We only had one day to spend in Miami. Since our flight was leaving from Miami, we had made travel arrangements to leave Key West the previous day and spend the night in Miami so we wouldn’t be rushed or worried about sitting in traffic on the Overseas Highway from Key West to Miami in order to make a flight. Instead, we drove to Miami the night before our flight and had the entire evening and following afternoon to enjoy Miami Beach.
Art Deco Walking Tour Miami
Our first stop was the Art Deco Walking Tour. The tour originated at the Art Deco Welcome Center, which was just a few blocks from our hotel, the Angler’s.
We bought our tickets for the 10:30AM tour and then walked around the Welcome Center for a while, which had Art Deco-related exhibits:
Then there was an announcement that the tour was beginning. Our guide began our walk down Ocean Drive in South Beach. The tour started with a stop outside the Beach Patrol Headquarters building:
Our guide was very knowledgeable and I tried to absorb as much as possible as what she was telling us, but I know I won’t do the descriptions of these buildings nearly enough justice.
Our next stop was the Congress Hotel:
The guide explained that two buildings side-by-side in Miami Beach cannot contain too many similar design elements. In other words, when new buildings are constructed in Miami Beach, they cannot appear similar to the one next door!
We made a lengthy stop outside of this building, which used to be the home of the designer Versace. It now serves as a hotel:
I just kept snapping photos of all the amazing and gorgeous buildings along Ocean Avenue, even if they weren’t a focus or a dedicated stop on the walking tour:
Even the post office in Miami Beach is an Art Deco style!
The tour includes stops inside a few buildings as well, to see some of the art deco elements used in the interior designs. One of our stops included The Tides Hotel:
The tour group circled back, viewing more Art Deco style buildings:
The walking tour ended where we began, at the Art Deco Welcome Center. We walked across the street and took a quick photo of the actual beach in Miami, since we hadn’t even seen it yet. (Even though our walk took us along Ocean Drive, there was almost a slight elevation from the street that blocks a view of the ocean!)
We grabbed lunch, checked out of our hotel and put our luggage in storage, and then headed to our next stop, the Wynwood Walls!
We took an Uber and traveled to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor grafitti art space in Miami. (We didn’t want to worry about finding parking, hence the Uber).
This was a really cool spot. And it wasn’t terribly crowded at all (likely because it was an early Friday afternoon).
I’ll just let the photos do the talking here:
There was also an indoor space featuring the works of Peter Tunney:
Anyway, this place was well worth the Uber drive (especially since Wynwood Walls is free to visit). I definitely recommend it if you have the opportunity to go.
Ocean Drive … Drive
We took an Uber back to our hotel. We loaded up our luggage into the rental car, and we still had some time to kill before our 6:00PM flight departure. So we decided to do a drive up and down Ocean Drive. We put the roof down of our Camaro rental car and just enjoyed the drive. It’s definitely a slow drive. Lots of cars, pedestrians, and traffic lights. It’s still enjoyable, but definitely requires a lot of attention!
We even spotted some sort of fun-looking photoshoot!
And that was it! We started our drive to Miami Airport. We hit a TON of traffic on the way out of Miami Beach, likely because it was rush hour. Luckily we gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. We kept the convertible roof down on our entire drive, and we were able to see a stunning Miami sunset while stuck in traffic!
We dropped off our rental car, checked in for our flight, and we were on our way back home from a fantastic trip!
Nearly two years ago, I stayed at a Kimpton property in Seattle, the Hotel Monaco Seattle, and man was I blown away. Before booking the reservation, I had requested a status match to the “Inner Circle” elite status of Kimpton Karma Rewards based on my Hilton Gold Status (which, apparently is now a defunct option – You need to have Hilton Diamond now for the match). Based on the Inner Circle status, I speculated that I was upgraded to a much nicer room at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle, and I was hoping that would also be the case for the Anglers Hotel (a Kimpton property) in Miami. And why yes, we were upgraded to a MOST SPECTACULAR ROOM. You can read more about how we selected our hotel room in the introduction post for the Trip Report.
