Panama Canal Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Options Ranked

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a city with many tall buildings and a body of water
JW Marriott Panama Rooftop Bar Views

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Introduction

As we’ve discussed before, a big part of our strategy to cruise more for less money is to pay for flights and hotels with miles and points.  We’ve had the good fortune to have been able to visit Panama City, Panama as part of three different cruises.  During each of these visits we’ve used Marriott Bonvoy points to cover the costs of our stays.  As the largest hotel company in the world we thought that a comparison could be useful for those Frequent Floaters that may be planning a Panama Canal cruise.  So in this post we would like to use our experiences and thoughts.  And so with that let’s jump into this post – Panama Canal Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Options Ranked.

The Hotels

Panama City, Panama has a lot of hotels.  As a major center for business and tourism in Central America there are no shortage of options catering to all types of visitors.  For us, we’re looking for a more luxurious option with some space as we’re both likely to be putting in some time on work calls during our stay so having a bit of extra space is appreciated.  We always have a good sized stash of Marriott Bonvoy points earned both through stays (mostly for business) and through spending on Marriott Bonvoy credit cards.  Marriott’s large portfolio of brands is well represented across their 16 hotels (as of the time of this post) in the area ranging from an AC and several Courtyards at the lower end of the price spectrum to Luxury Collection, JW Marriott, and W at the higher end.

We chose three different hotels in three distinct locations to provide a broad perspective of what’s on offer and to meet differing needs for travelers.  The prior post in this trip report covered the Westin Playa Bonita.  A previous post in April we covered our stay at the Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel and Golf Resort.  In this post we’ll cover our thoughts for the first time on the JW Marriott Panama as well as compare and contrast it against the previously reviewed hotels.

The Locations

After staying at all three hotels this is probably the biggest single differentiator between them.  Based on your schedule and objectives there are reasons why the location of each may be preferred.

a large white building with blue chairs and palm trees on a beach
Westin Playa Bonita Rear Facade

Westin Playa Bonita – This resort property is on the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Panama Canal.  It’s the furthest from Tocumen International Airport Panama, the City Center, as well as the old town area.  This location is ideal if you want to live the all-inclusive life for a few days before or after a cruise including multiple pools, an interesting beach, views of the ships waiting to pass through the Panama Canal, and hanging out on property.  This location is not ideal if you’re only staying for one night, if you’re planning on heading to the airport during peak travel times, or if you want to experience the city for site-seeing, dining, etc.

a pool with chairs and trees at night
The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel and Golf Resort Pool and Patio with SkyLine Views

Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel and Golf Resort – This recently built property is the closest to the airport making it ideal for a single night pre or post cruise.  It is also part of a newer master planned project that includes a golf course if this appeals to you.  The hotel offers walkable retail and restaurants on site.  The location is north of the city center and a bit further from old town compared to the others; however, it has convenient highway access making these trips faster than distances might suggest.

a sunset over the ocean
JW Marriott Panama Suite Balcony Obstructed Ocean View Sunrise

JW Marriott Panama – This hotel is located in the heart of the city, near the financial center of the city providing an abundance of restaurants, stores, etc.  This hotel is also the official hotel for several cruise lines including Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas for those booking pre-cruise stays through the cruise lines.  The glass high rise offers great views.  Locationally this is in the center of it all mid-way between the airport and the cruise terminal and a short ride away from the old town.

The On-Site Amenities

Westin Playa Bonita – Great outdoor space including balconies for all the rooms, expansive pools and a beach.  There’s a kids club, fitness center, multiple dining options, and several bars including a swim-up option.  There is also a club for those with Marriott Bonvoy Platinum or Titanium status that offers breakfast, snacks, and a solid happy hour.

Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel and Golf Resort – A more compact hotel, there is an onsite restaurant as well as several others nearby as well as the golf course.  There’s a nice pool and the best fitness center of the three hotels.  There is NO club at this hotel, with elite breakfast benefits offered in the restaurant.

JW Marriott Panama – As a large, full-service city hotel there are several dining and drinking establishments on site.  There is a spacious (for a city hotel) outdoor space with two small pools including one with an infinity edge, an outdoor dining area, sun deck, etc.  Also on site, but independently operated, are a casino and a rooftop bar/club.  The hotel offers a club for those with Marriott Bonvoy Platinum or Titanium status that offers breakfast, snacks, and an excellent happy hour.  The complimentary ceviche in the afternoons was AMAZING!

Quality and Service

Here I would say that the Santa Maria is a clear winner in terms of design, level of finishes, polished service, etc.  The Westin and JW Marriott are more or less on par with one another.  While the Santa Maria was one of the nicest hotels we’ve stayed at in Latin America, the Westin and JW Marriott have been more or less what we’ve come to expect for higher-end US hotel flags.  They’re nice at first glance, but the fit and finish is a bit sloppy, the service is well intentioned if a bit clumsy, and they’re lower-end examples of the brands that what you’d find in other parts of the world.

A Bit More on the JW Marriott Panama

Because of the three hotels the JW Marriott Panama is the one that we haven’t fully reviewed on Frequent Floaters we thought that sharing a few photos might be helpful.

a room with a television and a couch
JW Marriott Panama Suite Living Room and Balcony
a room with a round table and chairs
JW Marriott Panama Suite Dining Area and Bar
a balcony overlooking the ocean
JW Marriott Panama Suite Balcony Obstructed Ocean View
a table with a drink and a bottle of water on it
JW Marriott Panama Outdoor Breakfast Area

Conclusion

While all three of these hotels offered pleasant enough stays and served their purposes, the only one that my wife and I agreed that we’d like to re-visit the next time we find ourselves in Panama City is the Santa Maria.  Partly this is because we only spent one night at the hotel and weren’t fully able to take advantage of everything it had to offer.  But more importantly we felt like it offered the most modern, comfortable, and well located option for what we would likely need on a trip to Panama City, Panama.

We hope that you found our Panama Canal Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Options Ranked a useful  comparison of three high(er)-end Marriott Bonvoy properties in Panama City, Panama useful. – Michael

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2 COMMENTS

    • Thanks Dee, I can’t wait to share our experience on board Oceania Sirena. She’s a ship that we’ve wanted to sail on since Oceania announced they had acquired her.

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