After much research and all your help, the long national nightmare is over! we have a plan we are happy with!
just some tweaking on lodging.
--i won't even revisit the TSL v boundary hill issue. we're leaning toward boundary hill (but Mr S might not be aware that's where he's leaning yet. lol) 2 nights
--Lake Manyara--we'd love Tree Tops (Tree Lodge) but at $900-1000 pppn, that ain't happening! so we're down to Kirurumu Manyara or Ol Tukai Manyara. Kirurumu seems to get good reviews, while Ol Tukai does not even seem to be listed in the reviews section of TA. It has been mentioned favorably in this destination forum recently. What I'm getting is, perhaps, a similar comparison to that between BH and TSL--one larger but more centrally located, the other smaller, more intimate, but more remote. This will be in mid-January, so wondering about road conditions. 1 night
oh! just had a thought (probably a totally idiotic thought or at least ONE of the TO's would have come up with it!) wonder if instead of breaking this up into two areas for the three nights, we just stayed in one for three nights, like Kirurumu Manyara or Ol Tukai since they seem (i say "seem" since i've never been there and really, just looking on a map is not African reality, i know!) and skip the Tarangire lodging "issue"? ie, go right from KIA to Kirurumu/ol Tukai and see Tarengire AND Manyara from there?
yeah, i guess that is pretty dumb.
--Ngorongoro--Sopa or Wildlife? i was fine with Wildlife but one TO had a rather scathing opinion of it (mediocre food, thin walls, smaller rooms, needs updating.) I'll be frank...I want the view, and i don't plan on doing much in the room besides sleep, so i don't really care if the room isn't out of House Beautiful. BUT i do want a comfy bed and some decent food.....
-One TO suggested Rhino Lodge, saying, it might be foggy and you might not see the view anyway. well, if this is the 8th wonder of the world, i'd like to be looking at it! also, it's a sure bet i WON'T see a view from Rhino, fog or no fog.
-what recommends Sopa over Wildlife for the extra cost? (yeah, we're still in sticker shock)
we're set everywhere else.
Thanks again everyone. Obviously the lodging we choose affects the price, so just have to make this last decision(s)