Manor Villa – Two Story (Angler’s Hotel Miami Room Review)
We had originally booked a Tower Duplex Terrace King, which was going to include a hot tub on the balcony. When we checked in, we were upgraded to a Manor Villa, Two Story. It was the room I was hoping to be upgraded to, and after our dismal room at the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria property in Key West, it was amazing to have a truly fantastic room at the Angler’s.
The room had it’s own private patio and entrance. The entrance to the patio was just a simple locked gate. Up a few stairs was the entrance to the room, and on the right of the patio was a private hot tub for 8 people.
There were also two very comfortable lounge chairs on the private patio.
Next to the door to the suite were some comfortable patio chairs and a small table.
The suite itself was two floors. Right after entering the door, you were in the living room, which had a couch, two chairs, and a flat screen TV (about 40 inches).
There was also a full bathroom accessible from the living room.
An endtable on the first floor housed a Keurig coffee maker:
In the corner of the living room was a well-stocked bar and a spiral staircase to the second floor of the suite.
I will say that the spiral staircase was a bit of an inconvenience for doing things like carrying luggage upstairs. But, I understand that no other type of staircase would work in that room given the space constraints. (Not that it’s a small room, but just that regular stairs take up so much space.)
The top floor had a king size bed, ample closet space, another full bathroom, a desk with an iPhone/iPod Dock speakers, and a sitting chair. There was also another flat screen TV, probably about 32 inches.
The full bathroom was great and had a decent amount of countertop space. There was a shower, but no tub (like the bathroom on the first floor). Who needs a deep soaking tub when you have that enormous hot tub on the patio anyway?
The bathroom towels and robes were thick and luxurious.
From the second floor, we had a good view of our private patio.
We had just one minor complaint about our room. The top floor of the suite (the bedroom) was SO warm. We cranked up the air conditioning as high as it would go, and it was just so hot. Too hot to sleep. I was ready to go to the first floor, where it was cooler, and sleep on the sofa.
We called the front desk, and there were no maintenance folks available to take a look. So some other employee came, took a look at our thermostat that was reading 80 degrees, and did the next best thing: Offered a rotating fan. He came back quickly with a fan, plugged it in, and that made the room comfortable enough to sleep. It was November, so it wasn’t even peak summer heat or anything in Miami, so hopefully this isn’t as big of an issue other times of the year.
Angler’s Hotel Lobby and Common Areas
Like other Kimpton properties, the lobby and other common areas were hip and stylish. I (well, the both of us really) tend to feel a little out-of-place at such hip and stylish places (since I’m a dork), but the friendliness of Kimpton staff made me so much more at ease!
There was also a bar and a small dining seating area.
Outdoor areas and Pool at Angler’s Hotel
In the evening, the hotel had some fantastic lighting that made the dining and lounging areas very inviting.
In the daytime, the common outdoor areas looked just as fantastic.
The hotel is very unassuming from the street. I was worried that the hotel would be noisy because it sits right on a main street in South Beach (Miami). And, our private patio faced the street, and I thought there might not be that much privacy like when taking a dip in the hot tub on the private patio. However, the trees and landscaping were done in such a way that the hotel still felt very private.
I also just want to point out that the hotel name is pretty small on the exterior, so we drove right past it when we were first arriving!
I definitely recommend this hotel, and especially the two story Manor Villa! We paid for our stay using my Barclays Arrival Plus card, so I was able to redeem Barclays points for the entire cost of our stay! (For those not familiar, you essentially get a rebate on your statement). So our entire stay was free!
Our last two days in Key West were just as fantastic as our first two days. Gorgeous November weather: Not too hot, but still plenty warm for the beach and pools, amazing food, and just a lovely relaxing vacation. And by relaxing, I mean that we occasionally took breaks from visiting all of Key West’s sites to just enjoy the hammocks at the hotel!
Harry Truman Little White House in Key West
Our next day started with the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum. Harry Truman apparently loved Key West, so this place served as his “Winter White House.” It was originally a naval station headquarters during the Spanish American War.
Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside, so we just got to snap a few outside.
