I normally don’t write reviews unless I’m very happy with a place, but Gamboa Rainforest Resort (in Gamboa, outside of Panama City, Panama) has frustrated me to no end, and at this point it’s either write a review or punch a hole in a wall. I’m normally not a hot head. In fact, in negotiations it’s usually my wife who plays “bad cop”, after which time I come in as the nice voice of reason. Furthermore, I’m not just an uninitiated American in Central America. I’ve been doing research and business in Panama for over four years. I know that business there isn’t what we expect in the U.S. I know that a lot of it is uneven. I’ve even been harassed by corrupt cops and talked my way out of it. GRR, however, really tested my patience.
First of all, I should state that I had my wedding there. If you’re just planning to go to Gamboa for a weekend, you may not need to read this review. However, if you plan on staging an event there, think twice. Or at least do so with your eyes wide open and expecting to get ripped off at least once.
Also, I should say that my below comments are in reference only to management. The ironic thing is that the wait and room staff, even the desk staff, were incredibly professional and friendly. Even they though they spoke little or no English (except desk staff, which was pretty fluent), they did everything they could to figure out what we needed. As angry as we were with GRR management, we ended up double-tipping the rank-and-file staff for all of their help.
The fortunate thing is that my wife and I started planning the whole thing 11 months in advance. Otherwise, it would have been a mess. It literally took Gamboa management staff months to return calls and emails. They took forever putting together a contract which in the end was incomplete and had to be revised two more times. They routinely made errors in their favor, and my fiancée and I found ourselves having to constantly refer Gamboa back to previous emails and holding their feet to the fire to keep promises made.
This went on, like I said for ELEVEN MONTHS. I could go on and on with myriad stories, but the bottom line is that while everyone at GRR carries the *veneer* of professionalism and efficiency, the actual lack of these characteristics is truly bewildering and disturbing. Management was completely unpredictable, routinely failing to return our calls or emails until we left messages threatening to cancel the event. Arriving in Panama a week before the ceremony, we set up meetings with people who simply would not show up. I don’t know if GRR doesn’t pay its staff well, but people were always quitting or getting fired and leaving us uninformed as to who our new liaison would be.
This was combined with a totally encompassing culture of passing the buck among the remaining staff. The strangest thing about this is that an individual might commit some sort of mistake, and then refer us to someone else to fix it, completely unembarrassed to let their colleagues know of their incompetence. Nobody takes responsibility for anything, and everyone is more than happy to give you yet someone else’s email or phone number and tell you “Oh, you have to talk to her about that.” Over the period of 11 months, we ended up arranging and negotiating things with about half a dozen people at Gamboa alone (this is NOT including our liquor distributors, photographer, videographer, florist, and bands, all of whom we had to contract on our own), a truly harrowing experience when one is trying to do all this from New York City. Even four days before the wedding, our main GRR liaison tried to bring in yet another person, at which point I had to tell her that I had no intention of letting her introduce me to one more new person to address something she screwed up in the first place. Although a middle manager, she was completely clueless even when I tried to explain to her that it really was in her best interest that she not let everyone else know how much she had screwed up.
Also, if you make any contracts with GRR, get it all in iron-clad writing, because they will try to rip you off. The only time in my adult life that I’ve called somebody a liar to their face was when I had to confront a GRR manager who had ripped off 20 members of my family on a stupid Monkey Boat Tour. It’s a funny story too long to tell, but believe me, the guy was lying through his teeth. Right now, my wife and I are realizing that GRR ran off with about $400 in liquor which they were supposed to return to the distributor so I can get a credit on my card. GRR told us that as a matter of procedure they always arrange with the distributor to have the liquor returned. This was the only thing we didn’t have in writing, and of course, no one’s returning our emails.