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Resort Review: Dreams Playa Bonita- Panama


This past weeks adventures took us to the beautiful and humid country of Panama. We chose Panama as it provided us an opportunity to visit a location that is not necessarily considered a typical vacation destination. The country of Panama, while a tourist destination, does not relay on tourism as their main source of economy. As a main hub of banking in Central America, Panama is perfectly situated to provide an exotic and tropical destination for tourists while still offering many of the amenities and attractions travelers are accustom to. Panama is not however a typical destination for all inclusive resorts. With only a handful of resorts in the country that offer all inclusive amenities, Panama is a great destination for exploration and adventure. Our travels this week took us to Dreams Playa Bonita, one of the few all inclusive in the country.


Resort Review:

Having visited several Dreams properties over the last two years, we arrived at the resort with some high expectations. As we arrived on property, we quickly tempered those expectations as it was clear the resort not going to meet the standards or expectations of the other properties we have visited. As anyone who has traveled during COVID knows, every resort and every country operate under a different set of standards which means amenities, dining, and service are all going to be impacted. The resort is currently operating at 30% capacity per the regulations set but the government. This means the resort is not offering everything it normally would.

As we arrived at the property, the safety protocols for the resort included temperature checks, hand and shoe sanitizer and a warm greeting from very friendly staff. As we entered into the main lobby, we were directed to the reception area for check in. We had booked two preferred club rooms, one Junior Suite and one Deluxe Ocean View room for the kids. The lobby area was nice but seemed to lack some of the wow factor of other properties we have toured. The lobby consisted of the Rendezvous Bar, Tour Desk, Coco Cafe, Gift Shop and their Vacation Club folks. The reception desks overlook the Pacific Ocean and the resort through a wall of windows. We arrived approximately a half hour before check in and were directed to the Barefoot Grill and Seaside Grill for lunch. We elected to eat at the Barefoot Grill as the Seaside Grill had a 30 minute wait for a group of 5 people and we had a site inspection of the resort set for 4 pm. After settling into our room, we headed back to the lobby for our site inspection.


Dreams Playa Bonita is a smaller resort with only 307 rooms and only 5 room categories. Over 200 room are in the standard room category and are either Deluxe Ocean View or Partial Ocean View. The remaining rooms are in the Preferred Club section of the resort and include Deluxe Ocean View, Junior Suite, Master Suite, and 1 Bedroom Presidential Suite. All of the rooms at the resort feature an ocean view however some may be slightly obstructed by landscaping. The resort features 11 separate towers that are all side by side with the main lobby in the middle.


We did not get to tour any rooms other then our own. We ended up with connecting rooms, which was nice as it made it feel like a two bedroom suite instead of two separate rooms. The rooms were decent, but it was obvious the tropical humid climate had taken its toll on the property. We noticed areas of moisture damage around the room including the doors, walls, and furniture. Most of the damage was cosmetic and did not detract from the stay, it just did not look the nicest. The views however from both rooms were fantastic and offered a view of the entrance to the Panama Canal, which for us we like as we were able to watch the ships waiting to enter the port and canal.


The Junior Suite featured a separate bedroom area with a king size bed with on-suite bathroom, walk-in closet and access to a large terrace. It also featured a desk area and a comfortable chair for sitting and reading, however there was no foot stool if you wanted to put your feet up. The bathroom features a jetted tube and a stand alone shower. The living room features a small sofa, another chair and a dining table for four. It also had a small wet bar area. Prior to our arrival, I requested some special amenities be placed in the room which we found awaiting us when we arrived. The mini fridge is stocked with Balboa beer, a local favorite due to the price, three different types of soda and water.


The Deluxe Ocean View featured two queen beds and a chair for sitting. This room was not much more then a standard hotel room. The bathroom featured a stand alone shower and double sink. The bathroom seemed to updated a little more then the Junior Suite.

Junior Suite:

Preferred Club Ocean View:

The resort features a small kids pool and two other main pools including an infinity pool over looking the ocean. It also has an adults only preferred club pool which is located away from the other main pools and features its own bar. The pools offered cabanas which were first come first serve and the resort grounds had lounge chairs scattered all over the place to encourage social distancing. The main pool features a small swim up bar as well.

