Two weeks in Panama, a new adventure...

Old Feb 4th, 2016, 01:18 PM
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Two weeks in Panama, a new adventure...

Our AA points needed to be used, so I searched for a warm place for which we had enough points and I came up with Panama. This might satisfy my wife's desire to transverse the canal which I thought I would dread. Turns out we had enough pts to fly one way in business/first. Her reservation was easily secured, but mine was more difficult. I could get from Boston to Miami in b/f but there were no seats on the 2nd leg, until we were in Miami and the gate attendant found me one. It was an all day trip on AA, but could have been reduced to 5 hours on the direct Copa Air flt from Bos.

We were late leaving Miami because the Cuba air controllers are still practicing with flats flying over their country so we were delays 1 hour. Pilot was not amused. He, btw, was the most personable pilot we have ever flown with... Even came back into the cabin to make announcements, face to face...AA take note.

So we got to Panama City ok and got our luggage and proceeded to Dollar rent a car. I had a res for a "full size" car, automatic for a great price of $78 for 2 weeks....NAUGHT... A full size car here ended up being a Toyota Corolla, an economy car at best in the rest of the world.

BUT that was the least of my problems. They claimed that I needed to take full insurance, could not use my credit card insurances and that they also had to put huge holds on my credit cards, PLUS the 2 week rental ended up being way over $600. I checked with Hertz the next day and was given the same insurance story.

Oh, btw, there are no street signs or street numbers in Panama City. Great. We rented a GPS for this reason and it really did not work right... They generally do not use them here. Side story--- the next day we thought we would buy a new GPS as we will be returning here in November again. We went to one of the largest malls where there are plenty of electronics stores. No one carries them, save 1 store. They had two garmins for USA prices, about $200., BUt did not have Panama maps...DUH.... We returned to our hotel and had Dollar come and pick the car up--lesson learned.

Back to our arrival. We got into the city using the faulty GPS with no map display. It announced we were at our hotel, but we were in a somewhat run down residential area... YIKES... It is now midnight and looking a bit doggy. Fortunately Karen spotted the rooftop sign for our high rise hotel a few blocks away and we arrived.... Place was deserted, but I found a desk clerk and he found a bellhop and a car valet.

So here we were at the beautiful Sortis Hotel, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, which is about 2-3 years old. Because I am Platinum we www upgraded to a lovely corner suite on the 10th floor. Huge, living room/kitchen/dining room combo, large bedroom and huge bath. Finally we were happy.

I stewed all night about the car, and as I have already said we got rid of it.

Breakfast was included, as platinum members, and was decent... Not fab, but decent.

Time for a swim...more later
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 02:21 PM
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cw
 
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Following along . . .
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 02:35 PM
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Following, although not a place I'm thinking of visiting, will be interested to hear about the canal transit.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 02:42 PM
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You'd be lost literally without Karen haha. So is it now taxi here and taxi there or has Karen found you a driver? Is this the perfect spot for the family gtg? Inquiring minds await your next installment.

Aloha!
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 02:50 PM
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I knew a bit about your car troubles, but looking forward to hearing about Panama. If your hotel was part of the Autograph collection, I'm expecting it was fabulous!

My former receptionist was a military wife and said that Panama was her favorite posting.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 03:16 PM
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Swim was fab, but sadly marred by smoke in the air.... It is very dry here this year we are told, so someone must be burning today.. There will be no transit... K is saving for next husband, the rich and exciting one. For me, it would seem like paint drying.

Can we now touch on language. This is a Spanish speaking country, but so is Spain, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and many others. But for some reason, Panama is not pushing students to learn English, at least until this year. SO, if you plan to come here bring someone who speaks at least h.s. Spanish. It's shocking how few speak even simple English. Hotels, restaurants, shops, drivers.....nada...
They need to conquer this to move forward, or so it seems to us.... Remember the Americans only left here on Dec 31, 1999....

Have not needed taxis... Had a car service to bring us to jw Marriott-- $149.

Family GTG (50th anniversary in November) completely changed today. We leased a large (11,000 sq foot house) around the corner from the hotel for our family outing. Fabulous house, lovely pool, great inside and outside facilities. Plenty of space and more. Full time maid and we will hire a full time cook, so K can just DIRECT--ask me about that.
A brand new American style grocery store opened last week within a mile of the house and a fab fish market is about 5 miles away. My ladies can shop and the cook can cook, plus there are plenty of restaurants around.

