Review: Protea Hotel North Wharf in Cape Town, South Africa
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TO THE POINT: I didn't know what my first-ever stay at a Protea Hotel would be like, but my experience at the North Wharf property in Cape Town was so enjoyable I'm already looking forward to my next trip back to the country just so I can test out another one. The pros: huge rooms with a great layout, friendly staff, fantastic room amenities and an expansive breakfast spread. The cons: a shower that failed the TPG test, no conditioner and an unimpressive lobby.
Back in 2014, Marriott announced it would be acquiring the Protea Hospitality Group, which has 97 properties in Africa — 69 of which are located in South Africa — giving Marriott a pretty solid footprint on the continent. Having previously stayed at the Westin during my other four trips to Cape Town, I decided to look elsewhere when I was planning my trip to South Africa for a recent PeaceJam Conference. I've never stayed at a Protea hotel, so I jumped at the opportunity and picked the North Wharf location in Cape Town, mostly because all of its rooms are apartments. Needless to say, I was excited to see how this property — and more specifically, these rooms — would stack up.
The Protea Hotel North Wharf is a Category 3 property, requiring 15,000 Marriott Rewards points for a free night. With Marriott's valuable fifth night free benefit, you can maximize your stay even more. Based on my most recent valuations, Marriott Rewards points are worth 0.9 cents apiece, so the five-night stay totaled 60,000 points, worth $540 after getting the fifth night free.
I booked six rooms — one for myself, and the others for a few TPG team members, several PeaceJam staffers and another friend who was joining us. Each of the rooms in this hotel is basically an apartment, so you don't need to spend additional points to upgrade to a suite-level room — everyone already has one.
Planning your own trip? Consider using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express since you can now earn bonus points for stays with Marriott and SPG properties following the merger — using the SPG Amex on Marriott stays will earn you 2x Starpoints, which is the equivalent of 6x Marriott Rewards points. Otherwise, you could use the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which lets you earn 5x points per dollar on Ritz-Carlton and partner hotel stays.
The check-in process went fairly smooth. The first thing I noticed was the hotel was in a pretty unassuming building, centrally located in Cape Town near the convention center in an area with lots of expensive, chic-looking hotels.
There was, conveniently enough, a wall of pamphlets that featured other Protea Hotels throughout South Africa and the rest of the continent. I was pretty shocked at how many there were — I knew there were a lot, but there were far more than I was expecting.
Overall, the lobby was okay — pretty small and nothing too elaborate. Given that it wasn't that overwhelming of a welcome experience with a grand lobby, I wasn't sure what to expect in the rooms. Thankfully, what the lobby lacks in character and luxury is made up for in the rooms, or should I say apartments.
Since the main hallways were rather small and narrow, I continued to be a little nervous about the rooms and how big they'd actually be.
Once I opened the front door to my room, I was shocked. Not only was it massive, but the amount of natural light it let in was really welcoming. The kitchen was located on the left side of the hallway as you walked in and there was plenty of storage space stocked with plates, silverware and cooking utensils — pretty much everything I could ever need for a stay in my own, private apartment.
There was also a refrigerator and freezer, as well as an oven and microwave, which was hidden inside one of the cupboards.
Next to the kitchen sink was a coffee and tea machine, which came with a selection of teas, sugars and creams to use. Of course, the kitchen was stocked with coffee mugs as well.
The living room area of the apartment is where the room really impressed me. When I say that the room was spacious and comfortable, I'm not exaggerating. There was plenty of room to spread out, especially since I was traveling alone.
There was plenty of natural light and seating in the living room area of the room, a nice feature, especially if you're traveling with companions, since there's enough room for everyone to sit.
The natural light gave way to a nice little balcony — emphasis on little. Unfortunately, there was no furniture outside on the balcony, perhaps because their winter was coming and the temperature was getting pretty chilly. I would have liked to have seen a seating option or two out there though, but maybe things are different during the warmer summer months.
The balcony overlooked a nice courtyard area and fountain, which remained pretty quiet throughout my stay.
