GRACE HOTEL MAKES PANAMA CITY ALMOST BEARABLE


In spite of the filth and chaos of Panama City, we found a suitable haven at the Grace Panama Hotel, http://www.gracehotels.com/panama. Their website mentions that its location is in the Twist Tower. An average gringo may gravitate to this nearby building, but, in fact, Grace Panama is located 3 blocks away in a non-helical building where nearby towers and construction efforts all but completely obscure the gigantic silver Grace from any nearby vantage.

Having only opened a few months ago, no one knows where this hotel is, including the hapless taxi driver we hired to take us there. Even the all-powerful Google was not helpful at the time of our arrival, but we believe it has been updated to give correct directions now.

We arrived well before check-in time, but were offered Champagne and an option for early check-in which we declined. After having walked around the area to pass the time, we returned and found sanctuary in the beautifully decorated and well air-conditioned lobby. After some glasses of bubbly later, we had almost forgotten about the oppressive heat, mangy dogs, and blaring car horns we had battled.

When our room was ready, we were helped with our bags and taken to our room. The elevators were spacious and unbelievably fast. Activated with your key-card, only your floor and the common areas are accessible for increased security. The room was spacious, modern and full of luxury amenities. Nice, minimalist artwork decorated the walls. Wood panels and mirrors were tastefully hung on pastel blue walls and comfortable furniture completed the look. All lights could be controlled from the bed-side table as well as from the front door. Fast wireless and wired internet was available. Beds were large, comfortable and covered in feather pillows.

The outside wall was one, giant, tinted window. With no need or desire to open a window or step onto a balcony, a small solarium protrudes from the corner of the room and provides sunlight and panoramic views of the city. A small safe is provided for valuables. On the writing desk we found a personalized welcome letter and a delicious little snack of cookies, chocolate mousse and a chocolate covered strawberry.

Every evening we received a new note which included activity suggestions and a local weather forecast for the following day along with another sweet treat to enjoy before turning in. The first evening, we were too exhausted to complain when we discovered that our beds had no top-sheets. After leaving a note for the cleaning staff the following morning we had the complete bed we desired for the remaining nights. Is this the normal way they make their beds or was it a mistake? We guess we’ll never know.

The bathroom was very nice. In a country where there is often no hot water or good water pressure, we were finally able to take a decent shower. The large walk-in shower fitted with a rainfall showerhead was delightful but it took a small adjustment to the water heating system behind the sink to get the temperature above tepid. While I was working on it, we also turned down the water pressure on the sink since it had the force of a fire hose. Bathrobes and all manner of toiletries are provided. A small note about saving the environment by only washing towels left on the floor was rather humorous as there were no towel hooks. We made due by hanging our towels over the edge of the shower wall. Oh, we forgot to mention, there is NO bathroom door! Even newlywed couples need privacy sometimes, no?

On the tenth floor, there is an outdoor pool area with plenty of shaded chairs, tables and beach towels. Any hope of getting a tan is dashed by the giant building being erected across the street which blocks all of the afternoon sun. The pool is small and shallow, but not overly chlorinated and provides a great escape from the heat. At this height, most of the noise from the busy city below fades away. Vultures weave and soar between the buildings at this level as they scan the streets below for fresh carrion.
A visit to this floor in the evening provides a comfortable, breezy view of the city at night and is a quiet place to enjoy a drink in the fresh air. Also on the tenth floor is a selection of meeting rooms and a small gym complete with modern equipment, showers and changing rooms.

On the ground floor, just past the lobby is a full service bar and restaurant. Soft lighting, fresh flowers and immaculately set tables made for a relaxing dinner experience. The menu features many choices for all tastes. We enjoyed a fantastic meal of perfectly cooked seared ahi and grilled sea bass and split a less-than-great strawberry cheesecake for dessert. The service is attentive and helpful, though staff was admittedly a bit distracted and absent during the Super Bowl halftime show which coincided with our dinner. In the morning, a breakfast buffet is offered which includes fresh juices, baked goods, cereals, eggs, smoked salmon and fruit. All of the food is well prepared and fresh. We regularly saw people walking from the bar with fancy blended cocktails on their way up to the pool, though we did not sample these delights ourselves. Though the prices of these delicious food and drink options are high for Panama, the service and quality made up for it.

In spite of the few minor issues mentioned above, we had a very nice time at Hotel Grace and would gladly visit it again if it were not located in the most-unsavory Panama City.

PS: The concierge and bellhops were very helpful and accommodating. Throughout our few days at Grace we were always able to learn about local activities, arrange transport and get information about the hotel and its services.

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