Must shower now as we head to the steak house at the golf club tonight.

More later
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 03:22 PM
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Discovered the same lack of English further south. Lot of Spanish speakers in South and Central America, though, and a lot of local travelers.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 03:42 PM
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Following along too... Hope the two of you are enjoying your time.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 05:57 PM
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We have found prices seem to be almost equal to,the Boston area...both food and resturants. The " manana" attitude is very prevelant here. The is a beautiful property ( j w Marriott rio hata)... But it falls short of it's potential. Enjoying the down time at the many pools and beach.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 06:40 PM
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Despite small problems we are enjoying our time.

Hotels: we are staying in 4 in two weeks.

The Sortis is a wonderful hi rise hotel and casino in the middle of Panama City. It is very glitzy and bright. Staff are top notch, especially the front desk and concierge.
Cheap parking--$5. A day.

Main restaurant is ok, but private restaurants in the building are quite good, especially Srquella. The casino has a good ATM...$4. Surcharge. US Dollars are the currency used in the country. There is no club. Breakfast was ok. The staff were lazy and a bit annoying.

We were upgraded to a wonderful suite (platinum perk). It was exceptionally comfortable.

For some reason staff in restaurants do not clear tables. Then there is a crisis when new customers arrive. We have seen this over and again.

The first night we walked up the block to Napoli Restaurant, a long established Italian place. Nothing fancy, reasonable and good--packed. A score for Karen.
We loved our meal. I had my first Panama lite beer--cold and good. This was welcome after spending the day fooling around with GPS and rental cars.

Next day we went on a 4 hour tour that took us around the city, old town, 3 islands, original Canal Zone and finally Miraflora Locks at the canal. $30 each on a trolley with 1/2 a/c. Tranviatour. Good take...great driver/guide.

Dinner that night was in steak house in hotel--ok, but not fab...2 small filets wrapped in 1/2 lb of uncooked bacon each... You decide.

Next day was a hang around day--k spent time at pool.

Next day we moved to the Miramar Intercontinental... Old but retouched high rise right on water. We give it a 5.

Two cold meals. Room service and main dining room... Very slow service.

Great view from our room.. Can see many ships waiting to enter canal.

For lunch we went into old town and had a fab fresh seared tuna plate, rare with a great sauce...$22 each for tuna. Rustic sea side restaurant--Bistro Paula Nani...could not have been better.

We hired RoadRunner transportation to take us to the JW Marriott at Rio Hato...$149 in a mid size SUV. Delightful UK driver, retired in Panama...full of info after 8 years here with family. All their drivers are native English speakers, Canadian owned.

The ride was interesting--tons of resettlement so from the inner city--government gives people a $50,000 house. a la China. All single houses.

Ride was 1.5 hours on decent road.

The hotel is located in a huge lux gated community with very large houses, mostly Panamian owned. Some are on the ocean, some not. Huge pieces of property..

The hotel is 4 floors and an attractive Spanish style architectural style. The lobby is open aire and very welcoming. PROBLEM...they do not have our reservation made in April, 2015. Seems we are a day early and they are full. They finally found room for us.
There is a group of Rotarians here at the end of their humanitarian visit to Panama. They are from LA. Nice folks.

Our room is nice but nothing special. We have a nice covered balcony which overlooks one of the pools, the lagoon and out to the ocean--Pacific. The grounds are quite lovely, the pool areas very beautiful and there is a nearby beach club with bar and restaurant which they will drive you to in 5 minutes or you can walk or use a provided bicycle. Yea, me on a bike at age 72---who do you thin I am, Stu Tower???

More tomorrow
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 07:00 PM
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The name of the gated community is Buenaventura, considered to be the most exclusive area in Panama, so we are told. Watch out Palm Beach.
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Old Feb 4th, 2016, 07:30 PM
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I can just picture all this, Bob!
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 01:52 AM
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We're going to Nicaragua at the end of April for 4 weeks. Flights booked to Managua via Houston, obtained our ESTA, and now have a big void to start filling.

I've got the latest LP guide for Central America, and I'm v.tempted to spend part of our time in Costa Rica and/or Panama.

