Arrival: Oct 05 – 12 2009: We arrived at the Panama airport after flying with Canjet from Toronto. Boarding in Toronto there were already about 30 people from Montreal on the plane and they didn’t speak to any of us, although we never tried to talk with them. One was sitting in my window seat staring at me and his wife was across from him at a window seat. I told him this was mine and he grunted and moved over to his wifes side. Canjet staff are really friendly and the planes don’t require a shoehorn to get me in the seat. At the Panama airport there was a Nolitours rep waiting and they speak English. The airport was no hassle leaving Toronto or arriving in Panama. Customs was quick although the form the Canjet staff give you on the plane to fill out was one sided and upon arrival at the Panama customs in the airport he made us all fill out the identical form but is two sided with a signature on the back. The Canjet stewardess told us if we lost this Tourist form she charges $6.00 for another, yet th! e Panama Customs man gave us all new ones and said he would not accept the airplane form without the two sided form. The custom officer beside our man was taking the airplane forms then our custom man spoke in Spanish to him and he stopped and made that group also fill out another form. We told our Stewardess on the way home and she was surprised stating those forms are the ones they were given and she will look into it. Once out on the bus platform it went quickly and all our luggage was neatly lined up and they have a Nolitours rep stand guard on the luggage at all times. You grab your luggage and they load it in a truck and take it away.You get on an air conditioned bus and a Decameron rep also comes along and explains things on the trip. Ours was Sonia and she was great, speaks English and French.
We stopped about 1 hour along at a little restaurant/washroom break. The food looked OK but we didn’t eat. At this point you start to feel the heat and humidity. They give you about 25 minutes then back on the bus. The bus is air conditioned and the driver seems to rule the road as he honks if anyone gets too close to him. All the bus drivers seem to do this. Lots to see on the trip in. The houses are a shambles in some areas with clothes hanging out to dry, other homes are very nice. You cross the Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal and you see the Canal ship traffic. You go through Panama City and see the old Panama and the new Panama. Old is dumpy and you wouldn’t want to walk the streets for danger, the new Panama is high rises, beautiful, about $3000-$4000 per month for an apartment. Eat before you get on the plane as our breakfast from Canjet was a small muffin and a small yogurt.
Rooms: Check in was very fast. The bus pulls up to Lobby 1, you step out and staff have cold drinks and mixed drinks/beer for you. They put the wristband on right away and gave us our brown envelope with a key and info and room number inside. We got the extra key for $15 deposit plus the room safe lock/key for $2 per day right away inside the lobby. The room key deposit is returned when you drop the key off at the end of your stay. From here on in not many staff speak English. You better learn the basic Spanish because it does make your trip easier and its fun to struggle through the language. They know who you are but they appreciate you speaking Spanish. Finding our rooms was delayed because nobody really directs you once you get your package. We were with 2 other couples and I was in room 1024, my daughter/her husband in 1023 and our other 2 friends in 1022. This was on the beach – yes we did pay the $40.00 each to upgrade to the beach and well worth it believe me. When you see the steps leading from the beach to this second tier level of rooms you’ll be glad you’re on the lower level. Honestly, unless you’re into health these stairs after 3 times or more a day in this humidity could ruin your trip. The "10 block" rooms were the first buildings beside the main lobby. These are great rooms. You go up the stairs to the 3rd level and walk past the first building along a bridge type platform onto the hall of the 2nd building that is attached. The units have 2 buildings attached by these wooden walkways but both buildings are called 10. The trouble is you don’t know where 1024 is and up stairs they go from 1013 to 1022 of the se! cond building, so if you have a room say 1024, when you find the 10 block building, your room will be in one of those two attached units. We walked up and down each hall for 5 minutes but didn’t think 1024 was in there. Your luggage comes on a second truck and staff bring it to your room. We happened to be in our room when they came about 1/2 hour after arrival, and they don’t knock or put the luggage in your room, they just leave it outside your door. We were glad we were nearby and brought it in. The rooms are standard rooms and beds are very comfortable. We had the king and it seemed larger than our king beds at home. The TV works clear with lots of english channels. The electricity is 110 volts with lots of plugs available to charge up batteries etc. They don’t give you facecloths and we brought our own so take your own along. They have blow dryers that work well. The showers are big-no problems in them, lots of hot/cold water and pressure. They leave you a large bottle of water for drinking/ brushing your teeth but they tell you on your orientation you may drink the water- I rinsed my mouth after brushing with it and never got sick, and they leave you one glass to drink with. Not sure why not 2 glasses. The air is set at 24 degrees but feels cold since you are used to the high heat and humitdity all day. Once in bed it feels fine but my wife was cold first time she came in the room, she opened the sliding doors and in 2 minutes the room is warm. The windows fog up everytime you open the door its so hot and humid outside. To call another room just lift the receiver on the phone and punch in the room number, although nowhere does it tell you that. Don’t call home unless you must as the phone system in Panama is very expensive. The toilets work well and flush easy. The maid was great but speaks no English. She makes up our room about 11-1 pm each day.
