Panama and The Canal

Personal Evaluation of Overseas Adventure Travel -- Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United

As 18 time travelers with OAT (solely), we feel we need to respond on-line to the trips we take with Overseas Adventure Travel. And as with all escorted trips, there are positives and negatives – we are, after all, dealing with human beings, airlines, daily schedules, and the weather.

The Positives:

1. Discovery Ship – This was truly the highlight of the trip. The catamaran was spotless, well apportioned, and comfortable. The staff was SUPERB. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and always smiled. The food was always outstanding and served in large quantities. The two cooks are true masters of their trade. Drinks on board were reasonable.

2. Trip Through The Panama Canal – For many people on this trip this was the goal – going through the Panama Canal. For me, an American History teacher, it was not significant, until we went through it.

I was awed by the true immensity of the project begun by the French and completed by the USA in 1914. The number of ships that make the crossing, the people and machinery that make it work, the cost per ship, and the construction of the much larger parallel canal.

3. Days 4 and 10 – Away from the Discovery, these were the two best days and reflective of other OAT trips we have taken. We were active from early in the morning to late in the afternoon.

On Day 4 we walked narrow paths in the jungle, climbed steep and wet paths, saw a huge variety of animals and birds, and experienced a variety of activities.

On Day 10 we visited Portobello, a colonial city, rode the Red Devil, visited Fort Gulick and its Zip Line, and then transferred to Panama Canal Railroad to travel from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific.

4. Impromptu Happy Hour - On Day 5 we arrived at the Gamboa Resort, in the middle of the jungle and a US military facility that now caters to the tourists. Gustavo, our Tour Director, invited all of us to his cabin in one of the original barracks built for the administration of the Panama Canal in the early 1900’s.

Gustavo provided appetizers and beverages. Almost everyone came to the impromptu event which was appreciated. A good time was had by all.

5. People of Panama – I am continuously heartened by the welcome we, American travelers, get from people all over the world. Panama is no different. They are warm, welcoming, friendly, and go out of their way to help out.

A quizzical look on a face gets an immediate response of “How can I help”. I only got one NO! when I tried to take a picture in Portobello. After a little conversation, explanation, and joking they smiled and allowed me to take multiple pictures of everyone.

6. US Dollar – Panama uses the American Dollar so this was a nice benefit. Easy to use and compare when we went to supermarkets, shopping, etc.

The Negatives:

There were also negative aspects that in some cases were beyond the control of OAT.

1. Hotels – Most hotels are still making the transition to the tourist trade. The Gamboa Resort room was dark, wet and smelled of mold. The Solarium was brand new and we were the only people there.

2. Included Meals – I have written to OAT many times about the included meals. In Panama these Lunches and Dinners were set meals even though in many of these same restaurants offered very diversified buffets. These meals were OK, generally three choices.

My concern comes from the food wastage. I spoke to our Tour Director and he had no real answer. I pointed out how many people had only eaten a portion of their meal. In a country where too many people are going hungry, we waste food as our portions were so large.

I also need to mention that many of our meals were warm to cold. Even our Farewell Meal was cold. I spoke to the restaurant manager and OAT area manager about this problem and that this was not the only meal.

3. TIPS/Gratuity – We were informed, from the first day in Panama that we needed to provide a tip for our OAT provided meals. We showed Gustavo our OAT Trip Guide and he continued to tell us that we needed to provide a 10 to 15% gratuity for all meals other than breakfast.

We plan our tips before we leave home and were surprised that there was an expectation for the Naturalist aboard the Discovery. Usually OAT is good about these guidelines, but slipped up here.

4. Trip Intensity – Of the 18 trips we have been on with OAT, this was the least active trip. Too many days we had one activity, lasting at the most 4 hours and then we were given free time for our own “Discovery” other wise known as the OAT Day at Leisure. Having just returned from Israel, the most physically demanding OAT trip, the Panama trip was very disappointing.

5. School Visit/Home Hosted Lunch/Embera Indian Village – The concept of visiting a school, home hosted lunch, and an Indian tribe have been hallmarks of OAT travel. We have had wonderful experiences.

Unfortunately, these three were so contrived and disappointing. Too many OAT trips visiting these same groups per month. There was no spark/energy in any of these.

6. Optionals – I will speak here of the one we participated in Panama. Miraflores dinner was OK but the show was minimal – 4 dancers who were brought in to dance and performed for less than 30 minutes.

When we got to the Gamboa Lodge we found almost all of our time was on our own. The Lodge has an extensive list of local tours. The tours were well done and not that expensive; it is our opinion that OAT could have included at least one in our package.

In conclusion I would like to say that Panama is a beautiful country with fantastically friendly people. It is our hope that OAT and their in-country management can give the traveler a full trip commensurate with their promise and tradition.


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