Locations: Playa Blanca Resort, Panama City
Dates: July 7-17, 2011
Ages: Littles = 4 years 1 month, Noob = 17 months
Methods of transportation: Flying to get to Panama. We had to go through Miami, as there are no direct flights from Dallas to Panama City. We opted to do overnight layovers in both directions, so we left the Miami airport and spent the night in a hotel, rather than doing straight shots between Dallas and Panama City.
On the ground in Miami, we relied on taxis and hotel shuttles to get around. In Panama, we rented a car.
Sleeping arrangements: We spent the bulk of the trip (7 nights) in the vacation rental. It had three bedrooms, so Hubby, Noob, and I stayed in the master bedroom, my sister-in-law stayed in a second bedroom, and Littles had the third bedroom to herself. Noob slept in a pack-n-play provided by the vacation rental owner; the rest of us slept in beds.
In the hotel rooms, Noob slept in the Peapod Plus, and Littles slept in one of the beds.
Eating arrangements: We bought food at a grocery store in Coronado (about half an hour away) and cooked almost all our meals in the condo. The vacation rental provided a high chair, which made eating with Noob much easier.
Hanging out at the beach. In addition to the beach at Playa Blanca itself, which was just a short walk from our condo, we also visited two other beaches (El Palmar and Santa Clara) located nearby. There are lots of these up and down the Pacific coast from Panama City, so you can take your pick. Many of these are open to the public but do charge an entry fee -- El Palmar cost $10 per car, and Santa Clara cost $3 per adult.
Riding horses on the beach!
Hanging out in the pool at the condo.
Visiting El Valle (about 40 minutes inland from our condo), a cute little town with a nice arts and crafts market, along with the Chorro Macho waterfall.
Watching ships pass through the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, from the terrace of the excellent visitors center.
Key piece of travel gear: My solarveil mei tai carrier. We were in and out of the water all week, so it was nice having a carrier that I could use wet or dry. Also, the ocean was sometimes a little rough, so on those occasions, I loved putting Noob in the carrier so that he could dip his toes without being washed away.
Biggest challenges: Getting Noob's passport, as I explained in a previous post! Also, during the trip itself, we were worried about the kids and/or us getting sick from the food or water, so we were cautious about what we ate and drank, especially at first. But we found that food/water standards in Panama are much higher overall than they are in many other Latin American countries. None of us had any problems with illness.
What worked well:
- Overnight layovers in Miami. This did extend our trip slightly, but it was so nice not having to get off one plane and get right back on another one. It also greatly cut down on the stress of trying to make our connection, especially when our outbound flight was delayed by an hour.
- Mia's car seat. This was our first trip traveling with the Safety First Go Hybrid Booster, and it worked out beautifully. I'll write a full review later.
- Using a vacation rental. Some of our favorite features of our condo, compared to a hotel room:
- Separate bedrooms and a living area. This allowed the adults to hang out in the evenings while the kids went to sleep.
- A full kitchen. Our food costs were ridiculously low, and it was so much less stressful eating in the condo vs. packing up the kids to eat out.
- Washer/dryer in the condo. This allowed us to cut down dramatically on the clothes we brought.
- Little extras, like the pack-n-play and high chair for Noob, a telescope for Littles to play with, a collection of kid-friendly DVDs, etc.
- Being within walking distance of the beach. For example, this allowed all of us to go to the beach after breakfast, and then one of us could walk back to the condo with Noob when it was time for his morning nap.
- Having to install/uninstall the car seats multiple times (due to the Miami layovers), in multiple unfamiliar cars.
- Not speaking much Spanish. Luckily, my sister-in-law (who lives in Panama) was able to translate.
- Line drying. Being in the tropics during rainy season is not conducive to swimsuits, towels, etc. drying quickly!
- Sharing a bed with Littles. On our outbound layover in Miami, we booked a room with a single king bed to save a little money, and on our last night in Panama, Littles shared a fold-out couch with my sister-in-law. Littles is all over the place when she sleeps, and so the adult(s) did not get much sleep those nights :)