A September 2001 trip
to Miami by vampirefan
Quote: A few years ago when I was a travel agent we attended a seminar at sea. Prior to our cruise we drove down and enjoyed Miami and the South Beach area for 2 days. I enjoyed the beautiful art deco buildings found in South Beach.
I would recommend a trip to South Beach to anyone. It is beautiful, and make sure to take the time to enjoy the area known as the art-deco district. Here you will find one of the largest concentrations of art-deco buildings and architecture in the country. The beach is a perfect place to relax and catch some rays.
A visit to Bill Baggs State Park is a must-stop. Here you get a chance to see and maybe climb the Key Biscayne Lighthouse.
Hotel | "Holiday Inn"
Billing itself as a superior tourist hotel is exaggerating, to say the least. The original rate on this would have been $159 per night, but as travel agents we got it at $35 per night. It was hardly worth the $35. They had secure parking, which you had to pay for. When you walk into the lobby, it looks horrible. The furniture looks as if it was purchased at a thrift shop. The carpet looks as if it hasn’t been cleaned in the last century. And the place has a musty smell to it. I suffer terribly from allergies to mold and dust, so I was miserable the whole time.
Our room would garner an okay rating. My friend and Tammy and I were sharing a room. We had two queen-sized beds. The covers on the beds smelled musty. If I could have gotten the CSI crime lab over to run one of their gizmos in the place, I would probably have been running for the hills! The carpet in here was also dirty-looking, as was the carpet outside on the way to the rooms. There was a TV anchored on a chest of drawers which wouldn’t move or swivel. The bathrooms were clean, though, and were quite sizeable. There was a table and two chairs, which again looked like thrift finds. They had a balcony outside, which was nice. The view, though, was less than inspiring. It looked out over a derelict-looking part of town. On our first night, Tammy and I came out to sit on the balcony, but it was so noisy that we retreated back inside. And the A/C unit was very noisy.
They had a restaurant on the premises, and breakfast was included. Breakfast was buffet-style. Again, there were dirty carpets in the restaurant. The booths had rips in them. The food and service were less than desirable. The eggs were runny, and the gravy for the biscuits was watery. On the last morning, we ate breakfast elsewhere. Of course, this being Florida, the OJ was good. Despite the fact that they claim to have a bilingual staff, the housekeeping staff could not speak a word of English. The front desk staff spoke what we now call Spanglish and were not the least bit of help.
Unless they have made vast improvements or you can garner a travel agent rate, I would skip this and book a hotel elsewhere. If you are interested, though, their website is www.hiexpress.com.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 11, 2005
Best Western Windsor Inn
12210 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami, Florida 33181
Once we were seated, our waiter promptly greeted us. Guy and I went with the pancakes, Scott with the eggs, and Tammy just went with a muffin. Guy and I should have split our plate. When our plates came out, my mouth just dropped. One plate held three VERY HUGE pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were divine. They were nice and fluffy and very filling. You could get a variety of toppings, including jam or fruit, and a variety of syrups, including real maple syrup, and you could have your syrup warmed. I went with warm light syrup, while Guy went with fruit. We all ordered orange juice and were greeted with a very large glass, not the tiny juice glasses you often find in restaurants. Afterwards, we decided to end our breakfast with coffee and tea. I am the only non-coffee drinker, but when the waiter brought out our beverages, he had four coffees. He very quickly took away my coffee and brought me a cup of tea. Everyone was in agreement that the breakfast was delish and hit the spot.
If you have never been to a Johnny Rockets, then you should give them a try. They have over 150 locations in the U.S. and several more worldwide. The restaurant harkens back to the days of 1950s diners. You have a jukebox on your table (unless you have an outside table), and the music is from the '50s. Your waitperson gives you three nickels for the jukebox. The waitstaffs are impressively dressed in the white starched uniforms reminiscent of the '50s, as well. The food is divine, and the burgers are some of the best around. There is a fun and festive atmosphere inside. Once you taste their burgers or pancakes, you will be hooked. For more information, try them at www.johnnyrockets.com.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 11, 2005
728 Ocean Dr
Miami, Florida 33139
Restaurant | "The Hard Rock Cafe"
The menu at the Hard Rock is standard American café fare and typically doesn’t stray from the ordinary, which is fine since I can try new things at other places. Like most other people, I come here to drink up the atmosphere and to take home a T-shirt. Here memorabilia from rock and roll’s best surrounds you. Here you will find records, drums, guitars, and costumes from the likes of such legends as Springsteen, Kiss, Sting, and Hendricks to bands such as Megadeth, Metallica, and local bands such as Savatage. As with most Hard Rocks, there is an Elvis spotting or two. When you first walk in, there is a motorcycle that belonged to Elvis on display. Again, Elvis and the South go together like milk and cookies.
