A few weeks ago we went on a family holiday, a cruise to Mozambique, but that is NOT what this post is about. This post is about the night we spent in Durban before we boarded the ship. This is about a hotel that is rated 3 stars, has decent reviews on Booking.com and is even in their preferred property program.
Last time we went to Durban we stayed at The AHA Waterfront Hotel (also a 3 star) and it’s stunning. We assumed, incorrectly, that the same star rating would mean that the hotel’s were similarly matched. On Booking.com the Albany Hotel looks good but the photos of their rooms (or perhaps the one renovated room purely for photographic purposes) are complete bullshit.
This is where I confess (and no one is more dissappointed than I am) that I was in such a state of shock, so busy trying to keep my kids from touching anything, and reduce my husbands state from hysterical mess to a mild panic, that I didn’t take a single photo of our ordeal. After I was told by a random stranger (outside the hotel) to hide my phone so it wouldn’t get stolen, I didn’t take it out again until my husband insisted that I find a different hotel for us, and once I did, we ran out of there like a bat out of hell… the only metaphor there being that we are bats. I wish I could show you the chasm between what we saw and what it looks like on Booking.com, but since I can’t I will paint you a picture with words.
We arrived at the hotel on the corner of two extremely dodgy streets. Booking.com conveniantely shows the hotel with the street cut out.
For those of you who have never been to Durban Central/Beachfront let me put this into perspective for you. It’s not the prettiest city. It looks old and rundown and this is actually a decent looking building in comparison.
We had no idea where to go, the street was packed with people and cars and taxis and no apparent place for hotel guests. I went into the hotel to ask where to park and was told to go down Albany street to the parking garage (and that it would cost us R50 a car). My husband had to circle the block because it’s a very narrow one way so I walked the 100m to the garage by myself (while phoning to tell him where to come park). It was a terrible street but I didn’t feel that scared until a random woman stopped me and told me to get off the phone and hide it before I got mugged.
We then entered the filthiest parking garage imaginable and were told by the garage attendants that we actually needed to pay the R50 in the hotel. When we refused to drive around the block again they let us in (just for the record the parking attendant was the nicest person we encountered during the entire “Albany ordeal”). We parked on the 4th floor and blindly made our way through the filthy parking garage, carrying our luggage and hanging on to 4 kids, until we eventually found a tiny elevator in the darkest dingiest corner and didn’t know how to actually get our luggage into it because there was a car parked right up against it. To get in we had to squeeze ourselves through a gap no wider than a ruler. After a terrifying elevator ride where the doors didn’t open for so long we thought we might have to sleep in it, dodging cars in the garage, and a long walk down a busy street (prostitutes and drugs for sale, I shit you not) we arrived at the hotel.
The lobby was newly renovated and looked good so we felt a bit better.
After a reasonably unfriendly check-in we took the elevator up to the 7th floor, and when the doors opened we had been transported back in time… I don’t know where all the porcelain tiled floors from the pictures went but we were standing in the carpeted remnants of the 1960’s complete with that weird bumpy wall finish.
We nervously approached our room door and once inside we took in a smell that can only be described as damp laundry that’s been lying in a pile in the corner for months! It smelt much worse than our bathroom in Krabi, Thailand and that had sat underwater for a while after a freaking Tsunami!! How does a room on the seventh floor even smell that bad if it’s supposed to be cleaned everyday?
The room had dirt on the floor, the bathroom was ancient and awful. None of it looked remotely like the pictures on their websites:
We stood around perplexed and tried to make peace with our situation and when that didn’t work, I phoned reception to complain. I was told: “ok, but the manager has left for the day so there’s nothing we can do” and “you can leave but you won’t get your money back”. We decided to leave.
Now even I realize this next part is overly dramatic but it did happen so you get to hear about it… as I turned to tell my kids we were leaving I saw my youngest son pick up his remaining piece of Oreo off the table and put it in his mouth. I launched myself across the room and hit the back of his head hard enough that his mouth opened and the biscuit theatrically flew across the room. We had reached breaking point but it wasn’t over yet!
We got our suitcases and met our friends at their room, then we all made our way to the elevator. We had to go down seperately as the elevator was very small, so we went down followed by the husbands. We waited, the doors opened, and our stricken husbands emerged. While they were waiting upstairs they were treated to the view of a completely naked woman strolling through the hotel corridors. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
I gave in our cards and the receptionist said “you only have to check out tomorrow, is there a reason you’re leaving?” I launched into my tale of woe and for all my efforts I got an “oh ok, bye.” Repeat harrowing experience of walking down the dodgy road, check. Dodge various cars while hanging onto the kids, check. Terrifying lift, check. Dark and dirty parking garage, check.
The entire experience was insane. If life was a cartoon there would have been a Taryn shaped hole in the side of that hotel and smoke emanating from my swiftly fleeing heels. When we got to our new hotel (the AHA) the children actually said “it’s so nice to feel safe again” and they were right.
I am perplexed as to how this hotel can have a 3 star grading when some of the most basic requirements for this are “Provision of adequate, fit for purpose, on site and/or designated parking areas, which have to be tidy, in very good condition, clearly defined and well lit with clear signage.” and “Very good quality and condition in the standard of furniture, furnishings, fittings and décor.”
I’m struggling to get any response from Booking.com, the Albany hotel website is also full of the same photos that look nothing like the hotel that I was in, and nowhere is going to tell you how bad the area that you’ll be staying in is. So this is your warning. STAY AWAY!!!