Falling into a fruit sundae: a lifeguard tower on the beach. PHOTOGRAPHS: GETTY IMAGES
Falling into a fruit sundae:an Art Deco building near the beach. PHOTOGRAPHS: GETTY IMAGES
The pool at the Fountainbleau Hotel. PHOTOGRAPHS: GETTY IMAGES
DEIRDRE VELDONgoes poolside in Miami Beach and finds little reason to tear herself away from her lounger
The best eyewear for Miami beach is a pair of blinkers. The firm, bikini bodies and tightly-stuffed torsos strutting past would take the eye out of your head.
Fact. This winter some people are sucking up the vitamin D and enjoying the bounty of oodles of cash in glamorous sunspots around the globe. Many of these canny types go to Miami, where the sun comes with a gilt-edged guarantee and nothing succeeds like excess. And while lavish lifestyles might be the order of the day here, there’s not a trace of supersizing on the physiques parading the boardwalks and the beaches.
Such opulence is the stock-in-trade of the Fontainebleau Hotel at Miami Beach. This theatre of flamboyance has been playground to the rich and famous since it opened in 1954, serving as a backdrop in numerous movies and TV shows. Sinatra, Elvis and the Rat Pack were all regulars. In Goldfinger (1964), Jill Masterson is given her deadly, golden make-over by Oddjob at the hotel. It is also where Sean Connery models an implausibly short and girly blue towel jumpsuit at a cabana by the pool. And if it was good enough for Bond . . . then it’ll probably do for a mid-January escape from the unrelenting damp chill.
We get ourselves poolside at the Fontainebleau, post haste. It’s more a gated pool community than a swimming pool; staggeringly well appointed, with every inch pristine. Tiny pink-lycra-clad sylphs scurry here and there, serving cocktails and fetching towels.
Seating consists of loungers, included in hotel charges, or wraparound poolside beds for four, at a cool $250-$500 (€185-€370) a day. All are booked on our visit. Pool cabanas go skywards from here, with the premium “island” cabana, complete with four 32-inch flat screen TVs, and wireless, available for $1,000 (€745) daily. Sipping our mojitos and surveying all from behind our sunglasses, we realise at least a few of the selfsame TVs could be bought outright for the same money in Ireland. How much you would pay for a big white tent with optional sides is anyone’s guess.
The people-watching possibilities are jaw-droppingly good. Better still, there’s no need to even be discreet about it, as these gleaming, wealthy young folk are not here to cringe behind their towels. Luckily for us, they are way more interested in absorbing the attention from onlookers than they are in the hue of corned-beef skin being sported by the gawpers.
Out on the beach, which the hotel claims as private, things are equally well-run by a small army of beefy hunks who are busy spreading towels on loungers, opening umbrellas – $24 (€18) please – and servicing every need. Their willingness to please seems to pay off; we spot plenty of heavy tipping. On our visit, someone trips by, collecting small pieces of seaweed in a fishing net for disposal elsewhere. Everything. Must. Be. Perfect.
Off the beach, the body beautiful reigns supreme elsewhere at the Fontainebleau, and naturally at its 12 restaurants. “You want an omelette with whole eggs in it?” asks the waiter at breakfast, raising an eyebrow. “Not egg whites?” Once assured the yokes are indeed part of the deal, off he goes, shaking his head at the wantonness of it all.
The scene at the hotel’s 45,000sq ft lobby is similar to that at the pool, only with amazing light fittings. Like cabanas, tables can be booked in advance in prime spots, at a cost of up to $500 (€370) for six people. The bling and the din from a crowd in the central bar area is overwhelming. Luckily, the hotel also has plenty of outlets for all that youthful showing off. It is home to LIV, thought to be the highest grossing nightclub in the world.
If the Fontainbleau is the brash older sister, screaming “look at me”, then the Turnberry resort is the quieter, classier type, where it’s all going on under the radar. The bedrooms are large and luxurious; the beds splendidly comfortable.
At the pool, the staff, to their undoubted relief, wear uniforms altogether more demure than at their sister hotel. A delightful day poolside is punctuated by swims, a dawdle down the lazy river, a ride on the enormous waterslide, and the arrival of drinks or food. Golf, however, is the thing at the Turnberry and any golfer who had forgotten their clubs or found themselves unable to play would be sorely disappointed to miss out on a game at either of the resort’s two micro-manicured courses.
There really seems no need to peel oneself away from a lounger to go sightseeing, but an architectural and historical tour proves rewarding all the same.
Coconut Grove is Miami’s oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhood, while Coral Gables was one of the first planned communities in the US, subject to planning laws that would make many a county councillor blush. There’s no escaping the remarkable hotels though, and the grove’s jewel is the Biltmore, a splendid, though incongruously tall edifice with a colourful history. The pool – for we are now developing an expertise in such matters – was once the largest in the world and attended by the first Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, who worked there as a lifeguard before his escape to the jungle.
It would be madness to visit Miami and not check out the sherbet-coloured Art Deco architecture, built mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. After a period when no-one thought these buildings worth preserving, most are now restored to their intricate former glory. The effect of seeing such a large cluster of these buildings is that of falling headlong into a multicoloured fruit sundae. The best examples are to be seen on parallel streets near the beach from around 6th to 23rd streets. A good place to start a self guided tour is at the Art Deco Welcome Centre.
There, all set for culture? Now get yourself back to the pool.
DEIRDRE VELDONflew London to Miami as a guest of British Airways
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW . . . MIAMI:
BA operates three daily flights from London Heathrow to Miami with connecting flights available from Dublin and Cork.
PLACES TO STAY
Turnberry Isle Miami, 19999 West Country Drive Aventura, Florida 33180,
The Betsy, South Beach, 1440 Ocean Drive, South Beach, Florida 33139,
PLACES TO VISIT
Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive, mdpl.org.
Miami Sea Aquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, miamiseaquarium.com
Holocaust memorial, 1939-1945 Meridian Avenue, holocaustmmb.org
Aventura Shopping Mall, 19501 Biscayne Boulevard, aventuramall.com