Review: An Overnight Stay at the Aloft Panama City, Panama
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TO THE POINT: The Aloft Panama is a great base for exploring the Panama Canal and was a nice spot to rest during my epic mileage run. The pros: sleek, stylish rooms with an ultra-modern design and a complimentary SPG platinum upgrade to an Aloft suite. The cons: lousy views of the ocean and a sketchy-looking spot across the street from the pool.
After traveling more than 10,000 miles as part of my last American Airlines mileage run before the August 1 devaluation, I made my way to Panama City, Panama, for a one-night stay at the Aloft Panama.
I booked the hotel with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which lets you earn 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. The Aloft Panama is a Category 2 SPG property requiring just 4,000 Starpoints per night for a standard room. In early-September, rates for a standard room start at $110 per night, while rates for the Aloft suite, which I was able to snag thanks to an SPG platinum status upgrade, start at $161 per night.
After arriving at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), I hopped in a cab for a 30-minute drive to the hotel (there are other hotels closer to the airport but I was looking forward to staying at the Aloft). Although the downtown area cannot be compared to other big cities like New York or LA, Panama City bears a lot of resemblance to Miami since both are basically large cities contained in a small area.
From the exterior, the hotel looks a little cramped, but is still imposing. When pulling into the driveway, you'll be greeted by an attendant to help you with your bags. The main lobby is located one floor up from the main entrance, and there are escalators and elevators there to take you straight upstairs to the reception area.
When I checked in, it was quite late in the evening, but the check-in counter was still well-staffed, and I was off to my room within 10 minutes.
The lobby offers many seating areas, which were full of families and people trying to get some work done.
Toward the back of the lobby, there's another seating area leading out to the pool on the ground floor.
The Aloft Suite
After logging more than 24 hours of non-stop flying, it was time to settle into my corner suite for the night. The only negative side to the Aloft suite was the long walk to and from my room each time I left, but this was just a small price to pay for what was waiting for me at the end of the hall.
There was a complimentary bottle of water waiting for me near the coffee machine, which was definitely appreciated.
During my one-night stay, I noticed that the hotel had around-the-clock security in the lobby. Since I was traveling internationally, I had a lot of valuables with me — like my passport, wallet and some important electronics — so I made good use of the in-room safe, just in case.
As you enter the Aloft suite, you'll enter an inviting living space with a small eating area, a sofa bed and a coffee table. Although the views from my room weren't facing the ocean directly, it was still great to have plenty of sunlight streaming in.
At night, the views only got better and I was able to see the lights of the Panama City skyline.
The main living room was more than spacious, but the hotel's architects felt the need to add a divider and another mini-hallway, which made the room feel even larger than it truly was.
Most people visiting Central America are able to relax and enjoy the laid-back pace, but as I quickly learned, it's virtually impossible to be fully offline. The desk in the suite wasn't overly cramped and made a perfect workspace.
If you've stayed at an Aloft hotel in the past, the room's layout should seem very familiar. The bedroom offered a sleek sleeping area with very comfortable bedding that made for a great night's rest.
Even though the overall atmosphere of the hotel had already "wowed" me at this point, the bathroom was the true x-factor. Not many Aloft hotels offer such a modern, spacious and luxurious bathroom outfitted with a separate rainfall shower and sink area.
Many hotels offer double vanities, which is especially nifty when you're traveling with another guest so everyone can get ready at the same time. The two deep-bowl sinks and vast amounts of counter space quickly made this one of my favorite spots in the room.
While the towers of the nearby Sheraton Grand Panama meant there were obstructed views of the ocean, the corner suite still offered nice views of the city skyline.
Amenities and Services
Since Aloft properties do not offer lounges for elite guests, all guests are entitled to an extremely generous — and complimentary — breakfast spread. The dining area was quiet before an influx of people arrived around 8:00am. Offerings included both hot and cold dishes, as well as some healthy options for anyone who doesn't want to eat bacon and eggs.
Breakfast options also included a selection of breads, muffins and other sweets.
Breakfast staples like eggs, french toast and bacon were also offered. Although there was no option for eggs made to order, the buffet offered an enjoyable meal which tasted good and looked aesthetically pleasing as well.
After enjoying a meal from the well-prepared breakfast buffet, I made my way to the seventh floor to visit the fitness center before heading out to explore some of Panama City's highlights. The gym was superb, with plenty of treadmills, exercise bikes and weight-lifting machine options to choose from.
While the gym did get crowded later in the day, there was never a big line to use any machine.
A bathroom was available in the fitness center, which was very convenient — since my room was on the 15th floor, it was very nice not to have to go all the way back up just to use the restroom.
Wi-Fi is free for all guests around the property and can be activated with the flip of a switch on your mobile device.
Unfortunately, the weather in Panama City was just not cooperating when I was there, especially since summertime is the country's rainy season. We'd had a pretty bumpy landing thanks to some thunderstorms, and the weather the next day was no different. I would have liked to check out the pool, but it was just too humid out to enjoy anything.
While the pool itself was magnificent and the swimming area not crowded, the view from it was less than stunning.
On one side was a view of the other hotel, but as soon as you turned your head to the left, it got worse. Although the pool itself was nice, I would not want to be swimming while looking at an ugly, abandoned lot across the street.
The fine interior touches of the hotel continued into the connecting hallway of the Sheraton Grand Panama. Immediately as I entered the other hotel, I was able to tell how different the two appeared aesthetically — there was no doubt that the Sheraton was older and not as fresh.
In case you didn't know, US dollars are accepted in Panama City. Since I didn't initially plan to pay with that currency, I hadn't taken a lot of cash with me from home, so I walked over to the Sheraton and withdrew money from an ATM machine for a $5.25 surcharge (which, with the right card, I could have avoided).
Next to the ATM machines is the Sheraton's casino. Since I'd been jetting around for more than 24 hours at this point, I didn't venture in, especially after the Aloft receptionist suggested I shouldn't — I was surprised he didn't recommend it, especially since the casino is in its sister hotel.
For an SPG Category 2 hotel, this stay exceeded my expectations by far and after departing, I immediately started to plan a trip back to Central America — for more than 24 hours. Whether you plan to book with points or pay out of pocket, this is a great place to stay that's just a short ride from many nearby tourist attractions.
From magnificent room upgrades to the generous — and free! — breakfast buffet and wonderful amenities, this was a great stay and one I recommend to anyone looking for a hotel with style at a very reasonable price.
Have you stayed at the Aloft Panama? Tell us about your experience, below.