A Family South African Safari
1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5a – Safari Photos – Part A
5b – Safari Photos – Part B
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans
Overview: A reasonably strong in-city four star hotel
Strengths: Rooms, location, pool
Drawbacks: Service in F&B venues, challenges with some Virtuoso benefits
After a week in the bush, we returned to “civilization” (not that we were exactly roughing it in the bush!) to spend a few nights over New Years Eve at the Cape Grace hotel in Cape Town.
We booked two Luxury Mountain View rooms via a Virtuoso agent in conjunction with our local travel host.
Our local host coordinated our transfer from Cape Town airport to the hotel, and the hotel was expecting our arrival. We were seated on sofas in the lobby and offered drinks while the check-in formalities were looked after.
The property’s lobby has a traditional feel to it, but is in very good condition.
The duty manager escorted us to our rooms and a bellman accompanied us with our bags. The rooms were large and reasonably well appointed. Nothing was over the top, but the furnishings were in reasonably good condition.
The connection between the rooms was through the corridor between the main room and bathroom. As you had to walk through a 25 foot corridor (combined distance of the corridors in each room) to get from one room to the other, the adjoining rooms have a bit of more of a separated feeling. For us, with kids both around ten years old, this separation was ideal. For those with younger children, you might find the connection layout leaving you unacceptably far apart from your children.
This layout (with an alcove or corridor between the bedroom and bathroom) is a similar layout to Premier rooms at the Four Seasons Park Lane in London. Rooms at the Cape Grace were more spacious though less opulently finished than the Four Seasons Park Lane.
The bathroom featured dual vanities and a separate tub and step-in shower. The tub filled quickly, but the draining in both rooms’ tubs was very slow. The showers both had a bit of a musty smell (though not as bad as the Aria SkySuites).
The view from the room was very nice, overlooking the harbor and Table Mountain.
The corridors on the guest floors were decorated with maritime regalia.
We had dinner on the night of arrival at the hotel’s restaurant, Signal. The restaurant was regarded in a few guides (not published by the hotel) as being among the top dining options in Cape Town. We found the food itself to be very good and was not what you would consider to be a typical hotel restaurant.
The service, however, was a bit haphazard. There were long waits to between ordering and even drinks arriving, as well as for the different courses.
One of the Virtuoso amenities was a bottle of wine from the “Virtuoso wine locker” and, we were told during check in, that the program included a visit to the wine cellar. There was a voucher provided a check in that we presented at the start of dinner. We asked to visit the cellar (the kids enjoy seeing wine cellars, as do I) and were told by our waitress that we really should just pick “white or red” and she’ll get the wine. After two times going around on this, we asked to speak to the sommelier. After a bit of of arm twisting, he agreed to escort us down to the cellar. The cellar itself was charming enough and the wines available in the Virtuoso locker were reasonably nice, but the confusion between what we were told at check-in versus what the restaurant’s expectations were was frustrating.
Breakfast at the hotel was also served in the same venue. They offered a fairly expansive cold buffet as well as an a la carte menu. We were offered to order from the menu as well as enjoy the buffet. The food was of very good quality, though service remained haphazard. The buffet included champagne, along with a variety of unusual fresh juices. We enjoyed mixing various modified mimosa combinations each morning.
I got the impression from other interactions at the restaurant’s reception stand that breakfast was included with most, if not all room rates, neutering a big part of the Virtuoso benefit.
We ordered room service one night (when the kids were particularly tired). The in-room dining team handled our order very well and the food was delivered hot and promptly. They insisted on delivering the kids’ desserts as a second course, 20 minutes after the main courses. This wasn’t necessary – and frankly I was a bit apprehensive that something would go awry – but they pretty much insisted. The same waiter returned at the appointed time with the desserts and cleared the main plates. They ultimately executed very well.
Beer, wine and soft drinks were complimentary as part of our Virtuoso booking. That was a welcome treat.
The hotel is located in what I would call an “adjacent” location to the V&A (Victoria and Albert) Waterfront. Sort of a much more expansive version of New York’s South Street Seaport, the V&A Waterfront is a focal point for locals and tourists in Cape Town. Anchored by a large, indoor mall, the area also has a number of hotels and a wide variety of restaurants and open-air shops.
