My experience on an Alcatraz Night Tour and what you should know before you go.

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Alcatraz Island once housed the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, built as the inescapable prison for the worst of the worst. A 10 minute ferry ride off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz housed some of the most dangerous criminals in the history of the United States. This maximum security prison was redesigned in the 1930’s, and remained a federal prison until 1969. Now, Alcatraz Island is maintained by the National Park Service and is open for tours. Tours of the prison are one of the most in-demand attractions in San Francisco, with all tours, especially the Alcatraz night tour, booking months in advance. Here is my personal experience on an Alcatraz night tour, and what you should know before you plan your own trip

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Since tours book months in advance, I recommend booking your tour as soon as you plan your trip to San Francisco. Alcatraz night tours are very difficult to come by, and book up much faster than the day tours. This is because by touring at night, you have complete access to the entire prison, including areas that are closed during the day. Furthermore, the National Park Service offers extra programs during the evening to further your knowledge of what life on Alcatraz Island was like.

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“Cold as winter, even in the summer months”

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Board the ferry as you and your 100 fellow passengers venture across the San Francisco Bay. Your tour guide will show you sides of the island only seen by the Alcatraz night tour, and anticipation grows as you near the island. As your ferry circles the island and pulls into the dock, the chilling air immediately overwhelms you. You’ll walk through a beautifully landscaped walkway as you admire the San Francisco skyline and near the prison. Quickly, the warmth and color drains from your environment as you enter the prison walls.

“If you break the rules you go to prison. If you break prison’s rules, you go to Alcatraz”

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This isn’t your average headset tour. This tour will direct you into some of the most haunting memories of Alcatraz Island, complete with voices and memories from actual guards and prisoners. You truly get a sense of what it was like to be in Alcatraz prison when it was in operation.

Alcatraz Island was where unruly prisoners were sent, and was one of the most dangerous places to be an inmate and a guard. Famous inmates include Al Capone, Harvey Bailey, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and the first ever public enemy #1 Alvin Karpis.

The makers of this tour really invested a lot of creativity into making it engaging. You’ll even be walked through an extensive escape attempt during which prisoners held guards hostage as they almost successfully escaped from Alcatraz. You’ll stand where the guards held hostage stood complete with sound effects and an exciting description of what later become known as the Battle of Alcatraz.

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Embrace the spooky ambiance that sets in as the sun sets. The prison comes to life with exclusive night programs, only available on the Alcatraz Night Tour.

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Don’t forget to step outside to admire the breathtaking views as the sun sets. You’ll have great photo opportunities of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s almost beautiful enough to make you forget that you’re at a maximum security prison.

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As the darkness sets in, the prison’s temperature drops, and the environment becomes more eerie.

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You’ll be free to roam throughout the prison and choose which night programs to participate in. The night programs include topics from how prisoners made moonshine, to the prison’s role during World War II, to conspiracy theories about escape attempts. Finish the night with a demonstration of the slamming of the prison’s 250lb automatic doors that coined the term “the slammer.”

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General Tips for Planning your Alcatraz Night Tour:

  • The Alcatraz Night Tour is extremely popular and books months in advance. Get your tickets early to guarantee your spot.
  • While many tour companies advertise tours, Alcatraz Cruises is the only legitimate company that offers tours. Other companies purchase tickets from Alcatraz Cruises and up charge for them.
  • Arrive to Pier 33 early if you want a good spot on the ferry ride (trust me- you do). I recommend sitting on the top deck for the ferry ride to Alcatraz Island if you want to enjoy a good view of the city.
  • The temperature in the prison drops significantly after dark. Bring an extra jacket so you can really enjoy the night programs.

The Alcatraz night tour was one of the coolest and most memorable parts of my time in San Francisco. I highly recommend planning one for your next trip!

Danielle Guy

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