Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Little Havana and the Everglades

Leaving Orlando
Gift Shops in the Orlando area carry mostly off season Disney merchandise but at 70% discount. So if you have kids but don't want to pay a fortune for that Mickey T-shirt, do try the gift shops along the freeway. Gift shops are pretty easy to spot as some have wizard or animals emblazoned on them (also generally run by Indians?)

The drive back to Miami took 4-4.5h. An early dinner was called for at Montaditos. On Wednesdays, everything at Montaditos is $1 (including beers) so the place is usually packed to the brim. They serve tiny sandwiches here and chips.

Near Montaditos in El Portal, there is a Target, TJ Maxx (I got a Ralph Lauren Polo T at US$15 from TJ Maxx), and Ross Stores. These are the discount outlets that carry off season merchandise and you can get Havianas for US$5 and Coach sneakers for US$39 here. Marshalls is another one of these discount stores.

South Beach
Today was finally the day to see all the touristy spots in Miami. It is best to see South Beach and the Art Deco District at Ocean Drive in the morning when everyone is still asleep. When the last hurricane hit Miami, all the hotels were destroyed but rebuilt in the current Art Deco 1920-1930s style. Here, you can find the Versace House (where Gianni Versace was infamously shot) along Ocean Drive and do stop for pictures . I was told Madonna lives here when she's in Miami.

Crescent, Leslie and Casa Casuarina (Versace House)

Edison and Breakwater

Pelican and Colony

Avalon and Barbizon

Not to be missed are Collins Ave and of course, shopping at Lincoln Road. If you're a fan of MTV's Jersey Shore like I am, be sure to a quick stop at the base of Season 2 of Jersey Shore. The guidos lived at the Metropole Hotel, which is next to a huge Steve Madden store. Naturally, I had to stop the car to get out for a photo op. In South Beach, most shops do not open till 11-12noon so even though we drove past Love Hate Tattoos (home of Miami Ink), it was not open yet.

Walking the streets that Mike the Situation and gang walked and Love Hate Tattoos

Lunch was at Van Dyke Cafe (part of the Top 10 Eats of Miami) and was delicious! Near Van Dyke, you can find Books & Books along Lincoln Road - this quaint book store is tucked away in a corner and is uber quiet and peaceful. Great way to spend an afternoon at its cafe if time was not an issue.

Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale is 1h from downtown Miami and we did a quick tour of the main beach and checked out some of the summer houses and yachts of the rich. Fort Lauderdale has its own international airport and has a very strong yachting/boating culture. More peaceful than South Beach, the waters here are azure blue.

Fort Lauderdale's main beach at its best

Can I retire here?

Perhaps the highlight of my day was when we went to the Krispy Kreme store in Golden Glades after returning from Fort Lauderdale. When the red light is on, this signals that you can get fresh Krispy Kreme hot off the belt. My gawd, the donut melts in your mouth and literally brought a tear to my eye. It was the best original glazed Krispy Kreme donut I had ever eaten. NOT TO BE missed if you're a fan of Krispy Kreme!!

Hot, fresh Krispy Kreme

Traipsing Little Havana
The drive to Calle Ocho takes about 45mins and Little Havana is modeled after what else, Havana of course. Residents here are mostly Cubans and speak Spanish. I had lunch at the much recommended Versailles, which has been serving authentic Cuban food for the last 30 years. Versailles is this really quaint, old school restaurant that has probably not been renovated since the 1970s. The interior is gold and green and most customers are Cubans.

Little Havana

Near the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame (near MacDs), you can find the Maximo Gomez Park. This park is actually a Dominoes Club where these Cuban men and women come to play dominoes all day. Photo-taking is allowed as long as you do not disrupt the game. Our guys being coffee junkies; tried the espresso from Little Havana. Now if you think a double/triple shot from Starbucks gives you a kick, you ain't tried nothing yet till you've drank the coffee in Little Havana. The little cup is a killer!

Maximo Gomez Park

CSI Miami moment - The Everglades
An early morning bike ride on the Ducati brought me to the New World Symphony Concert Hall. This concert hall is designed by Frank Gehry; also known as the genius behind The Guggenheim.

New concert hall in South beach

Visiting Miami will not be complete without a tour of the Everglades. And what better way to do it than CSI Miami-style; via airboat. We got a coupon for an airboat tour at the Sawgrass Reacreation Park (1h from downtown Miami). Boats here can sit up to 25 people and the captain will take you out in groups in search of the crocodiles that infest the Everglades. When purchasing tickets at the office, the staff will give you a wristband which identifies your boarding group # and also allows you entry into the Reptile Park.

Sawgrass Recreation Park for airboat tours

Spotting the baby crocodile in the Everglades

Pretty peaceful actually

Sawgrass as the name suggests is extremely sharp grass so all passengers were advised to keep their hands in the boat as the grass can cut you. We only managed to see 1 baby crocodile but had better luck with the reptiles at the Reptile Park adjoining the airboat office.

Reptile Park

Turkey and ducks can be found here

And reptiles of course!

Near the Sawgrass Recreation Park is the Sawgrass Mills Mall. This outlet mall houses a huge array of American brands at a reasonable discount. Some notable here include American Apparel, Coach, American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria's Secret and VS Pink, cK, Pac Sun, J.Crew, Aeropostle, GAP, Juicy Couture etc. You definitely need more than a day to complete this mall.

Post shopping, we had an early dinner at Andiamo Brick Oven Pizza (brick oven pizza) and called it a night.

Some light shopping
As my time in Miami drew to a close, I took in some last minute shopping at Aventura Mall. Aventura Mall is anchored by Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Macy's Men Home Furniture, JCPenney and Sears. Other shops include Abercrombie & Fitch, GAP, Hollister, Urban Outfitters and Victoria's Secret. I did not have much time to explore Aventura so I missed out on Urban Outfitters :(

Problems even when heading home
When it's time to go home, people tend to get edgy and pray that their tickets and flight go as smoothly as possible. Alas, that did not work out nicely for me. My tickets on Continental were cancelled all the way back to Singapore as they thought I did not turn up in the U.S. (no thanks to me being bumped to American Airlines). The stewardesses had to book me on my return flights there and then. Only upside was that the journey from EWR-NRT was relatively empty and I managed to get a 3 seater to myself on a 13h journey. NRT-SIN had an even emptier flight and the seats were for the taking.

Et al, I really enjoyed myself in Miami and can see myself retiring in Fort Lauderdale someday. The weather and the blue waters are perfect!

Till next time Miami!
Posted by fongie on 4/06/2011 09:39:00 PM in , , , , ,