miami, star island, biscayne bay, florida, million dollar house

Miami – the Sunshine City

We quickly forget how American Airlines has landed us at Miami International as soon as we step out of the airport to search for a taxi that is large enough to fit 4 people with 6 suitcases.

– “May you take us to the Fontainebleau hotel?” we cheerfully chirp to the driver.

– “Of course, hop in.”

Miami welcomes us with a generous, subtropical sun. As Eric Weiner has put it in his bestseller – ‘Geography of Bliss’: “There are two seasons in Miami – hot and unbearably hot.” We are lucky that we are visiting it in September when it is ‘just’ hot.

Thanks to a pre-scheduled trip, we will be spending 3 nights in one of the most iconic and luxurious hotels on Miami’s South Beach only for a couple of hundred dollars (bear in mind that this was in 2007).

As soon as we exit the taxi, a bellman greets us merrily and starts loading the luggage cart with our belongings, while we are still admiring the beautiful building we are about to enter.

Miami, Fontainebleau Hotel
Fontainebleau Hotel at Miami’s South Beach is an absolute marvel of engineering.

“Guys, have you been to the Fontainebleau before?” the bellman asks us with the largest of smiles.

“No, we have not had the pleasure to visit it yet,” I answer.

“Oh, you are really going to fall in love with it!” he assures us confidently.

First Glimpses of Miami’s South Beach

And aren’t we stupefied! We enter into an enormous apartment with a terrace, overlooking both the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. While we are still dazed by the sumptuousness, the sheer size of the room, and the splendid view, the bellman shoots a quick “Have a great stay!” and leaves us.

Miami, Bay and ocean view, South Beach
Miami, South Beach – bay and ocean view from the hotel

In the afternoon, we set off to explore the area around South Beach. Enormous yachts are parked along the bay. Large boulevards criss-cross the area. There is lush greenery and the streets are lined with palm trees.

Yacht, Miami, South Beach
One of the many yachts parked around the bay.

The only thing that reminds you that you are not (exactly) in heaven is the almost intolerable humidity (which does not change even at night), especially for travellers who are used to dry heat. Tired of the flight and the hot weather, we decide to succumb to the temptation of the hotel’s sky pool (situated on the 9th floor).

Sky Pool, Miami
The sky pool on the 9th floor where we slowly sipped cocktails.

We order refreshing drinks, get some towels and for the rest of the day, we lie cosily on the chaise longues. The first evening bestows us with a wonderful sunset which we admire from the balcony.

Sunset, Miami, South Beach
Sunset as seen from the hotel’s balcony.

Just at the tip of the ocean, early next morning we head to the beach before the sun has become sizzling. Although the beach is excellent, the water is hot as a tea and, on top of that, the ocean bottom is quite rocky.

After a few dips in the water, we grow tired and opt out for a nap. I warn my friend – Tsvetan – that we could easily fall asleep. And, of course, we do. In an hour or so, I wake up, because my skin aches.

Congratulations to the winners – we are officially sunburned in Miami – ouch! Friendly advice – do not fall asleep at any time on the beach even if you have put sunscreen on (its protection is not powerful enough after an hour under the scorching sun). At least, the boardwalk next to the beach is quite the stroll.

In the afternoon, we set out to further explore the South Beach.

Boardwalk 2, Miami, South Beach
The boardwalk.
Miami, South Beach
Endless sky, endless ocean.
Miami, South Beach 2
The azure ocean at Miami’s South Beach was amazingly warm but somewhat rocky.
Boardwalk 1, Miami, South beach
Isn’t this boardwalk just dazzling?

In the evening, we head downtown. With the sun setting down, road traffic has begun to intensify and a lady putting her make-up in her car, while waiting at traffic lights, is a regular sight. We are told that the yacht docks are a must-visit so this is our next stop. As we get around the docks and marvel at the fabulous boats parked there, we take some night shots and decide to indulge in a couple of (virgin) cocktails while watching a live performance by a Spanish-singing band.

Cocktails, Miami Downtown
Virgin and alcoholic cocktails, Miami Downtown
Yacht docks 1, Miami
The yacht docks in Miami’s downtown
Fontainebleau at night, Miami
Fontainebleau at night, Miami, South Beach

Fisher Island and Star island

The last day is quite hectic as we’ve scheduled a boat & bus tour of Miami and we have a plane to catch in the evening. The boat trip starts from downtown and passes by high-rise residential buildings overlooking Biscayne Bay. The captain, who also provides the passengers with interesting facts about the things we travel around, informs us that the rents and costs of an apartment in those buildings are very expensive. No wonder why.