We left her a tip each day of $1 or $2 american.
Restaurants and Bars:: I’ve read other reviews on the food. Hey, you’re not at home with moms cooking and you’re not on an american cruise ship OK? It’s going to taste different, that’s what different culture does. Get used to it. I find it part of the fun, as long as you don’t get sick, and none of our (6) party got sick or the runs. Nobody we spoke with got sick from food. There’s lots to choose from you just take a few days to figure out what you like best. Anyone who goes hungry down here has issues. Or should stay at home and eat their comfort food. Buffets. The 3 buffets have great breakfasts. Eggs cooked the way you want them. Fresh fruit and juices, potatoes, the usual things. We ate breakfasts in The Panamai Buffet near Lobby 1 because our room was close by. They had French Toast that was delicious. All the breads at every food outlet is fresh and tasty. The butter is tasteless and comes in little packets that are hard to open. Coffee or tea is served but if you ask for milk they really pour a lot in your tea. The coffee is great. The buffets are open for 3 meals a day. The lunch buffet in the Atlantis gets busy between 1 – 2 pm, hard to find a table, so best to go at 12 noon – it’s quiet and fresh food. The meat in the buffets is tough. Like it’s been fried.Â The ribs served were hard to cut with the butter knives they have. Yet the beef in all the specialty restaurants was delicious and tender. I think they’re different chefs because at night you see the chefs running around out front of the kitchen more. The Pacifico buffet is at the far end of the resort, we only ate lunch there once. The Atlantis Buffet is the middle one on the resort. They have an area here where it says `sandwiches`over the serving area in the corner. The employee had fresh rolls and breads and she will make any type sandwich you want and put it in a panini press to melt everyhing. These were good. There is also an ice cream area where they serve it to you in a cup. Very refreshing. I never had a problem with either the vino tinto or vino blanco (red and white wine). They both tasted good to us, although the steak restaurant (El Cayugo?) seemed to have a different type of both. All good to the 6 of us. Specialty Restaurants. There are many and you book these in the morning up in Lobby 1 Bar. It opens at 7 am and you take a number like in a Gov’t building. We got there at 6:55 and were number 4 in line. Here you pick your restaurants, whatever theme you want. We preferred the specialty restaurants over the dinner buffets and always went to the themed ones. They’re better and not as rushed. You may book more half way through the week or the next day. We booked the 8 pm sitting so we could enjoy the beach and pools longer than go up to our rooms to shower/prepare for the dinners. We went to El Cayuga- steak. The New York and the Beefsteak were excellent and tender. My wife had the chicken and it was the best down there she had. It’s a chicken breast with a sauce and very good. Cafe Med was also very good, chicken and shishkabob and fish were delicious. Kontiki Thai restaurant was our favourite. Its up beside the Panamai Buffet. The first time there we were greeted by the cutest server who introduced herself in English and welcomed us then explained she’s trying to learn english and we’re welcome to help her. She even went in the kitchen at the end of dinner and retrieved my wife and daughter chocolate cake. We tipped her $10.00 for to share with the wine server who also was great. This was the only server who tried to really communicate with us. The Pad Thai was delicious and the 2nd night in here we all ordered it again. Fusion was good and the salmon and meats were delicious.
The Panamai turns into an Italian buffet at night and although some reviews say Italian was the best we booked it during the Italian buffet and wasn’t that great.
