Carlton Hotel South Beach Rating: 2.5 Pearls
South Beach, Miami, Florida

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

  • One block from the beach
  • Young, party-minded clientele
  • Rooms are as large as those in many more expensive art deco hotels
  • Rooms include flat-screen TVs, Starbucks coffee, and large closets

Cons

  • Sparsely furnished rooms with cheesy decor
  • No on-site restaurant
  • Unattractive, little-used pool
  • Slow, unreliable Wi-Fi connection
  • No fitness center
  • $10/night (per person) resort fee added to bill

Bottom Line

There's a lot to dislike about the Carlton: the lazy, indifferent staff, the "sensual" odors, the designed-by-Ikea-and-trying-too-hard-to-be-hip decor, as well as the terribly misleading website. But this is the Carlton, not the Ritz-Carlton. If you're just looking for a clean, reasonably priced place near the beach to sunbathe during the day and party by night, you could do worse.

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 Scene

The Carlton serves mostly as a place for spring breakers and bargain-seekers to park their stuff during the day and crash after partying into the wee hours.

Guests in the patio lounge area
Guests in the patio lounge area

Don't be fooled by the name: This is the Carlton, not the Ritz-Carlton. More crucially, don't be fooled by their flashy Java skills. The discrepancy between the Web site and the reality was greater at the Carlton than at any other hotel I've stayed in -- and that's saying a lot. The "deluxe continental breakfast buffet" is actually a limited selection of day-old bread and cold cereal. The "breathtaking Olympic-size swimming pool" "with lush tropical surroundings" in fact resembles the small, unused pool at Grammy and Grampa's condo complex.

To the Carlton's credit, the website is at least half-truthful about the "sensual odors pumped throughout the hotel." A citrusy fragrance is conspicuous the moment you step into the lobby, and remains so all the way into your room; whether it's sensual is another question altogether. The only time I lost the scent was when the smell of marijuana, seeping into the hallways from various rooms, overpowered it.

Apparently striving for a kind of visual and olfactory harmony, the Carlton has selected an orange color scheme throughout the hotel. From the drapes and couches in the lobby, to the lounge chairs by the pool, to the bedside lamps and bathroom walls in the rooms, it all screams "Tangerine" ("The hours {at the Carlton}, they bring me pain ..."). Ikea also comes to mind.

To this, the Carlton adds shabby-chic aural pleasures as well. Euro-tech disco beats play in the lobby, despite the fact that no one hangs out there even when the bar opens at night.

All of the above might be irrelevant, of course, because the Carlton caters largely to college students and other budget-minded travelers looking for a cheap place to park their bags and their achy, stiletto-ravaged feet. I was there in early April, after most colleges' spring breaks had ended, and I still mostly saw groups of college-age women -- or, rather, heard them giggling and screaming through the doors of their rooms. The long, poorly lit hallways and casual attire (of both the guests and staff) add to the college dorm-like atmosphere.

 Service

At best, competent but indifferent. At worst, cold and inefficient.

Breakfast at the hotel bar
Breakfast at the hotel bar

When I wasn't able to check in early, I gave them my cell phone number and told them to call me when the room was ready. They never did. One front-desk clerk was reading a romance novel when I approached the desk; I got the impression she never would have even looked up if I hadn't said something. Another staffer got chewed out by a guest who was complaining that her problem "hasn't gotten fixed all week."

Want more? I got yelled at by one guy at the front desk when I tried to go out by the pool after dark ("You can't go out there!"). They didn't give me the key to the room's minibar when I checked in; I had to ask for it after discovering the fridge required a key. Oh, and my wakeup call came 10 minutes late.

All in all, you get what you pay for. The staff will check you in and out reasonably quickly. And if you pick the right one on a good day, you may even get a smile or two. Otherwise, don't expect much.

 Location

A quiet, commerical stretch of Collins Avenue, one block from the beach and the noisy bar scene on Ocean Drive.

The block of Collins Avenue surrounding the Carlton sees moderate foot traffic from shoppers and guests at other hotels; it's nothing like the dense throng on Ocean Drive. Right across the street is Jerry's Famous Deli, which, despite getting panned (as it were) by many reviewers, is open 24 hours and thus, by default, the best early-morning option after a night of clubbing. Down Collins a block is Café Des Arts, a nice breakfast and/or coffee option.

One night I was at the Carlton, a racially charged verbal argument took place between two groups of young men in the alley behind the hotel, right outside my room. Nonetheless, the area is generally safe -- well-lit and quieter than Ocean Drive, too.

 Beach

The sexiest beach in the world is one block away.

