I recently spent three nights at the Westin Playa Bonita. While listed in Panama City, it is located about 20 or more miles from the airport on the western side of the Panama Canal and American Bridge. As such it is a nightmare to reach during the rush hour. Try to arrange your arrival/departure/excursion plans accordingly as it will easily add an hour or more to travel time to your plans.
Our experience may differ from that of the average visitor as we were not normal hotel guests. Quite a few of us were originally booked into a different hotel initially, the high end all inclusive “Secrets” resort by AM Resorts located down the beach. Unfortunately that resort closed unexpectedly for upgrade renovations so we were booked into the Westin to accommodate our prepaid reservations. As such we were given gold bracelets permitting access to Starwood Preferred Guest facilities as well as to unlimited premium liquor store, foods room service and virtually everything else except the private “Pearl Club” facilities co-located in the same building as the hotel exercise room and spa.
The Hotel it’s self is quite expansive, modern and impressive. It seemed very quiet. Had it not been for the “secrets” guests the place would have been quite empty indeed. We never saw more than 30 people gathered anywhere at the same time be it the pool, restaurant or lounge. I understand the end of July is the low season and during the week is particularly quiet. It was mostly overcast with occasional thunderstorms during our stay but we enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. I was told the weekends can get quite busy with specials offered to the locals. Considering the expansive all inclusive, we got a great bargain for the amount of food and beverages we consumed!
The beach is ok but not great in my opinion. It is very close to the hotel and at high tide there is very little if any beach at all. The tidal changes are so extreme that there is no water to swim in at low tide. Fortunately when the tide is out there is none of the typical unpleasant fishy smell, seaweed left or general “buggy ness” you see other places and the pool area is quite nice and large. If you want to kayak off the beach, plan that activity for high tide only.
The food in the restaurants was a bit “uneven”. One night my filet at the grill restaurant was perfect the next time it was strangely mushy. I’ve had many in my life and never one with such an odd texture but then again, cows aren’t made by machine so variation is to be expected. Sometimes food was served without the expected accompaniments. For example the the breakfast poached eggs came without the described mushrooms, asparagus and peas. Beware the birds if you eat outdoors for breakfast they can be aggressive and can come quite close to stealing your food if you are not careful! Cocktails were generally ok to very good and the evening entertainment in the cocktail lounge was very good the nights we were there.
We often buffeted just for the variety so sometimes the food had been sitting in heated servers for sometime and was not at its peak. Given how few guests there were not all food stations were occupied. Salad fixings, fruits and soups ( which we enjoyed) were in good supply and there was a cook to order station at all times.
We unfortunately had no luggage for the first 30 hours of our visit which significantly impacted our short three day visit. The women’s clothing in the gift shop was shockingly expensive ( everyone said Panama was inexpensive, but not so here) and the clothing selection was very limited but we were desperate. (Much better prices at Casco Viejo) The hotel has a shuttle to a nearby mall but with a single drop off (10 am) and pick up (4pm) per day you’ll waste an entire vacation day even if you only need a quick visit. Who wants to do that unless the weather is awful? The hotel should consider at least two trips a day. We missed the trip not yet knowing a reservation was required and were told a cab would be $25 each way – pretty pricy given the proximity, though the purchases would have been much cheaper.
I am pleased to say The staff was very pleasant and accommodating. Humberto, Jack, Maybe and the rest of the guest services/front desk were of the highest caliber and so helpful during our lost luggage crises. Jack and Humberto in particular and some others whose names I fail to recall. Even after years of effort a poor memory means my Spanish is poor so it is so comforting to have good quality bilingual staff. Restaurant personnel were less proficient which was difficult on occasion but everyone sincerely tried to please.
I had a very good quality therapeutic massage at the spa which at its price point also gave me access to the sauna, thermal baths and other parts of the spa – but only for a limited time. My companion was not entitled to facility usage for the cost of her treatment so I did not try them out. Not crazy about this restrictive use of facilities.
The decor and design of the hotel is modern but in a “warmer” way then other modern design aesthetics. Browns and uses of wood offset the colder marble making for a pleasant environment. The lobby was attractive and huuuuge but the ala carte restaurants and lobby bar were more cozy. The bedroom was roomy with a comfortable bed, complementary water. The thorough offering of bath amenities including toothbrush and razors was welcome as I needed the sewing kit to turn a swim coverup into a dress for dinner given our lack of clothing. We had a waterfront balcony which was great for watching the many freight ships lined up every day to enter the canal. It was an amazing sight to see and this hotel is well situated for the show!
All in all I give high marks to this property. Typically a Marriott customer I can’t compare to other Westin resorts but I’d put it on par with a Marriott Hotel maybe close to a JW but not a Ritz. If you’ve never been to Panama this would be a great introduction to how developed the country really is – no third world anymore! Great service and people here.
Review: Westin Playa Bonita Panama
Dates visited: July 2016