‘Welcome to Miami/Bienvenido a Miami!” anyone under 40 will drool on hearing you're lucky enough to be heading to America’s sultriest city. Yet there's so much more to the place than the sun-kissed frolics evoked by Will Smith.
Getting there from Belfast is straight-forward— hop on a flight to Heathrow from George Best Belfast City and take a British Airways connection to Miami from Terminal 5. It's around a nine-hour flight but with five hours gained when you arrive, it certainly doesn't feel that long.
Your first impressions might not be that great as you battle the long queues and heat of the immigration lounge. But once you've cleared that hurdle you'll be won over by the gorgeous weather — at mid to late 20s in mid-January — and friendliness of everyone you meet.
Our first stop is the luxurious Turnberry Isle Hotel, a sprawling yet still elegant hotel complex with tennis courts, swimming pools, a spa and several restaurants. Spacious bedrooms with balconies await us, and who can look askance on somewhere which stocks mini-Molton Brown toiletries in the ensuite?
We head to the hotel’s Bourbon Steakhouse for a quick bite, and are warmly welcomed by a bartender who is extremely well informed about the wines and the food. Most of us opt for the tasty burgers, accompanied by sweet potato fries — and, given that this is still a day or two before the horse burger story breaks at home, there isn't a ‘neigh' joke among us.
The Turnberry Isle's brilliant facilities and relaxed style make it deservedly popular. But the surrounding Aventura area isn't too exciting, filled as it is with high-rise hotels, condos and office buildings. The hotel's own amenities hold more than enough amusement, including the option to book yourself in for a tennis or golf clinic. Refreshed by a breakfast of fruit, muffins and coffee (though of course the full complement of brekkie foods are available) we bound down to the tennis court for a lesson in the basics from the wonderful Julian, also swapping cultural impressions of one another's lands drawn entirely from TV shows and schmaltzy films.
A relaxing afternoon by the pool, then a visit to that most American of destinations, the mall. The crowds and dazzling choices in Aventura Mall are overwhelming so you may need a frozen yoghurt stop to get through it. Macy's, Bloomingdale’s, JC Penney, Anthropologie, Abercrombie & Fitch (and A&F, kids) are just a few of the wallet-lightening labels — not to mention scores of designer brands.
Miami's shopping is therefore pretty, pretty good — but you can't talk about Miami without mentioning its nightlife. Anyone with a pleasure-seeking bone in their body will love the South Beach bistros and bars where mojitos flow like water, not to mention the ‘kinda sketchy' dive bars which are worth a look for anecdotal value alone.
A bus tour is a reliable way to explore any city, and Miami is no different. Courtesy of the knowledgeable Frank W Schena, we explore areas such as Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Make sure you take in the legendary Biltmore Hotel, where Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller worked as a pool attendant. Such locations have a rarefied air of old Europe, especially as French, Italian and Mediterranean architecture has had a major influence — but a more modern taste of Miami comes in Wynwood, a warehouse location that's been transformed by graffiti artists commissioned to paint warehouses' exteriors to create a vibrant, open-air art gallery. Miami abounds with cultural influences from around the world but you can experience a flavour of life in close neighbour Cuba by heading to the Little Havana district. Sample some strong, sweet Cuban coffee, buy some Cuban-style cigars after they have been hand-rolled in front of you, or stand at the Domino Park, where dozens of people play dominoes and the rules forbid swearing, drinking, smoking and removing your shirt — and once even forbade the fairer sex.
We are lucky enough to spend our last night in the Fontainebleau Hotel on South Beach, where we finally get a chance to put on our cozies and have a dip inthe warm Atlantic ocean (how it would freeze us on the other side of the pond!) The high-rise Fontainebleau has been immortalised in popular culture in films such as Bond movie Goldfinger and Frank Sinatra's A Hole in the Head. While the Turnberry Isle attracts older guests, the Fontainebleau is full of the young, the beautiful and the leggy (apart from the Irish contingent). Its foyer drips with monied grandeur and glamour, so it's obvious why the hotel is popular with celebs.
The boardwalk at the Fontainebleau's private beach leads to the shopping areas, restaurants and bars of South Beach — and strolling on the boardwalk is an irresistible people-watching opportunity, from joggers in lurid colours to cyclists in their thongs (yes, really) and tiny elderly ladies with deep-wrinkled faces and immaculately set bouffant coiffures. Get to Lincoln Avenue and see some of South Beach's architectural treasures — the city has America's biggest concentration of Art Deco buildings. Now why doesn't Will sing about that?
BA Factbox (Miami)
Getting there: British Airways operates three non-stop daily services from London Heathrow to Miami
- It operates a frequent daily schedule of flights from Belfast to London Heathrow which offers excellent connections onto its Miami services
- Miami flights leave London Heathrow at 09.40, 13.35 and 14.55 and journey time is about eight hours and 30 minutes
- Miami is one of British Airways’ most popular services and the aircraft operating this busy route is a Boeing 747
- With a choice of four cabins on board — World Traveller, World Traveller Plus, Club World and First — customers can travel in comfort and style while enjoying British Airways’ renowned in-flight service
- World Traveller fares start from just £676, including all taxes and fees