I really liked the art and decor in the room, which was calming, yet modern. The seating areas were all pretty nice and matched the color scheme of the room as a whole.
There was, however, one part of the room I really wasn't a fan of. When I first got there, I jumped on the one floating couch in the middle of the room, expecting a cozy and comfortable place to rest. Instead, I was greeted with a rock-hard cushion and immediately regretted my decision.
That was really my only complaint about the room itself. It was large, and I liked that there were four distinct areas — the large living room, the bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom. The overall flow of the room was really nice.
The kitchen table, located between the living room and the bedroom, had an interesting design — I didn't really use it much, since I didn't cook this trip, but it was nice and large. Clearly, this room was made to accommodate more than one person, but it was nice to have the whole place to myself.
The bedroom was comfortable. Compared to the living room, it was a little bit on the small and pretty narrow — there really wasn't much space between the side closet and the nightstand. That being said, the closet space was large with many different options for storing your stuff, including shelves, drawers and hanging racks.
There was a TV located directly across from the bed, which I always appreciate. Because the bedroom was rather small, the close distance to the TV made it really easy to see, even when I was laying down.
The bathroom was a little bit on the small side, too, especially when compared with the size of the living room. It was nice and renovated though, and included all the necessities, even a tub.
One of the things I check first whenever I enter a hotel room is the shower. As someone who is 6'7", I'm constantly aware of low-hanging objects — #TallPeopleProblems. So, when I went to conduct the TPG shower test, I was disappointed to learn the shower head was way too low for me — I actually had to duck pretty significantly in order to fit my head under it. I'll never understand why some places don't make their showers taller!
Next to the (low-hanging) shower was the toilet, which was pretty standard.
The bathroom was stocked with Eartherapy Africa products, including shampoo, body wash, soap and body lotion. The products smelled nice, but one other thing I'll never get about some hotels is why they're not stocked with conditioner. It would have been nice to have some conditioner during my stay, so if the Protea Hotel North Wharf could improve anywhere, I'd say it'd be in the bathroom the most.
Food and Other Amenities
The exterior of the hotel was pretty welcoming, with a small seating area along the side of the lobby restaurant. During my stay, I didn't see anyone out there, but I'd imagine it gets more traffic during the summer months.
Speaking of the lobby restaurant, there was a breakfast spread there every morning. I started my morning early every day and each time, the offerings were pretty impressive, including three different flavors of fresh yogurt, along with several types of fresh fruit that you could add to it.
There was also a selection of fresh fruit, some of which — I would assume — were unique to South Africa. The spread of cured meats was plentiful as well.
Each morning, the one thing I noticed was how well-kept and stocked the breakfast options were. The cold cereal choices were pretty standard and not too over the top.
Finally, there was a rotating selection of hot food. Oddly enough, each of the heaters was labeled with a different type of meat — pork, chicken, and an option for a vegetarian dish — and inside each one were two options, which caused some confusion as to what each item was since they weren't individually labeled.
I must mention the staff I encountered at this hotel were above-and-beyond friendly, especially one woman on the wait staff who was there every morning while I ate my breakfast. Her smiling face and exceptional spirit of hospitality were the perfect way to start my morning, and made my experience that much better.
Overall, the Protea Hotel North Wharf exceeded my expectations — especially considering it was my first stay at a Protea property. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I first walked into my room, especially since the lobby and hallway leading to it were a little underwhelming.
After spending four nights here, I can say that I was impressed with just about everything I experienced. The room itself was the highlight, given the vast living room and impressive kitchen amenities — it was an apartment in the truest sense. In general, the only parts of my stay that could have been improved were the size of the shower and the lack of conditioner in the shower. The Westin is nicer but ultimately will cost you more money, so the Protea offers a phenomenal use of Marriott Rewards points for a perfectly comfortable stay in an apartment-style setting.
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Have you ever stayed at the Protea Hotel North Wharf? Tell us about your experience below.
All images courtesy of Emily McNutt.