Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The Acqualina's vibrant orange and yellow stucco building rises more than 50 stories high. Built in May of 2006, it's one of the tallest buildings in suburban Sunny Isles, casting a long shadow over the ocean. The lobby is supported by faux red marble columns and the two-story ceiling is festooned with multiple chandeliers. The look: Tuscany by way of Las Vegas.
Everything seems bigger here. The standard, deluxe intercoastal room I stayed in was 740 square feet, about three times the size of rooms at most boutique hotels in South Beach. In the bathrooms, Etro toiletries come in substantial, 150-ml bottles -- not the typical mini-shampoo shots. Even the mini-bar isn't mini, selling only 375-ml bottles of booze.
The large rooms, beautiful beach, and four pools attract mostly well-heeled families. I saw Italian clans drinking Veuve Clicquot under cabanas at the beach, and dads on Blackberrys at the pool with a nanny and baby by their side. During my stay, the children tended to be well behaved -- not quite the same high-energy romping you'd find at the Loews hotel in South Beach.
Unlike most other hotel/residency hybrids, like the Churchill Suites Crown Miami Beach, guests here still get the top-tier service of a luxury resort, not an apartment complex. Guests are greeted with a welcome bellini and an ice-cold towel. Staff members, typically dressed in crisp polo shirts and white shorts, are quick to ask guests how their day is going and are ready to help in any way they can.
I was chatting with some residents one night at the AARIA Bar and Lounge when their preteen son came down in his pajamas with a hankering for sushi. That, in a nutshell, is the sort of place the Acqualina is -- fancy enough to have a standby sushi chef, casual and family-oriented enough that a kid in his pajamas at the bar doesn't raise an eyebrow.
The Acqualina staff see to it that guests never lift a finger, making it one of Miami's most service-oriented hotels.
At the Acqualina, the effortless service seems almost magical. Bags transport themselves to rooms. A woman roams the beach handing out free mango smoothies just as your thirst comes on. As soon as you enter the beach or a new pool zone, someone asks if you need anything. It could be almost too much, but it's done with a casual grace that makes everyone feel at ease.
I wheeled my suitcase up the front drive, having walked over from the Trump resort next door. I expected that my arrival in this backpackerish manner might make for a lukewarm greeting, but it didn't. A bellman walked up to greet me and grabbed my bags.
At the beach, when attendants seat guests on one of the resort's bright red chaise lounges, they plant a flag in the sand for guests to raise when they want service. It's an elegant system -- the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne uses the same one -- and a guarantee that guests never want for anything.
The Acqualina is located among Miami's northern beaches, in upscale suburban Sunny Isles. Like the Trump a half block away, it sits right on the beach with its entrance on Collins Avenue. This stretch of Collins Avenue is far different from the more pedestrian portion in South Beach. Here, it's a busy six-lane road that can only be crossed at a stoplight at the end of the long block.
Aside from the beach, there's little to explore on foot around the hotel. A large, not-too-lively strip mall across the street has a number of casual restaurants ranging from kosher to all-you-can-eat sushi. None of them is particularly charming -- they all look out onto a huge parking lot -- but they're there. There's a also a Publix supermarket across the street.
Decorated in a style that the New York Times described as a "comfortable midpoint between Calvin Klein and Liberace," the rooms are roomy, if a bit overdone -- busy frame molding, heavily patterned plush carpets, and cream leather headboards. With a touch of the remote control, a 38-inch flat-screen TV rises from a leather cabinet at the foot of the bed. With another touch of the remote, it rotates 360 degrees. Too bad the TV in my room had a scratch across its face, probably from a bad trip out of the cabinet.
