Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Making a Miami Getaway on Valentine's Day OLA

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making a Miami Getaway on Valentine's Day OLA

beachfront of our hotel, Newport Beachside Resort Hotel in Miami
For Christmas we were at Treasure Island on Tampa Bay Beaches so we decided to spend Valentine’s Day at the Newport Beachside Resort in Sunny Isles, Florida just north of South Beach and other Miami beaches. We have been to most major Florida cities, Orlando, St. Augustine, Ft. Myers, Tampa, and Key West, but we hadn’t had the chance to explore the Miami mystique. We wanted to discover what makes Miami the top travel destination it is.

the spa lounge
Newport Beachside Resort
Our brief getaway for Valentine’s 2012 proved to be a unique experience. Our hotel is right on the beach with a most charming view of the Atlantic Ocean. The palapas on the white sands below are even more inviting than the glistening blue pool and sizzling hot tub. But the best facility of the hotel is its exquisite spa with a strong seductive aroma. There are also a fitness center and salon, the 5-star Kitchen 305 and hearty breakfast buffet at the dining hall each morning.

preparations at the beach
South Beach
high-rise condos along the coast
But even if these facilities are top class we spent most of our time out in the bright winter sun. First we wanted to breathe the easy lifestyle of South Beach at the southernmost tip of the barrier islands off Miami. We drove through Collins Avenue with its famous high-rise condos and hotels on the beachfront and the specialty and tourist shops, chancing upon a huge exhibition of boats, ships, and yachts on the Marina. On Ocean Drive the sidewalk cafes were filled with happy people while meandering to the beaches were lots of scantily-clad beauties. And a beehive of preparation for the night’s festivities was on.

South Beach sidewalk cafes
Port of Miami
the freedom Tower across the Port
Next we drove through the MacArthur Causeway (southernmost of 5) that connected South Beach to downtown Miami, spotting the little islands (Hibiscus, Star, Jungle, etc.) that are home to Miami’s millionaires (others are on Millionaire’s Row of high-rise condos along Miami’s coastline). At Biscayne Boulevard that parallels Collins on the mainland, beside the Port of Miami, is the famous Bayside Marketplace but since we will be here when we go on our Cruise in two weeks, we postponed the shopping. We simply stood in awe of the Freedom Tower, symbol of the wave of Cuban immigration into the US from the tumultuous Cuban revolution.

colorful residential homes
Little Havana
So we spent Valentine’s Day in Little Havana, undoubtedly the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world, characterized by a robust street life, excellent restaurants, cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents.   About 20,000 households thrive in the many blocks around Calle Ocho (SW 8th St.) from SW 11th to 37th.  Bill loved his Cuban espresso and sweet potato pudding for afternoon snacks at Versailles. Then we sampled authentic Cuban goods (dominoes, roosters, hats, etc.) at Sentir Cubano whose mural proudly declares, Miami, the 7th province! 
mural at Sentir Cubano declaring the city Cuba's 7th ptovince...
Casa Panza
@ Casa Panza's sidewalk bar table
Thus we decided to cancel our reservation at Kitchen 305 for our Valentine dinner and looked for a tapas y tintos (Spanish appetizers and wine) bar instead. On a sidewalk between intersections of SW 25th and 26th Avenues, in front of Casa Panza was a throng of people around a man who was making Valentines stuff with palm fronds.  It was nice to know that part of his earnings go to St. Gabriel Catholic Parish in West Palm Beach, Florida. Bill happily ordered three roses for the most unique, long-lasting, and for a good cause Valentines flowers! I was a happy girl!

our Valentine platter and my unique roses
So we perched ourselves at one of Casa Panza’s sidewalk bar tables and ordered the platter of jamon Serrano, chorizo Espanol, queso Manchego, and aceitunes with a glass of house wine. We watched the unique lifestyle unfold before our eyes: bikers plying to and fro on the sidewalk between the restaurant and us. At the next table was the friendly Rafael, a friend of Gloria Estefan who makes Hibiscus Island her home, waiting for his daughter who was studying flamenco nearby.
Haiti's fight for freedom
Little Haiti
Back at the hotel, we continued our celebration sipping champagne while watching Blue Valentine and being what the world expects from two lovebirds.. The next day, before we went back to our home at the campground, we made a quick visit to Little Haiti. It was a more depressed neighborhood around a smaller group of street blocks at the northeastern corner of Miami. But the murals were bolder and more colorful. One that depicted the history of Haiti, especially their fight to freedom in 1804 caught our eyes.

Star Island with millionaires' homes and boats
We certainly discovered that the Miami mystique is the sum total of hot Atlantic beaches in winter, the rich and famous from the high-rise condos and island mansions, the easy-going lifestyle, and the vicarious sharing of Cuban and Haitian spirits! But our romantic getaway had to end and we have returned to the humdrum of our cruising lifestyle, getting ready for the cruise to the Bahamas, a gift from my children Trisha, Claudine, and April! Watch for that next post!