Is the OR Tambo Southern Sun the Best Hotel in Johannesburg?

This is an independent review of a Johannesburg hotel. The author has no links and received no incentive to write this review.

Travelling to Johannesburg is a frequent occurrence for me so it helps to find a luxurious hotel in close proximity to the airport.

Over the years the OR Tambo Southern Sun hotel has always been my base except for one occasion. In fact I am now registered with their Southern Sun frequent guest card. However, I have no affiliation to the hotel aside from the frequent guest card. This is only my second time in using the card.

The hotel, fondly known as “The Glass House” by locals due to its external appearance used to be part of the Holiday Inn chain. At that time the hotel was average but since being re-branded a few years ago, the decor and service has improved a fair bit.

Arrivals

If you are fortunate to have someone pick you up from the airport then your driver will appreciate the relatively short drive. The hotel is situated close to the entrance road to the airport, maybe 2 minutes away.

My arrival time was not suited for colleagues to collect me so I availed myself of the complimentary hotel shuttle bus. As you pass through Arrivals in the airport just walk towards the signs labelled as “Bus Terminal” and wait there for the bus.

Warning: Make sure you get on the correct bus! Sounds obvious but some of the people loitering around this area will try to convince you that their bus is heading that way. Don’t do it!

The bus is clearly labelled as “Southern Sun” and will either be all black or a white one with a black label.

Check in

On arriving at the hotel you may come across over eager porters seeking to help with your luggage. Even if your luggage is minimal they would love to help, for a tip at the end.

At check-in I notified the receptionist guy of my surname under which the booking was made and showed my frequent guest card. He didn’t come across as the smartest since he asked me to write down my address details even though I could see them appear on the booking details on his screen.

There was also an issue I had with him over internet access which I’ll discuss below.

Check in didn’t take too long and thankfully there were enough staff on reception to avoid queuing. This is not always the case.

The lobby area was very spacious and comfortable to move around with some soft seats spread across the area. From the lobby you have immediate access to a suitable gym/fitness room, the restaurant, Bernoulli’s bar and Caroline’s (which is a beauty salon).

Room

The room is reasonable whilst not overly generous in size. Mine had a comfortable double bed with a selection of four pillows. In spite of this I found none of the pillows firm enough for my liking. They were also quite flat one I rested my head.

There is a reasonable size work desk with power sockets. Clearly catering to international visitors there was a multi-plug socket which would accept UK, European, American and Australian plugs.

There is an air conditioning unit by the window which you can control by a dial on the unit.

Tea and coffee making facilities are present. A selection of Nescafe instant coffees plus one “Green Tea & Mint” tea bag, one Rooibos (which I really don’t like but South Africans love) plus 2 Ceylon tea bags.

The Southern Sun has spoilt the party a little bit by removing the fridge/mini bar so there is a big gap behind the door on the TV cabinet.

The TV is a good size (I guess at 40″) digital wide-screen TV. I suspect it is not cable as there are frequent “No or weak signal” messages when channel hoping. This even happens whilst watching a channel.

The TV selection at the OR Tambo hotel is varied with movie, news and the seven Super Sport channels (which feature Premier League football). I was frustrated to come back to my room today to find the channels had been retuned. I could no longer find Sky News (yes news from the UK) so ended up watching RT (Russia Today) news channel before it lost the signal.

After this frustration I found something called BBC Lifestyle which was showing the UK version of “Come Dine with Me”. (Did you know there is a Come Dine with Me South Africa?). Whilst watching this, to my amazement a bar appeared across the bottom of the screen showing the channel name. Then someone centrally suddenly started changing the channel whilst I was watching it! Not a good sign if you ask me.

My room in the Southern Sun hotel also lacked the customary iron and ironing board. This had to be borrowed on request. This is a great shame for what pitches to be a high class hotel yet without this basic accessory.

The bathroom is pleasant in decor with a light cream colour. There is a shower only but this is powerful and adequate. The complimentary toiletries do smell quite nice.

The room is quite small so don’t be too wild in towelling yourself off!

The toilet seemed fully functional and the sink had a good size mirror above it.

I was further disappointed though as there was no socket to plug in an electric razor whilst in the bathroom.

Room Service

I used the room service a few times, whilst writing for my blog. The food was reasonably priced for a hotel, around £10 for an adequate main dish and a juice drink. (I stayed in October 2012 whilst writing this article.)

Delivery was often promised within half an hour and this promise was kept. The food often arrived earlier. The delivery staff were pleasant and courteous.

The room service did let itself down at 2:25 this morning. I was awoken by a persistent knocking on the door only to find room service were trying to deliver an order to my room. The waitress with tray in hand queries me when I explained that I was trying to sleep and I hadn’t ordered anything. After a bit of gentle persuasion she left and I tried to return to sleep.

Restaurant and Bar

The restaurant is of a good size, it has to be since during the week the OR Tambo Southern Sun is a busy hotel with business and frequent travellers, not just like myself.

Complimentary papers can be found here during breakfast time.

The breakfast is an all you can eat buffet which has a little something for everyone. The juices are fresh and the hot and cold food selections are extensive.

There is also a wide ranging evening buffet selection. An A-La-Carte menu does exist yet waiting staff try to urge you to take the buffet. Either they are being lazy or just want to give the kitchen a rest.

Waiting staff are generally high in number and seem very eager to remove any plate as soon as you finish eating from it.

The bar is well presented and comfortable with a decent drinks selection. There is also a TV showing a news channel (when they are not flipping channels!).

Internet

Unfortunately a fully complimentary internet service is not available at the airport hotel. Frequent guests can gain a voucher for 2 hours a day. Everyone can buy a range of vouchers depending upon their needs.

On check in I requested a voucher for the duration of my stay and indicated to charge it to my room. The guy on check in said that they only issue daily vouchers. Even though I queried it initially based on my previous visits I accepted the voucher and headed to the room.

I then checked the voucher and found it was for 2 hours only rather than a daily one which he indicated. On complaining and explaining that he hadn’t listened to what I asked for he apologised.

A more senior receptionist resolved the matter and issued me a voucher for the duration of my stay.

The internet connection, like the TV in South Africa is unreliable. Sometimes good, sometime not. One evening it went down at around 8:30 and didn’t work again until the next day.

Other features

The Southern Sun has an outdoor small swimming pool. It does not appear to be used much so you might get it to yourself.

The gym is very modern and well equipped. There are also a range of TV screens to keep you intrigued whilst pounding the treadmill.

The lobby area has a shop with overpriced souvenirs. There is quite a good range to explore.

I didn’t use any of these other features on this trip but have in the past.

Final impression

Tomorrow I check out from the hotel with mixed views.

The hotel is very nicely decorated and staff are pleasant and generally in happy spirits. Facilities are generally excellent and the location is ideal for the airport.

The improvements I would make at the OR Tambo airport hotel are:-

  • better internet connection which is fully complimentary
  • mini bar/fridge in the room
  • iron and ironing board as standard in all rooms
  • electrical socket for shavers in the bathroom

I would also appreciate some more attentive staff and not being woken at 2:25am!

Have you stayed in a hotel with similar issues? Feel free to share your experience in the comments box.

Overall I would rate the OR Tambo Southern Sun hotel in Johannesburg as 6 out of 10. It is comfortable but the OR Tambo Southern Sun is not the best hotel in Johannesburg by a long way.