I am not an expert, just been to Kenya one time....this is my personal opinion.
Driving in Kenya:
• I will never drive in Kenya, but I will not say it's impossible if you know exactly what you are doing.
• You cannot drive on your own inside the parks. You've got to know the inside information (where animals typically are, all the internal paths, some of which are impossible to know etc.) You will still see a bunch of herbivores and think you had a great time, but would have missed almost everything.
• Hiring the parks own guides/driver should be better than hiring a guide from Nairobi as they seem to work as a team increasing your chances of interesting animal encounters.
Driving vs flying:
• I enjoyed seeing rural Kenya. I will strongly recommend at least one or two legs of driving. I know we are going to Kenya for a safari, but I doubt we missed much game drive time as we made up for it by staying out longer.
• 6 hours of driving is easier to handle for me in Kenya than here in the USA, as the drives involved seeing so many new, fascinating things. However, obviously in the 6 hours we can probably drive twice the distance here.
• A good tour operator like 'All-seasons safari' will not let you pick the wrong routes/itinerary - like they refused to drive from Ol Pejeta to Mara on one day and said we had to break journey in Naivasha.
Reserve vs conservancy:
The conservancy all the way. Our next trip will solely be in conservancies. Almost always less crowded. Sometimes unbelievably so, as in when we were the only ones with the lion cubs one whole evening. Driving up to the animals is priceless - IMO, the only way to do it. Conservancies are into environmentally friendly policies too, so that's a bonus.
Lodge vs tent:
• Lodges were always better, so nice to sit down in a comfortable lobby, put your legs up with a beer in hand and enjoy a lot of the animals right from there...most of the lodges we stayed had a watering hole or a Savannah where the animals came close to the lodge. Numerous birds too. Food was great as well, but they were excellent in the conservancy too. However, as the conservancy are mostly all tents, I will pick tents next time not for the sake of wanting to stay in tents, but because the game viewing is much better in a conservancy.
• Lens- loved the versatility of the 50-500 zoom I took. 500mm on a cropped body is necessary. I did not have one but even your 70-200/2.8 will be very useful in a conservancy. Take some wide angle, normal and macro lenses too - photographic opportunities in Kenya is limitless.
All-seasons safari. (Rating 8/10)
• They were always on time. From the time they came to the airport to every game drive etc.
• Delivered everything as promised and at times more. The only thing they promised but did not provide was a bean bag. But, I didn't need it. I guess if I needed it they would have made arrangements for it, but we were already in Amboseli before I realized there wasn't one.
• Our driver/guide Joseph was from Amali safari - All seasons hired him. He is a very safe driver. We felt totally safe when we drove from location to location. He knows all three parks we visited very well, including where various animals typically will be. He is not highly knowledgeable like porini guides in animal/bird knowledge. This did not affect our experience too much as we were beginners. More experienced safari goers may want to hire someone with more specific knowledge. Although he made friends with other guides to get info for the next day's safari, I suspect the guides from the camp will have more information on ideal sighting. Also, I would think they will work as a team, like in Porini and thus several eyes looking for animals. Here we had to rely on his past experience only and if we happen to stop another vehicle and ask about what they had seen. Did not feel like a coordinated effort among several guides like it was in Porini. So, we may have missed a lot.
• All season safari email response was very weak. At times certain emails will never get a reply, even after repeated prompting. Some took several weeks for a reply. I did find that very frustrating. However, as they delivered everything as promised (except the bean bag), I will recommend them.
• I was asking for driver names for weeks, and was provided only the night before
• When it rained on that one evening, everyone except us left on time. Joseph wouldn't leave till it stopped.
• The cost was $4370 per person, not including international flights. So, it included two internal flights, all park fees, game drives, 12 nights of accommodations, all meals and most of the water supply. It did not include the Naivasha boat ride (6,000 shillings for two). It also included driving us around Nairobi on that last day. All Tips extra.
Porini lion (10/10): ...Exceeded our expectations.
• Game watchers/Jake were awesome. I've also mentioned Meshack and other guides. Patrick the camp manager was equally exceptional. He was always there when we came back from each game drive asking us how it went. He was there to send us off on almost all game drives. He had an excellent sense of humor and really made us feel like home. The whole team did. My wife who was apprehensive of the "tents", upon our return said at Porini Lion camp she felt like she was amidst friends. When you stay here, you will not only have the best animal viewing but at the same time keep this wonderful concept alive - Protecting the animals, environmentally friendly while supporting the local tribes.
The trip report is here...it has pictures and exactly what that $4370 pp provided us.