I love Panama. In Panama City, any day of the week, you can walk down the Cinta Costera (our costal beltway) and be entertained by fire jugglers, magicians, mimes, face painters, artists, and more.
I can pick up some water or Gatorade, and grab a bite of anything from burgers to ceviche.
Well, that’s every day except when Disney comes to town. Instead, the Panama Disney Parade turned my beloved Cinta Costera into a miserable death trap.
As you probably know, on Sunday Dec 6, a widely promoted Disney parade wandered down one of Panama City’s main streets. You could tell it was going to be a big deal since road closures started the day before the event, and millions of porta-potties dotted the road. Setup included double rows of fences, with a few tiny entrances and exits into what I have to describe as a big cage.
Actually, as my friend pointed out, it was like Hotel California. You could check in, but you couldn’t leave. Stay tuned for more about that later.
We started our little adventure around 12:30pm, as the Disney Parade was only a short distance from home. The excitement in the air was electric. Folks of every age,from babies to geriatrics, were buzzing. Mouse ears, Disney themed clothing, and more were evident everywhere.
After spending 20 minutes waiting to get through the tiny entrance we were finally in… Enjoying the people watching opportunities while the hot sun seared on our reddening foreheads. And that’s when things started to go bad.
As we stood in the blistering sun, we finally heard it… Distant at first, but getting closer… The beating of drums. And then the cheers of the excited crowds as a ton of jeeps rushed up the road. Well separated from the guests by the double rows of fences, the jeeps weaved back and forth, honking horns (like you don’t get enough of both of those in Panama City traffic already), and kicking off the festivities.
The Panama Minis car club, doing much the same thing, followed.
Then the first of the bands….
And the next of the bands…
And then more bands…
To their credit, the talented bands played Christmas songs that helped get us in the spirit. Unfortunately, they seemed to all hit the same Christmas song when they passed our part of the road. But I admit, they were very good. And what’s a parade with without bands and flag wavers?
But this was a Disney parade. You’re probably wondering, “How were the floats and the characters?”
That’s a very good question… After band after band marching up the road, the action came to a standstill.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Twice over the next 2 hours, Tigger (Disney’s Poo’s best friend) drove up the road causing several hundred thousand people to yell in excitement. Only to be let down as he returned from whence he came.
We managed to suffer it out until 4:30pm when we finally gave up and clawed our way out.
I’ve seen a couple of pictures on Facebook, maybe 4 or 5. But it leads me to believe when the parade finally did start either…
There were only 4 or 5 floats, or…
No one with a camera and a Facebook account was willing to suffer one more second of agony and made the same hasty exit as we did.
Did I mention it was hot? Damn hot?
1:00pm – 4:30pm, Panama City, crammed into an enclosed area with 200,000 - 300,000 of your closest friends.
We’re a hearty lot though, and once you’re acclimated, it’s not so bad. As long as you can have a drink from one of the many food venders you’d expect at an event like this.
Oh wait, there weren’t any. Well a couple I guess, but only a couple, and the lineups were hundreds of people long.
Luckily, with no parade in sight, you had nothing better to do than wedge your way into one of the long lines and wait. So being the loving people we are, we recruited my brother-in-law as our patsy.
You can imagine our distress to see him 50 minutes later empty handed, looking hotter and more sunburned than ever.
The two lines he stood in, for over 20 minutes each, were out of water before he got there.
That was the time we decided to leave thanks to the poor old guy puking over the rail beside us, and then passing out from heatstroke.
Like I said earlier, Panamanians know how to have a good time. And this is a Disney Christmas Parade. Even with the delay in the Parade starting, certainly with all this setup, it’d be fun, right?
I mean, I see opportunities for face painters, characters shaking hands, Christmas music, selling stuff, autographs, you name it.
But alas, none was to be had. I saw one vendor selling lighted caps, but he disappeared, leading me to believe he was escorted off the property to join the rest of the venders, who would have made the event bearable, outside of the cordoned off zone.
There were speakers’ setup and a big screen TV. But all the TV did was play the same tired advertisements over and over again. The speakers? Well a couple of times they blared out rock music, but never more than a few seconds and certainly never Christmas music.
I shouldn’t say there was no entertainment though. There were the fights breaking out in lines for non-existent water, so if you’re into that kind of thing…
Plus waterlines broke in several places due to the number of people. And in one place a geyser shot up about 30 feet in the air.
The kids, and a few adults, had a merry time frolicking in the water until the fire department managed to get it shut down.
Not to worry though, broken waterlines shouldn’t add much to the $3,000,000 already spent on the parade. Besides, they came in handy for refilling water bottles.
Finally leaving the event after being thoroughly disappointed, dehydrated, hot, and without ever seeing the parade was a challenge in itself. Fighting our way through crowds of people who were still funneling in became an adventure.
Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to cross the bridges, and the police allowed us to leave. Unlike my friend, Panama Dude, who can tell you all about his adventure, and how he was trapped.
Panama is a young country, and with an event of this magnitude, you expect things to go wrong. But throwing a party (ie. See Carnival) is something they have plenty of experience in.
I’m not sure where the ball was dropped, but I hope it becomes a learning experience, and next year they do it again and get it right. I think it’s an awesome opportunity for my adopted home.
Till then, I’m glad the Disney parade is finished, and we once again can enjoy the spectacular Cinta Costera every normal day or night of the week.