I must admit that this was not a very memorable tour. Our tour guide just did not seem very knowledgeable or excited. It seemed like she was reciting a memorized script. Very unlike other historical home tours we’ve been on, when tour guides seem to have a genuine passion for what they’re talking about. Heck, even our tour of the Hemingway House just the day before was fantastic.
I think largely because of the guide, I didn’t think this place was terribly worth visiting. But reviews online for it seem to be pretty contrary to what I’m reporting here, so perhaps it can vary based on who you get as your guide!
Afterwards, we walked around Key West some more, purchasing some souvenirs and just taking in the sites.
Then we headed back to the hotel to relax at the pool and on the hammocks some more.
Sunset at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
From the hotel, we drove to Fort Zachary Taylor, which I had read was a fantastic location to watch the sun set in Key West. And not only that, it had a large beach too! (Well, large for Key West!) So, if you’re looking for a nice, large beach, all you have to do is pay the entrance fee for the state park and you’re all set.
There were plenty of trees for shade, and even lots of picnic tables. It was a fantastic place!
Then, as sunset approached, we were happy to find out that the location lived up to the hype. It was, in fact, a great place to view the sunset! And not at all crowded like the Mallory Square area of Key West, which is also a spot to view sunset, but was way too crowded and loud.
The sunset light provided a gorgeous warm glow on the beach:
And with that, the sun was down, and we had to go! (It’s worth pointing out that virtually right after the sun sets, park employees start to come around reminding everybody that the park closes at sunset and that it’s time to go!
I should point out that there looked to be some other things to see at Fort Zachary Taylor, but we didn’t have time to check them out. (Like maybe one of the actual fort buildings).
Afterwards, we drove back to the hotel, where we enjoyed sitting around the firepits and enjoying the beautiful weather. Then we headed back out for some dinner, and then it was time for bed!
Southernmost Point in the Continental USA
Our last day in Key West. Sniffle!
We started off with a quick stop (walkable from the hotel) at the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA. Only 90 miles to Cuba. There’s not much more than a marker, but it’s still a fun place to stop and have your picture taken!
There was a line, but it was very well organized. Self-organized, I might add, it’s not staffed or anything. People stood in line, and the folks in line behind them would take their picture. Very smoothly run!
We paid our admission, and proceeded to the butterfly part, but not after taking note of this warning!
And whoo-wee, was this sign accurate. It was hot and humid inside! So much so that it took about five full minutes for our cameras to stop steaming up! Our first photos look like this:
So, we walked around for a little while (without taking photos) and waited for our cameras to acclimate.
And after that, man did we go WAY overboard with photos! (Hmmm, why does going overboard on taking photos of butterflies sound so familiar? Oh, that’s right, because we did the same thing at the Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten back during our Caribbean Cruise in 2007! This place was small, but man was it cool! We probably spent a good hour inside watching the butterflies and taking tons of photos.
The conservatory was also home to two flamingos!
All throughout the conservatory, there are these plates of fruit for the butterflies to eat!
A few butterflies even landed on Ken’s hat! I couldn’t get great pictures of them because they would fly away so fast, but here are a few just so you get the idea!
In fact, as you exit the conservatory, there are signs reminding you to look at your clothes to make sure you don’t take any butterflies with you! There are even mirrors to do a thorough check!
The conservatory room itself is stunning, with beautiful paths, water features and even butterfly-shaped seats!
Butterflies? Check. Flamingos? Check. And let’s not forget that the Conservatory is also home to birds!
Leaving Key West
After the Butterfly Conservatory, we grabbed some brunch nearby and it was time to head back to the hotel to get packed up. We were driving to Miami, where we’d spend the night before our flight departed for DC the next day.
On our drive from Key West to Miami, we got to see some amazing military jets flying overhead (Key West has at least one big military base!).
Our drive north was just as stunning as our drive south on the Overseas Highway!
And I still chuckled when I saw old roads and railroads, parallel to the Overseas Highway, that just had huge gaps!
