Sunday, February 15, 2009

Catching Up on Florida

Jerry and I were in Florida at the end of January. Jerry attended two conferences in Miami and Palm Beach, we visited the boys in Orlando, and we worked on the house remodel in St. Pete for 4 days of meetings and planning and decisionmaking. It was a whirlwind 10 days with sporadic laptop access so blogging suffered. Here are some notes I made along the way:

Miami Hotel: the remodeled/renovated Fountainbleau
Palm Beach Hotel :The Breakers
Orlando/Winter Park: the trusty old La Quinta on Alafaya
St. Pete: Jimmy's pool house

Miami – Truly an International City

Jerry and I spent 3 days in Miami Beach while he attended a conference at the newly renovated Fountainbleau. It was my first time to stay in Miami (we’d stayed in Coral Gables a number of years ago for a similar conference). Jerry grew up in Miami in the 50s. Today’s Miami couldn’t be more different if it tried. Bigger, considerably more diverse, taller, more prosperous (in some areas), poorer (in others), more sprawling, bigger port full of ocean liners, and a symphony of languages and accents, ethnic restaurants and corner stores. Forget about the idea its all Cuban…we heard a wide variety of Hispanic accents from all over South and Central America and of course Cuba. We also heard Portuguese, Haitian, Jamaican creole, and other musical accents of the Carribbean. We heard lots of European accents and languages from the myriad of tourists visiting the Miami Beach. What we didn’t hear a lot of (outside of Jerry’s conference) was just plain English. It was a lot like visiting a foreign country except the signs (well most of the signs) were in English.

The Fountainbleau - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Fountainbleau. The hotel has recently undergone a massive expansion and renovation. The Fountainbleau was built in the heydays of old Hollywood glitz and glamour in Miami Beach in the early 1950s. It was THE place for the likes of Frank Sinatra and the rat pack, visiting dignitaries, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, other Hollywood luminaries. and later for the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Muhammed Ali. It is apparently trying to position itself again as the place for the famous and well to do to be in Miami Beach. Like much of Miami beach, the Fountainbleau had declined in condition and status. And like much of Miami Beach it has undergone a renovation and expansion. It just reopened 3 months ago.

Our review of it is decidedly mixed. First for its price we found service and amenities and size of room to be less than desirable. Our room was way too small for the price. It was so small they didn’t even provide luggage racks for luggage, because there is no room for one! We had to move an easy chair over to the area in front of the door in order to make room for jerry’s suitcase. I had to move the “goodies” display off the table to make room for mine (I know maybe the sell more with the goodies displayed instead of hidden in a cabinet…but really…in a room that small all counter space is at a premium…we are NOT going to by a 15 dollar bag of nuts!). . We didn’t have any glasses in our room when we checked in and it took 90 minutes to get someone to deliver them (AFTER we’d gone to bed). Those infernal magnetic keys constantly deactivated themselves (and yes we know…don’t put them near your phone…we didn’t). The beds WERE comfortable, the sheets very soft, and the pillow were great (and there were plenty of them)…this was good. Air conditioning was efficient and quiet. Also good.

We thought certain hotel services were good, others were not. Housekeeping was very thorough and attentive, our car was brought around promptly when requested, and the fellow came and got my luggage this morning within 10 minutes of requesting. (he, by the way, has worked at the hotel for 47 years….47!!!...this is a man who has seen a lot of history walk through that hotel)..The wait staff at the trendy bakery on the 1st floor were pleasant but didn’t know the difference between a cake and raised donut (you would have thought I asked her how to determine the circumference of a circle). The second day, another wait staff didn’t know the difference between a pear and a peach Danish (I mean…they LOOK different, don’t they?). They did, however, make a decent latte. (They only offer about 20 different bakery goods…can’t management have a 30 minute training session on what is what?) An 18% gratuity was automatically added to the bill at hotel restaurants (which was irritating when the service was NOT worth 18%). Wines by the glass at the mid-priced restaurant were outrageously expensive for their quality. The sound system at the conference was very poor and the bathrooms were a football field away from the main conference room.. And, here comes the “old farts” comment…the décor on the 1st floor was too Spartan, too loud (sounded like grand central station at rush hour on the Wednesday before thanksgiving weekend), too dim, too unnecessarily hip if you ask me. The big 1st floor bar has a lighted floor in blue lights…frankly not the most flattering color…not warm, and it bounces sound like a ping pong paddle. . Certainly not cozy.

Although the lobby retained the white and black “bow tie” marble floors which are original to the hotel, everything else is so sleek and Spartan that you can’t tell the concierge desk from a hat check counter. I mean…you should be able to tell that 3 people behind the Spartan counter with “glow lights” behind them are the concierges without asking them. Did they run out of money for signs??? I was told that the ”bowtie” flooring was required by the City to remain when renovations were done, its really hard to imagine anything new in this hotel being that highly valued 50 years in the future (especially that dorky underlit ice cold blue bar floor!). Okay..the old fart is getting off her soap box on the décor issues.

Finally…something the hotel can’t control…I’d rather be down by South Beach…the Fountainbleau is about 3 miles away…so its more of a destination resort…if you want to go anywhere besides the beach you need to take a cab or drive your car. They do have a lovely beach boardwalk which was delightful. And they have a series of pools which are nice with cabanas and lots and lots of pool chaise lounges. But I’d like to be able to walk and see things without getting into my car. I’m just not a lay by the pool of day kind of person.

Speaking of South Beach. I love it! Its got a great variety of restaurants. A great vibe. A wonderful diversity. Fabulous restoration and renovations of art deco and art moderne architecture. And a great breeze from the ocean. We walked all around. We ate at Hosteria Romana one evening and Jerry’s Famous Deli the other. Hosteria Romana is right on Ocean…Jerry’s is on Collin’s. Hosteria Romana is an Italian restaurant (mostly outdoors) with great service and good food. And a not too over the top priced wine by the glass menu. I had the pasta carbonara which was delicious…not too “thick”…and the bruschetta…very fresh. Jerry had the linguine with calamari…which he liked quite a bit. The wait staff were attentive. Fellow diners were having a good time and ranged from families to a table of 4 leggy, very attractive 20 something women speaking, I think, Portuguese…possibly Brazilian. One of the bars further done Ocean was clearly primarily a gay bar filled (and spilling onto the streets) with partying happy gay men. When we walked back past it later in the evening there was a fabulous looking guy in drag belting out a song, karaoke style on the front stairs…all eyes were on her!
Collins Avenue (historic art deco district) is developing into a sizable shopping area with restaurants and hotels. The Ritz Carlton is located along Collins along with more modest relics of the art deco era…including one called “Maxine”….just like my mom.

Birds. Boat Tailed Grackles. To me these medium sized iredescent pointy billed black birds with long wedge shaped tail and yellow eyes are the sound of the palm tree tropics (at least Hawaii and Florida). They have this gurgling, squeaky door hinge chatter to them (followed by loud chirps) that are linked in my memory to a Kauai hotel that Jerry and I stayed in when I was 7 months pregnant. We had a lovely little ground floor condo unit surrounded by palms…and grackles. It was a lovely trip and I guess I just associate these gregarious and insistent birds to those happy days in the tropics. We also seen these lovely mourning dove like doves Very graceful. They seem to glide when they walk and they have these little white patch on their neck that is very distinctive.

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