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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Secrets Playa Bonita: Day One - Welcome to Misery

I've now been at Secrets: Playa Bonita Panama for roughly 24 hours.  Those hours include our transfer to the resort, the check in process, our first night, and our first breakfast.

So how does it stack up?

First off let me say this:  Secrets is a chain of resorts run by AMResorts.  Secrets is the no kids, higher end, all inclusive resorts.  Typically they are in the top third when it comes to all inclusive resorts.  

Also to note:  Playa Bonita has only been operated under the Secrets name for a few months.  I believe that explains a number of things, as you will see.
I've long been a critic of out sourcing if you take no responsibility for the end product.  Case in point is what we went through upon arrival in Panama.  Secrets does not offer transfers from the airport to the resort.  Instead they refer you to Gamboa Tours.  

The process for booking the transfers was not fun.  It included faxing information.  In this day and age that alone makes you stand out as behind the times.  Despite that, they seemed nice enough and fairly responsive.  We didn't have any concerns off the bat.

Jump ahead to Panama!  We navigate the miserable and poorly signed airport and to customs.  Now, I will warn people about something.  This is not the US.  Do not expect US customs.  This is different.  They are going to take a photo of you and record all of your finger prints.  Some people would be freaked out by that, so be prepared.

You get through customs and to the baggage claim.  After you have your bags, they collect your customs declaration and x-ray your bags.  It seems odd.  If you could get something past all the other security you've already been through, what are the odds they are going to find something?

Once you are past that round of security, you enter the area where all the taxis and pickups are.  Like Gamboa said, someone was right there holding a sign with our name on it.  (so far so good, right?)  Sadly that's where things fell apart.  The first thing the lady does is apologize to us (that gives you a good feeling). She tells us that the way they scheduled the bus, we'd have to wait "a while".  She told us to take a seat by the rental agencies.

I sat down and then got up about five minutes later.  I wanted to know what "a while" was.  I approached the lady and asked if we were talking an hour or two, or what.  After all, if it had been a two hour wait, I would have demanded my money back and gotten a cab.  My paperwork said they were going to pick up at 2pm and drop me off a the resort at 2:45.  

She quickly told me that the plane she was waiting for was already on the ground so maybe 10min or so.  In my head I automatically doubled that so I wouldn't be disappointed.

45min later, she came and got us.  Needless to say, we were already annoyed.  According to our paperwork, we should have already been at the resort.  We group up with a bunch of other people and then fight our way through the packed terminal to a waiting bus.  All of us sit down and wait... and wait, and wait.  Finally she shows up and said that she's missing two people who were on the same plane.  She took off to find them.  Great.

We wait, and wait, and wait.  Guess who shows up?  The lady and the two people....and six others.  Apparently they were breeding like rabbits.  You can't leave those pesky tourists alone for ten minutes!

Finally we get underway.  She gets on a microphone, turns it up to 11, and spouts off an on the fly tour.  Before she really got going, she said that the trip should be much faster than usual since it's not a week day and the traffic won't be bad.  She actually said, it might only be 25min.

25min later I realize that this lady has no concept of time.  I'd never made the trip before, but I researched it.  I knew that at the 25min mark, we were barely halfway there. 

Okay so enough about the transfer from hell.  I blame Gamboa for that and shake my head in disapproval at Secrets.  Don't refer people to a transfer company that incompetent.

Time for the check in!

Transitioning from the bus to the resort was handled well.  The guys doing the luggage seemed competent (and ended up being some of the most competent).

While waiting in line, the staff did as much as they could to speed the process up.  They then came through and handed us some champagne.  (Cool beans, right?)

Our turn to check in came up.  Thus begins one of the worst vacation experiences of my life.

Everything goes well until they ask to see the credit card I booked the room with.  I pull out the card that is tied into that account.  Not good enough.  They need to see the ACTUAL card.  That poses a problem.  That ACTUAL card was compromised and automatically blocked by the bank to prevent fraud.  I explain that.  They don't care.

I try to get pull up my statement on my phone.  Too bad!  I had never accessed my account on that phone.  Even with Wifi, I can't get in.  Being in a foreign country, I can't text the security code back without inuring an expense.  They don't care.

I ask if they can call the bank.  They do.  It takes the lady a while but she manages to connect to my bank.  They tell her that it's the same card and that they see the charge on the account.  Guess what...they don't care.  They want to see something physical.

At this point my wife asks if there is anything that can be done,  The lady shrugs.  What kind of a reply is that?  Guess what my wife did?  She went into dragon mode and demanded to speak to someone else.

