo area for a night and then back to Seronera for two nights. We had an amazing encounter where we watched a leopard hunting (unsuccessfully) and then realised that there were two leopards there not just one! At Seronera a huge hippo grazed his way past our bedroom - magical! I also liked the cute hyrax and dwarf mongoose which were all around the lodges.
After seeing the completely stunning great migration (and the many accompanying flies!) we headed to Ngorongoro Crater. I loved the view from the lodge! Our morning in the crater was good however not as much as game viewing as Serengeti. We did see a serval cat and a rhino though which was a treat!
The next day we had chosen to have an extra night at Kudu Lodge in Karatu and went back in to the conservation area to hike around Empakai crater. It was a nice way to begin "safari withdrawal", as we still saw flamingo, jackals, raptors etc and got a nice stretch of our legs too. It was quite a drive to get there but worth it, very beautiful scenery. Its not every day you get to eat your lunch looking at an active mountain!
Finally (sadly) back in Arusha we had a day or two to relax and do some shopping. We also stopped at Mtu wa Mbu on the way from Karatu to Arusha which was a nice little stop and interesting - although I did get bitten by critters when walking through the banana plantation - make sure if you visit you put tonnes of repellent on! The craft market in Arusha was good for shopping (be prepared to bargain a lot)and the Cultural Center was good for a look around for an hour or so, but very overpriced (although I did buy 2 postcards for 1$ there!!)
We mostly stayed at Hotels & Wildlife Lodges whilst on safari - I was expecting budget but was reasonably impressed. All the lodges have great views and decent restaurants/bar areas. The staff were friendly. The actual rooms are plain and the same at all the of lodges (think Travelodge) - however for the short amount of time we spent in the room, anything more would have been a waste. Manyara was the only place where hot water was a problem.
Our guide, Thomas, was absolutely amazing. He totally made the whole trip for us, he was a superb driver, knowledgeable guide, unbeleiveable spotter and an exceptionally all round nice guy. He worked so hard, never complained - even when he got stung by a bee! He was so thoughtful too (I remember the truck getting really dirty on a drive one day, and as soon as we got out to view the hippo pool, we looked round to see Thomas cleaning the windows off!).
Sorry this is so long - I could write for hours about our trip but hopefully I have covered the main points. So 54 lions, 7 cheetah, 4 leopards, the wildebeest migration, a serval, a civet and so many elephants, giraffe, antelope etc etc - I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen all of this and have visited such a beautiful country as Tanzania...I am saving up already for the next "trip of a lifetime"!
If anyone has any queries about the places we stayed or Basecamp then I am happy to help...its nice to return the favour!!!