While the resort is situated on Playa Bonita (Beautiful Beach), in our opinion, the playa was not bonita. This is not a resort for those seeking to a typical beach vacation. The tide is high in the morning and in the evening and creates virtually no useable beach. The beach chairs near the beach are on the grass which is fine as long as the are spraying for mosquitos and other biting bugs, or you have ample bug spray on, which is to be expected in a tropical jungle environment. The beach was rocky in many locations and accessing it was difficult at times based on the tide. The beach also features "Chitras" or no-see-ums which love to bite. The resort does offer repellent wipes for guests but between 6 pm and 6 am they can cause issues, I still have bites to prove it. As the tide moves out the beach become more accessible for walking and looking for shells, but not necessarily for laying on the beach for a tan. If you are collecting sea shells, watch out for the one's with residents in them. We say a lot of hermit crabs on the beach. The water is murky and I would recommend water shoes if you plan to go swimming. The water is very warm however. If you are looking for a better beach feel, the Caribbean side of Panama is a better option.

The resort features seven different dining options, however that is a little deceiving. The resort features the Market Cafe- Buffet, Coco Cafe, Portofino- Italian Cuisine, Bordeaux- French Cuisine, Oceana- Seaford Cuisine, Seaside Grill, and Barefoot Grill. The Market Cafe and Portofino share the same space. The food at the resort was okay but currently fell short in our opinion of the standards set by the Dreams brand and really lacked the wow factor. The selection of food at the breakfast buffet was minimal and stayed fairly consistent all week long. The buffet was an assisted buffet meaning someone was assisting with serving your food. The food options at dinner were also limited, but you could usually find something to eat that fit your tastes. The chicken wings with buffalos sauce however were the highlight of the dining experience.


Due to Covid, the menu changed each night and the venue varied a little bit. Portofino/Market Cafe, Oceana, and Seaside Grill were the main venues used for dinner service. Lunch was served in the Seaside Grill almost every day. The resort put out a daily bulletin of activities and dining options however it was not always accurate. This made it difficult to follow to know where to go to eat. Dinner service was slow and usually took an hour and a half or more. I believe this was a direct result of staffing limitations dur to the number of guests on property. The resort also offers a romantic dinner on the beach which came with our package. The food was good, however the bugs were unbearable. Our table was in the grass and I had to leave half way through the meal to get bug spray. I would not recommend this meal unless you have thoroughly doused yourself with repellent. As of this review I still have large welts and bites on my legs and feet from the meal. It should be noted this was the only issue we had with bugs the entire stay.

Food:

The resort also features several different activities, however they are extremely limited in the hours of operation. We had hoped to be able to kayak in the bay, however the kayak times were limited to 1 hour a day either from 8 to 9 am or from 4 to 5 pm and you did not know when the times were until the day of. The resort also offered archery, a putting green, water volleyball, and a small fitness center. Again these activities were limited in time. The resort featured a kids club for children ages 3 to 12 only. The resort also features a night club which is currently closed due to COVID. There was very limited nightly activity and often times were were back to the room early to watch TV or relax and watch the ships in the harbor. The resort does offer a shuttle to Casco Viejo- The old town and the mall, however we were told that due to COVID the service was not being offered.


The resort also features a small spa area. If you have been to other Dreams properties, do not expect the same quality in the space as the other properties feature. The service is quality and the staff is great, but the rest of the space is more minimalist.


Overall Impressions:

Dreams Playa Bonita can be a very nice resort. The best thing going for this resort are the employees. They care about the resort and the people they serve. They are friendly and devoted to doing their job. The ground are really nice and offer fantastic tropical views which include the entrance to the Panama Canal. While the food is good it lacks the wow factor that is present at many similar properties.


The resort is showing the wear and tear from the last year with the lack of up keep. The gardens of the resort are nice but the paths, lighting, and areas away from the gardens need some TLC. While on property, we observed staff working on some of the areas that need repair including the lighting, painting, and general cleanup of the property. With some continued updates and a return to normal service, the resort has potential to be a great destination in Panama.


On a side note, a major draw back for this resort, which is important to know, is the resort sits on the wrong side of the bridge. What I mean is, the resort is in the west side of the canal, which means that you have to cross the Pan American Bridge to access the resort. Over 600,000 people cross the bridge to go to work in the city each day, which means that during rush hour 6:30 to 8:00 am and 4:00 to 7:00 pm, the bridge is packed and it could take you hours to cross the bridge to get to the resort. Panama City and the Canal both require you to cross the bridge to access them. If you are traveling during the day outside of the hours listed you are fine, however inside that time can create issues. Many tour operators will not provide transportation from the west side of the canal because of this and you will be required to arrange your own transfer.


This resort would be a great option as a base camp for exploring areas west of Panama City including El Valle- 2 hour drive, or Boquete approximately 6 hours away. This resort is not an ideal resort for those looking to lounge on the beach all day. This is a good resort for those seeking and all inclusive but are looking for adventure away from the resort during the day.


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