When I flew back to Toronto last week there was a snow storm. It took 15 minutes to drive one block and I immediately regretted not staying longer. If you’re looking for a fabulous winter escape, Miami is a short flight away and offers the perfect balance of bustling city life and serene tropical beaches.
In this guide I am sharing a few of my favorite attractions, restaurants, tours and hot-spots to help you plan a fantastic vacation. I will be updating this article frequently so you might want to bookmark it for future reference.
Places to Stay
I prefer resort style properties reminiscent of the Caribbean so Provident Doral is one of my favorite hotels. The large complex backs on to a pristine golf course and offers spacious rooms, great amenities and luxurious bathrooms with TVs above the Jacuzzi tubs.
For families and groups, I recommend Marriott's Villas at Doral (4101 NW 87th Avenue Miami) which offers suite style accommodations. Our apartment had a full kitchen with pots, pans and utensils, in-room washer and dryer, 2 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, a large balcony overlooking the lake and a stylish living-dining area.
The master bedroom has a deep soaker tub and large waterfall shower.
Take advantage of the beautiful pool, free mini golf, shuffleboard court and pool tables.
There are also fun events listed on the resort's activity schedule. They include wine and cheese tasting, paint night and an animal show. At 3 pm daily there is free ice cream by the pool and the fire pit is a cozy place to relax after a long day.
Attractions, Tours and Shopping
If you're in the mood for a spicy chicken sandwich head to Popeyes. In Canada we don't have the original burger (the one Americans are obsessed with) but it is definitely worth trying. The thick, juicy chicken breast is marinated for 12 hours and cooked to crispy perfection. I don't eat a lot of fast food but this was delicious!
Jungle Island is a small eco-adventure park in the heart of Miami offering family friendly activities, exciting animal encounters and shows. Tickets cost $49.95 for adults and $35.95 for children.
Miami has a beautiful coastline and South Beach/Miami Beach along Ocean Drive is known for its nightclubs, restaurants and colorful Art Deco buildings. Walk along the strip, dip your toes in the cool water and stop for lunch at one of the many trendy patios that serve giant cocktails.
One of my favorite places to party on South Beach is Clevelander Bar. You will spot the illuminated palm trees and blue dance floor as you make your way up the beach at night.
CityPlace Doral is a beautiful entertainment complex with street performances, music, bars and restaurants.
For date night I highly recommend Cinebistro - a VIP luxury full-service move theater with comfortable reclining chairs. Arrive early to enjoy the bar and take advantage of their in-theater dining experience. Ticket holders are eligible for validated parking in CityPlace lots.
Don’t miss Las Olas Boulevard - a trendy neighborhood with malls, specialty shops and great restaurants. Stop for frozen yogurt and have dinner at one of the beautiful patios on the water.
The tour travels through downtown Fort Lauderdale to Millionaires Row (the "Venice of America") where you will see celebrity mansions and spectacular mega yachts before arriving at Tropical Isle for an all-you-can-eat barbecue dinner.
I've been on this cruise twice and it is by far my favorite scenic tour. The food is mediocre - barbecue chicken (you might want to bring your own Tabasco), warm bread, ribs, beans, delicious potato wedges and creamy coleslaw served with water or watered down ice tea. Dessert, soft drinks, hot beverages and alcohol is not included but can be purchased at the bar.
The beautiful island is decorated with twinkling lights, pagodas and tiki torches. After dinner you'll have time to visit the rescued animal sanctuary and enjoy a lovely outdoor show featuring comedians, jugglers and magicians.
Traveler's Tip: Check Groupon Miami for discounted tickets (usually $10 off per person) and arrive early to check-in and line up for preferred seating. For more information visit the Jungle Queen website HERE.
Do some shopping, take a photo with the oldest tree in the city and have lunch on a patio overlooking the marina as boats sail into the harbor. I usually opt for Chilis Bar & Grill because they serve delicious South-Western Egg Rolls.
Travelers Tip: Street parking in this area of downtown Miami is around $15.00 for 3 hours so check rates at the nearby arena. On weekdays they offer parking for as little as $5.00.
If you want to spend more time on the water, Fiesta Cruises leaves from Bayside Pier and usually offers great discounts on Groupon Miami (we paid $14.00 per person). Although the tour is relaxing, be weary of their giveaway scam. They may ask you to fill out a ballot to win prizes. My husband and brother-in-law both won and were asked for a $40 deposit. You are also required to pay taxes on all vacation packages plus attend some sort of time-share meeting.
If you book a specific cruise time with Fiesta they may not honor it so be prepared to leave whenever the next boat does. Drinks on-board are overpriced. A frozen cocktail in a small plastic cup cost $10.00 but the skyline looks stunning from the water.
Wynwood Walls outdoor art gallery is one of the most popular free activities in Miami. The bright graffiti murals are created by artists from around the globe and they make spectacular selfie backdrops.
If you stop in Wynwood, head to The Salty Donut for gourmet treats and coffee. Strawberry shortcake is my favorite flavor.
Travelers Tip: Arrive 1-2 days before your cruise sets sail in case of flight cancellations or delays at the airport. You wouldn't want the ship to leave without you!
South Pointe Park and Pier is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon. Around 4 pm you can watch the cruise ships set sail and this area of the beach is usually less crowded. I saw a few jellyfish and 3 large manatees floating by!
Cuban culture is an integral part of Miami's fun, upbeat vibe so I highly recommend trying some of the delicious food. El Mago de Las Fritas has been around since 1984 and the family owned restaurant serves authentic Cuban sandwiches bursting with flavor and topped with crispy potato strips. Instead of French fries, try the fried plantain and wash it down with a fresh mango smoothie.