Soon after that, we reach the port of Miami. It is one of the largest cargo ports of the United States and number one passenger port worldwide. Thus, it is known as the “Cargo Gateway of the Americas” and the “Cruise Capital of the World”. Immediately after Dodge Island, where the port of Miami is located, we pass by Fisher Island.

Immediately after Dodge Island, where the port of Miami is located, we pass by Fisher Island. The island is a census-designated place which is accessible only by a private boat or a ferry – there are no roads or causeways connecting the island to other islands or to the mainland.

The tour continues around the man-made Star Island. “Many celebrities, like Gloria Estefan, Sean Combs, Vanilla Ice, and Shaquille O’Neal, own or have owned homes on the island”, we are told by the captain. One of the houses on the island is worth more than $50 million. The boat meanders between Palm and Hibiscus Islands and gets us back to downtown Miami.

downtown Miami
Miami’s skyline.
Highrise Buildings, Miami, Biscayne Bay
Highrise buildings overlooking Miami’s Biscayne Bay.
Miami Port
Port of Miami – the largest U.S. port on the East Side.
Miami, Fisher Island
Fisher Island – only accessible by boats.
Miami, Fisher Island 2
Fisher Island, Miami, as seen from the boat.
Miami, Star Island 1
Star Island
Miami, Star Island 2
Star Island as seen from the boat
Miami, Star Island 3
The captain told us that this house is worth $50 million (photo taken in 2007).
Miami, Star Island 4
Celebrity houses on Star Island.

Miami’s Gorgeous Coconut Grove and Coral Gables

After the boat adventure, it is time for the bus tour.  It takes us around downtown and continues to Coconut Grove – the oldest incessantly inhabited Miami neighbourhood. It is extremely green, clean, and quiet. In Coconut Grove is located the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, which was formerly known as Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery. It is a cemetery with a historical significance where the early Bahamian settlers were buried. The guide also tells us a curious fact – it is the cemetery where Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was shot.

Miami downtown, bus tour
Miami Downtown – bus tour around the area.
Early Settlers Building, Coconut Grove, Miami
Bahamian settlers building, Coconut Grove, Miami.
Thriller Cemetery, Miami
The Cemetery where the Bahamian settlers were buried and where Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was shot.

After Coconut Grove’s sumptuous greenery, we are taken to Coral Gables where the bus stops at Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel. It is a fabulous hotel very well-known for serving as a hospital during World War II, as a Veteran’s Administration hospital, and as a campus of the University of Miami’ School of Medicine up until 1968.

Next stop is the Coral Gables Venetian Pool – a pool that “recalls design features from the Venetian Lagoon in Italy”. Known as the “Venetian Casino” and opened in 1924, the Venetian Pool was designed and built in an old coral rock quarry. Artesian wells displace some 820,000 U.S. gallons (3,100 m3) of fresh water on a daily basis, which makes it the largest freshwater pool in the U.S.A. The Venetian Pool features an island, a grotto, and two waterfalls.

Coral Gables, Biltmore Hotel, Miami
Coral Gables, Biltmore Hotel, Miami – used to be a hospital during World War II.
Venetian Pool, Miami
Venetian Pool, Coral Gables, Miami
Venetian Pool, Waterfall, Miami
The waterfall is just stupendous, isn’t it?
Venetian Pool, Bulgarian Foursome, Miami
A happy Bulgarian “Foursome”.

“Little Cuba” is one of Miami’s nicknames. Hence, our last stop is the Cuban district of Miami where ‘local’ people are peacefully playing domino. In the Cuban district, you can purchase Dominican cigars (back in 2007, Cuban goods were still embargoed, but due to the recent rapprochement of U.S.-Cuban relations, who knows – probably Cuban cigars will also be sold soon).

Cuban District, Domino, Miami
Playing domino in the Cuban district of Miami.

And as a conclusion, I have enlisted some helpful tips for those who aspire to visit Miami.

  • When to visit: The whole Sunshine State is located in the hurricane belt. Therefore, between the beginning of June and the end of November, there is a risk of hurricanes and tropical storms in Miami. We were there in the middle of September and did not experience any, but it is highly advisable to purchase travel insurance that will cover you (and your travel companions) in the unhappy event of a hurricane.
  • Weather: Miami is located in the subtropics which means it is warm all year-round. Even on cloudy days, it is highly recommended to wear a hat and have a high PSF sunblock (we did not and ended up sunburnt and aching until we found some Aloe Vera gel that soothed the pain to a great extent). In the summer months, the humidity reaches excruciating levels and June is probably the worst month as it receives the most rainfall.
  • When to save and book: As I mentioned, we were visiting Miami in September and we have booked the hotel and flights at least 2 months in advance – so if you want to have a quiet and reasonable visit of the “Magic City”, go for the low-season months (June to September). Since we have already crossed out June that gives you July to September. If you are a party animal, go for the high season – from January to April. And, do not forget to clear your cookie history or use the incognito window when booking flights.

