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Miami and South Beach

Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: April 2014

After nearly a week in Orlando, Florida, I continued my exploration of the Sunshine State in Miami, Florida. I arrived in Miami on the Wednesday before Easter having made the drive down from Orlando that morning. The drive from the Orlando airport car rental center to the Miami airport rental center takes about three and a half hours and requires around $20 in tolls.

If you continue past Miami you may find certain toll road exits only accept payment via the pre-paid SunPass device. Most rentals car companies provide this device for a fee. My one-day rental, a Ford Mustang convertible from Avis, cost me $80. At the time I booked the car, one-way flights between MCO and MIA were pricing at $132.

The Avis employee that accepted my rental car return told me taxis would be available on the fourth floor; that happens to be the baggage claim level of the airport. Signs on that level direct you to the taxis; outside I found just two. The cab ride to my downtown Miami hotel cost just $25. This was a meter rate, not a zone rate.

The drive to the Hilton Miami Downtown, located at Biscayne Blvd and 16th Street, took just 20 minutes. At the hotel you enter a motor lobby. From there you have to take lifts up to the main lobby. From there you have to cross the lobby to another set of lifts to access the rooms and other hotel amenities.

My room rate was $134 per night. As a Hilton HHonors Gold member I was informed at check-in that I would receive free in-room WiFi and daily breakfast at the hotel, a $19 value. I was also given an upgrade to a high floor, Biscayne Bay view room. The two free bottles of water I should have gotten never were sent to my room. I didn’t complain however; I just filled up my water bottle from the fruit flavored water dispenser in the lobby.

The hotel has a gym one level up from the main lobby. There is an outdoor pool accessible off of the lobby. The pool is surrounded by patio seating, which is also accessible to guests of the hotel restaurant.

This hotel is located in Miami proper – not on Miami Beach. While you may have a beach holiday in mind, don’t discount the fun that can be had away from the Atlantic Ocean. In the heart of downtown, Bayside Marketplace offers many shopping and dining options.

This is also the location where sightseeing boats dock. I recommend Island Queen Cruises. For just $28 you are treated to a 90-minute cruise in Biscayne Bay. You’ll enjoy views of both the skyline of Miami and South Beach (SoBe), hear narration (in English and Spanish) about the city’s history, and see the homes on Star Island up close; sit on the left or back of the boat for the best views. Internet tickets do not specify a sailing departure time, just a day of departure. While you are entitled to any of the hourly departures, if you want to go out on a specific sailing, arrive much earlier to trade your Internet ticket in for a time stamped boarding pass. Individual sailings may fill up and you may not be able to sail the very next hour after your arrival.

When you return to shore, hop on one of the free Miami Trolleys. These trolleys can take you to several lively neighborhoods worth exploring. I recommend the Brickell neighborhood and Wynwood, which is accessible via the Allapattah Trolley Route. In Wynwood have tapas at the Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. Opt for a patio table if the weather is nice – you’ll be eating inside Wynwood Walls, an area containing many large, colorful murals. Take time after dinner to walk deeper behind the restaurant to explore all the open-air art.

When it’s time for the beach, access to Miami Beach from downtown Miami is easy via various methods. There is a water taxi that disembarks from Bayside Marketplace for the journey to Miami Beach Marina ($10 one-way). You can also take public transportation for just $5 a day. The “120” and the “C” busses both depart the Omni Terminal, located right next to the Hilton, and make the drive across the MacArthur Causeway into SoBe; be prepared for some traffic though. The first bus stop on the east side of the bridge is across the street from a Deco Bike station.

Deco Bike is the perfect way to get around Miami Beach. There is a $0.25 bus, the South Beach Local that loops all the way from South Pointe Park to 19th Street, but the bikes are better. If you ride on the boardwalk you can bypass all the traffic, enjoy a more scenic view, and stop off whenever you want. Download the company’s app to find the closest Deco Bike station and see bike availability. In addition to the boardwalk, I enjoyed biking through South Pointe Park, which offers great views and a quieter beachfront. Bikes are available from $4 up to $24 per day. If you plan on riding for multiple days, become a member online to get unlimited rides for one month for just $35.

When you need a break from the sand and sun – eat! For an insider’s perspective on the best restaurants in SoBe, sign up for the SoBe Food Tour with Miami Culinary Tours ($59). The guide I had on my tour was sensational. She of course guided us through many great ethnic and local favourite dishes, but she also enlightened our group of 7 on the different cultures of Miami’s many residents. We also stopped off inside hotel lobbies and in front of several Art Deco style buildings to learn about their architecture and for several Instagram worthy photo opportunities that didn’t require any filters.

Aside from the stops included in the food tour I enjoyed a breakfast one morning at News Cafe. This iconic 24-hour cafe offers Ocean Drive seating, big omelets, and plenty of people watching opportunities. If you’re opting for Deco Bike transportation, you’ll find stations on Ocean Drive one block in either direction of the News Café.

On the day before Easter I headed home. I took a cab, waiting in stand outside my hotel, to MIA. My Delta flight was at 09.00 and the airport was empty. I was the only person to pass through the TSA Pre-check lane. Once through security you are at the intersection of Concourse H and J. A Delta SkyClub is located on an upper level, just down the hall of the J Concourse.

My airline ticket for this trip was $341. That price was for a multi-city ticket and included all my segments, including those from my Orlando trip: CLE-ATL-MCO, MIA-ATL-CLE.

As most cities do, Miami offers a wide variety of activities. The city and beach can of course appeal to those looking for a party and good nightlife scene. It can also however offer history, culture, and amazing food to solo travelers and families with children alike.

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