For Heather’s birthday, we decided to head to Miami, Florida for a 4 day weekend (Labor Day weekend). Given that we usually rent a car for such trips, this was a more unique experience for us especially Heather, as we knew that this was going to be a trip of relaxation and full use of the Miami public transportation system.
Arriving at Miami International Airport, we first realized that the walk from the arrival terminal to the bus station to catch the Airport Flyer express bus to Miami Beach was certainly a fair workout for even the fittest of folks! Arriving at the bus station we purchased our tickets at the machine, later realizing that it would have been more beneficial to load a more substantial amount on the card given the amount of trips we would make!
The trip from the airport to Miami Beach was a little sketchy at first but became more picturesque as you crossed over the causeway and down into the Miami Beach region. I had determined that we could get off the bus on Collins Avenue and walk 1/2 mile to our hotel, the Grand Beach Hotel! We went ahead and did this but what we didn’t realize is that in 90+ degree weather, walking 1/2 mile dragging suitcases seems to be a much longer distance than it really is.
We finally arrived at the Grand Beach Hotel and were certainly not disappointed. The views over the Miami Beach causeway were amazing and the size of the houses and boats were certainly fitting for the location. The entrance and hallway to this hotel is truly spectacular with marble floors and a very modern architecture noticeable throughout the interior. Entering our room was a real treat, the views over the Atlantic Ocean were spectacular and the balcony and space we had throughout our suite was amazing! Everything inside our room was bright colors and modern to meet the rest of the hotel’s decor.
The first evening saw us venture back on the bus, which we realized there was a bus stop right outside our hotel, and head back to downtown South Beach, Miami. We got off at the American Airlines arena stop which was hosting the Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez concert so as you can imagine it was overcrowded to say the least. We headed past the arena and to the Bayside Marketplace where we were treated to some great Cuban entertainment and also a variety of dining options.
The first night we decided to sample the Hard Rock cafe cuisine though later in the trip we sampled some local Italian food at Lombardi’s Ristorante which was truly exceptional and a must for anyone in the region!! There is so much to do at the marketplace including tours around the Miami bay and also a cool opportunity to take a water taxi from one part of Miami to another if you want to avoid the extortionate taxi costs or time consuming bus services. We wandered around the local shops and every other store appeared to be a bar offering cut-price beer or customized daiquiri’s to meet your personal preference.
We spent much of our mornings at the hotel and either on the beach or by the two amazing pools! One of the great aspects of the Grand Beach Hotel was that there were loungers and personal umbrellas surrounding the pools that were already included in the hotel cost which was a nice surprise given that there are usually surcharges. Wifi was also included which is another great incentive.
Miami truly is a vibrant city with a host of attractions, dining opportunities and shopping! We visited two malls while in the Miami area including a worthwhile day trip to Fort Lauderdale to visit the largest outlet mall in Florida, the Sawgrass Mills mall. This allowed us to experience both the bus and the train from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale which was another great experience and first for both of us. The mall is literally massive, encompassing a vast area and offering hundreds of discount stores yet leading name brands. There are a variety of restaurants available also that are reasonably priced although I would conservatively recommend spending at least 5-6 hours here (really a full day experience with all the traveling involved if you don’t have a rental car available!) to visit all of the shops available.
One word of warning is that the bus trip from the Grand Beach Hotel to the train station (Tri-Rail)is both rather lengthy and also travels through probably parts of Miami’s worst areas though during the day, it really is not too bad. Returning from Ft. Lauderdale we opted to take the subway transit system to head back to the Bayside Marketplace to sample more of their excellent cuisine options.
The Aventura Mall is another great mall but is more expensive but a better location for anyone not looking to travel too far from the heart of Miami. I would certainly recommend taking one of the bayside tours especially those that offer the opportunity to view the spectacular multi-million dollar mansions host to some of the world’ most famous superstars in music, sport and movies.
- There are a variety of great hotels available, especially the Grand Beach Hotel where we stayed.
- The Bayside Marketplace is a perfect, relaxing hub for dining and entertainment throughout the day and well into the evening! In particular if you enjoy Italian food, sample the Lombardi Ristorante!
- Sawgrass Mills Outlet mall is huge and offers a great shopping experience. Although it is located in Fort Lauderdale, FL it gives you the opportunity to sample the Miami-Dade public transportation system and also venture out to see more of Florida’s landscape
- Many of the beaches, especially at the Grand Beach Hotel are a little disappointing. Not only is there a lot of seaweed, the beaches were very rocky. Certainly not the stereotypical golden beaches that you think of when considering Florida for a vacation. On a positive note, the beaches in South Beach Miami are apparently better.
- Traveling on the bus is time consuming and can get expensive if you don’t pre-purchase a travel card. Make sure you have correct change at all times because the bus drivers DO NOT carry any change.
- In the heart of Miami Beach, there are very few dining options and you are almost forced into traveling further downtown to South Beach or north to the Aventura Mall.