By Elaine Ubiña

What a treat to breeze through JFK (masks on) and hop on (a packed) JetBlue flight to Miami for our first family travel experience in 14 months. It was almost normal running into several friendly Fairfield County families in the airport, all happily rushing to their spring breaks in the sun. We were delighted to be on our way to a last minute “got to get out of here, before we go crazy” family vacation.

We traversed the enormous Miami Airport via several trains to our rental mini-van and off we went to a Miami Beach disastrous VRBO. So much for last minute planning! At the time I booked it, I have to admit – I was a mom on a mission, seeking a two bedroom, two bath mod beach front apartment at a reasonable rate. Well, you get what you pay for! This was a dump. I will spare you the details. We were saved by a stroke of luck – pre-St. Patrick’s Day!

Our first morning in Miami, I happened to book us a brunch reservation on Collins Drive in South Beach at the hip eatery, Orange Blossom. After filling their bellies with delicious pancakes and ChiChi and me with avocado toasts, our boys spotted the Loews Hotel which was festooned with every high-end Italian -ati and -ini car in their impeccable circular driveway. As they ogled, I popped inside and grabbed their last available room for the week! PHEW! We were set! A quick run up to Miami Beach to cancel our VRBO, which thank heavens gave us a break because of Covid and off we went to heaven!

We were whisked up to the 4th floor, dropped our bags in our very comfortable spacious room with a terrace viewing downtown Miami and off we went to the beach. The lounges and soft towels were a welcome comfort. The ocean was a perfect temperature. Jet skis and parasailing were at our disposal and lunch and drink service quick, easy and delicious – delivered directly to our lounge chairs. NOW we were relaxing! The pool was a bit crowded with families with smaller children – though everyone was in a good mood and delighted to be there. The gym is modern and clean. Only 10 guests at a time. The staff was welcoming and kept everything running swiftly and cleanly. A daily run/walk along the Beachwalk is de rigueur.

Miami’s restaurant scene is attractive and food options are endless. We have several friends who “go to Miami for the food.” Booking ahead is important. Nowadays with OpenTable – it’s easy and fun to scroll through pages of available options. It was interesting to plan based on location and ethnicity. There are so many countries represented in the cuisine! We reserved everything ahead and it worked well. At our first stop, we got to see the high end “locals” enjoying a leisurely “modern Italian” Saturday lunch at MC Kitchen in the Design District. They have wonderful pizzas, innovative salads, fish and pasta offerings. There is something for everyone. Following lunch, we walked around the Design District, which is known for its modern architecture, art galleries and high end interior design stores. Luxury fashion and well-known jewelry brands have boutiques in the area, including Cartier, Fendi, Rolex, Saint Laurent, Tom Ford and many others. There are also many hot brands for the younger set, Off-White, Stone Island and Flight Club among them. We happened to wait on line outside of Flight Club behind Derrick Henry, a well-known running back, according to our sports’ oriented boys, while being circumnavigated on the street by several rappers in their Rolls Royces playing “their songs” for everyone to hear. It was quite entertaining!

In South Beach, we experienced the early side of the “electric nightlife” at dinner at Naked Taco. ChiChi called the location “Times Square” as it seemed to be the vortex of spring break. We ate a selection of fresh ingredient filled innovative tacos – which were served in soft, naked (lettuce wrapped) or hard shells along with delightful Cadillac margaritas. The ambiance around us was akin to Mardi Gras. It was a wild celebration, an informal parade of Rolls Royces with rappers from Gunna to Lil Baby and Quavo surrounded by their posses driving colorfully lit up Slingshots, and golf carts booming the hot tunes of the moment with several outgoing women twerking on the car roofs. This dinner certainly put into perspective for us what the “the scene” is in Miami 2021.

The following evening, we ventured north on Collins to Los Fuegos by Francis Mallman in the Faena Hotel for a contemporary asado. The parrillada was unparalleled. The flavors of the meats and delicious Malbecs took us back to our days of visiting Buenos Aires. The restaurant and hotel are beautiful and guests dress chicly to match the fabulous upscale art and design in a tropical setting. Planned as the “Faena District”- it is a “cultural community comprised of a world class hotel, residences and cultural center, with retail, restaurants and entertainment.” Alan Faena is known globally for “balancing art, architecture, nature and technology, with all the elements coalescing to generate neighborhoods that redefine how we live.”

Shopping at the highest luxury level is plentiful in Miami. Bal Harbour Shops is THE destination if you want to find everything in one convenient, open-air garden oasis. Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Loro Piana, Missoni, Versace, Tod’s, Brioni, Valentino, Van Cleef & Arpels, Audemars Piguet and many more gorgeous boutiques make their homes there.The center is frequented by stylish locals, as well as the many Latin Americans who make Miami their shopping destination. Bal Harbour Shops even has its own magazine and in the latest issue – there’s an article about Silicon Valley moving to Miami. Marvelous indeed!

It was a fabulous week. Not only to enjoy a much needed getaway for our family, but to experience a vibrant international city on the beach. It is a well-maintained, eclectic and beautiful place.

Addendum: 3/22/21 What a difference a day makes! It seems that the “celebratory Spring Breakers” that we witnessed in South Beach on Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive, escalated over several days into more of a riot, where many arrests were made and a curfew has been implemented. It doesn’t change how we feel about Miami. We had a marvelous time and we look forward to going back.