Westin Playa Bonita Panama Pre-Cruise Hotel Review

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

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Introduction:  Our Panama Canal Cruise on Oceania Sirena

How to Save Money on an Oceania Cruises Sailing

Oceania Cruises Fleet Explained

Delta First Class Review Atlanta (ATL) to Panama City (PTY)

Westin Playa Bonita Panama Pre-Cruise Hotel Review

Panama Canal Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Options Ranked

Panama Canal New Cruise Terminal Still a Work in Progress

Boarding a Cruise Ship During a Norovirus Outbreak

Oceania Cruises Sirena Vista Suite 6003 Review

What Does Oceania Cruises’ Country Club Casual Dress Code Really Mean?

Oceania Cruises Wine and Spirits Tasting Experiences

What to Expect on a Panama Canal Full Transit

Oceania Cruises Sirena Dining Review

Great Stirrup Cay, Oceania Cruises Private Island???

What Happens When Oceania Cruises Skips a Port Due to Weather?

The Pros and Cons of Sailing on Oceania’s Smallest R-Class Ships

Size Matters, Why We Prefer Oceania Cruises Larger Ships

Introduction

We always recommend getting to your embarkation port AT LEAST one day early, preferably more if schedules and budgets allow.  In this case our cruise began on a Monday so we made full use of the weekend and flew to Panama City three days ahead.  We were curious to try the Westin Playa Bonita because it is one of the few hotels near Panama City with a real beach and because we had seen it previously from the cruise port.  We’d also stayed at two other full-service Marriott Properties previously and were curious to try another.  With that let’s jump into our Westin Playa Bonita Panama Pre-Cruise Hotel Review.

Booking

We booked our stay at the Westin Playa Bonita a few months ahead using 67,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.  Points redemptions could be had for a bit less; however, we opted to book an ocean-view suite because we would be coming with luggage for a two week cruise and thought the added space would be appreciated.  Paid rates were going for $851.40 for the three nights for the suite, so we were able to get 1.3 cents of value per point, a good bit higher than the typical redemption rate of 0.8 cents per point that we typically see.  Cash rates at the hotel offer both all-inclusive and room only with us opting for the latter.  Because I’m a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum level member I am already entitled to lounge access and free breakfast, so I figured this was the better option for us.

Arrival

Our Delta flight arrived at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), we cleared immigration quickly (there was no line) and collected our luggage and were out of the airport in under 30 minutes.  Because we arrived at 1pm that meant that we would be arriving at the Westin Playa Bonita mid-afternoon.  We were able to get an Uber within a matter of minutes and off we went on our 24 mile/39 kilometer ride to the hotel that would take us from the north of the city, through the heart of Panama City, over the Bridge of the Americas, and into Punta Mita.  The ride cost $43 and took 41 minutes.

a car parked in front of a building
Westin Playa Bonita Front Facade

When we arrived at the hotel a friendly bellman helped with our bags and we were escorted through the light-filled lobby to a check-in desk where we were served welcome drinks.

a glass door in a building
Westin Playa Bonita Entrance
a large lobby with trees and people
Westin Playa Bonita Lobby
a glass of liquid and flowers on a counter
Westin Playa Bonita Elite Check-In Welcome Drink

Check-in was a bit odd as it took a very long time, but at no point was a form of payment scanned.  I even asked if they needed my credit card and was told that because I’d paid with points it wasn’t necessary.  More on this later…

The Room (Suite)

We were soon taken to our suite – room 626 located in the middle of the sixth floor facing the Pacific Ocean.

a sign on a wood surface
Westin Playa Bonita Suite 626 Floorplan

First impressions were that the room was large and clean with fairly basic furniture and finishes with only the faintest nod to the hotel’s Central American location.

a living room with a couch and a coffee table
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Living Room Seating
a room with a table and chairs
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Dining Area With Balcony Beyond

You enter into a short hall with a half bath to the left and the living room straight ahead.

a bathroom with a sink and mirror
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Powder Room Vanity

The bedroom with open bathroom was to the left.

a room with a bed and a television
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Bedroom with Separate Balcony
a room with a bed and bathtub
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Bedroom with Open Bathroom
a bathroom with a tub and cabinets
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Vanity and Wardrobes

I don’t understand why, with as much space as they had available, that they decided to leave the room and bathroom connected with a random tub in the middle.  But that may just be me.  The shower and toilet were located in a small, separate room.