The standard intercoastal rooms average 740 square feet -- about three times the size of most Art Deco boutique hotel rooms in South Beach. All rooms have balconies. Intercoastal rooms, like the one I stayed in on the ninth floor, have less-than-inspiring views of busy Collins Avenue and suburban sprawl, plus a bit of street noise (even from the ninth floor). For an extra $100, deluxe intercoastal rooms are on Floors 18 to 28. They're the same inside as the standadard Intercoastal rooms, just on a higher and presumably quieter floor. For an extra $200, you can upgrade to a room with an ocean view and avoid the noise. Rooms do not feature kitchenettes, but the one-bedroom oceanfront suites and deluxe one-bedroom oceanfront suites have full kitchens with full-size Sub-Zero refrigerators and Wolf gas ranges. Standard rooms have elegant sofas that pull out to queen beds. Rooms are priced for double occupany. Third guests over the age of 16 cost an additional $50 per night.
Beds made with Rivolta Carmingnani sheets and goose down duvets and pillows are luxuriously comfortable, though they lack they feather beds of the Regent Bal Harbour. In all rooms, huge bathrooms feature stunning whirlpool tubs and relatively huge -- 150 milliliters -- bottles of Etro toiletries. There's even a little Acqualina rubber duck awaiting guests in the tub.
Other impressive room features include Bose iPod docks and shining white espresso machines, stocked with complimentary Illy espresso and Tea Forte tea, some of the nicest brands seen in hotels. Control panel phones allow guests to turn on their "do not disturb" signs with the touch of a button. Free Wi-Fi is provided in rooms, which is fast and easy to set up. Each floor has its own wireless network, labeled with the floor number.
The fitness center isn't huge, but it's perfectly clean and offers some views of the ocean. LifeFitness cardio machines face a mirror, not the ocean, but the room does have large windows along the back walk with great views, as well as double doors that lead out onto a patio area. Each cardio machine has its own private cable television, and free headphones are provided. Bottled water, fruit-infused water, and fresh fruit are also provided.
The hotel sits directly on a lovely stretch of public beach, but with the hotel's attentive service, it feels like a private club.
The hotel sits on a quiet stretch of Sunny Isles Beach, easily accessed by walking past the main pool. Like everywhere in Miami, it's a public beach, but the hotel claims a stretch of it as its own, with chaise lounges, towels, and food and drink service just for guests. The beach lacks the crowds and frenetic energy of South Beach, and to most guests, that's a good thing.
The beach scene feels far more luxe than at the Trump resort next door, with families drinking Veuve Clicquot under complimentary cabanas and beach attendants bringing rounds of free mango smoothies in the afternoon. While beach service at the less expensive Trump is good, it's not quite as tight as at the Acqualina, and there are no free smoothies and cabanas.
Sand is soft, like anywhere in Miami, and there's just a bit of dried kelp and seaweed at the waterline (but not much). It's one of Miami's cleaner, calmer beaches for swimmers and sunbathers alike, and a safer beach for young children.
Though the beach is public, it's quite quiet and guests are mostly undisturbed. This is Sunny Isles, not South Beach. The only thing that disturbed my sandy peace, in fact, was the police. About a half-dozen Miami cops came roaring across the sand on four-wheeled ATVs in the middle of the afternoon. Apparently, this is pretty common.
Eating at Il Mullino, which also has outposts at the Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas as well as in New York and around the world, is an experience, and a delicious one at that. The moment you sit down, Italian waiters in tuxedos descend upon you with edible gifts. Fried zucchini! Have a piece of cheese from a giant wheel of Parmesan! A bread basket! A bruschetta from the chef! A mussel! Here are the shrimps we have tonight for the special! Such delights don't come cheap. Pastas start in the mid $20s, proteins in the $30s. Still, portions are large. A half portion of the truffle and mushroom ravioli filled me up, with six plump pasta pockets in a wonderfully rich, creamy sauce. The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch and offers outdoor seating.
Lunch is also available at the poolside/beachfront Costa Grill, while the hotel bar, AARIA, serves small plates, sushi, and signature cocktails from 3 to 11 p.m. Room service is available 24 hours a day.
Piazzetta Marketplace and Restaurant, the hotel's Tuscany "town square"-inspired marketplace and restaurant, opened in 2012. Piazetta is a casual, ocean-side market with lighter fare like paninis, crostinis, and salads, as well as brick over pizza and grilled tiger shrimp.