The Overseas Highway is a narrow road most of the way, filled with traffic lights and some relatively heavy volume. So even though the distance itself isn’t terribly far (166 miles), it was a fairly long drive, probably 4+ hours. That was mostly why we didn’t want to drive from Key West to Miami on the same day as our flight departure. We didn’t want to worry about getting stuck in a major traffic jam or anything.
We got to Miami and checked into our amazing hotel. More on that in the next post!
I LOVED Key West. I’d love to go back someday! So gorgeous, so much to do, and that breezy weather was just perfect.
Can I just say how much I LOVED Key West? I mean, seriously loved it. There was so much to do, so many good places to eat, and it was just so laid back and beautiful. I had been there once before, but I was like 13 and we only stopped there for a few hours on a cruise destination. Do kids actually enjoy anything when they’re 13? Probably not, because I barely remembered anything about Key West.
But this time? So many memories!
Driving along the Overseas Highway (Key Largo to Key West)
We started with our drive along Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West.
It appears that there was an old highway, or perhaps train tracks, that ran parallel to the Overseas Highway that was open to pedestrians. But large chunks were missing in places!
Like in our Key Largo drives, Ken set up a timelapse to record our drive from Key Largo to Key West. Once we were back, he created a map overlay using geosynced coordinates (which he tracks using a Garmin handheld GPS) and the Google Maps API.
We arrived in Key West, got checked into the Casa Marina, relaxed for a bit from our drive, and then headed out to explore Key West a little bit before the sun set. We had a taxi take us to the Mallory Square area, which was a perfect central location to begin exploring.
The actual Mallory Square part is popular for watching Key West sunsets, and I had read online that it could be extremely crowded at sunset, and loud as well with street performers. Both warnings lived up to the expectations. Crowded and loud. We snapped a few photos of sunset and then continued our walk and headed to dinner (more on where we ate in a future post!)
The next day was chock full of activities. We started with the Ernest Hemingway Home.
The Ernest Hemingway Home is, of course, famous for the author. But one could also argue that it’s famous for it’s 6-toed cats!
At the time we were visiting, there were 51 cats living on the premises.
They even hang out in the restrooms on the premises.
Oh, and in the gift shop too!
Tours of the house start every 15 minutes or so. After hanging out and taking pictures of cats for a while, we joined a tour that was starting.
Clearly the cats are not subject to the same rules as humans and are allowed to sit on the furniture, despite the signs!
One of Hemingway’s ex-wives spent an ungodly amount of money to install this swimming pool at his house. ($20,000 in 1938 dollars. That’s the equivalent of nearly $350,000 today) At the time, it was the biggest swimming pool in Key West!
Another fun feature: This fountain that had been a urinal from one of Hemingway’s favorite bars in Key West.
The tour was really fantastic. After the organized tour was over, we just hung out on the grounds for a while, exploring (as well as relaxing on some benches!)
We also noticed the cat cemetery, which includes a plaque of all the deceased cats.
The even have their own replica Hemingway House to live in on the grounds!
West Martello Tower / Key West Garden Club
Our next stop was West Martello Tower / Key West Garden Club, a short walk from our hotel. It was originally meant to be a fort, but was never finished and eventually was not needed. Now it serves as a botanical garden!
Through the gates were some fantastic ocean views!
Around Key West
So many of our photographs from Key West are not of particular sites or attractions. Like on this walk from West Martello Tower back to our hotel, we just stopped and enjoyed a bunch of things along the way!
We walked down this pier (White Street Pier). Although it had fantastic views, the pier itself was in rough shape (cracked concrete, rust stains, etc.)
And we walked by this beach that looked like a nice size public beach in Key West.
After our walk, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a little bit on some hammocks! Then we headed out for dinner and enjoyed the beautiful Key West November weather! The next day was full of activities too!
I mentioned in the introduction post that we redeemed a weekend stay certificate (redeemable even though it wasn’t a weekend!) for two nights at the Casa Marina in Key West, a Waldorf Astoria property, which is owned by Hilton. The free weekend stay certificate was from applying for the Hilton HHonors Reserve card last year. We decided relatively last minute (like a few weeks earlier) to stay a third night in Key West, and I redeemed 60,000 HHonors points for the third night.