Near Lobby 1 is the fish restaurant El Canal and we didn’t book there but friends said it was OK but like eating in a fish bowl as it’s all glassed in and it’s the only restaurant that’s air conditioned. They said it was too small and noisy but the fish was good. The Catch of the Day is at the end of the resort attached to the disco. Good luck finding this one folks. It’s past the private cottage area and you think you’ve gone off the resort. There it is on the beach. The disco starts with Karaoke about 7 pm and it looked like spring break in Fort Lauderdale. All Columbian kids singing only spanish songs. No thanks. I don’t know anyone who ate at this restaurant, but the Nolitours guide tells you during orientation only one type of fish is served there, the rest you pay extra. We never went to the Sushi Restaurant but a couple we met there did and said it was terrible, the meat was tough and not worth going. There are late night snacks served in two restaurants. The El Cayugo near Lobby 1 and the Cafe Med. Surprisingly both were good. They have breads, veggies, salads and cheese (excellent) hot dogs and burgers and chicken parts. The El Cayugo one night had fried chicken wings that were delicious. The burger buns are large and because it’s so humid don’t taste fresh. I just ate the paddies that were better tasting then they looked. The soups in all restaurants including snacks and buffets is delicious. We preferred the Cafe Med for snacks as it’s not very busy. The El Cayugo is right near the nightly show and when this gets out about 11 pm everyone heads to the El Cayugo for a snack. Stupid questions answered. (note- there are no stupid questions if you learn something) – When attending the specialty restaurants, after placing your food order everyone gets up and goes for the salad bar, the Columbians also take their desserts at this time back to their tables. When we Canadians finish our meal and go for dessert all the good ones are gone and they don’t replace them. -All the bartenders are friendly but be careful, some drinks are well made and tasty and the next time they just pour the rum to them and you can barely taste anything else. Tell them just a little rum if that’s all you want. They seem to get a kick out of free pouring the booze to you. – Remember it’s hot down there and you’re not used to it. The booze can creep up on you. – The Balboa beer is 4.5% and tastes good. The Atlas beer is 3.5% and also tastes good. No problems with either brand. We liked it. – Standing in the pool drinking all day then getting out in the extreme humidity causes severe drunkeness all of a sudden. (ask me how I know). -Take an insulated cup for your drinks, it’s so hot by the time you get back to your palapus or lounge the drink is sweating in those 8 oz plastic cups they serve you and there’s so much ice in the drinks they get watered down fast. -Get to the specialty restaurants on time. There will be a line up and the first in go to the salad bar first. – You can tip the pool bartender and they will remember you if it gets busy, but it’s not necessary, they’re all pretty good.
-NOTE*** We were told men must have long pants and closed toed shoes for the specialty restaurants. After day 3 we noticed men going in with shorts and sandals, so, we started going in with shorts and our sandals and nobody told us we couldn’t. It’s so hot long pants stick to your legs. Try it with shorts but take long pants in case they stop you.
Beach/Pools/Grounds:: What can I say. You’re in Panama! The grounds are second to none. Banana trees are out front of our building 10. Every morning maintenance people are on the grounds cutting, using matchetties cutting palm trees, shaping, trimming bushes. It is well looked after. The pools are the best we’ve ever seen. Not too deep on the ground level and very warm. Clean is the only word to describe the pools. And, they don’t smell like chlorine nor do you go in and foam circles you! Your swim suit doesn’t smell like javex either. They are a pleasure to use. The adult pool up near the Sushi restaurant is supposed to be all adults. It has the swim up bar. We used this pool several times. It’s about a foot deeper (5 feet) then the others and colder. On Thursday suddenly about 100 teenage Columbians came out of the rented units up beside this pool and all hung around the adult pool.They must have been of age because they all had white wristbands on and the drinking age here is 18. Most looked ! about 16-19 and the pool got busy fast. I saw one man go to the far edge of the pool with an enfant wearing a plastic inflatable ring and he tried to slowly lower the kid into his waiting wifes arms and the lifeguard blew his whistle and indicated to the man to take the child out. This was nice to see. The large pools on the ocean level are all patrolled by lifeguards and although get very busy you don’t feel crowded because these pools are so large. You must obtain a lounger under an umbrella or you’ll die down there from heat. The beach- This is the Pacific. There are lifeguards all along the ocean beach and altholugh they’re little people and seem to just stare out they really are impressive and work hard. They know what they’re doing. There are flags along the beach mostly yellow caution but sometimes red. The undertoe in the Pacific can be treacherous. I saw many people, not just women, get knocked down and the lifeguards are out there like a bullet picking them up. Nice to know they’re there. My wife got caught in the undertow and got knocked down. She was yelling help and I looked over and she was rolling up the beach and back into the ocean like an empty pop can. Before I could get to her a lifeguard ran over with his orange plastic bullet thing trailing behind him and he had her up and out of the surf. We saw several others falling down and dragged around by the surf. Be careful. But the ocean is great and the beach is clean, course sand, feels great on your feet. They have Sea-Doos for ren! t $50.00 half hour. Lots of fun. They have paddle boats and kayaks for free although I don’t know why you would struggle in the ocean with one of these. The banana boat costs $11. 00 for 15 minutes and were fun. They have a large sailing type ship run by a motor that takes you for a 3 hour tour around Farallon Island. They have scuba rentals and lessons.
