TRAVEL: Miami & Romantic Winter Vacations
By Dwight Brown, NNPA Travel Writer/Photo Journalist
Because love is always in season, it’s a great time to take a trip and start or rekindle a romance. All kinds of couples are heading to Miami, exchanging -10 degree weather for 80 degree+ temps. Share a balmy climate with someone you love, warm your bodies and your hearts with a romantic winter vacation.
Romantic Sights and Things to Do
• Experience a touch of Italy at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.
From 1910 to 1922 James Deering, VP International Harvester, built a winter home in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, modeling it after a classic Italian country villa. Set on the waterfront of Biscayne Bay, the large Main House with 24 decorated rooms was originally set on 180 acres. Deering and his winter guests, like Lillian Gish and President Warren Harding, stayed at Vizcaya every November to April.
An exquisitely sculpted barge sits in the back to break the waves. The scenic water views have the magical romance of Venice, the amazing gardens are reminiscent of the Tuileries and the name Vizcaya is Spanish. Collectively, Deering brought a touch of Europe to Miami and left his vision behind for visitors to enjoy at their leisure with audio guides or on guided tours.
• Take a cruise from Deering Estate and fall in love again.
The champagne and prosecco flow on the boat rides that launch from the Deering Estate, former home of Charles Deering (James’ brother) in the town of Palmetto Bay in Miami Dade County. Boats depart from the 450-acre estate with its museum and nature preserve. The vessels head by uninhabited keys populated by mangrove trees pelicans, gulls and ducks a place to perch. Passengers float past downtown Miami, Key Biscayne and South Beach.
The cruise heads to what remains of Stiltsville, a group of wood stilt houses one mile south of Cape Florida. The homes sit in the shallow waters of Safety Valve, a coral reef that at low tide is just one to three feet deep. History has it that “Crawfish” Eddie Walker built the first shack on stilts in 1933, to avoid the confines of prohibition and throw boozy parties. One of the last remaining homes, a pink and yellow one, was a set for the film Bad Boys II.
• Learn how to play doubles on the friendly tennis courts at the Miami Beach Tennis Academy.
In mid Miami Beach, the crowds of tourists are thin, it’s more like a real neighborhood and folks like to gather at the Northshore Park on 72nd Street. If you book time with the tennis pro Julio Avila, he’ll teach you how to play doubles on one of the 10 clay courts or two hard courts. Doubles, which requires negotiating, anticipation and working together, can strengthen your relationship with your better half and it’s a game people play well into their 80s. Julio and his fellow pro Alina will coach you at a tennis park that is frequented by Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova. Bring a racquet or borrow one and you can learn or fine-tune a sport that you can play anywhere in the world.
Gaze into your lover’s eyes across a table.
• Brush shoulders with the in-crowd at the swanky Swan/Bar Bevy Restaurant.
Restaurateur David Grutman (LIV at the Fontainebleau, STORY, Kimodo) has partnered with music icon Pharrell and Chef Jean Imbert to open the trendiest restaurant in the Design District, the chicest neighborhood in Miami. Surrounded by Tom Ford, Givenchy and Burberry stores, the two-story restaurant, with the upstairs cocktail lounge Bar Bevy, attracts gastronomes and wheeler-dealers who network at lunch and play at night.
Dine outdoors in a courtyard among foliage and sunshine. Or, eat inside where pastel colors and handsome furniture set a swank tone. Make sure your menu choices include: Hamachi Tartare or Little Gem Salad (with pear slices) appetizers; Branzino or the delectable Spaghetti with Osetra Caviar for a main course. End it with the Pavlova dessert– looks like a macaroon Faberge egg.
• Dine in elegance—pre-theater—at BRAVA by Brad Kilgore.
If you’re headed to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to see an opera, dance performance or traveling shows like The Lion King, Jazz Roots starring Sergio Mendes, Flamenco Festival Miami or Miami City Ballet’s classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” prep yourself for a wonderful evening by dining at the lush BRAVA by Brad Killgore Restaurant. The stately ambiance of the center permeates the upscale eatery and its innovative cuisine.
Nibble on the BRAVA Brioche (rosemary parmesan crust and umami butter), before an appetizer of Roasted Bone Marrow or the very delicate N’duja & Potato Ravioli. Dinner will be well remembered if you order the Crab Arrabbiato (jumbo lump crab cake) or the succulent Bone-In Veal Chop. Before running off to the theater, feast on the Black Forest dessert, which looks like an oblong cubed chocolate bar with caramelized chocolate, cherry gelée, pistachio genoise and basil. Gorgeously crafted.
• Dig into Brazilian cuisine at Boteco Copacabana on lively Española Way.
South Beach’s Española way is a short four block pedestrian mall, populated by outdoor cafes and looks like it belongs in Europe. Tourists parade up and down the cobblestone street providing high-caliber people watching. Among the Italian, Mexican and Cuban places to sit, gaze and dine, is the friendly Brazilian restaurant Boteco Copacabana. You will be greeted at the door, ushered to an outdoor seat and have your choice from the finest array of Brazilian beers. Cerpa is the gold standard, a very light ale bordering on the taste of ginger ale. If it isn’t available, go for the equally smooth Rasen. Sip on your beer and start with either the codfish or chicken croquets. So you don’t have to choose between meat and fish, order the Mar e Terra (Surf and Turf) entrée with perfectly seasoned and grilled sirloin, lobster tail, shrimp, salmon, beef ribs and chorizo. Then nurse an espresso, hold hands and watch the parade of people go by. FYI, Saturday nights at 8:30pm Boteco hosts mini-carnivals called “Samba Saturday.”