I had VERY mixed feelings about this hotel. Bottom line, I won’t be back, but my opinion might have been different if we had a less scummy room!
The Room – The Basics
I know that Hilton Gold status doesn’t get you much these days, but it almost seemed like we were purposely put in the crappiest room they had. And it really ticked me off too, because I checked their online reservations system, and they still had plenty of rooms available that would’ve been an upgrade. I’m not talking a suite or anything, I’m just saying a room that wasn’t so … yucky.
As you walked into the room, there was a large armoire on the left, connected to a small tabletop area that housed the coffee maker and glasses. This was the only “closet” in the room.
We had a King Size bed:
And directly in front of the bed was a flat screen TV, a small dresser, and a desk and chair.
The bathroom was unremarkable, and had terrible lighting.
And the view was definitely nothing to write home about (er, nothing to Instagram?):
The Room – The Bad
I would like to preface this section by pointing out that if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely have big complaints about the hotel rooms that I have stayed at. And things like “The grout lines on the shower floor kinda hurt my feet,” (from my Park Hyatt Moscow review) or “We had to take two elevators to get to our room” (from my Andaz Fifth Avenue review) hopefully doesn’t it make it seem like I’m some big Negative Nelly.
If our room had only one or two weird things going on, I might have pointed it out in passing, or maybe not even have mentioned it at all. Or, if I was staying at a Super 8 or a Red Roof Inn instead of a WALDORF ASTORIA, I might not have also pointed these things out. I think it’s important to note that this same room would’ve cost nearly $400 per night if we hadn’t used HHonors points. But there was so much going on, especially for such an expensive hotel, I can’t help but nitpick.
As soon as we arrived in our room, we wanted to charge our electronics, like phones and cameras, before heading out for the evening.
I was like, “Oh, this is nice, table height outlets on the desk.”
Except, when we plugged in our chargers, it didn’t work.
So we called the front desk, and they sent maintenance. The maintenance guy took one look, and said, “Oh, those outlets don’t actually work! They’re not hooked up to anything!” Using a tone as if this fact should’ve been clear as day to us.
There was literally only one outlet in the room, and that was under the desk. To which the maintenance man huffed and begrudgingly agreed to bring us a power strip. Umm, thanks?
Then came the bathroom. The door to the bathroom was some sort of sliding door, which was outrageously heavy to move. And it had this very weird latch, which I’m like 95% sure was just plain old broken. It jutted out into the room, so you had to be careful not to nearly impale yourself while stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
There were some cups sitting on a glass ledge above the sink. Nothing abnormal about that, right?
Well, until I went to move said cups. That revealed a layer of dust around where the cup had been sitting, which made it seem likely that those cups had not been moved in months.
There was this strange side table, presumably since there was zero countertop space around the sink.
If you look closely at the side of the table, it had a weird, rough, unfinished edge. The legs of the table were also stained and/or rusting.
And the caulking around the sink was cracking:
Okay, let’s get back to the main area of the room. It was only on like the second day that I noticed that the armoire was actually positioned to cover up the adjoining doors. (Look behind the armoire):
I just thought that it was really weird.
And, the chair was covered with scuff marks.
And can I just point out what a plain and generally ugly room this is? Unlike, for instance, the Hampton Inn Key Largo rooms that embraced the beachy style with faux thatch headboards, vaulted ceilings, and lovely ceiling fans, our room at the Casa Marina was just so blah. White walls, cream/brownish tile floors, cheapo white curtains, ugly dark brown furniture, and a single piece of artwork, which was tiny and just seemed like it was hung there because somebody told an employee to hang up a picture in the room.
The door to the room faced this outdoor atrium-type area, which at first glance seems fine, but the enclosed area and tile floors caused any little sound to be amplified and echoed.
Okay, that shouldn’t be a big deal unless you had some unruly folks yelling in the middle of the night, which happens in normal hotel room hallways too, right?
Wrong. The Casa Marina seemed to host a lot of conferences and events, and the conference rooms were right in that same atrium-type area. And they they started setting up for the events around, oh, 4:30AM. So, as staff set up the buffet tables in that area, stacking plates, putting out chafing dishes, etc., we heard them loud and clear because the sound just carried so much in that area.
