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It was sheer luck that we happened to catch up with the General Manager of Tántalo Hotel in Panama City several months ago. We were visiting Casco Viejo for lunch, and when we ended up (on the recommendation of several locals) at Tántalo Kitchen, the hotel's ground floor restaurant, we figured we'd better ask for a tour.
A few of the things Tántalo has going for it are: an excellent location right in the heart of Casco Viejo; a hip, young crowd constantly streaming through the doors all day long, and, most importantly, a truly tantalizing collection of murals, photographs, paintings and quirky furniture scattered around the entire hotel.
There are only 12 rooms total, and each of them boasts its own unique design, such as the second-floor Octopus Room, whose walls are covered by the long, curly tentacles of a giant blue and white octopus. One of the tentacles even holds up a sign reading 'Pipi Room,' pointing the way to the bathroom.
Lately we've been taking a closer look at abandoned hotels, and recently on a walk through Panama's historic Casco Viejo district, we spotted a place in desperate need of some
loving deep-pocketed investor to get the ball rolling again.
The crumbing Antiguo Club Union on First Street was built in 1917 and functioned for years as an exclusive members-only club for Panama's elite—former dictator Manuel Noriega even took over the club during his reign in the 1980s. However, since then, the historic building has fallen into disrepair, and these days, its shabby, weed-choked exterior is mostly just an eyesore along one of Panama's most scenic streets.
So, what's the deal?
We recently saddled up to Cava 15 at the Trump Ocean Club in Panama. While sipping on a (what else?) Panama beer, we struck up a conversation with the bartender, who went by Jack the Ripper. Out chat went something like this…
HotelChatter: So, being a hotel bartender and all, we're guessing you like to drink?
Jack the Ripper: Yes, but I don't like to overdo it. I only drink to enjoy.
HC: That's very wise. When did you decide that?
JTR: Well, I used to work on cruise ships, quite far from Panama, far from my country. I'd be gone eight months at a time, and when I came home, I discovered that after two or three drinks, I didn't want anymore. My body rejected it, you know? So I said, 'No more. I feel disgusting, I feel heavy.' Two or three drinks, and that's it.
HC: Which cruise line did you work for?
JTR: Costa. It's an Italian cruise line
HC: Isn't that the one that capsized near Tuscany last year?
Continue reading after the jump!
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We've been waiting on this one for a while, and now, over a year behind schedule, the Waldorf Astoria Panama is finally here. The 130-room hotel is in its soft opening phase right now (meaning, fancy private parties for rich people), but that'll all change by the end of this week when the hotel officially opens on Friday.
The hotel is located on a quiet little side street in the center of the city, just two blocks from Cinta Costera, a popular pedestrian strip that hugs the Pacific coastline. Close to it are other hotel neighbors like the InterContinental and Le Meridien, though in terms of luxury service and design, this place is definitely doing something those other two hotels aren't.
Take a look at more photos after the jump!
The 611-room Westin Playa Bonita got plenty of attention when it opened in 2011 as Panama City's newest beach resort—no thanks to an all-night, Carnival-style grand opening party on the beach, complete with fireworks, Latino pop stars, and an estimated 3400 guests (ourselves included!).
The biggest reason to head back there now, however, is the resort's new Sensory Spa by Clarins, which debuted in October and has spent the last four months living up to its name by offering guests what it calls the "Tropical Rainforest Circuit," an hour-long hot-and-cold treatment featuring herbal saunas, ice fountains, an amethyst crystal steam room, and a Raindance Rainmaker shower. In fact, the whole thing is supposedly so relaxing, the spa lets you do the circuit twice.
Wondering what a "Raindance Rainmaker shower" is exactly? We scratched our heads over that one too: apparently it's a chamber with jets of water and air installed on the walls and ceiling that can re-create a "thick, thin or swirling warm rain experience." Err…sounds nice? We don't know, maybe we need to try this one out for ourselves….
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It's no myth that backpackers are generally the ones who discover the most beautiful places in the world. Then the corporations get tipped off and hijack their sacred space. We're not siding with either group, but we can't help but think it's all about spreading the love. That should be the backpacker motto anyway, right?
At Islas Secas, an all-inclusive, private-island resort on the Atlantic Coast of Panama, it wasn't the satchel-on-a-stick variety that kept this resort an undiscovered haven...it was fishermen. It turns out the big draw in this region is big-game fishing, primarily with renown fisherman Carter Andrews.