Nothing does it like a romantic spa treatment
• The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami’s spa lets you languish in luxury.
Walking through the halls of The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami on the way to its spa, reminds you why the Ritz hotels are such a mainstay in the luxury accommodations market. Stately walls, impeccable interior design, attentive service, flattering lighting and you haven’t even made it to the front door of the spa. As soon as you do walk in, you’re shrouded in a calming serenity.
Get in the mood for love by trying the Honey Dream treatment (80 min $260). It touches the entire body, providing deep relaxation with rhythmic massage techniques using honey-based products that leave a sweet smell. Balance your body’s vital energy and boosts your immune system with a full body massage using a beeswax thermal pad, an organic honey masque treatment and tea served with local honey. Classy and sweet.
• Get pampered at the Newport Beachside Hotel’s spa.
Head up past North Miami to the neighboring town of Sunny Isles and the tourist crowds disappear. Here at the Newport Beachside Hotel, a place South American tourists love, the Aveda Seven Seas Spa & Salon is wiping out stress one treatment (or package) at a time.
Lovers are particularly attracted to the Restorative Package ($205) which includes: Elemental Nature massage (50 mins —pick your favorite aroma, add in acupressure and reflexology); Elemental Nature Facial (50 mins – customized based on your skin); manicure (45 mins); and pedicure (one hour). Request the manicurist Miriam for your mani-pedi; she has the golden touch and works well with women and calms skittish men. On your way out, dine at Kitchen 305, where the freshest fried whole red snapper in Miami is on the menu and the key lime pie is excellent.
Welcoming places to stay that have love in the house.
• The intimate and black-owned Copper Door B&B welcomes everyone.
Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s when black musicians performed at nightclubs in Miami Beach, but couldn’t stay there, they’d head over to the welcoming neighborhood of Overtown, in Downtown Miami. They’d hang their hats and trumpets at the Demetree Hotel, on NW 4th Avenue and 5th street. The lodging house was closed and abandoned for years until a very entrepreneurial couple—Jamila Ross and Akino West—renovated it and turned it into the prestigious Copper Door Bed and Breakfast. Twenty-two rooms and three suites in this ultra-friendly B&B attract guests from around the world.
White walls exhibit paintings, like those by the famed Purvis Young of Overtown. Ross is quick to suggest places to eat and visit in the surrounding neighborhoods: Little Havana (Ball and Chain for Cuban food and live music; Azucar for ice cream); Casablanca Seafood restaurant for river views and fresh fish; and The Wharf, an outdoor venue noted for food trucks. Warning: Don’t miss the breakfast at The Copper Door. Akino was a chef at Noma in Copenhagen—he can throw down some very tasty morning concoctions: His eggs benedict and red velvet waffles made with beets and a side of beef sausage may easily be the best food you’ll eat in Miami.
• The National Hotel Miami Beach will sing you to sleep.
It’s not easy distinguishing yourself from the myriad of hotels that dot the shores of South Beach. But the National Hotel has done just that. It’s the perfect hybrid between a luxury and a boutique hotel. The fancy appointments, impeccable interiors and impressive exteriors go hand-in-hand with their amicable vibe, which makes a stay here perfect for lovers. Bed down in any of the 116 renovated city and direct ocean view guestrooms in the Historic Tower (dates back to 1939), or rest in any of the 36 luxurious cabanas and suites (originally built in the 1960s) for a Zen-like feeling.
Their infinity-edge pool, lined by cabanas that double as massage huts, is the longest in Miami Beach and is steps from the shoreline. For a completely private, moonlit evening, dine poolside in one of their three exclusive cabanas. The upgraded poolside dinner comes with a decorated cabana, candles, and a private guitarist who will serenade you throughout dinner. It’s comforting and cool to return to the hotel at night and find a crooner at the piano bar in the lobby singing love songs. He takes requests. Great time to sit back, nurse a Courvoisier and hold hands.
• Cuddle up in an apartment at the reasonably priced and friendly Waterside Hotel Suites.
The neat thing about the hip Waterside Hotel is that it has two separate locations in Miami Beach’s North Beach. The one on Harding Avenue at 73rd St. features vibrant colors with groovy ‘60s flair and rooms at great prices (as low as $59). The one at Harding Avenue and 67th St. offers spacious apartment-suites (as low as $67) and a parking lot across the street.
If you like to jump in your rented car and explore Miami, this place makes that easy. Gray floors, flamingo wallpaper accent walls, expansive balconies and a small pool give the Waterside a contemporary look. It’s just a minute walk from the beach and the suites come with kitchenettes and have microwaves, mini-fridges, mini-stoves and washer/dryer combos. All the guests say hello—it’s that kind of hotel.
While Valentine’s Day is still on your mind and the polar vortex is producing subzero weather, find a way to feel some warm love in the air. Head to Miami for a romantic winter vacation
Visit travel writer Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.