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USA: Florida: Miami, Northwest Florida, Orlando
Miami, Florida, USA: Playground of the rich and the famous
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Miami is an international city at Florida's southeastern tip. Its Cuban influence is reflected in the cafes and cigar shops that line Calle Ocho in Little Havana. On barrier islands across the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay is Miami Beach, home to South Beach. This glamorous neighborhood is famed for its colorful art deco buildings, white sand, surfside hotels and trendsetting nightclubs. Its islands, shores and streets are home to the rich and famous.
Miami was actually a stop-over destination for me and two other couples. We were heading back home from our 15-day trip of Central America. We took a flight from Guatemala City and reached Miami at around noon. We would be in Miami for just 2 days.
For our stay we were booked at Hotel Mondrian, located in Miami's South Beach. It was quite a contemporary hotel overlooking the bay. Of course, you would need to pay a premium to get one of the rooms that overlooked the waters. As fate would have it, the hotel was overbooked and we would get our room only that evening. As a compensation, we were offered breakfast! So be it. Anyway, since there was no other option on hand, we left our bags with the concierge and decided to explore South Beach's famous Lincoln Road Mall.
Located just a few blocks off the beach, and from our hotel, Lincoln Road Mall is South Florida's premier outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment destination. This mile long, pedestrian-only promenade boasts a happening street scene with throngs of local and out-of-town visitors, excellent shopping, and terrific dining options.
Miami's South Beach neighbourhood features 10 miles (16 km) of beaches with a buzzing, carnival-like atmosphere. With a trendy Caribbean-chic cafe culture and an impossibly hip and sexy nightlife scene, the area is a non-stop people-watching mecca, especially on Ocean Drive, where you'll find the popular stretch of sand at Lummus Park Beach. Another main highlight is the set of pastel-hued structures on Collins Avenue in the Art Deco District, home to the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world. We would be seeing that all tomorrow.
Using Viator, we booked a trip that would keep us busy the whole of next day. Trip to Everglades National Park, the highlights of the City, the Bayside Park and a 90-minute cruise of the Biscayne Bay.
The bus picked us up across our hotel at 8:45 AM. We were taken to Miami Bus Tours' central office. A different bus would take us on an hour's drive to Everglades National Park. Sandwiched between the sizzling beaches of Miami and the white sands of Key West, the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park stands in stark contrast to its seductive neighbours. The park exposes you to the spectacular swampy weirdness that draws over one million visitors every year and constitutes a one-of-a-kind destination for nature lovers.
We would spend a couple of hours at the park. The deal included a 30-minute airboat ride through the swamps and at close range of alligators, other reptiles and birds. After the airboat ride, one of the park rangers kept us busy for a while with a show with the alligators and frogs! Some time was allowed to grab our lunch and off we were on the bus.
From the central office we boarded an open-at-the-top double decker that would take us past Miami's attractions... the art deco, ocean drive, causeway, port terminal, Little Havana, and downtown Miami.
Miami Beachís Art Deco District is a historically important area located in the trendy South Beach neighborhood. It includes about 900 unique buildings and was designated a United States historic district in 1979. It was also the first 20th-century neighbourhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, with most buildings constructed between 1923 and 1943.
Signature building elements in the district include sleek curves, liberal use of glass blocks, terrazzo floors, pastel exteriors and porthole windows and railings that are reminiscent of the ocean liners that docked in the area during that time. Ocean Drive is one of the most well-known streets in the area. Notable buildings include Casa Casaurina, a 1930s Spanish-style mansion that was once the home of Gianni Versace, and the 1937 Park Central Hotel, where Hollywood legends like Clark Cable and Rita Hayworth were noted regulars. And the Cardozo Hotel, a 1939 property owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
Little Havana is the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world. It is characterized by its street life, restaurants, music and other cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents.
In the 1960s, the influx of Cubans fleeing Castro led the area to become a hotbed of counter-revolutionary activity. Arriving residents expected their stay in Miami would be temporary as Castro would be deposed. By 1970, the neighborhood was more than 85 percent Cuban. Rather than return to Havana, where Castro remained in power, Cuban Americans began residing in neighbourhoods across Miami. Little Havana, however, remained a landing point for new immigrants and a stronghold for Cuban-owned businesses.
The bus made a 30-minute stop at Calle Ocho, the main street of Little Havana. It was good enough time to grab a few Cuban souvenirs and visit one of the many cigar shops that also demonstrated cigar-rolling.
By 4 PM we were at Bayside Marketplace. It's a vibrant waterfront mall in downtown Miami - and the cityís most-visited attraction - overlooking Biscayne Bay and features many shopping, dining, and entertainment options. The open-air market has more than 100 shops ranging from apparel to bath products to electronics, and often live performers are on hand to keep shoppers entertained. In addition, boat tours, bike tours, water taxis, and fishing charters leave from here. Itís a great place to board a bay cruise or boat ride on the bay.
At 5:30 we hopped on our a 90-minute boat cruise along the beautiful Biscayne Bay to witness Miami's spectacular coastal sites including the beautiful downtown Miami skyline, the Port of Miami, Brickell Key, Fisher Island and the celebrity filled islands of Miami Beach known as "Millionaire's Row". I remember seeing the homes and condos of Shaquille O'Neal, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Jackie Chan, Shakira, Taylor Swift, Andre Agassi, Boris Baker, David Beckham and the home where they filmed the Al Pacino classic - Scarface, as well as the former home of notorious gangster Al Capone. Of course, there were dozens of other names that I forget for now.
After the cruise, our bus was waiting for us to take us back to our hotel. Dinner that evening was at an Indian Restaurant. The next morning I would take my flight back home.
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