For the past few weeks I have eagerly been awaiting a very special night at the Waldorf Astoria Panamá. I booked a special event called “The Taste of Waldorf.” Their marketing description was: “The Taste of Waldorf Astoria package invites you to enjoy a three-course gourmet dinner for two in a unique location within the hotel or resort. Indulge in a specially curated menu highlighting the culinary talents of our Master Chefs and experience your own Taste of Waldorf Astoria.”
I contacted the hotel beforehand to ensure they could accommodate me as a vegetarian and my husband who has a sensitive stomach. They said yes, and they gave me a time and location to arrive at the hotel restaurant (not a very “unique location”). I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I was looking forward to some nice gourmet food and a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, it ended up being an expensive disappointment.
It started out just fine. We checked into the hotel at 11am. As usual at the Waldorf, we received a lovely, warm welcome. Walter, the smiling bellman, brought us cold drinks and towels, and we were greeted by the friendly hotel manager, Christian.
My complimentary upgrade to a suite (because I’m a Hilton Hhonors Diamond member) was not ready yet, so I chose to accept a standard room which was ready. All of the front desk staff were friendly and spoke English well. They even walked with me to personally show me my room. Check-in was the best part of my experience.
The room seemed fine. I had stayed in a junior suite before, so I knew that the differences were that it was smaller and had no bathtub or sofa. Unfortunately, after unpacking, my husband tried to take a shower and discovered it was broken; the handle was extremely hard to turn to start the shower, and then it was impossible to turn it off. Also, even after waiting 10 minutes, the water was never hot. We called “Personal Assistant” from our hotel room phone. After that, we dialed “0” for the hotel operator. Both numbers just rang at least 20 times each.
My husband went downstairs to talk with them directly. They sent maintenance up, who was unable to fix our shower. They moved us to a different room; this time a junior suite was available. The junior suite had several additional issues, including a broken bathroom light, another bathroom light that wouldn’t turn off, a bathroom door that I wasn’t strong enough to close, a leak from the water heater, and a bathtub that was too filthy to use.
We just needed to get through one night, and these issues were fairly minor. We decided to shrug it off enjoy some lunch downstairs. The lunch menu had a couple of vegetarian items on it, with the least expensive being a vegetarian risotto for $18. Although it was over-priced, it was enjoyable. The only issue was that the restaurant was quite hot. My husband expressed his concern to the restaurant manager, Ruben, that we had “Taste of Waldorf” dinner reservations, but he was afraid it would be especially hot when he wears his coat and tie for the evening. Ruben’s response was “well, it’s fine for me.” After he saw our disappointment (or shock?) from his response, he then added “well, when the sun goes down, it’s usually better.”
We then came back to the room to work and then rest up for our big date. However, around 6pm, loud music began playing outside. The bass from the music was so loud that it was all we could hear. It didn’t seem like the music was coming from the hotel; perhaps it was from another hotel or an apartment nearby. Either way, we were tired of moving rooms.
It was close to the time for our big date. I didn’t know what to expect because there was limited information on the website, but I figured we might get a choice of some items. Using my handy iPhone, I journaled my experience:
7:00 We arrived. We were shown to our “prepared” table. Strangely, it only had one pillow on the bench part of the table, plus the table was set for 4 people. I also noticed that the ambience was not nice. The whole restaurant was very bright, and I felt like I had spotlights on me. They also had loud rock music playing.
7:07 Ruben told us the chef is preparing a 3-course menu. We were asked to confirm our dietary restrictions. I said that I enjoy most food, but I just don’t eat meat. My husband said his list of dietary restrictions was too long to mention, but it’s mostly that he needs plain food. Ruben asked if chicken or beef was okay for him, and he said yes. As he was walking away, we then asked if we could have some water in our glasses. He called over a waitress to fill our glasses.
7:10 A different waiter brought us some carrot bread and some oil and vinegar.
7:11 Ruben brought a small appetizer: Heart of palm with a piece of grapefruit. My husband couldn’t eat his because it was too acidic. It was fine for me, and while I ate it, the waitress cleared the other 2 place sets.
7:17 Ruben brought out cheese (goat cheese?) and tomato salad for each of us. I enjoyed it. However, again, my husband was unable to eat it given his dietary restrictions.
7:22. The waiter asked how everything was. My husband said he couldn’t eat any of it. Oddly, the waiter then laughed and walked away.
7:25 The same waiter looked at my husband’s untouched salad plate and asked “you don’t want it?” My husband said no, and the waiter just looked down and removed the plates.
