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My husband I have been to San Francisco on many occasions but we never really got a chance to see the city sights. So on the visit before embarking the Grand Princess to Hawaii, we did a full-day city tour, which included a visit to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.
Alcatraz was considered the most secure and escape-proof prison during its operation from 1934 to 1963. The citadel on the island in San Francisco Bay was built in 1859 as a U.S. Army military base and turned into a military prison for the U.S. Army between 1910 and 1912 before it became the famed penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, holding some of America's most dangerous criminals .
It's only a 15-minute ferry ride from Ferry Building, and as you approach it amazes you, recalling the movies you've seen about it, the books you've read and stories you heard as a child. Of the 36 inmates who staged 14 escape attempts over the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary, 23 were recaptured, six were shot and killed, and seven were believed to have drowned.
The walking tour lets you off at the bottom with an optional tram ride to the top. You're handed a set of earphones and a tape that is available in more than 25 languages. The story of Alcatraz is told by three former inmates and three former guards. We happened to go on a very dreary day which gave an ambiance to the prison and a spookiness to the voices in my ear.
The tour is amazing, a once in a life time experience, to see how the prisoners lived in cells that were only 9 by 5 feet and 7 feet tall. Also fascinating was how they ate , socialized and were punished in The Hole or solitary confinement, as we call it today.
Today there is a swim from San Francisco Harbor to Alcatraz a few times a year but with safety equipment and boats that follow. But then it was said to be inescapable. At the end of the tour besides the required T-shirts ands hats for sale, books and more, there is a replica of the prison at its height.
What surprised me is that those who live within a view of Alcatraz have never been there, that would be like a New Yorker saying I never went to the Statue of Liberty. It's a must, and it took a Hawaiian cruise to get us to go.