Our waiter arrived at our table and greeted us with a, "How ya’ll doing?" Now, here’s just a quick lesson on a Southerner’s view of Floridians. While geographically the state is located in the South, those of us from the other Southern states do not consider Floridians to be Southern. Most of ‘em are transplants anyway. They do not use words like "ya’ll" or "hon" and leave the g on words ending in -ing. They also don’t considered sweet tea to be the beverage of choice like the rest of us. So when we heard ya’ll and doin’ instead of doing, we knew we had a real Southerner. It turns out our waiter, Leo, was from Charlotte! Leo provided excellent service, and this was one of the best dining experiences I have had at the Hard Rock. We went in during the slow time (about 3pm if I remember correctly), so the place wasn’t crowded. When Leo had the chance, he kept returning to our table to talk about Charlotte and what was new, a topic often discussed by Charlottians who have left.
I opted this time for the pig sandwich instead of the burger. While not horrible, it wasn’t the best. The main problem is that real Southern barbeque is pit-cooked, not cooked pork with barbeque sauce on it. But it was still a petty darn good sandwich. It came with a generous portion of fries, baked beans, and slaw. After we ate, we all wanted dessert, but no one had room for their own. So we all went in and got a hot-fudge brownie. The grade? Five drool pools. Oh my, this is heavenly and worth ever calorie. If you are in town during busy season, you may want to make reservations. You can do that at www.hardrock.com for up to 1 month in advance.
Hard Rock Cafe
401 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, Florida 33132
Like many areas of the country in the ‘70s, South Beach was suffering from neglect. In 1979, Barbara Baer Capitman, a champion for the Miami Design Preservation League, began work on this now aging beauty. Buildings were renovated and painted in the colors of the seas. Periwinkle blue, yellows, and pinks abound. About 800 buildings are now on the register of historic places, assuring that they have a place for many generations to come. Even if you are beach bound, take the time to walk around and marvel at these amazing beauties.
The beach its self spills out into the Atlantic Ocean. You can just relax here and enjoy the sun. There are various bars located up and down the beach. You can try your hand at parasailing. You can build a sand castle. We saw some very impressive ones here. Grab some in-line skates and hit the walkway in front. Or whatever your little heart desires. You can rent beach chairs that run about $3 each. Just make sure one person is at the chairs at all times, or you might come back to find your chairs gone and having to pay another $3 for a chair.
South Beach is topless. It is not, however, a nude beach, so don’t even think about it. You can remove your top only on the beach. Parents might want to keep this in mind when coming here. If you have come in search of a Pamela Anderson-type babe, well, good luck to you. There were four of us on this trip, and our friend Guy was the only single one. This place was his idea. The majority of topless women, though, either have no boobs or they do not need to be in a bikini! There are also lots of men in Speedos. None, however, look like or have the body of Eric Delco.
If you decide to visit, you do need to spend a whole day here. Enjoy the rays, hunt for some beautiful clothing in one of the many trendy boutiques, try something new food wise, and then dance away your cares at one of the many clubs here. There is something here for everyone. For more information, try www.gmcvb.com.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 11, 2005
Once you arrive at Bayside, if you go all the way to the back along the water and turn to the left, you can see the Miami cruise port. If you are here between 3 and 7pm, sit back and watch the ships sail out. Walk around the pier and check out the boats. In the middle of the market they have a lake area where you can take a boat tour. They offer a variety of cruises, from dancing to gambling to sightseeing. Near the waterfront you can take a peaceful horse-drawn carriage ride. That was my favorite thing here. They do have photographers around to take your photo, offering a great souvenir for home. They also have live music. When we were here, they had a Latin band, and many people were sitting around while others were up showing off their impressive salsa skills.
There are more than 100 shops here. Chain stores run from the Disney Store to Victoria's Secret. They have a number of specialty stores here, too. This is where you run into most of the problems of trying to find anyone who speaks English. You will find a variety of restaurants here, from Bubba Gump Shrimp to Latin America Café to Hooters, and this is where the Miami location of the Hard Rock is. You will find a variety of nightclubs here, and Gloria Estefan’s Bongos is nearby.
