First, a bit of geography. If you're hitting Miami just generally, stay in Miami Beach. I also mention choices in quieter, family-friendly locations. But if it's fun, peopled-immersion in Miami you want, head to South Beach, especially if the actual beach appeals to you. And in South Beach, my favorite area is Collins around 17th, where you'll find the Sagamore and the Ritz. This is the hotel world's hottest block.
THE SAGAMORE PARADOX
What makes Sagamore Hotel particularly kids-worthy? 1. Location. 2. Kid VIP. 3. Room size and value.
Instincts would tell you that of all hotels in Miami, this might be the least kid-friendly - after all, it's mind-blowingly cool, an all-white, contemporary art gallery-hotel. And the weekend parties are basically the hottest scene in Miami. (Example: Madeleine, the amazing chief concierge, had me on a VIP last last Friday, and I still couldn't get close enough to the door to give my name. No matter, guests have no problems circumventing all this via a separate entrance.) Social Miami is among the city's hottest restaurants (look for consulting chef Michelle Bernstein on Wednesday's Top Chef finale on Bravo as a guest judge). So you'd think what with the weekend commotion and the video art in the bathrooms and so on this would be a little over-the-top for kids.
Actually, no. I talked to a seven-year-old staying there last week who said she loved it. First thing out of her mouth was the pool. Well, kids like pools, and this one is large, but not especially geared towards kids. She mentioned the beach. Again, access to all. But she had a huge smile on her face as she told me about the swing in the lobby. Is the swing art? Yes. But kid-friendly, apparently. The kicker, though, is the Sagamore Kids VIP pass - they can wear it around their neck -- which entitles them to free ice cream, hot dogs, french fries, and soda anywhere in the hotel, upon demand.
All rooms here are suites and have full-sized fridges, microwaves, and dishwashers, so you can have breakfast in your room and then some. They start at $195, though not all have views.
Next door neighbor to one side is the Ritz-Carlton South Beach - a great choice for kids I'll mention in a sec. Neighbors to the other side include the National, and the Delano. Anyway, that's for the chic in you. Lots of fun places to pop in to. As for your kids, two main location factors here are 1. It's beachfront. (Ocean Drive is not.) 2. It's right off Lincoln Road, so you can walk back and forth a dozen times without your kids getting tired.
RITZ-CARLTON SOUTH BEACH
Next door is the Ritz, where I stayed this past Saturday. While there, I was visited by two nieces who live in Miami, five- and seven-years-old. Natalie was very impressed; she called it "fancy," and then attacked the pool. We plunged in the pool which was heated, and had big wide shallow steps to play on. Then they used the Ritz Kids club while I dined with my sister. At the Kids Club there was a very friendly supervisor named Christy who colored with them. The girls later told me they played a play piano and watched part of a Disney movie. The club is located midway between the pool and the beach, so you can check up on them easily.
So with benefits equal to the Sagamore of beachfront location, pool, and proximity to all of South Beach, minus the kitchen facilities. Note, though, that if you stay on a club level room, you have access to the seemingly endless (it's actually five a day) presentations of food and drink at the club lounge. This might be a real bonus for kids who want to snack.
Kids might possibly get a kick out of the Ritz's "tanning butler", Malcolm, who spritzes sun tan lotion around the pool Thursday through Sunday 11 to 3. Sounds silly, maybe, but Malcolm is one of those miraculously extroverted and charming persons who make this seem natural and fun. You may even end up buying a tanning butler t-shirt, like the one he wears, from the gift shop.
A final note on the Ritz: the DiLido Beach Grill is one of the better spots in town for a casual meal - it's the only place north of 1st Street in South Beach, as odd as that sounds, where you can eat beside the beach, with views of sand and ocean. Visit it even if you don't stay here.
The difference between these two, finally is size and scope. So it's a style call. The Ritz has a lot going for it, and it adds so much to the hotel scene in Miami. It's a big hotel, with a grand lobby designed by Morris Lapidus in the bold 1953 style. It has a brilliant spa, fitness center, and all the big resort amenities you could want, plus excellent service.
One hundred fifty blocks to the north is the far more sedate town of Sunny Isles. There's a Trump Sonesta here with a big kid-friendly pool, but I want to mention a slightly tired, past-its-prime hotel, the Newport Beachside Resort.
If you were a kid, you'd probably want to stay at the Newport. It is very relaxed, and your kids will adore the beach here, which has a playground on it (yes, right on the sand), as well as -- yay! -- a big trampoline. The resort prepares a daily schedule of eight activities, like movies and poolside bingo, to keep kids busy. Most notably, there's also a big pier her that extends far into the ocean; kids can fish, watch the pelicans, or have a burger at the tiki bar. Rooms are all partitioned into small suites and come with two tvs.
The only problem is that this is not contemporary, and service can be off. The massive lobby is decorated only with seemingly random pieces of furniture. And parakeets in cages. So if you're looking for a minimal service hotel that's far from South Beach action, but all about relaxed fun, look no further.
RITZ-CARLTON, KEY BISCAYNE
Key Biscayne has one hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. I stayed here a couple weeks ago, and loved the hotel, though the pace, slow, isn't for me. For families, though, this makes a great choice. It has amenities similar to the South Beach and Coconut Grove Ritzes, but this one has an air of isolation and no stress, no hurries, no worries. There's little to do here in Key Biscayne besides bike or boat ot just play on the beach. (A vacation, you say!) If you want a full-service hotel in a family-friendly, relaxed, removed location, this is your place.
[Photo: Bunny Spice]