Alcatraz, you know that prison on the little island in San Francisco, is probably one of, if not, the most notorious prisons in the world and the subject of many books, documentaries and films. Mr ESLT had wanted to visit for as long has he could remember so when we planned our visit to San Francisco it was at the top of my list of places to book tickets for, but guess what…I forgot! Yep, the only thing he wanted to do was the night tour that everyone we know had done and absolutely loved. I had tried to book before Christmas last year thinking 6 months in advance was totally acceptable. However, it became clear that tickets only go on sale 3 months in advance, so I made a mental note to try again nearer the time….and then I forgot!
Yep, this bad wife only remembered three weeks before our trip that I hadn’t booked any tickets, let alone for the ever so popular night tour and guess what….. the official tour company Alcatraz Cruises had sold out! Of course it had….GREAT! I tried at least a dozen other tour companies to see if they had tickets still available – NOPE. Luckily, I managed to get a couple of tickets for the 2.40pm ferry across and Mr ESLT was über cool about it and was still very excited that I had managed to book tickets at all (PHEW!).
I opted for print at home tickets and I’m glad I did as we arrived at the ferry terminal at Pier 33 to find a queue of people waiting to pick theirs up from Will Call. We also overheard people saying that they had tried to book tickets there and then, just to find out that it was sold out, not just for that day but for the whole week. Therefore I cannot recommend booking tickets in advance enough, as by not doing so, you run the risk of not getting on The Rock at all.
The ferries shuttle between Alcatraz and the ferry terminal every 30 minutes. Therefore I would recommend you get to the terminal at least 30 minutes before the time stated on your ticket. By doing this, it allowed us get to the front of the queue and then board the ferry first and grab a great spot, as the views of Alcatraz from the ferry are amazing. But not to worry if you can’t or if you are running late, there are enough seats on the ferry for everyone.
Once we arrived at Alcatraz Island, The National Park Service take over and you will see their rangers throughout the prison and on the island. We were all gathered together and a Ranger gave us the background to the prison, and let us know the rules and daily schedule of tours we could take. As we arrived late in the day we didn’t have the opportunity to join any of them, therefore, if you’re thinking of joining some of the optional tours, a morning ticket would be a good idea as once you are on the island you can spend as long as you like there, all day if you wish. The ranger did remind us all to go and pick up the equipment for the Alcatraz Cell House Audio Tour, which is included in the ticket price. I’m glad she did, as it was the highlight of the tour.
Once we had the headphones and the handset we set off to explore the cell house, listening intently to the former guards and inmates recalling their time at Alcatraz as we went and not speaking to each other once. We were so engrossed in the stories we were hearing, that we wandered silently through the cell house both at our own individual pace. The audio tour was amazing and made the experience for me. Learning about the things we were looking at really allowed me to bring the place alive. It’s important to remember that the criminals at Alcatraz were bad, bad dudes including Al Capone, Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, so hearing some of the things they got up to or tried to do whilst on The Rock was insane.
We paused the audio tour briefly when we were outside in order to stand and take in the San Francisco skyline and snap a few photographs. Luckily for us it was a clear day and we could see all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, something that is not guaranteed in San Francisco because of the fog it often experiences. It was however, the windiest day and being on that little island in the middle of the Bay it was crazy windy and cold, so we didn’t spend too long out there and headed back inside to conclude the audio tour.
Ending the tour in the dining room, we took a moment to sit and take in our surroundings, before taking a slow walk down to the gift shop, handing our headphones and handset back as we went. We were then free to explore the island to our heart’s content, in theory. Unfortunately, the last ferry back to San Francisco was due any second so we had to quickly head back down to the dock quickly snapping a few photos as we went. Therefore, again another reason why an earlier ticket would have been beneficial.
From leaving San Francisco to arriving back it took us 3 1/2 hours. We had a great time, much better than I ever expected, however I feel like we could have spent more time there as we felt quite rushed toward the end. Therefore, I would recommend allocating around 5 hours to get the most of your visit to Alcatraz.