Reality TV judge Simon Cowell ruined my view, made me freeze in the shower and forced me to buy a Creamsicle-colored table fan. At least, that’s what I deduced after a chat with a bellhop during my stay at the Veneto Hotel & Casino in Panama City, Panama.
Whether anything he said was true, I’m not sure (some facts I was able to verify through Google searches, but others, no). But it sure does make for an interesting story. And the bellhop’s gossip certainly provides a possible explanation for some of the hotel’s shortcomings.
It started with an innocent question. “Are they renovating the casino?” I asked the uniformed hotel employee after he stepped into the elevator with me. I’d noticed that large sections of the sizeable casino were sitting empty — unlike other visits I’d paid to this Panama City hotel, when the second-floor venue filled with clanging slot machines.
“Yeah, that’s what they say,” he responded. “But I’d say they’re just f—-ing it up.” He smiled.
“Well, it does look a little messy,” I answered.
“That’s what happens when the government takes over,” the bellhop said. “They mess everything up.”
Why would a government take over a hotel casino, you may ask? Well, according to this gabby gopher, here’s what happened: The hotel’s owner, a New Yorker named Silverman, had a wife. She had an affair with reality TV star Simon Cowell. She got pregnant. There was a messy divorce in the works, and she was going to get half of everything.
“He didn’t want her to get any of the hotel, so he stopped paying taxes, and the government took it over,” the bellhop said. The hotel went downhill. It lost its brand affiliation as a Wyndham Grand property. Maintenance suffered.
And now, I had a guest room where the permanently fogged window obscured the view, the mostly cold water in the bathroom made every shower a chilling experience and the substandard air conditioning forced us to buy a table fan. The humid halls smell a bit like a swimming pool locker room, and the lobby sushi bar is abandoned.
In short, this hotel ain’t what it used to be. And oh, did I mention that this Panama City hotel has long been notorious for the scores of female prostitutes that traverse its lobby and casino? The Veneto Hotel & Casino is decidedly not for children; it only appeals to adults who are looking for nearly rock-bottom prices for accommodations that clearly need some attention. In case you’re still curious to know more, here are the details.
THE AMBIANCE: The Veneto Hotel & Casino, centrally located in Panama City’s El Cangrejo district, was designed with a bit of Las Vegas glitz. Giant flashing lights adorn the façade, and the elevators leading to the second-floor casino take visual precedence over the small reception area. But the hotel’s hard times have made it feel more like an older Las Vegas property.
THE ROOMS: After initially checking into one room, my husband (who arrived before I did) realized that the air conditioning wasn’t working. And they couldn’t fix it. So they moves us to room 1603, a standard double room. I’ve stayed at this hotel before and the décor is still decently attractive, with a large comfortable bed, carpeted floors, wood furnishings, a large flat-screen TV and a marble bathroom with a rather large shower. But the more we looked, the more we noticed the shortcomings. The windows were permanently fogged (in between the panes) so the view was largely obscured. Seams along the windows were frayed. The water almost consistently was cold in the shower. The safe deposit box didn’t work (although they were able to send someone to fix it). And the air conditioning was low-power to the point where we had to go to the mall and buy a table fan (a plastic confection in orange and white Creamsicle colors).
The TV and extensive cable system, as well as the free, powerful WiFi, were positives.
HOTEL FEATURES: Our room rate included a free continental breakfast that was surprisingly good — it included an array of hot and cold food (including fruit, Panamanian specialties like carimañolas and made-to-order omelettes).
There is also a steak house onsite, as well as a currently abandoned sushi bar.
We made use of the small swimming pool, which sits atop a roof on the seventh floor. Also on that floor is a spa and a gym, which was not air conditioned and appears to be set in a former conference room.
The hotel’s large casino (supposedly under partial renovation when we visited) is a major focal point for the property, and sometimes hosts live music.
BEST FOR: Budget-conscious adult travelers who like large hotels with casinos, and are willing to put up with sometimes poorly maintained properties in order to get a great hotel rate (we paid about $59 a night) in a central location.
ROOM RATES: About $59 and up.
INFO & RESERVATIONS: http://www.venetopanama.com
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