a white robe on a swinger in a bathroom
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Shower Room with Robe

Toiletries were in individual packaging bucking the trend towards large dispensers.  They were a strange mis between the Westin standard white tea products and other products branded Verde.  One unique amenity were insect repellant wipes which proved handy during our cruise.

a bathroom items on a counter
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Amenities

Back in the living room area there was a minibar set-up with complimentary Panamanian K-cups, a coffee machine, glassware and bottled water.  There was also an empty refrigerator.

a counter with a small refrigerator and coffee maker
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Living Room Minibar and Coffee Station

Both the living room and bedrooms had separate balconies facing the Pacific Ocean.  Both were furnished with the same two chairs and small side table.

a chair on a balcony overlooking a beach
Westin Playa Bonita Suite Balcony One of Two

The Club

One selling-point of this hotel was that it offers a building-top club for top-tier loyalty members.  We typically enjoy these clubs when travelling in Latin America as they often offer a superior experience to those in the US.

a glass doors with blue curtains
Westin Playa Bonita Lounge Entrance

The Club occupies a portion of the top floor of the hotel along with a separate event space (pictured below).  Access is via room key with a podium inside for additional verification.

a patio with a pool and tables
Westin Playa Bonita Rooftop Terrace

The lounge is large with lots of natural light as well with a variety of seating options.

a room with a couch and chairs
Westin Playa Bonita Lounge Seating
a room with chairs and a view of the ocean
Westin Playa Bonita Lounge Views

There is a small self-serve buffet including coffee station as well as a small honor bar during happy hour times.  There were complimentary red and white wines, local rum, as well as vodka available.

a room with a kitchen and a potted plant
Westin Playa Bonita Lounge Buffet

Bonvoy Platinum guests had the option of eating breakfast in the main dining room or in the club.  We looked at the club and instead elected to go to the much larger buffet off of the lobby.  We did enjoy the complimentary happy hour during the evenings.

a table with food on it and a glass vase with a flower in front of a window
Westin Playa Bonita Lounge Happy Hour

On-Site Amenities

The hotel is very large and also includes a wide variety of amenities including a number of on site restaurants, a gym, several pools, a kids club, and more.  Here’s a directory that covers the number of amenity areas and their locations.

a sign on a wood surface
Westin Playa Bonita Amenities Directory

The gym is located in a separate tower that houses affiliated condos.  It’s accessible to hotel guests using their room keys.

a room with treadmills and exercise equipment
Westin Playa Bonita Gym Cardio Equipment
a gym with exercise equipment
Westin Playa Bonita Gym Weights

Perhaps the biggest draw for us in selecting this hotel was the size and number of pools on site as this is typically something that isn’t a strong-suit of hotels in Panama City or on small cruise ships.  We were not disappointed on this front.

a swimming pool and a beach
Westin Playa Bonita Pool Area

a pool with palm trees and a beach in the background

two drinks on a table by a pool
Westin Playa Bonita Pool Drinks

The biggest issue at the pool was there was a rather aggressive iguana that had a taste for pool grill food.  We witnessed him “mugging” a number of pool guests.

a lizard on a tile walkway

Westin Playa Bonita Iguana Was Stealing Food by the PoolI would not in any way suggest that the beach at the Westin Playa Bonita is a great beach by any typical standards.  It is however fascinating as there’s an extreme tide change as well as a great number of shells that arrived with each tidal change.

a body of water with trees and buildings in the distance
Westin Playa Bonita Ocean View of Ships
a beach with rocks and water
Westin Playa Bonita Ocean at Low Tide
a beach with a body of water and clouds
Westin Playa Bonita Ocean at High Tide
a pile of shells and rocks
Westin Playa Bonita Beach Shell Bonanza

We ate lunch in the buffet restaurant for lunch upon arrival as well as daily breakfast.  These dining experiences were roughly what we would expect at a mid-tier all-inclusive.  The hotel also includes several specialty restaurants that open for dinner on a revolving schedule.  We couldn’t take any photos of the buffet because quiet honestly it was always PACKED with people including a number of conventioneers to which the hotel seems to cater.

a plate of food on a table
Westin Playa Bonita Lunch From the Buffet

All of the specialty restaurants are located at the lowest level of the hotel in an outdoor logia.  The food here was a bit better than the buffet, but still on par with what you would expect for a mid-tier all-inclusive resort.