If paradise existed, Miami would probably be one of its suburbs. Bon voyage!

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Have you been to the Sunshine City?

83 comments on “Miami – the Sunshine City

  1. mark

    Great pictures looks excellent. When ever i see pictures of Miami area i always think of Miami Vice. it was my favourite show in the 80’s you just need a picture of Don johnson in a ferreri lol.
    cheers
    mark

  2. Marta

    My only experience of Miami is throught American movies and your photos very much reminded me of those: I’d love to visit in person! But I feel your pain with humidity and if I ever go, I’d follow your sky-pool approach to the problem 😉

    • Svet

      Before I visited, I have only seen it on TV and I was even more impressed when I got there, but, yes, humidity could be a killer. The sky pool does help in alleviating it 🙂

  3. Meg Jerrard

    Fantastic photos and tips! My favorite area of Miami is Coral Gables so I’m so glad you had the chance to spend time there. Next time you visit you should stay at the Biltmore – such a fabulous hotel for overnight 😀

    • Svet

      Thank you, Meg! Coral Gables definitely is a wonderful place. I would surely consider staying at the Biltmore! Isn’t expensive to stay there, though? 🙂

  4. Jo

    I’m a sucker for a stunning sunset and a pretty beach – that sea looks amazing so you had me at the start. By the time I got to the end of the post I was sold – on a destination I would never have considered. Great job!

    • Svet

      Hehe, Jo, aren’t you a flatterer! Thanks, and I am happy that I made you feel that way. It is, surely, a stupefying place to visit! Cheers!

  5. Sarah Twain

    So unfair- all these beautiful photos are making me incredibly jealous! STOP IT!

  6. Jackie

    Great photos, that ocean! oh my!

  7. Divina CA

    Virgin cocktail! What a sesceiption hehehe… Love your photos especially the sunset! Feels so romantic 🙂

  8. Divina CA

    Virgin cocktail! What a way to name a drink hehehheh… Love your photos especially the sunset its stunning and always set the mood for a romantic night. Love it!

    • Svet

      Well, some of us were 20 at the time and were not allowed to indulge into binge drinking, hehe. Thanks, yeah, the sunsets were calling for a pinch of romanticism.

  9. Marjorie

    Looks like you had fun-filled day in Miami. I’ve only seen it in movies and tv series, I figured the weather there is humid. It was interesting to learn that that’s where the Thriller video was shot.

  10. Heather Cole

    I’m not great with the heat so think I’d be pretty much living in that sky pool, looks heavenly! And anywhere lined with palm trees gets my vote.

    • Svet

      Yes, it was indeed heavenly. My dream is to visit Marina Bay Sands and dip in the shallow waters of the infinity pool at the backdrop of Singapore’s skyline. That would be more heavenly, I guess 🙂

  11. Carol Colborn

    We did this same 4-day 3-night tour of Miami and South Beachb in 2010! What a trip.

  12. Anne Klien ( MeAnne)

    Miami looks so amazing the night photography is beautiful. Thanks for the great tips.

  13. Amanda & Brian – EatWorkTravel

    We love boardwalks along the beach and the one you captured here is no exception! The bright blue hue of the water against the sand and palm tress is simply stunning. Looks like a great trip.

  14. evan kristine

    Sunny Miami indeed! I l love that fisherman island, very ironic to how it is named 😀 This place seems to be so luxurious though, was it expensive?

    • Svet

      Haha, yeah, the name does not correspond, does it? Well, we did not get off at the island, just got around it with the boat. I suppose it is very expensive 🙂

  15. Jessica

    Sunshine gives me a positive view, always. Hehe. I might put this on my list! 😉

  16. Richard Collett

    I’m not sure my British skin could handle the Miami heat….even the ‘hot’ season would be too unbearably hot for me! Looks like a great trip you had though!

    • Svet

      No wonder why the basketball team is called “Miami Heat”. Well, if you apply enough sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight, probably you would survive 🙂

  17. Grietje | TravelGretl

    Those nightviews are lovely 🙂 and it seem like so many big houses and boats over there!

  18. christine

    I love Miami I just don’t love the prices! Haha Beautiful place though 🙂

  19. Natasha Amar

    My husband visited Miami last year and loved it. I think I’d love it too, especially because I love beaches. I hope to visit next year.

    • Svet

      Yeah, beaches there are great, but the ocean bottom near the hotel was rocky. Bear that in mind and probably inquire in advance.

  20. Arnie

    In another life my wife had been to Miami, and as beautiful a picture as you paint, I won’t ever get there because of my wife’s very negative opinion. That’s just the way it goes.