Some reviews said they saw jellyfish washed up on shore. We never saw any or heard of anyone getting bit. We never had a problem in the ocean. Horseback riding can be had for free from the resort but independants walk up and down the beach with their horses asking if you want to ride them, for a fee. These horses are pretty small looking but seem to endure the heat.
Stupid questions – -Wear sandals on the sand near the pools as it’s so hot your feet will burn. -There are plenty of palapus’ and cloth shelters so you don’t have to run down to the beach early to reserve a spot. -We never saw anyone going nude on the resort or beach area. -Your towel card gets you a towel, you can keep all day or turn it in for a fresh towel or take the towel up to your room at the end of the day, but either way you must turn in either a towel or the towel card upon departure or they charge you $20.00.
Walk down the beach to the left of the Sea Doos and about 4 houses down is a run down vacant property with broken concrete barrier wall. This was Manuel Norega’s home before the Americans arrested him and put him in prison. The other homes along here are spectacular.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:: Woody’s Panama Restaurant (Canadian owned) is at the right of the resort on the beach about 5 minute walk from the disco bar, and it’s closed out of business, as of 3 weeks ago. (around Sept 15/09). A large wave came in and wiped it out. We went down and the cement wall is all caved in and the place is abandoned. I think a squatter has taken residence there as a man wih a child came to us from inside and said "the resxtaurant is closed". Doesn’t look like it will open again. The Jungle boat adventure is out of business just before we got there, early October 09, now replaced by another similar tour we never went on. Friends did go and said for $90 each it was good. We just didn’t like that 2 hour bus tour each way to start the adventure. We stayed on the resort and there was lots to do. The nightly entertainment, at best, is brutal. It starts around 7 pm with a childrens show- all in Spanish. Around 8:30 pm the adult show begins. Each night is different but the same. They come out, dance around, have colourful costumes, then get 5 members of the crowd up to try and dance. If you’re eating in the Panamai or Kontiki you’ll hear the show. I know they’re trying, but it’s all in Spanish and everyone we spoke with up on the patio bar near the lobby 1 lost interest in watching this nightly show. Yet the seating is full for the show. All seemed to be Columbians watching.
The Casino was a disappointment. Finding it by looking on the cartoon map they give you is frustrating. We walked for 1/2 hour up and down the stairs and finally saw the casino lights on the other side of a 8 foot fence. The casino is actually off the property, you get to it by going outside Lobby 1 gates and walk left up a roadway about 5 minutes and it’s there. There are about 100 slot machines, 1 cent to $1.00, then about 3 card tables and roulette wheel. All 6 of us played $20-$40 each on slots and the only pay out was my wife hit 6 credits for cherries.
Other Comments:: This resort is called Royal Decameron, Royal Decameron Farallon, Royal Decameron Costa Blanca, or Royal Decameron Playa Blanca but either way it’s one resort. Every time you go out of your room you can’t use your camera for about 15 minutes as the lenses fog up! Your final day they want the luggage at the bottom of the building stairs by 7:30 am for pick up, and exactly 7:30 am they are there to get it. You won’t see it again until the airport but Nolitours carefully watch it.
This resort is a great vacation spot and if you like heat and hunidity you’ve found heaven. There are many stairs on the resort so if you have trouble with stairs this place could be painful. The well kept grounds, clean restaurants and pools, are a pleasure to use. We went from 05-12 Oct 09 and this is their "Rainy Season" which, translated, means "winter". I don’t know what it would be like from Dec – May in their "Summer" except they tell me it’s the same weather but dry – no rain. We got rain 4 days of our 7 day trip but it rains for about 5 minutes then seems only hotter. Every morning we woke up to very hot and sunny, by afternoon it started to cloud over and sometimes light rain but still so warm you welcomed the clouds to prevent the sun from hitting you. I would go back to this resort in a heartbeat.