When you say Miami, you think about maximum fun, Art Deco style buildings, high temperatures, palm trees and gorgeous beaches. Miami is the cultural and industrial center of Florida, but also a world-renowned touristic resort. However, Miami won the title for the cleanest city in America in 2008, when Forbes magazine made this ranking. Although it is a U.S. metropolis, it is possible that when you visit Miami to hear people speaking more Spanish than English. This is due to the majority of the Hispanic population and the flow of tourists coming from South America. So, if you are not very familiar with the Spanish language, you would better learn a few basic expressions, while planning your perfect holiday here.
My first visit to Miami was in October 2014. Although it was the beginning of autumn, that time of the year is very proper for getting a good tan in the South of Florida state. The Sunshine State is known for having very hot summer days, in which, because of the excessive humidity, the air becomes almost unbreathable, so the tourists prefer to go in this part of the U.S. in the fall or spring when the climate is much more permissive.
We left from Norfolk, Virginia. The first stop was in Orlando, Florida, where we spent 2 days. From Norfolk to Orlando we traveled 1 215 km in about 12 hours, crossing 5 states on the East Coast of the United States: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. From there, we added 400 km more until we reached Miami.
The road trip was extremely interesting, given that we basically made the transition from the fall temperatures to summer temperatures, as if we’d gone a few months back in time. I love this kind of trips, even though they are somehow very long and exhausting. They are the perfect opportunity to discover new places and the major differences between them. Also, the roads and the American highways are so well developed, that driving becomes a real pleasure.
We checked into the Kent Hotel, on Collins Avenue, in South Beach. You should know that Miami and Miami Beach are two different cities, though until I got there, I had a totally different impression. Among them is the Biscayne Bay Lagoon and the connection between them, it’s made by bridges.
Miami Beach is a resort where you’ll find everything that you could wish on a perfect vacation: some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, palm trees, nightclubs and bars from where you can hear Latin rhythms, restaurants with Cuban cuisine, shops of all kinds and hotels in Art Deco architecture style. The most famous avenues in Miami Beach are Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue. Miami Beach is not at all a remote place, attracting around 14 million visitors each year.
In one of the three days that we spent in Miami, we chose a mini-tour that you can easily find in the offers of the street vendors on Washington Avenue or flyers at the hotel reception where you are staying. We chose a coach tour, with the route South Beach-Coral Gables-Downtown Miami, followed by a boat tour in Biscayne Bay.
The entire cost was $55/ person, but it certainly is worth every penny. The coach took us right from in front of the hotel, so we didn’t have to walk somewhere else. The departure was at 9 am and lasted about 3-4 hours. In the afternoon we boarded the boat and had a mini cruise on Biscayne Bay. The guide spoke English and Spanish, giving us all the information that we needed to know about the islands: Fisher Island, Star Island, Palm Island, Hibiscus Island and Flagler Memorial Island.
Ocean Drive is the street near the beach, the place with the coolest nightclubs in Miami. The area is very well known for having the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. The term Art Deco comes from Decorative Arts and stands out through the geometric shapes, the simplified lines, strong pure colors and the smooth surfaces. The trend first appeared before the First World War.
The most representative buildings having this kind of style on Ocean Drive are the Colony Hotel (the most photographed hotel with this kind of architecture) and the Casuarina Beach House (ex-residence of the famous designer Gianni Versace, who had also been killed here in July 1997). Although the guide provides clear information about the important buildings in the area, I recommend you to go for a walk and admire them. This is definitely something you don’t want to miss when you are in Miami.
Little Havana is a colorful, vibrant neighborhood that perfectly imitates the Cuban lifestyle and that is, as the name suggests, a miniature Havana. In Little Havana, I discovered the way they manufacture the cigars inside an authentic mini-factory. As you will see in the pictures below, the owner of this factory, who has become some kind of local celebrity, spends his entire day sitting in a chair, smoking in front of his store, in order to let the visitors take a picture with him.
Calle Ocho is the famous street in Little Havana, the place where you can admire the art galleries, the colorful murals, the fruit stands and the elderly man playing dominoes as they discuss politics, while they enjoy their Cuban coffee.
Coral Gables, also known as The City Beautiful, is a gorgeous small city, Miami’s neighbor. What are the strengths of this town? The most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen in my entire life, swooping giant banyan trees, which in addition to their decorative role, their huge crown ensures efficient shading for the streets.
Coral Gables also has its own famous boulevard. On Miracle Mile, you will find fine fabrics inside small boutiques, but also specialty stores for brides or evening gowns. The name coral comes from the coral stone, used for building some of the houses in the area. The use of this rock is now prohibited by law.
Coral Gables is also the home of one of the most beautiful pools in the world. The Venetian Pool is a public one and has turquoise water and a very pleasant ambiance. The walls of the pool are also made of coral rock.
THE BOAT TOUR
It was by far my favorite. Even though the weather was not on our side and crept a few rain drops here and there, the overall experience was more than worth it. The mini cruise lasts 90 minutes, but I would have to admit that I wished to spend more time on the boat, admiring the luxurious villas owned by millionaire people and also their gorgeous yachts, placed under the Floridian palm trees.
Each boat owned by the Island Queen Cruises Company has 2 decks: one on the ground floor, fully enclosed and air-conditioned, and one on the first floor, with a protective awning. We have tried both of them, not because we wanted to, but because we were forced by the weather. When the rain started, we had to take shelter on the ground floor. The cruises have several hours of departure, the first starting at 10.30 am and the last one at 7 pm, so you get to enjoy it at any time of the day you want, cooler mornings or in the evening, watching the sunset.
Which islands drew my attention the most?
- Fisher Island is not connected by bridge to Miami Beach or Miami, so the access is possible only by private boat or ferry boat. From the tour guide, I learned that the average price for one apartment on this island is around 40 million dollars!!! In addition to ultra-modern apartments, the island also has its own private school. Locals include celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey.
- Star Island is an artificial island shaped oval. Here reside many celebrities: Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Elizabeth Taylor, Paulina Rubio, Philip Frost, Madonna, Thalia, etc. Star Island is the main attraction of the boat tour.
PORT OF MIAMI
Miami is the cruise capital of the world. 11 of the leading liner companies have departures from Miami. From here you can get to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, Key West, South Africa and other remote areas on the planet. A cruise can last from a few days to 6 months or even a year. I met a very nice old lady who told me that she is going on a cruise around the world for 6 months. How much money do you think it cost her? $100 000!!! I was truly amazed. But there are cruises for all budgets so you don’t have to worry. I didn’t manage to go on such a cruise so far, but it certainly is on my bucket list and I promise to myself it will happen sooner or later.
Miami skyline is the third most impressive in the United States, following New York and Chicago. The tallest building in Miami will be Panorama Tower with a height of 251 m. The construction will be completed in 2017. Currently, the first position is occupied by Four Seasons Hotel & Tower, which was built in 2003 and it has 240 m. Next are Southeast Financial Center and One Thousand Museum. Miami’s skyline impressed me a lot, being a panorama not to be missed on the first visit to the city.
For the first visit to Miami, I had available two more days. In these two days, I did other things that you will discover, one by one, in the following articles. Miami certainly deserves much more space on my blog.
- How about you? Would you like to go on an organized tour in Miami?
- Have you already done so? How was the whole experience?