Over a three-week visit to Panama, my wife and I stayed at the new Waldorf Astoria three times in three different rooms: five nights at the start of the visit, one night while traveling between other parts of the country, and two nights before returning home. All three rooms had the same high level of design, same earth tones, same floor-to-ceiling windows, same beds, same Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries and, oddly, the same art work.
The hotel, a Hilton property with 146 rooms and condos in an international, vaguely Deco design, is a block from the Pacific waterfront and in the Calle Uruguay restaurant and nightclub district. Compared to some of this city's other new hotels, the Waldorf doesn't have much impact at street level; you could walk by without noticing it. Enter it, though, and you’ll find a large, modern and elegant lobby. There's a small bar at one end, the registration desk at the other, with sitting areas and a sea of marble and granite flooring in between. A concierge desk is in an alcove, and a small business center is hidden down a corridor.
A spa and a pleasant outdoor pool share what may be the sixth floor (the elevators don’t show a floor number); the pool is large enough for swimming laps. Ginger, a stylish bar with well-made cocktails, is on the seventh floor, and the restaurant Brio – site of an $18 daily breakfast buffet – is on the eighth. Guest rooms begin on the ninth floor.
In a nutshell, it’s a beautiful hotel with an eager-to-please but poorly trained staff. Service is not what it should be at a Waldorf.
Our first room, 1408, had a partial ocean view – through a block of apartment towers. Work on the foundation of another building promises to fill that gap soon. The room itself was lovely – a great king-size bed, plush linens, a glass-topped desk, bathrobes, slippers and a stone-tiled two-sink bathroom with a large rainfall shower. We paid $174.90 a day for this room, including taxes. In-room wi-fi would have added another $12 a day.
Our relationship with the hotel, the only Waldorf Astoria in Latin America, got off to a bad start. Before arriving, my wife emailed the concierge asking for recommendations for nearby restaurants for our first evening there, which was New Year's Eve. The response referred only to the hotel's own expensive packages. Upon arrival, we were told that every restaurant in the Calle Uruguay neighborhood was booked full. Uninterested in the hotel's all-you-can-drink special, we struck out on our own and were immediately seated as walk-ins at La Posta, one of Panama City's most venerated restaurants and less than three blocks from the hotel.
A concierge let us down again on New Year's Day, assuring us that morning that the city fish market and its restaurant would be open without calling to check. It was closed – and we had walked over an hour to reach it in oppressive heat and humidity. A restaurateur later told us that almost all hotels and restaurants are understaffed during holiday periods because Panama labor laws mandate high holiday pay rates. The short staffing – phone calls to our “personal assistant” and to the concierge desk went unanswered – was particularly unfortunate because the hotel seemed to be full, the hallways and the pool deck filled with people from all over Latin America and Europe
The concierge wasn’t the only disappointment. A room-service breakfast was ordered at 9 one morning and promised within a half hour. The two poached eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee, orange juice, yogurt, fruit and a basket of pastries arrived 15 minutes later; amazingly, the eggs, bacon and hash browns were all stone cold. The menu price was $18, but taxes and a small gratuity pushed it close to $22.
Housekeeping also had problems – some days there were face cloths, turn-down service, nighttime chocolates and new personal-size bottles of mineral water. Some days there weren’t. In the business center, the two computers did not always have Internet access and didn’t always communicate with the printer.
Our second stay landed us in Room 2606, one of the hotel's condo units. This was a pretty substantial upgrade, perhaps in reaction to complaints about service from my wife, a Hilton Honors program member. This room had a kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, a dining table, a curved leather sofa and a view of freighters moored in Panama Bay. The apartment buildings that had hemmed in our 14th-floor view did not affect our 26th floor view. The bath in this unit had a window in the shower through which one could watch one of the two TVs or look out through the living area to the ocean view. It had only one sink, but the toiletries came in larger bottles. In our other two rooms, the bottled water was Evian; here it was Fiji. We paid $196.90 for this room.
Our third and final stay was in Room 1402 ($196.90 again) , and this time we had no complaint about the staff, which quickly found us an English-speaking physician when my wife fell ill. (An efficient examination and a couple of prescriptions put her on the road to being well enough to fly home.) This room was similar to but smaller than 1408; the bath had only one sink and there were no slippers. Also, the room was not on the ocean side. Instead, it looked out over the Calle Uruguay neighborhood – a view that we found more interesting than the Pacific Ocean. We could see the tree-shaded La Posta restaurant where we had celebrated New Year's Eve.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Waldorf Astoria Panama is conveniently located on Calle Uruguay, a vibrant street known for its entertainment and restaurants, and steps away from the financial banking center. This new hotel jewel features 248 guestrooms, suites and luxury residences as well as an array of culinary options to serve the most exquisite palates. Cozy meeting rooms can accommodate an intimate business gathering or a memorable social event. A spacious and comforting area awaits you at the Waldorf Astoria Spa, an oasis of relaxation adjacent to a large exercise area by Life Fitness and a shimmering pool where you will enjoy the beautiful sun rays. Your guests will certainly enjoy inviting facilities with sophisticated furnishings and an ample number of restaurants and activities within the hotel, as well as experience the sincerest definition of personalized service while living the True Waldorf Service, which aims to offer guests luxury attention during a memorable stay in Panama. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Waldorf Astoria Panama Panama City