  21. Christa

    I’ve been to Florida dozens of times but never made it as far south as Miami. The view looks awesome!

  22. Sarah Twain

    Miami looks incredible- the size of some of those yachts, Jeeeeeeezeeee.

  23. Nic from Roaming Renegades

    After watching Dexter I always wanted to visit Miami, we have been to Florida before so we know all about that heat!!

    • Svet

      He-he, the heat is bearable when you are in low season, I guess or if you are equipped with the proper attitude and smiles ;))

  24. Lexi

    We had a massive layover a city over last time we were in the US, we probably could have come here for a visit. It looks like a lovely city

  25. Alli

    Gorgeous scenery. Look at that nice baby blue sky 🙂 I look out my window now and it is grey, dreary, and cold 🙁 I would love to cannon ball into that sky pool and slip a cocktail too!

  26. Sonal of Drifter Planet

    Wow, beautiful pictures! This is on my wishlist.

  27. Inma

    Looks like a place I could fall for. Thanks for this post!

  28. Claudia

    I gather that the city is way more welcoming than its airport. I fly in and out of Miami all the time as I use American Airlines for most of my travels to Central and South America and the really rude security officers have put me off from visiting. Perhaps next time I should plan to have a long layover!

  29. crizkis

    Wow! This place looks awesome! I wanna be there too, right now!

  30. Nancy

    Wow, you have incredible information here! First the Fontainebleau looks like the perfect hotel for that area, especially with the larger than expected rooms. Then I never thought about where Thriller was filmed, I guess I thought it was in a studio so that’s interesting it was done in Miami. And your photo’s are fab!

    • Svet

      Hehe, thank you, Nancy! I am very happy that you enjoyed reading it. Fontainebleau really is a great hotel! Fab photos of an amazing place – easy-peasy-japanesey 🙂

  31. NYC JetSetter

    Beautiful hotel. You can never go wrong with a sky pool!

  32. Prianka | Map Halves

    As crazy as Miami can me, your pictures make it look really beautiful – especially the beach and the boardwalk look very relaxing and serene. Looks like sweet digs that you had as well!

    • Svet

      Yeah, it is one of the party capitals of the world, but at the time (I) we were under 21 so we could not enter any clubs. Therefore, we embarked upon exploring 🙂

  33. Anita Hendrieka

    This place looks great, awesome photos!

  34. The.Restless.Worker

    My only experience in Miami was for less than 24 hours. We stayed in South Beach and it was so cool! Filled with lots of crazy people though!

  35. whileimyoungandskinny

    The pool, the cocktails, the boardwalk…. love it all! I’ve never thought much about going to Miami but it actually seems really cool. I didn’t realise it was so humid, but I probably should have given its proximity to Cuba. I was there this year and the humidity was crazy! Lovely post, I hardly ever see Miami featured on travel blogs. Wonder why!?

    • Svet

      Yeah, everything is great in Miami save for the humidity! Thanks for reading and I am happy that you liked it! I have no idea really. It is in mentioned in myriads of songs, though, hehe.

  36. anneklien

    Sea sun and cocktail I’m on my way. The beach is so inviting

  37. Rishabh & Nirali

    The beach seems really inviting but could you shed some light onto how expensive it would turn out to be. The depiction in movies makes it seem quite expensive for travelers on a budget 🙂

    • Svet

      Well, we booked our hotel through Expedia two months in advance with the plane tickets (return ticket from NYC) + a boat and bus tour altogether for 450 USD (but this was in 2007). That was quite the deal, but we were in low-season. Eating out in restaurants could be a little expensive. Two days ago, I was talking to a friend who has also been there and he told me that cocktails during the day are, for instance, 30 USD, while at night – 80 (this is for 33 ounces or 1 litre). So, it very well depends on planning, staying, etc.

  38. trucosviajeros

    Miami has never been on my bucket list, but it looks so nice in your pictures, I should give it a try. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  39. alexis

    Very cool tour of Miami. One thing that always strikes me when I go there is how saturated all the colors are. Such a beautiful place:)

  40. Rossi

    Fabulous post and photos! Strangely, I’ve never been interested in visiting Miami, but these amazing vistas and descriptions made me change my mind. Love the blue of the ocean and the sky.
    Best wishes! 🙂

    Rossi

    • Svet

      Thank you very much, Rossi! I am very happy that I sparked your interest. It is a great place, full of lush greenery and warm blue ocean!

      Best wishes to you too!

  41. Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

    Hah! I found your article at last. Man, your trip here looks amazing. I’ve only been to Orlando, and all we did were the theme parks. Miami, I will come for you and you will NOT BURN me like you did Svet because I will have a UV/Rash guard on!!! LOL

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