Early morning jogger
Early morning jogger

It's a three-minute stroll to one of the most famous beaches in the world, where a jumbled horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, couples on vacation, and families with kids cavort and relax on a stretch of sand 100 yards wide. South Beach makes it clear why there's a diet named after it.

In the mornings, the occasional runner trots along the harder, inland half of the beach. By the afternoon, the joint is packed with sunbathers. At dusk the scene thins out again.

The hotel provides beach towels as part of the mandatory $10 daily resort fee. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from one of the countless Boucher Bros. stands dotting the beach.

Mobile snack stands are also scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips (note, however, that alcohol is not allowed).

 Rooms

The Ikea-inspired rooms are functional and just as large as other mid-range options in SoBe, but poorly lit, sparsely furnished, and low on frills.

Funky color scheme
Funky color scheme

As is the case with most art deco hotels in South Beach, at the Carlton you're paying for location, not room size or modernity. With thin walls, noisy neighbors, simple wooden furniture, no overhead lighting, and white, undecorated plaster walls, the rooms are reminiscent of a glorified dorm room. "Glorified" because you do get some things you might not get back at State U., including a 32-inch Sharp flat-screen TV, a mini-bar, a coffee machine with Starbucks coffee, and of course that classy tangerine color scheme. Then again, the simple white night stands, industrial office carpeting, and the kick-flush toilet could remind you of midterms all over again.

The king-size bed sits low to the ground, there was a tennis ball-size hole in the duvet, and my sheets felt like linens from a bed-in-a-bag. But at least the mattress was comparable to those at more expensive places where I stayed.

The bathroom is small, but mine was clean and the water pressure in the shower was solid. The environmentally friendly Green Natura brand (whatever that is -- a Google search yields nothing) bath products include soap, shampoo, and conditioner.

 Features

Not much: unreliable Wi-Fi, an ATM in the lobby, and a disappointing pool.

Decently sized pool, though smaller than advertised
Decently sized pool, though smaller than advertised

The pool is clearly the highlight, but it is none of the things the website advertises. It's the size of a small condo complex pool, not "Olympic-size," and it's encircled by faded orange-padded lounge chairs, not "lush tropical surroundings." I never saw anyone use the pool during my stay, though I did see a few guests bring their breakfast or lunch out to the chairs.

Wi-Fi is free, but the connection in my room was so slow and spotty, it wasn't even worth using.

Given the above, the $10 per person per day "resort fee" they tack onto the bill just adds insult to the injury.

 Family

Not really a place for families. There's nothing egregious, but the spring break vibe might put off some parents.

Girls Gone Wild this ain't. However, I didn't see any kids during my stay, and I did note the disco beat in the lobby, the noisy college students partying in their rooms, and the smell of marijuana in hallways.

 Cleanliness

Stains on the carpet, luggage-wheel scuff marks on the walls, warped furniture, and dirty, faded pool chairs. But nothing disgusting or unhygienic.

For a place renovated less than four years ago (in December 2005), the Carlton is showing a lot of wear and tear. But you can expect a clean bathroom and laundered linens.

 Food

Other than a limited continental breakfast buffet, no restaurant on-site. There's plenty of phenomenal dining all around, though, if you're willing to walk a bit.

Jerry's Famous Deli right across the street
Jerry's Famous Deli right across the street

The Carlton's breakfast consists of coffee or tea, juice, one piece of fruit, one piece of bread, and dry cereal for $7. You're better off heading south a block, to Café Des Arts, which serves tasty French toast and eggs, among other things.

Right across the street from the Carlton is Jerry's Famous Deli, which, despite getting panned (as it were) by many reviewers, is open 24 hours and thus, by default, the best early-morning option after a night of clubbing.

For dinner, the bartender in the Carlton lobby recommended the restaurants on Espanola Way, a few blocks west, and it turned out to be a great suggestion. The street is a bit of a hidden gem, home to a nice variety of international cuisines. My meal at Tapas y Tintos was excellent.

 Bottom Line

There's a lot to dislike about the Carlton: the lazy, indifferent staff, the "sensual" odors, the designed-by-Ikea-and-trying-too-hard-to-be-hip decor, as well as the terribly misleading website. But this is the Carlton, not the Ritz-Carlton. If you're just looking for a clean, reasonably priced place near the beach to sunbathe during the day and party by night, you could do worse.

Things You Should Know About Carlton Hotel South Beach

Address

  • 1433 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Carlton Hotel Miami
  • Carlton Hotel Miami Beach
  • Carlton Miami Beach

Room Types

  • Deluxe Room
  • Standard Room
  • Superior Room

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 67
Pool: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Cribs: Yes
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Hotel Information

Location: South Beach, Miami
Address: 1433 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
(See Map)
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