You could easily call it a tourist trap, though there were enough locals amongst the crowd to make that not an entirely fair characterization. The hotel is just across a small bridge from the heart of the V&A Waterfront. There was a fair amount of foot traffic in front of the hotel, including many non-guests coming and going from the larger waterfront area.
Pool & Spa
The hotel had a fairly novel set up for their outdoor pool. The pool was actually at street level, but in a walled area, designed to feel like a cruise ship. (This was a bit of a play on the dock-side location of the hotel.) The pool had a number of different “sections,” and while a bit slippery, made a relatively small space into an enjoyable spot for the kids to play. We spent an hour or two each day here after touring and before dinner.
To get to the pool, you had to walk through the bar area of Signal restaurant. This is the proper bar of the hotel, and it certainly felt odd walking through the bar wet and wrapped in towels while others dressed for an evening on the town were having an early drink.
For several (but not all) of our pool visits, we found no chairs available, though a fair number were “reserved” with towels and magazines with no guest nearby. (In several cases, they sat unoccupied for the entire time we were there.) This wasn’t much of an issue, as we were mainly in the pool and didn’t “need” chairs. I ended up spending more time in the water than I might have since there wasn’t a sitting option out of the pool. One time, however, they were also out of towels at the pool. That was disappointing, though I finally tracked down a waiter who went to get some more. He got some for us, but didn’t re-stock the pool area.
There was a small bar and some tables to one side in the pool area. There was also an attempt at pool-side drinks service at your lounge chair (assuming you were able to get one). Service at the pool was comically bad. Orders of just a bottled beer would go unfulfilled for 20+ minutes. One time, I walked over to the bar – where the person who previously took my order was just standing – and asked him if the beers were kept behind the bar. He said yes, so I asked him to hand one to me – which he did. I didn’t ask why he was standing there and hadn’t brought it to me after my order was placed.
Another Virtuoso benefit was a spa credit. We made a booking for day of departure, though the actual making of the booking with the spa was more difficult than it should have been. The spa is located on the top (4th) floor of the property and I think offers some nice views of the waterfront. We ultimately got too backed up on departure day and ended up cancelling.
A key difference between Amex FHR and Virtuoso is that with Amex, the 4pm late check out is guaranteed. That word is very important.
Preparing for a negotiation, the day before departure, I checked the hotel’s website and saw they had rooms – in our room category – available for the following night. I stopped by the reception desk, making reference to my Virtuoso bookings, and asked for 3pm check out. The agent at the desk said she knew the hotel was very busy but would check with her manager and send us a note with whatever time they could offer. The body language from the agent was that something would work out, so I left, leaving it in her hands.
Of course, a note was slipped under our door 30 minutes later saying that the hotel was fully committed and they couldn’t accommodate any late check-outs. Fully committed? I think not.
I walked back down to the front desk and asked to speak to a manager. I showed the note showing being fully committed, and also showed their website on my phone which showed availability. The duty manager said she’d need to speak with the general manager, as their policy was no late check-outs over New Years. She had no answer for how rooms could be available if they were fully committed. I left the discussion saying I’d buy a room for the following night if they couldn’t otherwise offer me a late check out.
I also emailed my travel agent in the US as well as the local host firm. The US travel agent – who I paid a significant supplemental fee to – replied to say they would contact the host as well. I never heard from either again regarding the matter until after check-out. This was disappointing.
The next morning, I went back to the front desk and spoke with a different manager on duty. She said my booking was discussed “at the morning meeting” and they could offer me a 2pm check out for one room. I told her we would be fine with one room, but needed 3pm, and if she couldn’t agree, I’d just buy a night on their website and leave it to sort out after the fact. She finally acquiesced.
I’m glad the check-out worked out as it is nice to take showers and be comfortable in our room for a bit before we leave for 24 hours of flying. It took way too much effort on my part to make this happen, however.
Frankly, it was a beginner’s mistake on my part to not have insisted this booking be made via Amex FHR. (Amex FHR is the way to go when you are definitely going to need late check out during a peak period.) It is similarly frustrating for a hotel to have availability for rooms the night after your check-out yet claim they cannot offer late check-out to Virtuoso guests.
* * * * *
Despite a few challenges with our stay, overall, this was not a bad hotel. It should be thought of as a four-star hotel, not five-star. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit here again (Cape Town isn’t particularly convenient to New York!), I’d have no qualms with staying here again in the future should my travels bring me to Cape Town.
The trip report continues here…