I can already count from uno to diez, and ask for a couple of beers "...dos cerveza por favor", so language shouldn't be a problem.
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 05:20 AM
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Hmmm. I was thinking of heading to Panama (a man, a plan, a canal...) and splitting my stay between the American Trade & the Gamboa Rainforest place, but wound up going to Key West instead. Which is where I'm sitting now -- like it a lot (and it's completely unlike any other part of FL that I've been to).

Sounds like the Ks have had extremely mixed results so far. Well, the 1st trip anywhere is always something of a learning experience anyway.

Steak in a half-pound of uncooked bacon ... are you staying at a health spa?
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 07:17 AM
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I now regret not writing a trip report, so that you would have read it and been forewarned about some of the potential problems - especially with driving (although we had no problems with renting a car and driving in Boquete).

We did not find the language to be a problem (and neither of us speaks any Spanish)...

Was the non-clearing of restaurant tables limited to the Sortis' restaurants or did you encounter this elsewhere? Jeane and I never observed this.

We also found Panama to be rather expensive. Because the US and Panamanian dollars are always at parity, you will not see the benefit of a very strong US$. We head to South Africa on Tuesday, where the US$ buys 16 ZAR. When we started planning one year ago, it bought 12.

Not sure what you meant about K wanting to "transverse" the canal. I sincerely hope you are not planning to do one of those day cruises through the locks, unless you are truly into enduring an entire day of watching paint dry. This was something we considered for about 2 seconds, but then I read some of the horror stories on TA...
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 08:51 AM
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Craig, K wants a cruise thru the canal...naught. Table cleaning is a universal problem we have observed except at Napoli.

Don, excellent call on your part... We love key west. There is a wonderful bakery that will deliver your breakfast to your door for free-- on a back street-- great pastry... Also the oldest restaurant in town is fab, esp. For oysters.. No names in this pea brain.
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 09:17 AM
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The hotel is beautiful and only has 130+ rooms. The pools and beach area are very nice and there is a jack Nicklaus golf course.

BUT, there is that "do it tomorrow" malaise feeling all around us. Getting questions answered is a real problem, and they just do not follow through. Things get half done, rooms get 3/4 cleaned, towels only get partially replaced (no face cloths for 2 days for instance), waste paper baskets get left full--- all dumb things but it adds up... Plus it is not cheap $300+ per day, no breakfast. Luckily we are on points-- 150,000 for 5 nights I think++.
A perfect example of this place can be seen on TA where the GM responds to each comment but never addresses the questions or problems, so I guess he sets the bar--quite low.

They seem to look down on people using points, I feel, and they ignore Platinum status completely. We work hard to achieve both and most Marriott properties reward you with a thank you, constant smiles, and the feeling that you are part of the team... NOT HERE.

Enough complaints.

K is loving the pool areas and the beach. I love the pool late in the afternoon after the winds pick up. I love the breezes and swaying palms.

Last night we went to the golf club for dinner at the Prime 19 steakhouse. Excellent steaks (we had the Porterhouse for 2--$75). Perfectly cooked. All a la carte.
We will return there for lunch today and will also check out greens fees and tee times for the November trip.

BTW, there is nothing to do here at night, no music, no open bar, nada... Fine for us, but others may require some night life.

We continue to enjoy our trip, despite the aggrivations we have experienced.

We very much look forward to our house rental here in November. The house is fantastic and a perfect place for the family to hang out.
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 10:28 AM
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I appreciate your report - can't believe we haven't heard of your meeting with the GM yet!

I know what you mean about getting perks for being Platinum... some places are most gracious (we are upgraded to a suite in Cusco) others just ignore you.

We would like to go to Costa Rica in November - found a fabulous Autograph collection hotel there - but we have put booking on hold for now. I expect we will know where we are going in November when we get back from Kauai in mid-March.
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 11:49 AM
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Have decided that GM may be the ultimate problem, and K does not want me to speak to him. Unlike other Marriotts, he is invisible.

I will hit them on TA and send Marriott a letter.
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Old Feb 5th, 2016, 03:17 PM
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You've been spoiled by the Asian hospitality. haha

You do have that general manager magnet that you carry with you so I'm sure you will see him/her before you leave

Glad you found a house for your family now will you look for one for Linda and I? Ours is overflowing

Aloha!
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