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Whale Safari...............what a disappointment!!

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Whale Safari...............what a disappointment!!

With a group of 21 Dutch tourists we made a tour through South Africa with Thompsons Holidays from 24 July till 9 August 2009. We had a great holiday! What a wonderful country. Everywhere we came we received a warm welcome and got a very good impression of South Africa but………..

On Sunday 2 August 2009 our Thompsons guide booked a whale watching trip, on our request, with Ocean Blue Adventures in Plettenberg Bay: the “Two Hour Close Encounter Tour” for 650 Rands p.p. Our expectations were high and became even higher when the manager of Ocean Blue Adventures told us that we would sail “some 20” minutes later, because the trip before us was staying out at sea a bit longer. There were “two whales circling the boat”. It sounded very reassuring to us: this company obviously gives value for your money!

Well, after coffee (good service!), a rather lengthy explanation about proceedings, a walk to the beach and an unnecessary last chance for a visit to the toilet we finally sailed.

Although we realize that nobody can guarantee whale sightings, our group (16 of the 21) was really very disappointed after the trip. I never came across a worse ‘product’ and a more impolite treatment of tourists.

There are three main reasons:

• ‘Two Hour Close Encounter Tour’? We didn’t spend two hours at sea. Digital photos tell you exactly when they were taken. Two photos, one taken at the beginning and one when we returned, indicate that we spent about one hour and 40 minutes at sea. We also didn’t have any ‘close’ encounters. The only whales we encountered were farther away from the ship than the 50 metres that are promised in the ads (see http://www.oceanadventures.co.za/) . There were two (or three) whales swimming in the distance. If there were good reasons to stay at a distance, Ocean Blue should have mentioned this before departure!

• After the first (and only) sighting of two (or three?) whales the skipper and the ‘whale’ guide tried to spot more whales for some time (wish I’d brought a stopwatch, but it didn’t take too long) and then decided to head full speed for an island with a group of seals. When the guide asked the people on board if we were doing OK, I answered him that I wasn’t, because I hadn’t paid 650 Rands to see seals! Why not look for more whales? He said that in the remaining time they would surely try and find more whales. After a, in my view, too long stay with the seals, we sailed on and a short time was spent looking for whales. Then we hurried back to the beach. (“We apologize, but this is the end of the tour”)

In all, the skipper and guide didn’t spend enough time trying to spot whales. Maybe they knew that their efforts would be useless and tried to compensate with the seals? My wife and I went whale watching in Norway and Canada and not only did we get to see more whales there, but in both countries we spent the entire trip searching. This boat maybe spent half the time doing so. Digital photos aren’t much of a help here because, for obvious reasons, we didn’t take too many.

For 650 Rands I don’t expect them to find whales, but I expect them to try and find them for the entire duration of the trip. Should this fail, no problem. Wildlife can’t be ‘organised’. Showing seals instead is no compensation. On the contrary, it gave us the feeling of “Well, they’ve at least seen something”. This disappointment cost us 1300 Rands. That’s a lot of money. Does Ocean Blue realize that there were families of four adults in our group? For them it was even more!

• The skipper’s conduct was at times very unfriendly, if not rude. When the whales had been spotted and people took too much time to make room on the side of the boat for others to watch, she was right to react, but by saying “Come on people, this ain’t brain surgery” she really offended a lot of ‘guests’. Back on land she reacted very aggressively towards me and some people in our group when we were lodging our complaints with the manager. It was obvious that there was to be no discussion about the quality of her work. Very unprofessional! Later, when our Thompsons guide tried to talk to her on our behalf, he experienced exactly the same. Besides, it became clear that she thought our Dutch group had been ‘misbehaving’ on board.

‘Misbehaving’? I really didn’t understand.

- Was it the two young boys the skipper told to stand still because they were trampling their feet on top of her cabin? She invited people up there herself! By the way, they were NOT in our group.

- Was it the gentleman that stood up while at full speed? He paid a total of 2600 Rands for himself, his wife and two sons to be told off like a naughty boy at school! And yes, he was in our group. (We made sure he had detention that same evening ………..)

- Was it maybe the other ‘unfortunate’ gentleman (NOT in our group) who got up while ‘landing’ on the beach? I think he was from an Arabic speaking country and maybe his understanding of English was insufficient to fully understand the skipper.

The skipper obviously had no understanding of tourism, nor feeling for it. When we complained and indicated that we were not satisfied, she should have remained friendly. Even in a situation (which was clearly NOT the case here) where people are ‘splitting straws’, being far too critical.

When back on the beach, I asked the Ocean Blue guide “where all the other whales were” he tried to explain and advised me to go to the manager with my complaint. He said that sometimes a refund is considered.

The manager should have reacted more professionally when we approached him with our complaints after the trip. A listening ear for us or a cooling down of the skipper when she became rude would have been the least. A (partial) refund would have been a realistic opportunity, because the ‘product’ was bad. He, as the general manager, should have chosen for it. Instead he did nothing.

I can assure you that our holidays in South Africa were great in spite of what you just read, but if you ever consider doing a whale safari in Plettenberg Bay I strongly advise NOT to do so with Ocean Blue Adventures.

Karel Vervest


The Netherlands


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