Over two-thirds of the building is dedicated to residences, not hotel rooms, so the Acqualina comes with a relaxed, family-focused air. The hotel's kids' program, AcquaMarine, is open from Wednesday to Sunday for childrens ages 4 to 12. The kids' room features a complete computer center. Activities focus on all things oceanic, from learning about the Coast Guard to science projects about waves. I met one adorable little girl sporting a pirate eyepatch she had made in the program. However, unlike at the Trump next door, kids' club activities at the Acqualina aren't free. The program costs $55 per child for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (which includes lunch) and $35 per child for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Standard rooms have elegant sofas that pull out to queen beds. Rooms are priced for double occupany; additional guests over the age of 16 cost an additional $50 per night. Roll-away beds and cribs are both available at no extra charge. Adjoining rooms are available but not between two standard rooms. Classic suites can be connected to oceanfront rooms, and one-bedroom suites can be connected to intercoastal rooms.
Spotless common areas and thoroughly clean rooms.
As one might expect of a hotel of the Acqualina's caliber and expense, it's quite clean. Pools and common areas are spotless, and the lobby sparkles. When I tried to check in early to my room, I was told it was still undergoing "final inspection" -- always a good sign in the cleanliness department. It too was nearly spotless, with just the very faintest stain on one piece of pale upholstery, but not a hint of dust or dirt anywhere. Having opened in May 2006, the hotel is fairly new and feels even newer.
One of the hotel's standout features is the 20,000-square-foot ESPA spa. The treatments, from holistic facials ($150) to a 90-minute maternity massage ($225), don't come cheap, but they never do. However, a number of the spa's beautiful facilities, including Finnish saunas, crystal steam rooms, experience showers, ice falls, and single-sex relaxation rooms with LED lights, can be used for free by hotel guests. The facilities are truly stunning, and for a beachside hotel, they're rivaled only by the spa facilities at the Canyon Ranch (also free) and the Fontainebleau (where a spa pass runs $40). Guests must be 16 years or older to use the facilities.
The hotel features four separate pools. The largest of the four, the zero-entry pool, butts right up to the beach and sits alongside the Costa Grill for beach and poolside dining. As its name suggests, it features a sloping, "zero-entry" area, making it great for young children.
The oceanfront recreation pool sits at the center of the hotel's grounds, its long rectangular shape providing a symmetrical anchor to the property. Slightly elevated, it offers stunning views of the ocean. It's quite pretty but used only sparingly -- its purpose is more visual than recreational, despite the name.
The adult tranquility pool sits on the other side of the property from the kid-friendly zero-entry pool. Guests must be 18 years or older to use it, making it much quieter than the zero-entry pool. However, it was also the only pool where I ever heard music -- random European techno tunes.
An even more tranquil, and little-known, fourth pool can be accessed via the ESPA spa. It sits slightly above and to the side of the other pools, making it feel truly relaxing. Since guests must be 16 or older to use the spa facilities, it's also kiddie-free.
If they're under 25 pounds, they're allowed. There's a $100 pet fee, but little Fido will be treated like a prince.
Pets are allowed at the Acqualina, provided they're under 25 pounds and less than 14 inches long. Guests must provide proof of vaccination and pay a $100 pet fee per stay.
Like human guests, pets are treated well. Pet welcome amenities include two bottles of Evian, a food bowl, a mat, and a calming music CD. The concierge can arrange dog-walking services.
Pets are only allowed in the lobby and in rooms, not in any of the common areas or pools. Hotel staff says it only gets one or two pets per month.
Four pools, great Italian cuisine, a luxurious spa, 97 huge, modern rooms, and some of Miami's most attentive service -- this is family-oriented Sunny Isles' best hotel. The rooms don't quite match Regent Bal Harbour's, but the Aqualina's beach is far better (especially with its free cabanas). For families especially, this a superb luxury pick.