When we conjure up a mental image of a place we’ve never been, it’s usually larger than life and when we get there it’s often not how we imagined it. Now try it with Miami. Chances are, you just conjured up an image of blazing sunshine and smiling, impossibly tanned, good-looking people engaging in all manner of beach fun? Well, you’d be right. Miami is all this and more, which makes it such a popular cruise and stay destination.
The Port of Miami, known as PortMiami, is the world’s leading cruise passenger port, with one in seven of all the world’s cruise passengers beginning their voyages there. Lines such as Carnival Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises and offer an array of sailings, including a wide choice of exciting Caribbean and South American itineraries. However, if you’re planning on spending a few days in Florida’s most famous city before you sail (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to?) here’s a guide to some of the things you can do.
Yes, it’s an obvious one, but where would any blog about Miami be with mentioning beaches? South Beach to be precise. This iconic stretch of brilliant sand which attracts the glitterati and public alike and is a people-watching feast for the eyes but the term ‘South Beach’ refers to a neighbourhood in the city of Miami Beach, located east of Miami itself.
The beach itself is every bit the busy and bustling as you would imagine, and the best way to experience it is to just soak up the atmosphere and of course, try to spot someone famous while you’re doing it. The boardwalk is the perfect place for a stroll and with restaurant, bar and shopping choices galore, it’s the quintessential place to hang out – a must for any loafer’s to-do list (if such a thing exists!) Beautifully-landscaped South Pointe Park is one of the most popular parts of South Beach and offers a pleasant and relaxing escape from the busier areas.
This being Miami, there are still a host of beaches to explore outside of the South Beach area. Crandon Park Beach, in the Key Biscayne neighbourhood, is a popular windsurfing spot and generally less crowded than the iconic South Beach. Often described as a little slice of the Caribbean in Miami, it’s a great place for nature lovers, and for those who just want to relax.
There is of course, an overwhelming array of clubs and bars to choose from in such a happening place as Miami, but if you’re in the city for a few nights, Mango’s Tropical Café in South Beach is well worth checking out. Not the preserve solely of the young and pretty, it encourages people of all ages to dance the night away and offers food and exciting live performances all night. For a completely different kind of night out, the intimate Colony Theatre offers a host of shows and films and is a welcome escape from Miami’s sometimes overpowering commercialism. Head inland to downtown Miami, meanwhile and you’ll find the Van Dyke Café, where all the cool jazz cats hang out. It’s as famous for its food as it is for its live music and is a great place to visit, day or night.
Miami offers much for nature lovers. The Zoological Wildlife Foundation boasts a large number of exotic species, but it’s not like a traditional zoo. You have to book by appointment for your chance to get up close and personal with some of nature’s most amazing creatures on your own private tour. Zoo Miami, meanwhile, offers a more traditional zoo experience and a host of rare and endangered animals, from Tigers and giraffes to crocodiles and Komodo Dragons. At Miami Beach Botanical Garden, it’s all about escaping from the hustle-bustle and enjoying some beautiful natural spaces. Water gardens, wetgrove mangroves, palms, orchids – they’re all here.
You may not necessarily see Miami as a city of cultural attractions, but in reality, there’s plenty of things to keep you busy away from the beaches and bars. Miami Beach’s conveniently compact Art Deco Historic District boasts over 800 Art Deco buildings and a guided walking tour is the best way to experience the wonderful architecture. The South Beach area’s most well-known and poignant structure however, is the Sculpture of Love and Anguish, the centrepiece of Kenneth Treister’s Holocaust Memorial. A beautiful piece of artwork in its own right, it also represents the perfect place to pause for reflection.
The architecturally remarkable New World Symphony is where America’s Orchestral Academy calls home. The building is an attraction in itself and the best way to experience it is by taking the tour and perhaps taking in one of the free performances by the students. Even the building’s exterior gets in on the performance, as it boasts a large white wall, built specifically to screen movies on certain nights of the week. Just relax in the park outside and enjoy the show!
By Simon Brotherton