A Valentine’s Day package for Bachelor fans

Valentine’s Day is coming up really fast and those stuck without plans may think they are out of time to do anything memorable. Think again. Luxury hotels still have some packages available for those a bit light on the thoughtfulness with heavy, deep pockets.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama is among the romantic destinations included in the 16th season of ABC’s The Bachelor and luxury resort is offering guests who book their stay now through March 31, 2012, the opportunity to experience the utmost in romance with the “Live Like The Bachelor” package.

Offering exclusive amenities, experiential activities and a savings of about 50 percent off rates, the package provides guests with the same romantic escape seen on The Bachelor. The “Live like The Bachelor” package includes:

  • Four-night stay in a spacious Executive Suite
  • Round-trip private transfer to and from the airport
  • Welcome bottle of champagne and rose petal turndown
  • Daily breakfast at BARcelona Restaurant
  • Romantic dinner for two at Tejas Restaurant
  • VIP helicopter excursion
  • Private tour of Panama City including visits to the Old Panama Ruins, Casco Viejo, the Panama Canal and Mi Pueblito
  • Signautre 60 minute couples massage
  • Exotic island expedition on a private yacht, including food, beverages and fishing equipment
  • Complimentary shuttle service to nearby shopping centers
  • $1,000 worth in shopping cards

The price? Rates start at $7,999, plus tax and service charge.

Too much?

The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale is a luxury oceanfront hotel on Florida’s Gold Coast that has water views from every room, balconies in every room, and legendary service plus two Valentine’s Day packages.

A Valentines Day One-Night Escape is $549 plus tax and includes a luxurious Partial Ocean View accommodations at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale along with a gourmet three-course Italian-inspired dinner and breakfast for two in the oceanfront Via Luna restaurant, or in the privacy of your luxurious guestroom and an assortment of romantic welcome gifts including a bottle of fine champagne.

An Ultimate Valentine’s Day One-Night Escape with concert tickets is $1,999 plus tax and includes a One-Bedroom Oceanfront Residential Suite with Club Lounge Access and a dedicated concierge to assist with any reservations or travel plans, Two VIP tickets to the one-night only Andrea Bocelli Valentine’s Day concert, Tuesday, February 14 at the Bank Atlantic Center, private roundtrip transportation to the concert, breakfast for two in Via Luna or in the privacy of your guestroom and romantic welcome gifts of limited edition Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed, fishnet-laced Piper-Heidsieck Champagne and more romantic presents.

Still too much?
Launched this week on Best Western Hotel’s Facebook page is a new “Be a Travel Hero” Promotion which rewards business “travel heroes” for their time on the road away from friends and family. The promotion encourages Best Western Rewards members to build a virtual vacation for their family and friends for a chance to win a grand prize dream vacation and other great prizes, including Best Western Travel Cards and MasterCard Gift Cards up to $500 in value, Avis rental car vouchers and AAA/CAA memberships.

Still need more ideas? Try Gadling’s Couple’s guide to Valentine’s Day hotel packages.


Panama City: Casco Viejo rising

Casco Viejo is on the edge, but of what?

Depending on who you talk to, Panama City’s old town, Casco Viejo, has either already peaked or only recently managed to identify how it might achieve its prime.

The neighborhood is inarguably gorgeous. Beautifully renovated structures share space with completely decrepit buildings. There are plazas, churches, convent ruins, and, at one extreme, a fortress wall. The National Theatre lies within its borders, as does the Presidential Palace.

There is a well-manned Tourist Police office as well, and a smattering of cute cafes, restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops. And yet, even with all these facilities, there is an appealingly abandoned feel to many blocks. These ignored buildings, some with internal foliage peeking through open windows and many with wrought-iron balconies and gates, continue to be a primary feature of the neighborhood.

In fact, there has been a buzz in Casco Viejo for some time, and paradoxically it is this very buzz that has encouraged the abandonment of many buildings. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Casco Viejo fell by almost a third, to under 7000, after the passage of a law designed to encourage the rehabilitation of buildings. This law prompted property owners, operating under the assumption that gentrification was imminent, to kick their poor tenants out. (Many of the neighborhood’s tenants generate no money whatsoever for landlords. They are destitute, and were originally relocated to unoccupied Casco Viejo buildings by Panama’s Housing Ministry.) Interestingly enough, many buildings remain unoccupied today. For greater real estate history, check out this article in the Panama News a few years back.

It looks as if many empty buildings may remain abandoned, at least in the near future. In August 2010, the government suspended plans to invest in previously scheduled renovation projects in the neighborhood.

So what’s in the cards?

One possibility is that Casco Viejo will become more of an artist colony. In the Panama Report, a publication devoted to travel and investment in Panama, Jesse Levin suggested in a 2009 article that Casco Viejo’s stop-and-start pace of gentrification has happened in part because the ‘hood simply heated up too quickly, leaving a massive gap between those who could make a purchase at the top of the market and Casco Viejo’s “natural” new inhabitants: people of moderate means in the domestic creative class.

Another possible future of the neighborhood can be glimpsed in the emergence of Las Clementinas, a very nicely detailed guesthouse and restaurant-bar in the heart of the neighborhood, which opened in November. It’s hard not to be impressed by Las Clementinas. It’s got beautiful rooms (pricey for Panama City, at $240 per night) and a popular restaurant-bar. I ate dinner there alone, surrounded by rich Panamanians celebrating a birthday and a few fellow tourists. The meal’s highlight was fufu, a somewhat spicy Caribbean soup. The food was fine, and the atmosphere was outstanding down to the last detail.

Las Clementinas is posh, and it is posh in a particularly Panamanian way. It feels like it belongs in Casco Viejo. But if another dozen businesses like Las Clementinas open up in the neighborhood, what will happen? Will Casco Viejo slowly but unavoidably morph into a cliched overdone tourist destination, terribly pretty but lifeless?

Whatever the pace and whatever the outcome, Casco Viejo’s current state prompts consideration from locals and visitors alike about what makes a tourist neighborhood special and wonderful to visit.

Looking for more Panama? Check out Darren Murph’s much-visited recent post on Panama for Gadling here.