A couple of weeks ago I wrote about playing vacation roulette and just going wherever was available or nothing at all as opposed to previous years with heavily-planned trips far from home. We shopped a few options but none of them worked out very well, until we came across the trip that was looking us right in the face, Panama.
Why We Didn’t Book In Advance
Our three-year old daughter has never had a Christmas morning at home. We typically use points and miles to travel to Asia because we have limited amounts of time we can take longer trips and the holidays happen to be that time. While we have been very blessed and very diligent with our points and it seems like a privilege to be gone every year at Christmas, we might also be robbing our daughter of putting cookies out for Santa Claus.
We also do not do a great job of practicing what we preach. While we would advise readers to book well in advance, we procrastinate like everyone else and this year kept kicking the can down the road. I also wasn’t enthusiastic about heading back to Asia because Lucy and I spent a good portion of the summer slow traveling in Thailand.
I probably made this year’s holiday plans more difficult than they already were with procrastination alone, but if we were committed to doing Christmas at home this year, I didn’t want to leave any sooner than December 26th. In addition to my stipulations, Kyle also needs to be back early January for work travel purposes.
With the shorter amount of time for a trip and less flexibility than past years, we searched for destinations closer to home, leading us to look to the Caribbean and South America. We also looked at Hawaii, but given the amount of new traffic headed to the islands in 2018, there is no justification for the $1500-2000 coach ticket prices we found for our travel period.
Narrowing the Field
We looked at flights to Brazil and while competitive pricing and preferred travel cabins worked in our favor, we couldn’t make the dates and times work for us. As we ran into similar circumstances with other destinations it quickly put other contending cities out of the running.
With little expectation and little time to plan, the one thing we knew was it has to be some place warm. We wouldn’t have time to get a last minute visa, so if one was required, we would need to already have it. We also kept low expectations in case we decide to do very little wherever we land. We also enjoy maximizing the amenities of a hotel, using the pool and spa, so our search continued for a place with flights at convenient times, a good price and with the right hotel at the right price. It can be a big ask for those who
procrastinate play vacation roulette.
In addition to shopping Brazil, we found the possibility of Turks & Caicos. With cheap flights for award or cash, we started to think we had found our winner, and then we shopped hotels and found they were $1,000+/night. It was a no go from there.
On to the next…
Cartagena, Colombia came in at a close second and it seemed this was going to be our winner. We found a great deal on the Conrad with points and even secured a reservation before we had our flights. It looked like we were going to get a great deal on our flights, but it would involve four flights to get down on American Airlines using miles, then fly Spirit for cash on the return into Florida and from there Jet Blue on points to get us back home to Pittsburgh.
This is one example why it’s great to have a variety of points for options like this, but I’m pretty sure the quote “Getting there is half the fun” would have been haunting us during this less than desired route.
Not a Perfect Routing, Not Terrible
We would have preferred to find something more direct but if we are going to have a layover, we are happy to take one for 24 hours in Miami or a decent overnight in Houston – it beats connecting in Minneapolis in December for 8 hours. For this last minute trip we will have a long overnight in Miami where we will get to stay at a Hyatt Unbound property, The Confidante Miami Beachfront Hotel, and eat delicious cuban food at Versailles. On our way out of Panama, we will ring in the new year with an overnight in Houston.
While a more direct routing would have been preferred to maximize our time in Panama, at the same time, having a full day in Miami in December certainly isn’t the end of the world. We were also able to trim our costs, using points on one of the routes and cash on the other – a fair exchange for convenience and preservation of our points.
Due to the diversity of points we hold, we don’t have enough to really just book whatever we want at whatever crazy prices they charge, but at the same time the diversity allows us to find hotels of preference in both Colombia and Panama at top flight hotels on little notice.
Looking Forward to Doing Nothing
For this trip we have no real expectations. After a year full of busy-ness, the idea of doing nothing-ness sounds absolutely glorious. I am packing a book that I have been carrying around for months and I am determined to finish it at the pool while watching Lucy splash around.
Speaking of Lucy, she knows nothing of this trip yet and I am so excited for her to wake up on Christmas morning and find out that she will get to go on four airplane rides to a place in the sun. Just the other day she asked me when we could go on the airplane again.
Open to Suggestions
As much as doing nothing strikes my fancy, I do have a feeling that my 3 year old might get a little stir crazy so I am also looking for things to do while in Panama City. We briefly looked into San Blas but it will probably be too tough to make it work in 3.5 days. It sounds like heading to the Canal is a must do, what should we expect, and what else should we try to see? And most importantly, where should we eat?
Have you played vacation roulette before and just booked whatever was available or easy? Any suggestions for what to see and do in Panama?