The Radisson Decapolis, Panama City
It’s rare that you have a hotel experience that is pretty much exactly what you expect based on TripAdvisor reviews. But my experience at the Radisson Decapolis was just that. The reviews painted a picture of a perfectly fine hotel, but nothing remarkable. Particularly, they suggested a hotel that was great when it opened about 10 years ago, but could use a refurbishment, and had service issues. They also said it was not a hotel for light sleepers. I agree with everything. My overall summary is that it’s a fine hotel to stay at, but in a city full of inexpensive luxury properties, you can probably do better.
After I picked up my suitcase from the Intercontinental, I walked about a half mile to the Radisson Decapolis Hotel. The hotel is behind one of the older shopping malls (with a casino) – which it’s connected to by a skywalk. The hotel is also immediately next to the newer, larger, posher Hard Rock Hotel. The area is much more hectic, as lots of buses stop near the mall, and the highway runs right along the street in front of the hotel. (The mall itself is kinda dead, as there’s a newer, larger, fancier mall nearby.)
When I got to the hotel, there were a number of workers standing out front, though none offered to help with my luggage. I proceeded up an elevator to the lobby, where I waited about eight minutes to check in, as there was only one person at the desk. The lobby is very W-esque – very dark with mirrors and colored lighting in the bar. Even though I was on an award stay I was given vouchers for a VIP breakfast, and was told I had been upgraded and given a room on the hotel’s 25th floor. I was also given vouchers for $20 nightly beverage credit at the bar, which I’m ashamed to say I did not use (partially because there was a dress code for the lobby bar and after a day in Panama City humidity, once you get to your air conditioned hotel room, you don’t want to re-dress).
I have had bad luck with Radisson upgrades as a Club Carlson Gold member. But as a pattern, I’ve found that the European properties rarely give upgrades, and non-European properties generally follow Club Carlson procedure. For 2013, this pattern played out, as I was upgraded on all 3 of my stays at non-European properties, and only on 1 of my 5 stays in Europe. My upgrade at the Decapolis was to a large suite, the size of two rooms (of course, on a solo trip). But I still preferred the regular room I had at the Intercontinental. The room just felt very empty. The floors were cold white tile, and the walls sofa, and floors were dirty. It was fine, though not luxurious. I was thankfully prepared for the décor, which consisted of huge photographs of indigenous people, including small children right above the bed, and boobies above the sofa. This will likely be the only time boobies are featured on this blog.
Also, while half of the hotel’s rooms face the Bay, mine was on the “city” side, which really is a view of a construction site. (In less than a year, there will be no views at all.) It was very loud, both from the construction noise and the busy roadway.
Since I was told I could have breakfast in the VIP lounge, I was curious if I had access to the lounge at other times. I soon found out that there was nothing in the VIP lounge other than breakfast and some odd conference tables, and no one seemed to be in there at any time other than breakfast. The morning lounge experience was odd as well. There was no one at the door or any sort of attendant at the desk. There was a very nice waiter, and fortunately I spoke Spanish, as he had very limited English skills – which caused some entertaining interactions with an obnoxious Canadian family at the next table. They proved “Ugly Americans” is really not a fair term, as they mocked the waiter for not speaking English well, made a number of ridiculous requests, and were befuddled by the menu, which was in perfectly understandable English.
There was a small continental breakfast spread, and then a printed menu with cooked to order hot dishes. On my first day, I had the huevos rancheros, which was just a fried egg with tomato sauceon top. On day two, I tried to go to the main restaurant breakfast, which seemed to have a nicer, less Holiday Inn Duluth meeting room ambiance, but I was told I was required to eat it in the VIP room On my second breakfast, I got an omelet, greasy bacon, and greasy hash browns. I didn’t really linger, as there were no English newspapers on hand, and, though the entire property had free wifi, there was no wifi in the lounge.
The gym was actually pretty good, though small, and had very friendly staff at the check-in desk. There was a small outdoor pool area as well, which I only checked out for pictures.
Given the wait at check-in, I correctly anticipated a wait at check-out. Although there were two clerks working, I waited ten minutes before I was served. There was only one person on line ahead of me, but somehow after he checked out, his friend walked right up to the desk to be checked out.
Overall, would I come back to the Decapolis? Maybe. For a two night stay using Club Carlson points, its not a bad value if you are a Club Carlson Visa cardholder getting the second night free. But if I were spending cash, it’s hard to imagine I’d choose this over the newer properties in better locations. In fact, it’s difficult to see how this hotel survives long term in the super competitive environment of Panama City, especially as another nicer, newer building gets built next door, completely blocking the views of half the hotel. The Hard Rock and Trump Club are hipper, the new Waldorf Astoria, Le Meridien, and Intercontinental are more luxurious and better located, and there is a brand new Hilton opening up on the waterfront next year. Even if this were re-pitched as a budget property, which it isn’t, the Doubletree and Country Inn (part of Carlson Rezidor group) get great marks.