a building with tables and chairs
Westin Playa Bonita Restaurant Patio

Issues

So…this is where this review gets interesting.  The first issue happened when we went into town to go exploring.  We ordered an Uber and it cancelled on us.  We ordered another Uber and it also cancelled.  Finally on our third attempt we got a driver but had to wait more than 20 minutes for his arrival.  The ride took less than 20 minutes and the fare was reasonable.  We spent an enjoyable, albeit very hot, afternoon walking around town.  When the time came to go back we ordered an Uber, he arrived in less than 5 minutes, we jumped in and looked at the app.  The estimated ride time was over 85 minutes.  I thought that I had put in the wrong destination.  I checked…no such luck.  Well maybe it’s a glitch.  Nope, we pulled out of old town, turned a corner, and bam.  Traffic as far as the eye could see to get onto the highway leading to the Bridge of the Americas the one and only way for us to get back to our hotel.  I used my translate app to ask the driver if there was an accident.  He said that it was always like this in the afternoons.  Sure enough, there was an entire micro economy of vendors selling popcorn, fruit juices, soft drinks, plush toys, and more along the roadside to people trapped in cars.

Well the next day we spent at the pool at the hotel, but after dinner at the hotel the night before we thought it might be nice to head into town for dinner at a highly rated restaurant that featured gluten free fried chicken.  (Full disclosure, I would probably walk across hot coals for GF fried chicken.)  This time we just took a taxi into town as there was one waiting at the bell stand.  The price was less than $20 and before we new it we were at our restaurant in old town.  Several hours and a few stops later we decided to head back to the Westin Playa Bonita.  Well guess what, now the estimated time to get back was close to two hours on a Saturday night.  Traffic was bumper to bumper in old town and all the way to the Bridge of the Americas.

On embarkation day we took a morning walk along the beach where we spotted a sloth hanging out by the pool.  We had our complimentary breakfast at the hotel that was a bit crazy as they were treating it more like a Sunday brunch.

a tree with a raccoon in it
Uninvited guest – a Sloth!!!

We packed up and checked out of the hotel.  I dropped off my keys and requested a copy of my bill (I always do this when paying with points or when I have room charges to avoid surprises and lengthy exchanges later on to correct any issues.)  The man at the desk asked my room number, said everything had been taken care of, and wished us a good day.  I asked for my bill and he said he’d email it to me and confirmed my email address.  Off we went to the bell stand.

I fired up Uber and nothing.  I mean nothing.  No options of any kind.  We asked the bellman and he said that a lot of people were checking out so it might be a while to get a taxi as the ones lined up were spoken for.  After a wait of nearly 45 minutes it was finally our turn.  All the while I had been checking and there were zero Ubers showing up.

The lesson here is that the Westin Playa Bonita has very few transportation options and getting out of the city and back to the hotel is hardly worth the hassle.  If you want to stay at the resort and not venture out this may not be an issue for you, but for us this is a deal braker and a reason why we will not be coming back despite an overall pleasant experience.

Remember the weird check-in and check-out process with no credit card swipe.  Well, about three days into the cruise I received an email from a manager at the hotel (the tone was panicky) saying that I had an unpaid balance on my account and to please contact them immediately.  I politely replied that I hadn’t received a statement (as promised at check-out) but that I was aware that I had several restaurant and bar charges and I would be glad to settle up with them if they could please provide an itemized bill.

Nearly a week passed after my email and a different employee from the hotel emailed saying that I had a past due balance that required immediate attention.  I forwarded my previous correspondence showing that I had already been in communication and was not disputing that I had charges that needed to be settled.  Several emails back and forth and I finally received a statement.  A few more emails and I received a link to make a credit card payment.  I made the payment and surprise surprise I never received any Bonvoy points for these charges (per the T&Cs I should have as they were all room charges).

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to like this hotel.  The facilities were nice, the pools were very good, and having access to a beach was a nice feature.  I thought the value of the points redemption was solid and as far as an all-inclusive type hotel the food was fine.  But ultimately the isolated location and poor transportation options make this a pass.

I hope you found our Westin Playa Bonita pre-cruise hotel review useful.  In the next installment we’ll compare the Westin Playa Bonita against two other Bonvoy properties in Panama City that we’ve stayed at using Bonvoy points.

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