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BetseyE Jul 21st, 2009 06:09 AM

Robben Island OAT cancellation
We're taking an OAT trip to southern Africa this fall and had been looking forward to the excursion to Robben Island, which has been cancelled "due to negative feedback from previous participants." Has anyone had experience with booking such a one-day trip on their own, and what was the visit like?

sandi Jul 21st, 2009 07:27 AM

Wonder what the "negative feedback" was - rough waters ferrying over, long walks, out in the open under the sun, overall long visit?

Most OAT participant are age 50-up and just might not be suited for those in 60s or 70s.

We visited having been arranged thru our then tour operator. But if you wish to book on your own, believe nowadays, this has to be pre-booked. There are a number of discussions on this here on Fodor's... try a "search"

atravelynn Jul 21st, 2009 09:41 AM

I'd ask OAT what the negative responses were.

Here is one of those discussions on getting tickets.

I'd try to go on my own, as you are doing. I had the guide I was using in Cape Town book my Robben Island ticket. But I could have done it myself without much trouble, and so could you.

This is from a report I did on visiting Robben Island a year ago.

Robben Island Comments

The morning departure is at 9:00 am and returns about 12:30 pm back at the Waterfront dock.

This was a tremendously moving experience for me, not so much because of the physical buildings I was seeing, but because our guide was a former prisoner. Once on the island, we spent quite a bit of time sitting, looking out the bus window, and listening to Guide Mosebe (spelling?) explain the area and his experiences in prison. He told of his first impressions of Mandela, which were quite negative, and how he came to respect, admire, and follow the man. It was riveting.

Seeing Mosebe’s view from his cell and where his bunk stood while he explained to us his typical prison day routine was surreal. He even recited a poem he had written while in prison. Somebody asked Mosebe if he sometimes became emotional during these tours. He responded that a few weeks ago, he came around a corner and the sudden sight of the prison building that had been his home caused him to collapse and fall to the ground. It took him a few minutes to recover and continue the tour.

This is not a tour for little children, at least not the way I did it. There is too much sitting still and listening for the attention span of little ones. It is not like a museum where you wander around at will and can escape with fussy kids. We had an incident on our bus where a 2- and 4-year old were causing a disturbance and being allowed to do so. Mosebe had words (and rightfully so) with the parents who were very defensive and argumentative but after that they kept the kids quiet by feeding them biscuits non-stop.

Mosebe also admonished an adult whose cell phone went off and who took the call (chat, chat, chat), talking over Mosebe’s account of hardship and torture in the prison. Unbelievable! Fortunately, these incidents were early on in the tour while we were on the bus and detracted only momentarily.

* If Robben Island is a priority for you, plan it for your first day in Cape Town so if the ferry cannot sail, you have some backup days. Bad weather and waves cancelled eight straight days of trips before I arrived.

* I walked the 2-3 blocks to the Clock Tower where the ferry to Robben Island departs, leaving from The Waterfront Hotel about 7:40 am, sunrise in mid-July. The Waterfront area employs its own security and it was very safe as I wandered around until 9:00 am departure time.

* Buy your tickets a few days before departure. Maybe even a few weeks or months. I had Take2 Tours do this for me and charge my credit card about $18, a tremendous value in my opinion. Maybe you can call the ticket office direct.

* If you can pick up the ticket the day before, that’s good so you do not have to wait in line just before your trip departs. The ferry holds about 260, so that’s lots of people in line.

* Hang onto your confirmation number and bring your credit card that you used to make the Robben Island reservation. I had a small problem due to computers or something and the confirmation was helpful for me.

* The 30-minute ferry ride was not enough to cause me to reach for the bags that are provided at each seat, and I had not taken anything to prevent seasickness, but I was glad to get off when we docked. Seas were rolling but fairly calm that day with only a few white caps.

* On the lower deck of the ferry, a video on the history of the island plays on the way over and a video on how the ferry you are riding on was made plays on the way back.

*You get to see Mandela’s cell. That was what drew me to Robben Island. By the end of the visit, I found the cell itself to be just a tiny part of the overall Robben Island visit, as I experienced it.

* I had been told about the infestation of rabbits on the island. They were everywhere and pose a big environmental problem.

* If you are going on to Boulder’s Bay, don’t worry about not being able to get pictures of the numerous but elusive penguins on the island.

uhoh_busted Jul 21st, 2009 09:56 AM

Everyone I know who has been on to Robben Island has found it quite interesting and very moving. I wouldn't hesitate to book the excursion on my own.

Which OAT trip are you taking? We're going on October 10, but not taking the extension as we've been to Capetown previously. We'd hoped to be able to "break away" at the end and go on our own as we've got a couple friends in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth we would have liked to see. But that wasn't possible so we'll just have to do that on another trip in the future.

FromDC Jul 21st, 2009 01:18 PM

We were staying at the Cape Grace and we simply walked over to the Robben Island ticket booth and bought our own tickets, just 20 minutes before the ferry left. This was on a Sunday around 1pm in late May. The ferry was about half full, so there was certainly plenty of room. The concierge did check first to be sure that there was space available. It is something you can easily do on your own.

ShayTay Jul 22nd, 2009 02:56 PM

Maybe this is the reason:

christabir Jul 23rd, 2009 07:00 AM

We enjoyed seeing Robben Island - Mom 75, nephew 24 and me and DH 43. I can't imagine why OAT would cancel the outing. Seems a little strange to me. Too political for some maybe? Of course it's one-sided. That's kind of the point.

Anyway - we went at a time so that on the ride back we'd see the sunset over Cape Town. It was beautiful. I'm really glad we did it. If you can do it late in the day, I recommend it highly.

Kavey Jul 23rd, 2009 03:54 PM

I'm not sure it's even that one-sided. After all the tours are run not only by former inmates but also by former guards, working side by side.

ShayTay Jul 23rd, 2009 04:14 PM

The article pointed out a lot of the administrative problems that they've had such as cancelled tours, shoddy care of the facilities, etc. Given that OAT is running tours every few days, they need to be certain that their suppliers can deliver what OAT promises their travelers. I'm sure it's a worthwhile experience, but it sounds like there are quite a few management problems that need to be addressed.

sandys Jul 23rd, 2009 08:43 PM

We also got the same notice about the Robben Island tour being canceled by OAT on our tour of South Africa, Swaziland & Lesotho in December. Are you also scheduled for the Bantry Bay Suites? If so, the hotel is in a suburb of Cape Town, but I did read that there was a bus line that was very close to that hotel. I'm not sure where that bus line goes in Cape Town, but you could probably research that. Hopefully you would be able to do the Robben Island tour on your own.

We had decided, before getting that notice, that the OAT optionals in Cape Town were overpriced. We ended up booking a Private Full-Day Winelands tour for less than the half-day tour that OAT offers in the afternoon.

Kavey Jul 24th, 2009 01:32 AM

What a shame... they've kept the standards up for so long, I wonder what's happened recently.

If Selwyn is around, maybe he can comment on whether there has been a slip in standards/ management.

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