STELLAR editor Vicki shares her love of the Floridian city.
It’s 11am and already dripping hot, but I’m not feeling the heat because I’m careening down Ocean Drive in an open-top fire engine red Mustang with the wind in my hair. No, this is not a dream – it’s just Miami. A place I’ve always wanted to go, and now I’m here with my husband Joe and it’s everything I wanted it to be and more – swaying palms, greenish blue water, latin beats and a party atmosphere. I’m in heaven.
When my dad suggested the family went to his beloved Florida to celebrate two landmark birthdays this year, I jumped at the chance and went about devising our perfect itinerary. With direct Aer Lingus flights from Dublin to Miami now on the schedule, Joe and I decided to spend 72 hours alone in the Magic City before meeting up with everybody else in Orlando, and flying home from there nine days later. With the exception of our honeymoon, I haven’t taken a fortnight off work in a decade, and it feels decadent.
We booked Dream South Beach for two reasons – one, we’ve stayed in the sister property Dream Downtown in New York and loved it, and two, its proximity to the waters of Miami Beach. The location is pretty sensational, situated on Collins Avenue and just one block from the ocean. It also has a lovely little rooftop pool and bar, and a fabulous restaurant called Naked Taco underneath – go, and get the lobster tacos and the guac. It’s also great for breakfast.
After a lovely flight, we arrived at around 9pm and just had a nightcap before bed. Waking early the next morning, we decided to stroll around the South Beach area and take in all the fabulous Art Deco architecture.
We had breakfast in a genuine 1920s rail car diner (11th Street Diner is a local institution) before walking the length of Ocean Drive and taking in the sights – muscle cars, pastel colours and old skool buildings abound. We also spotted Gianni Versace’s mansion – tourists were taking photos on the spot where he was shot dead in 1997 but I found that particularly morbid. The house is now a restaurant called Gianni’s, but again I found that odd. It’s popular though, so each to their own.
That night we dined at Hakkasan in the Miami Beach area – further up the strip, things become less deco and more high rise, and this hotel is in the very Las Vegas Fontainebleu resort – a decidedly different vibe. Great food and people watching, though – this restaurant also has a New York outpost.
The next morning, we headed for Little Havana. Miami’s population is 65% Latin, and a large percentage of that is Cuban. They’ve settled in an area across the river closer to downtown Miami and made the area their own, hence the name. We were taking a food trip with Miami Culinary Tours, and it was the highlight of our entire holiday. You get to try everything from Cuban coffee to mojitos, Cubano sandwiches to empanadas, guava pastelitos to ice cream, and even the very unusual and delicious sugar cane juice. We visited a cigar factory to see Cubans being hand-rolled, and generally soaked up the atmosphere and culture. The tour is $56 each for adults, takes about three hours and is well worth the money.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough that day, we spent our last night at Yardbird, a southern inspired restaurant back near South Beach. We’d been to the one in Vegas on honeymoon, but this one is the original. I ate bacon with every morsel because that’s how they roll there – the fried green tomatoes, disco fries, even the sweetcorn side and my old fashioned are laced with the stuff – but they’re known for their fried chicken and I can confirm it’s immense.
I’d heard a lot before I went that Miami was very expensive, but I think it depends where you go. Sure, if you’re hanging out in the Fontainebleu or Eden Roc hotels you’re gonna spend a pretty penny. But hanging around Ocean Drive and South Beach there are bargains to be had – I didn’t find it any more expensive than any other major US city. But back where we began, to the Mustang.
Joe really wanted to rent a sporty number for the 4 hour drive north to Orlando, and I complied – soft top Mustangs are everywhere in Miami. We went in search of a scenic route, but there isn’t really one. If you’re doing the trip, get on the Florida Turnpike as soon as you can – and put the roof up if you’re doing anything over 40!
Orlando was just as I remembered it; theme parks, sunshine and chain restaurants – but it has its own particular charm. Once we met the family, we either spent days relaxing in our villa or traipsing around the theme parks. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is still my favourite (the new Avatar rides are out of this world) but the adrenaline junkies loved Universal’s rollercoasters. Florida is warm all year round, and there’s always so much to do. I’d go back in a heartbeat