Oh, and this time that they decided that buffing the floors at 6:30AM was a good idea too. That was fun times.
And then, there was the great mystery sound at night. We could not figure it out. It perhaps sounded like a dinosaur emerging from the ocean and letting out a loud roar. It was far enough in the distance that it probably wouldn’t wake you up, but I tend to wake up once or twice in the middle of the night, and once I was awake the sound was loud enough for me to be supremely annoyed and constantly asking myself, “What on EARTH could that be?” and unable to concentrate on anything else but that noise. It happened all three nights of our stay. My best guess is it was some sort of vacuuming system that would be turned on every few minutes? I really had no idea, and I didn’t want to call the front desk and be like, “Umm, what is that dinosaur-roaring sound?”
The Rest of the Hotel
Spoiler alert: The rest of the hotel was stunning, and the service was fantastic. (with the exception of the maintenance guy and the check-in dude who told us there were no other rooms available).
Casa Marina Lobby
The lobby was open, airy, and inviting.
The Pools and Other Grounds
The grounds of the Casa Marina were beautiful.
There was a pool that was open to all guests (including kids). This pool was fantastic because staff walked around offering things like free popsicles (even to the adults!)
There was also an adult’s only pool.
There were also two firepits. We sat around one of them for quite a while one evening.
Restaurants and Bars
There were plenty of dining options at the Casa Marina. In fact, we ate lunch at the hotel one afternoon (something we rarely do!). We ate at one of the outdoor seating areas. We both had a burger, and it was good and even relatively reasonably priced for hotel food.
If you notice, there is a lot of string and wire above many of the seating areas. Presumably, this is to keep birds away!
Beach at the Casa Marina
If you’re familiar with the Florida Keys, then you know that beaches tend to be quite small. But, by Keys’ standards, the Casa Marina’s beach was downright huge.
Where you’d normally enter the water was quite rocky.
So, to actually enter the water, most people used a set of stairs at the end of the pier in the above picture. It sounds annoying, but it was just fine.
There were hammocks to relax on, and since the hotel didn’t seem terribly crowded, we had no trouble finding one. And, just like at the pool where they handed out popsicles, hotel staff circulated among the beach goers offering frozen towels, which also had a lovely scent (citrus maybe?). They were great for cooling off!
Most of the beach area had plenty of lounge chairs in addition to the hammocks. However, on the last day, when I was taking these photographs, part of the beach had been set up for some sort of event or wedding.
There was also a more “manmade” beach looking area, complete with volleyball nets, and we also saw at some times hockey nets brought out and kids playing hockey or soccer.
Okay, I know there are many people out there who say, “Who cares about what your hotel room is like. How much time are you ACTUALLY going to spend in there anyway? You’re traveling, go out and enjoy things beyond the hotel!”
I’m sure you can tell by the photographs from our vacations, we do A LOT of sightseeing when we travel. I’m talking, can’t-move-my-legs-at-the-end-of-the-day sightseeing. So, are we spending all day in a hotel? No, of course not.
But for me, a hotel is part of the travel experience. It wasn’t always. Back when I was a broke college student and entry level worker, I could deal with the less fancy hotels, because I needed to prioritize my expenses if I wanted to be able to travel at all. (I didn’t know nearly as much about the power of points and miles those days!) So, staying in a cheap hotel with no frills was perfectly fine. And it is still fine for those folks who make that decision. After all, no frills travel is always better than no travel at all!
But, I like my frills these days. At the end of a long day of sightseeing, I like to be able to plop down on a comfy bed, perhaps take a bath in a deep soaking tub or go in a rain head shower, and wind down while reading my Kindle or watching TV on a flat screen. I don’t want to be distracted by scuffed chairs and dusty surfaces and terrible lighting. I want my hotel room to feel warm and inviting. Perhaps that makes me vain, or perhaps some folks would say those thoughts miss the entire point of travel. But I don’t agree.
So, with that, if I return to Key West, I definitely won’t be staying at the Casa Marina.