This is part 15 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.
I had initially planned to use my Protea Prokard one free night voucher to stay at the Protea Fire and Ice Melrose Arch and then use a Prokard Bogo voucher at the African Pride Melrose Arch, but when PointBreaks opened up rooms at the Holiday Inn in Rosebank, I changed things up. In retrospect, I should have kept the one night at the Fire and Ice, but instead changed to the Protea Balalaika Sandton. I ended up staying in ten different hotels on this trip, and the Protea Balalaika Sandton was the only one I had a bad experience at.
Sandton is an upscale area of Johannesburg, with lots of office buildings and hotels, as well as some high-end shopping centers. The Gautrain from the airport goes directly to Sandton, and is a quick two stop ride. Unfortunately, the Protea is not an easy walk from the Gautrain. Google Maps also sent me on a route that was unnavigable as it goes through a gated community. On the plus side, I did find the local Chabad, important on a Friday night.
I finally got on the right street, which has a craft/souvenir market next to the hotel, but is otherwise strictly office buildings, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. From the outside, the hotel looked lovely, and not like an urban hotel at all – but rather like a country style hotel. It was not my standard aesthetic, but still fine. On the inside, the lobby was also tasteful, newly renovated with a live piano player.
And that’s the end of good things I have to say, pretty much. At check-in, my Marriott Rewards gold status wasn’t mentioned. I was directed to my room, which was literally a 6-minute walk away. I had to leave the building, walk past two swimming pools, down some ramps, and into a second building – which seemed like a second hotel with an unstaffed reception desk and lobby/bar. To get to my room, I walked outside again and passed a third pool.
The room itself was on the ground floor, and was extremely dated and old, and small. It felt like a cheap Comfort Inn on the side of the interstate. There was a king size bed, which was uneven and lumpy, a large desk fresh from 1988, a small dresser with 2 bottles of water, and a LCD TV.
You can tell how old a room is from features like phones, and this was no exception. The bathroom was no better. There were 2 USB ports, but one was broken.
The room was also very loud; I could hear every word and door slam in the hallway. On Saturday morning at 9am, I woke up to loud vacuuming and spraying sounds. I did discover that there was a “balcony” to the room, as well, which had a view to a neighbor’s laundry line, and the sounds of cars and garbage cans. As a Marriott Rewards Gold Elite, I couldn’t even get a cruddy room with a view of the pool and courtyard.
I could see how the pool and gardens are nice if you are hanging out at the hotel. But I didn’t come to Johannesburg to sit by the pool. And they looked like they were supposed to have outdoor towel service and bars, but I didn’t see any. In terms of other amenities, I didn’t use any given how short my stay was. There was a shuttle every 30 minutes to Mandela Square – an upscale mall with restaurants, connected to the Sandton City mall and the heart of Sandton, and the Gautrain. During daylight it’s an easy 10-minute walk to Mandela Square, and probably could at night too, but I took an Uber for about $1.50.
Before checkout, I tried to have a cup of coffee from the in-room maker, but there was no creamer. After I schlepped my luggage the long trip back to the lobby wasn’t open, the coffee bar in the lobby though there was a coffee self-serve display for KLM Crew and big FOR CREW ONLY signs. At check-out, no one asked me how my stay was.
There are plenty of hotels in Sandton and other parts of Johannesburg that are well-rated and well-maintained. The Protea Balalaika Sandton is not one of them. It’s also unique in being on a much more isolated street than all of the other hotels. Apparently the cruddiness of the rooms is well-known; when I took an Uber to my next hotel in Rosebank, the driver told me he had used to work at the Balalaika Sandton five years ago, and that even then the rooms were old and dated, and that the owner, a single individual, refused to spend money to fix the rooms. Perhaps with the further integration of Protea properties into the Marriott family, some sort of brand standard will be applied.