After exiting Cuba and flying to Panama City, Panama, I really had no plan. I didn’t even know where I was staying that night. On the flight, I remembered that I might have a free night or 2 on hotels.com, so I jumped on the wifi while waiting for my bag and looked up somewhere I could 1) use my points for a free night and 2) get a shuttle from the airport to that hotel, since I had done no prior planning and knew nothing about the local transit.
I honestly don’t even remember the name of where I stayed. It was that forgettable. It was a good thing I made this reservation, because customs asked where I was staying, how long (I made up an answer: “one week,” since I seriously had 0 plans), and other questions I don’t remember. I was really glad I’d made that reservation to have an address to provide.
Here’s where this “free stuff” plan absolutely fell apart. First, there was no shuttle from the hotel. I talked to the guys outside where the hotel shuttles/buses run, and they said that you have to get a separate shuttle to the hotel through some convoluted system, I wound up in a van, and then they wanted $50 US hahahaha. I was so pissed, but I wasn’t going to jump out on the road, so I haggled with them about the fact the booking said there was a shuttle. They gave me some slip that said the hotel would reimburse me. I didn’t hold my breath, because…
The hotel had no idea what I was talking about.
My room was nice, the wifi was free, but this “free hotel with free shuttle” wasn’t turning out to be free. I filed a complaint with hotels.com that this place shouldn’t be advertising the free airport shuttle. Still waiting to see if I get my free night credit back.
There was a Mexican restaurant in the hotel lobby, so I ate there for dinner. If the night could get worse, it did. My “vegetarian fajitas” had meat in the beans, which I figured out after eating 1 full fajita and preparing the second one. Really cool, guys. Really cool. I lost my mind on the server, then the manager, then went to the front desk to complain. I got a lot of “sorry”s, but there was honestly nothing they could do for me. After being vegan nearly 13 years, this is really disappointing, but I conveyed to the employees that they were lucky this was only my personal beliefs their ignorance violated, not an allergy, because I could be dead on their restaurant floor if they acted like this about dairy or peanuts or something. After all of the “really sorry” responses I got, at no point did anyone offer to credit my room back to me, pay for my shuttle from the airport (that I had a slip saying I’d get, but from a shadow company, apparently). No one made any substantive apologies. Real apologies come with some way to rectify things–not just words.
I went back to my room and started determining my next plan. I was pretty annoyed with Panama at this point and was thinking about getting to East Asia, since I’d never been. It’s also been a dream of mine to do the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow to Beijing, so I decided I’d enter Asia that way. Using my frequent flyer points on Delta, I could fly from Panama City to St. Petersburg, Russia for only like $75 in taxes, booking fees, etc., plus using my points. I asked about extending my layover in Munich, because I could stop to see a friend, so they gave me 48 hours. The perks of being a Silver status member.
This also meant that I’d be leaving Panama the next day, which was short, but there was nothing left for using points to get all the way to Russia any time in the next 2 weeks, except for the next day. Either cut Panama short or make it really long—that was the situation.
I opted to blow off Panama, barely saw anything in the morning walking around before going to the airport, and gave my hotel the finger as my taxi rolled away (which was cheaper than my “free shuttle,” I will add) to the airport. My attempt at getting a bunch of free stuff in Panama had failed and resulted in my eating meat. Lesson learned: stick to the hostels and budget travel methods. It might take longer, but I would’ve spent less “paying” for a hostel and bus than getting a “free hotel” with “free shuttle” that feeds meat to people ordering vegetarian items.
I’ll go back to Panama, some day, but only cruising through the canal. Other than that, it was a bad experience.
Next up: interesting times flying from Panama to Munich.
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