Halfway through the busy holiday season, my husband and I decided that we would require a little R&R once our three sons (and a girlfriend) had departed. We took off the week between Christmas and New Years and began to plan our getaway. We ran into a few obstacles, but the trip was well-worth it.
Since we had decided on Florida last-minute, airline ticket prices were high. I made an executive decision to save money (and time) by flying direct on AllegiantAir.com, a low-cost, direct flight from Elmira, NY to Orlando, FLA. It’s a no-frills option which made it easier to pack since we only took one suitcase each. Once in Orlando, we rented a car-a convertible Mustang, what else?-and made the 3.5-hour drive to Miami.
This travel savings allowed me to book a reservation at The Betsy Ross (or The Betsy for those in the know!), located on South Beach in Miami and voted one of the best boutique hotels in the country. Staying at this type of establishment is unusual for me so I was excited to give it a try. Here’s what their website read:
“The Betsy – South Beach is a refined, beach-side haven located in the heart of South Beach, committed to timeless luxury and service, while offering incredible ocean views, exquisite amenities, world-class cuisine, and a unique commitment to the arts.”
For the most part, this turned out to be true and our overall stay was quite enjoyable. Being at the Betsy was unexpectedly similar to being on a tropical island. Things move at their own pace, in their own way, and there is not much you can do to influence that. Trying to find a cup of coffee the first morning of our stay (there is no Keurig or pot in the room) was like embarking on a scavenger hunt, an exercise in persistence and patience!
The rooftop pool, the oceanfront deck, and the easy beach access were even better than expected (warm enough to swim in!) and we took full advantage of them for hours each day. A bonus was being able to watch the multiple New Year’s Eve fireworks displays from the Betsy’s roof with a glass of champagne-a wonderful way to begin 2019!
The hotel is also known for its commitment to the arts, both as a collaborator with Art Basel, Miami Beach, and in terms of the lectures, live music, a well-stocked library, and even a “writer’s room” for working writers.
The staff was friendly and courteous (special shout-out to Wayne the doorman!) and there are a lot of extras for guests; all you need to do is ask. If you’re even remotely curious about getting a look at Miami beyond the beach and bar scene, don’t rely on the concierge there. Do your research ahead of time and plan your own day trips and you’ll have a much broader and comprehensive experience.
What to do
My goal was to try to sample something from every part of Miami’s complex culture. Unfortunately, I was too busy catching up on my sleep to do too much the first few days. But once we regained our stamina, we saddled up the Mustang and hit the streets.
The Glenn Curtiss Mansion, a designated site on the National Register of Historic Places in Miami Springs, was our first stop. Glenn Curtiss has long been a hero of mine. Not only because he’s a local (Hammondsport, NY) but because of his boundless curiosity, creativity, and inventiveness when it came to anything mechanical.
Though the Curtiss Mansion offers historical tours for five dollars on Saturday’s from 10-11:00 a.m., we arrived on a Wednesday morning. However, we were lucky enough to run into the friendly groundskeeper (a retired Kodak man and big fan of Wegmans!) who showed us around the property. As we were leaving, the Executive Director arrived and we spoke to her at length about Glenn’s unsung accomplishments and some of the Mansion’s future goals.
Next, we bought tickets for the Island Queen Cruises and Tours Millionaire Sightseeing Cruise, just to see how the other half lives. And to get a glimpse of Miami from the water. Apparently, Miami’s skyline was voted one of the top three, along with New York and Chicago’s. Who knew?
This was thirsty work so we hit up the Hard Rock Café Miami at Bayside Marketplace which claims to offer the “full Miami experience”. There are certainly a lot of high-end shops there for the savvy consumer. Once was enough for me!
Sidenote: We took the long way back to Orlando, up the, west coast of Florida, so we could stop at the Everglades. Forgetting that there was a government shutdown we were lucky enough to hop aboard a privately-run tram tour (https://www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/) of the Shark Valley area of the park. The wildlife sightings were phenomenal-we even saw our first nest of baby alligators! And learned about some of the park’s lengthy history too. Well worth it!
Where to eat
The food in Miami, with all of its Latino influences, was incredible! I could write pages about just that, but I’ll cut to the chase and just name my top three restaurants and what we ate there.
Close by The Betsy, this eatery offers South American food at its best! And a lively vibe to go with it. The only drawbacks are that your check already includes a 25% gratuity and table service is slow. In other words, don’t go there hungry! The dish I ordered “Lomo Saltado” is a traditional Peruvian dish, a sort-of stir fry made up of marinated strips of steak, with onions, tomatoes, and French fries, all in some sort of mouth-watering sauce. I can still taste it days later, that’s how good it was.
Havana 1957 Cuban Cuisine
This restaurant was within walking distance of the hotel and is perfect if you are combining lunch and dinner into one late afternoon meal. We each ordered a sample plate that featured deliciously marinated portions of chicken, pork, and steak, along with a generous helping of rice, beans, and plantain chips. My guess is that the restaurant is called “1957” for a reason, as most of the Cubans I met last year are no longer eating this way.
El Rey de Las Fritas (Cuban)
I couldn’t leave Miami without taking a drive to Little Havana. On SW 8th Street, I found this gem-Cuban fast food at its best, and at a price most of us can afford. We opted to sit at the counter and the service was efficient and friendly. There was also a parking lot right in front, a rarity in the busy city. If you’re into people-watching, this is the place for you!
I recommend the original Frita with cheese. It’s a burger with some sort of spices mixed in, with onions and shoestring potatoes and it is delicious. I got the single, my husband the double, and both were devoured in record time. This was accompanied by a freshly-made Limonada, reminiscent of the old Friendly’s Fribble and also tasty.
Would I go back to Miami? I think so. But next time I’d prefer to be thinner, richer, and less tired!