As one of those frequent cruise travelers, who does not live near a port, I always find it best to start the cruise experience a few days earlier in the port city. Airlines frequently depart late, cruise ships never do. To take the stress out of travel CTH always recommends exploring the departure city. For this spring crossing to Europe, the departure is from Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. This year we started with time in the South Beach section of Miami Beach.
Like Miami, across the bay, Miami Beach was incorporated about a hundred years ago as a purpose built city for fun on vacation or in retirement. Two of the founders envisioned a playground for wealthy visitors as they built lavish hotels in mid-beach and north-beach Miami Beach. The two banker brothers, the Lummus brothers, laid out South Beach as a densely populated playground that everyone could enjoy.
The Lummus brothers would be pleased to see Ocean Drive in South Beach today. The area is a historic preservation success story. The small 1930s era hotels sit, wall-to-wall, like colorful jewel boxes facing the beach. Joggers run along the sea wall on the seaside of Lummus Park, while the sidewalk tables of the hotels are filled from breakfast to late night with locals and visitors.
South Beach is the epicenter of Art Deco Miami. Shore excursions from the ships run buses along the narrow streets of South Beach. On the sidewalks are visitors from all around the world. The hotel rooms are small for $300 a night, but the views are wonderful, the food plentiful and reasonably priced, and the climate perfect, until summer, when only the locals inhabit the beach.
One of the classic hotels is the Winter Haven on Ocean Drive. Built in 1939, and recently renovated to its original glory, the Winter Haven is a specimen of Moderne architecture with its checkerboard terrazzo floor, Deco ceiling fixtures, and sculptured staircase that floats above the bar. Esteban donned his pink tailored coat to make us feel welcome in the spirit of the 1930s.
During breakfast, under the tented canopy of the sidewalk tables, we shared text pictures from our daughter of snow in DC with the couple next to us, vacationing from DC. The young woman was modest and declined to send pictures of the perfect day in South Beach to her co-workers. Why not, I asked? The Lummus brothers built the area to create desires and to fulfill them. Decompressing in South Beach is a perfect way to begin a cruise vacation.