Hardcore fishermen would take the flight to Panama City, a following regional flight then boat ride to arrive here. The commute is only a reflection of the resort's allure, and it only took time for honeymooners to catch this wave (and the resort to happily cater to them).
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Panama continues to be a sweetheart location for hoteliers and Westin has put another ring on it, by opening a second hotel, simply called the Westin Panama, this month. Located in the Costa del Este area of Panama City, the 218-room hotel is the sister property to the Westin Playa Bonita resort (opened December 2011), just 20 miles away.
While this hotel is mostly aimed at the business traveler—and there are many in town taking care of all those real estate and hotel deals we’ve been hearing about lately—it does have just enough flavor and colorful décor (and the Costa Nova restaurant) to let you know you are in the Caribbean.
As if Trump Panama didn't already have enough going on (the one-year-old hotel has quickly become a top destination in Panama City, and there are reports its success has inspired other Trump properties throughout Latin America), it's been revealed that the 364-room hotel is finally set to add a long-awaited 75,000 sq ft casino to the mezzanine level.
A private gaming room will also be built on the 66th floor, with 65th floor suites reserved for high-rollers.
Technically, we've known about the casino as long as we've known about the hotel itself, but back in 2011, it was made pretty clear that the latter would open first. Now, a year later, things are moving right along, and a press release is offering a mid-2014 opening date for the casino. Which ought to give you plenty of time to save those slote machine pennies and nickels.
That is, unless the Mayan apocalypse wipes us out first.
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2013, 2014, 2015, 2016...they're all on the distant horizon. While we've still got 2012 to get through, hotel companies are already planning their next moves and it looks like Dubai, Panama, Turkey and Tunisia will be getting some love!
First up are three gorgeous new properties from Swissôtels, which blew us away this year with the colorful new Swissôtel Dresden. Up next are two hotels in Turkey: a beach resort (pictured) and a city resort, both in Bodrum, which sits on the Aegean Sea across from Greece.
The beach resort will feature 66 rooms complemented by additional villas and terraces residences. Oh, and that pool? Yes please. Meanwhile, the separate 56-room city resort will be in the hills of Bodrum with incredible views of the surrounding city. Both hotels are scheduled to open in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Plus, we're told today that in early 2016, the company's second Middle East hotel will open, the Swissôtel Jadaf Dubai. The luxury property will sit within a giant complex of 3 other hotels, residences, and retail outlets—because in Dubai, you're never more than five feet from a mall of some sort—and contain 280 rooms, an all-day restaurant, three specialty restaurants and a Purovel Spa.
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Riu Hotels has over 100 properties throughout Europe (Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria), the Caribbean (Aruba, the Bahamas, Jamaica) and North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco), but with only the one Riu Florida Beach, it has yet to truly tackle the US market. Until now.
The Real Deal reports that the Spanish-owned company has set its sights on Manhattan, and a 600-room tower is planned to go up at 46th St and Eighth Ave, right around the corner from Times Square.
European travelers will likely appreciate a familiar brand, though we can't say the area doesn't currently offer plenty of choices. Being one of the most congested areas of the city, there are already eight major hotels within a one-block radius of the planned Riu site alone! Can you say Riu-dundant?
What we love most about hotel bars is that they give us a place where we can relax, enjoy the ambiance and a view of the city while nibbling and imbibing without having to leave the property. So naturally we're excited that the Bristol Panama, in the heart of Panama City, has opened 8º58' Lounge, a new bar and restaurant.
Bristol Panama has long been a popular hotel pick (we once chatted with Judy Dench there), thanks to its elegant service, city-center location and 24-hour butler on call. Voted one of Condé Nast Traveler's "Reader's Choice Top 10 Hotels in Central America"( 2009) it is one of Panama City’s few Panamanian-owned luxury properties.
Panama City must be feeling pretty good about itself, as it's three weeks into the soft opening of its newest hotel, the 66-floor, 1,400-room Hard Rock Megapolis Panama. Though, as of now, only 500 of those rooms are open. Wait, are we hearing ourselves? Only 500 rooms?
Panama is super hot right now, but it's by no means on the same level as other burgeoning international hotel cities like Macau or Tokyo. So the fact that a third of Megapolis' planned 1,400 rooms are now up and running is kind of a big deal.