This morning we went to Robben Island before heading for the airport.
We woke at 7:30am, finished packing, and left the hotel at 8:15am after dropping our bags with the concierge.
Three Cities Inn on the Square was fine, but it was only a good value because of the RocketMiles worth about $85 that we got through a special promotion. The beds were comfortable and the large shower was nice. But the front desk was rather annoying to deal with – they almost always sent you to talk to the concierge for any questions or requests, even when the front desk was not busy and the concierge was slammed. The maid service was also sub-par, with only a partial set of towels left the second night and new toiletries being seemingly thrown on the counter. The computers near reception were rather useless. We expected more from a hotel that claims to be ‘an exceptional hotel’. We have had better service at many hostels. They did get a few things right though. The restaurant recommendation on Saturday night was spot on, and they did store our bags for free on Monday morning.
We took an Uber (2.57 km R30) over to the Nelson Mandela Museum at the V&A waterfront. We arrived at 8:45am for our 9am departure, but almost everyone arrived earlier than us. When we got on the small boat Dias, there was no room inside so we were forced outside. Some room opened up inside a short time into the journey, so we grabbed those seats. The boat ride lasted about 50 minutes.
Once on the island we exited the boat and walked towards the waiting buses. We got on bus 2, and off we went. Our guide on the bus was really good, and the bus tour was interesting. However, the bus had 5 tight seats and an aisle, so it was pretty cramped and uncomfortable. To make matters worse, there was yet another kid seated behind us who was being allowed to climb all over the backs of our seats, kept trying to throw up between the seats, and had a dirty diaper for about half of the trip. Why would someone bring a baby on this tour?
After the bus tour, they combined our bus group with another bus group and we took a walking tour of the prison. The group was way too large to fit into many of the areas the tour went, and the baby who was sitting behind us kept crying (so much that it made it really hard to listen to our guide at points). Our guide for this section was a former political prisoner who had been held on Robben Island for 7 years. As such, it was particularly powerful to hear him tell us about the prison and his experiences.
Overall, we thought the Robben Island tour was informational, and we liked both of our guides. But the buses were uncomfortable and packed, the prison tour group was way too big, and there was little to no direction regarding schedule, where to go when exiting the boat, and where to go after the prison tour. It seems that the operators have decided that people will still come on the tour no matter how poorly they run it – and they are probably right.
The Robben Island website had said the tours plus boat rides would last 3-3.5 hours, so we expected to be back on the mainland by 12pm or 12:30pm. We were very concerned when our tour finished at 12:19pm and then we missed the next (quicker-looking) boat back. The boat was still at the dock, so we pleaded our case to get on – saying we had a flight in less than 3 hours and we had less than 2 hours to get to the airport to check our bags. But, they refused to let us board, claiming that the boat was ‘full’ (which seemed doubtful from the outside) and pointing us towards the last boat on the dock. Very frustrating!
We got on the empty slower boat, and waited about 15 minutes for the remaining 9 am tour participants to meander over to the boat. We had to wait for everyone to clear out of the gift shop, since this was the final boat back. When we finally pushed off, we hoped that the boat might just take 30 minutes and we would be fine on time. That is, until the captain said that the surf had really kicked up and the trip back to the mainland would take longer than expected… JT inquired from one of the boat crew, who said that it should take about an hour! JT braved the rough seas to go up to talk with the crew in the bridge, explaining our situation. They were friendly, but said tough luck, there is nothing they could do.
This left us with nothing to do at this point, besides sit on the boat and worry that our series of 4 back-to-back-to-back-to-back flights were all going down the drain. JT searched flight schedules on his phone and figured that we might be able to book a later CPT-JNB flight on Mango and still catch our Etihad. Then, we strategized: (1) take one Uber from the dock to the hotel and airport, (2) call the hotel to ask them to have our bags ready outside, (3) request an Uber 5-minutes from docking (4) talk to the crew so we were the first ones off the boat. Then, we executed.
We jumped off the boat first when it docked, sprinted (with daypacks bouncing) to our waiting Uber, and got into the Uber at 1:38 pm. We explained our situation to the driver, apologizing for being in a hurry. But, he seemed up for the challenge. We stopped by our hotel to grab our large hiking backpacks, and then we continued with the same Uber to the airport (21.16 km R171.68 plus R30 tip). We got to the check-in counter at 2:06 – just 4 minutes before the time baggage check-in closed per our boarding passes. We breathed a big sigh of relief as we walked to the gate for our 3:10pm South African Airways flight.