Overall, this was an enjoyable place. I loved the horse-drawn carriage ride and watching the cruise ships leave. This is a great place to stop while in Miami, or a great place to kill some time before your cruise ship leaves. I would have enjoyed it more, though, if more people spoke English. I just have a problem when I go into a shopping area in the US and more people don’t speak English than do. And apparently I am not the only one who feels this way since a large portion of my clients have made this complaint. From what I have heard, though, there have been enough complaints that they are trying to rectify this by having more English-speaking employees. You can visit them on the web at www.baysidemarketplace.com.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 11, 2005
Fourth and Biscayne Blvd
Miami, Florida 33133
Attraction | "Bill Bags State Park/Key Biscayne Lighthouse"
The beach here has been voted one of the top 10 beaches, and you can snorkel or dive here. Again, maybe it is just me, but when we were here, the water looked pretty nasty and certainly not a place I would want to have my very expensive diving equipment in. They have benches and shelter for picnics. The benches are free, but you do need advanced reservations for renting a shelter. You can stroll around the beach or rent a variety of water toys from the rental shack. They have kayaks and hydro bikes, as well as bikes for getting around. Admission is $5 per car, and they do have bathrooms located on the premises, as well as a restaurant. You can visit their website at http://www.floridastateparks.org/capeflorida/default.cfm.
The Cape Florida Light, also known as Key Biscayne Light, was built in 1825. In 1836, it came under attack by the local Seminole Indians, who killed the assistant keeper and torched the light. The lightkeeper at the time survived the attack. Threat of further Indian attacks made renovations inconsiderable for the next 10 years. After raising the height of the tower and repairs, the station was opened again in 1846. It was decommissioned in 1878 and sat languishing for decades. Eventually, the park service took it over, and finally, in 1996, after a fresh coat of paint, they opened it to the public for climbing. You can climb the 109 steps Thursday through Monday at 10am and 1pm. Make sure you arrive early, since only 10 people can climb at a time. If you're like us and arrive when it is closed, you can still enjoy the pleasant walk to the light and walk around the base.
For information on this lighthouse and others, try www.lighthousedepot.com. Here you will find a variety of lighthouse-themed merchandise, as well as information on The Lighthouse Digest, a monthly entertaining lighthouse magazine. Also, try www.floridalighthouses.com for information on all of the Florida lighthouses. And lastly, visit www.thelighthousepeople.com. Bob and Sandra Shanklin have photographed every lighthouse in the U.S. and have a wonderful collection of lighthouse books, including one on the lighthouses of Florida.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park and Lighthouse
1200 South Crandon Blvd
Key Biscayne, Florida 33149
It might surprise you to learn the history of Miami only dates to 1892. At the time, the area only had homesteaders and the only "towns" nearby were Coconut Grove and Lemon City. When Henry Flagler, owner of the Florida East Coast Railway, started his expansion into Florida, he came on though to the area now known as Miami. Here he built a city for his rail workers and included homes, stores, churches, and schools. But the actually history of the area dates back more than two centuries, when Miami was under Spanish rule.
Today, this city is a mecca to the hip and trendy. It is an oasis for those looking to escape the winter blues. It is a top destination for those on spring break. It has become a sprawling metropolis. Its beaches are some of the best in the country and scuba divers flock by the thousands to enjoy the waters here. It is also a top spot for TV and film crews. While CSI Miami might not be shot here, they are around on location to film on occasion. Last year, a friend of mine got to see them film some scenes and got a glimpse of the very hot scuba diving CSI Eric Delco, played by the very handsome Adam Rodriguez. Here you are only 90 miles from the Bahamas and 3 hours from Key West.
Miami is also the cruise capital of the world and the largest port in the world. All of the major cruise lines have ships here. Every week, hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers pass by on their way to some exotic destination in the Caribbean. Some cruise lines now doing US cruises actually include Miami as a port of call. Over 3 million passengers pass though here each year.
Here you can shop for the top designers in the world or find something unique and local, you can catch Shamu at the Miami Aquarium, you can step back in time to the Art Deco buildings of South Beach, and you can explore the pristine, beautiful, and mysterious Everglades. You could spend weeks here and never see all there is to do here.
Now, it’s time for my actual thoughts on the place. When we first arrived, I could not help but notice everything was dirty looking, and not just in the worst parts of town. Unless you were in one of the gated communities, everything was just nasty looking. I’ll take Orlando or Key West any day. South Beach was fun, but I would much prefer Myrtle Beach any day. I also didn’t find the water appealing, certainly not anything I would want to dive in. Everything is overpriced. Our hotel room would have been extremely overpriced had we not had a travel agent rate. And it was barely worth the travel agent rate. And people were extremely rude. New Yorkers have the reputation of being rude. But I didn’t find one person in NYC ruder than people here.
Very large portions of people here do not speak English. Since this is the US, I found this annoying to say the least. Many signs are in Spanish only. Hardly anyone in our hotel spoke English. When we went to Bayside, no one spoke English. If you get lost, you’re screwed unless you speak Spanish. I have traveled overseas and had not that hard of a time finding people who spoke English. And I have been to Mexico, where everyone spoke English.
Overall, my experience with Miami was not a happy one. If I never pay a visit to this city again, I certainly will not loose any sleep over it. This is one place whose crown as a top destination I found tarnished.
Charlotte, North Carolina