I pull up my Tripit Confirmation!  That would work right?   Nope.  Not good enough!

Before I go further, let me outline what Secrets has in their hand:

1. Both our Passports.
2. A rep from the bank saying that it's the same account and that they see the charge paid.
3. The confirmation email that shows the total amount paid.
4.  The credit card assigned to that account.

Two different supervisors come over and hem and haw over it.  Their offer is to put a hold on our card for the full amount of the room (not the deal amount we paid for it) and then see if the booking office can do anything in a couple days when they are open again.  That would involve us putting our vacation on hold when Monday hit.

Thankfully, the girl at the bank broke the rules for us and emailed us the credit card statement that showed the transaction.

Check in time - 1hr.  Annoyance level - considering writing off Secrets for life.  At the very least we totally wrote off going to the spa or the private dinner.  We were not spending a single extra dollar after putting us through that nonsense.

We finally get to our room.  It's not bad, but it's not up to Secrets standards (look for the upcoming room review video).  There are no snacks in the mini-fridge.  That was a bummer for us because we hadn't eaten since breakfast.

We quickly get changed and go looking for food.  That's never an issue at a Secrets resort.  Ha! Surprise!  This just became a Secrets resort, so you can shove it!  There is only one place open.  We head over there.  The lady struggled big time when it came to communicating.  She said they were not open yet.  We pushed and found out that it was open, but only for appetizers.  Good enough.

We sit down and order an app.  The app we picked wasn't an option.  She said they didn't have it (super).  We order some nachos instead.  

While we wait for the nachos, we see a seemingly endless stream of burgers, pizza, chips and dips, and a number of other things not on the app menu pour out of the kitchen.  (Grrrrrr).

We get our nachos.  They were on par with the nachos you'd get at a ball park, but they had some weird stuff that looked like liquefied boogers.  Yes....that was their guacamole.  I've never seen guacamole like that before.  I never want to see it again. 

After a few beers and other assorted drinks, we headed to dinner at Portofino.  That's their Italian dining location.

The food tasted good, but it was ugly.  I ordered pasta e fagioli, a soup with pasta and beans.  I got a soup that looked like baby vomit with a piece of bacon floating in it.  See for yourself.
Behold!  Baby Barf and Bacon Soup!

The place was obscenely loud.  That make me look around to see why.  There was no themeing, no decorations, and only hard surfaces.  It seemed half finished. 


We finished the meal off with Tiramisu.  At least that's what they called it.  It was not Tiramisu.  My wife called it Tiramisu flavored cheesecake, minus the lady fingers.  Great way to end that night.

Good morning!

Time for breakfast!   We head to the Market Cafe.  It's the only option for breakfast.  It's terrible.

We get seated at a table with one napkin (on one side) and one coffee cup (on the other side) and wait, and wait, and wait.  No one comes so we just get up and get food.  No one showed up while we were eating either.  We never got coffee, which was good since they only had one cup on the table.  We never got water.  We never got napkins.  The people seated next to us (and after us) got service.  We never did.

Market Cafe

On a side note.  Market Cafe is Portifino.  They just shove you through a different door.

Why is it so bad?

First - you can tell the staff was never trained.  They have no concept of classical service.  They make a tooooooonnnnnnnn of mistakes.   They avoid eye contact with you.  They do not respond when you say thank  you half of the time.  Most of them act like they do not want to be there. 

Second - The place is not a Secrets.  I know it has the name, but it is so far below the curve, it actually drags the Secrets name through the mud.

Helpful Tips

Do not try to get a drink outside.  There is only one bar.  It's a small bar.  It has to handle the orders from all the roving servers, the dining location right next to it, and ALL the outside guests.  It's a stupid setup that leads to HUGE backups.

Instead, wait till 11am and go to the inside bar.  It's much less crowded.

Do not go to the buffet for dinner if you want a table for just you and one other person.   It's a group style buffet.  You will have to sit with people you don't know at large tables. 

Do not expect good service.  The people work hard, but don't have a clue.  They have never been trained.  

Do not expect Secrets style amenities.  They do not exist here.  For instance - nothing is self serve.  There are no water coolers all over the place.   Expect nothing and you might be happy.

DO NOT pay rack rates for this place.  Do not pay over $200 a night for this place.  You will be disappointed!  Secrets can charge a premium at Jamaica and some of their other resorts, because they are worth it.  This place barely hits the industry average.

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