7:32 The main course arrived. Unfortunately, I am given plain tofu on a plate. It is slightly burned and completely flavorless. I added some pesto oil (that was brought with the bread at the beginning) so that it would at least have some flavor. Still, it was very bland and quite a disappointment. I guess the chef doesn’t often cook for vegetarians. My husband received steamed fish, which he didn’t care for. Based on Ruben’s initial question about whether he liked beef and chicken, my husband was really hoping for either of those options, which is food he can enjoy even when it’s plain.
7:40. Ruben removed our main course plates. He asked my husband if he could bring him something else for dinner. Since it was already dessert time, he said no. Ruben asked if we wanted a brownie, or they could make us fruit or anything else. This was the first time we were given options. However, my husband did not want to eat dessert since he had not eaten anything else. I chose the brownie.
7:42 A waiter brought the brownie. It was rich and indulgent. I ate most of it, and couple of minutes later, I set my plate aside. A waitress asked if we wanted more water, and we said were all done.
7:57 We had not seen Ruben or the waiter in a while, so we just walked to the elevator to go back to our room. We were stopped by the receptionist who said “please wait.” She made a phone call, and we waited while it rang and rang. She hung up and said “No one is there. We can just send the bill to your room.” I said “I thought this was included as part of the Taste of Waldorf room package. Is there an extra charge?!?” She said she didn’t know that, so it’s fine for us to leave. There were only 2 tables with customers, and we were the only customers who had signed up for Taste of Waldorf, but apparently no one told her. We pressed the elevator button again and proceeded to our room.
Overall, my experience was not anything near what I was hoping for, and the food was mediocre at best. My $18 vegetarian risotto at lunch was significantly better. I know my husband in particular was a challenge to make a special meal for, but knowing that, I wish we had been given options for the various courses. My husband ended up eating nothing but a couple of pieces of broccoli. For me, everything was quite tasteless except the brownie at the end. Unfortunately the brownie was so rich that I had stomach issues for the rest of the evening.
We then went back to our room and were instantly reminded that we have loud booming music. It lasted until 1:30am, and we were unable to sleep through it, even with earplugs. Also, the curtains wouldn’t close all the way, so as soon as the sun came up, we woke up to a bright room.
The hotel offers Hilton Diamond guests a $35 voucher, which is about the same price as 2 breakfast buffets, so we went back to the same restaurant for our “almost” complimentary breakfast. (As a side note, I would receive a $35 voucher no matter how many nights I book, which, financially, encourages me to only stay for one night. It would make a lot more sense to me if the voucher were based on the number of days booked.)
We sat at a 2-person table only to find that the glasses were dirty and the table was wobbly. We moved to another table and reported the issues about the other table. The waiter’s response was “okay” and he placed a napkin under the other table to stop the wobbling.
The breakfast buffet was mediocre. Most of the “hot” dishes were actually cold, and their fruit selection was minimal. After staying at the Hilton Panama, less than one block away, I can easily say that the quality of the food at the Waldorf was about half that of the Hilton. Ironically, the Waldorf in New York actually invented the eggs benedict (for a customer, Lemuel Benedict), but my husband said it was one of the worst he has had. The egg was overcooked, it sat on a large piece of soggy sandwich bread, and the whole thing was incredibly salty.
I had scheduled one more component of my indulgent stay at the Waldorf: a 50-minute deep tissue massage. My appointment was for 10:00am. I arrived at the spa at 9:45am, but it was closed. I sat in a chair outside of the spa until they opened right at 10:00. I filled in paperwork, which made me giggle when I saw the title: “Please SHAKE some information with us.” Granted, I’m in a Spanish-speaking country, but I did expect a bit of quality assurance at a hotel like the Waldorf.
Around 10:08, I was shown to a massage room. It was connected to a bathroom, and I was told to change into a robe and slippers. I did so, and then walked 3 feet into the massage room. The massage therapist, Rose, lifted the sheets and pointed for me to get underneath. I asked “where do I hang my robe?,” and her response was “Si” and more pointing. I just dropped my robe on the floor and got in. The massage was generally correct, but unfortunately any specific requests I had were ignored because she spoke no English. I don’t fault her; again, I’m in a Spanish-speaking country. I just had high hopes.
After my massage, I took a shower, and left. I was expecting there would be a bit more to the spa experience (e.g., a steam room, jacuzzi, relaxation room, fresh fruit), but apparently that was it. I went back to my room to pack my bags then went downstairs to check out. I asked if the hotel car service/shuttle was available, but it was not (it never is, so I wonder why their web site even mentions it). I contacted Uber and left the hotel quite disappointed. Overall, it was an expensive, inadequate experience, so I feel like I wasted my money. My theory is that other Waldorf hotels around the world would offer better service, but I don’t think I’d be willing to try it anytime soon.