Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A medium-size condo complex, 90-percent occupied by full-time renters who keep mostly to themselves.
The building itself is the Crown condominium complex -- aptly named, as you can see, if you gaze skyward to the "crown" on the roof. It looks like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and a tiara. The Churchill Suites company leases 30 rooms from the building, so guests share the space with permanent residents, which mostly include single professionals, grad students, and families with young children.
The "condo" atmosphere -- as opposed to a "hotel" atmosphere -- was evident from the start of my stay. As I waited in the lobby for the property manager to come from off-site and check me in, permanent residents sporadically strolled in, addressed the valet guys at the front desk by name, and casually tossed them their keys. During my two-night stay, I never encountered a fellow short-term guest. Protective move-in-day pads in the elevators were further reminders that we guests were a small minority.
Because it is occupied primarily by renters, the atmosphere throughout the property is decidedly low-key. (Why act like you're on vacation if you're not?) I did see a group of guys playing pool and watching TV in the impressive lounge area one afternoon, but other than that, not much overt relaxation was going on -- no one in the pool or the hot tub, nobody lounging in the deck chairs, few folks on the beach behind the property.
The signs around the property boast that the Crown is "Miami's Only Luxury Oceanfront Rental Community." I'm not sure about that, but the place is certainly nice. Renovated in 2007, it features attractive landscaping, some nifty architecture on the exterior, and nice furniture in the public spaces. (Churchill was actually a furniture company before it branched out into hotel management.)
In-room amenities replace staff at the Churchill: This is a do-it-yourself place.
There's no traditional hotel-type service here. When I arrived, it took almost 15 minutes for someone to meet me, and the person who did wasn't a check-in staffer or a porter but the property manager himself. He was a nice enough guy, but the first thing he told me was that because of a mix-up, I would have to change rooms after my first night. I asked why, and he said he didn't know (though I suspect it was because I was only booked for two nights, and logistics dictated that longer-stay guests get priority).
If I weren't an undercover Oyster reporter who now had an opportunity to experience two different rooms, I would have been annoyed. But James apologized for the inconvenience and told me not to worry about sticking around the property for the room move -- as long as my bags were packed, a staff member would make the move for me.
As long as you know what you're getting into -- i.e., a condo, not a hotel -- you should be fine. During my stay, there was little service to request, and the room was designed to provide me with almost everything I needed.
There was even one nice service touch the permanent residents surely don't receive: a box of chocolates, with a welcome note attached. (When I switched rooms, however, no chocolates were waiting for me in the new room. Come on, guys! How about some $3 candy for the trouble?)
At 40th Street and Collins Avenue, the Crown sits a few blocks south of the super-posh Fontainebleau, north of which Miami Beach becomes a dull stretch of high-rises.
Right across the street is the Primo Cafe & Market, which a lot of guests use for basics like sunscreen and snacks as well as food. It's open from 7 a.m. till midnight. Walking north a bit on Collins, Mike and I found the Sunrise Cafe and Beaches Bar and Grill, which was cited by inspectors for health and safety violations in September 2008. There's also a Subway on 41st and Collins. Like I say, not a huge variety of non-hotel establishments.
The only other real option -- and it's a good one -- is to walk about 100 yards to the Fontainebleau to grab a drink and watch and/or hit on the gorgeous people in various states of lavish undress. There are also two liquor stores within four blocks of the Crown, so getting sauced in your room is another option.
Note: The ongoing construction next door to the Crown is a blight on at least three of the five senses, and could very well be a deal breaker for some. When I asked the property manager, James, how much longer it would be going on, he said he didn't know, but he estimated it would last at least through the summer.
Narrower than South Beach, but it's plenty broad -- not to mention cleaner and much less crowded.
The boardwalk is right there, and the beach is right behind it. Sun and sand, no fuss. I also highly recommend hanging out on the boardwalk itself -- it's great for people watching.
My studio apartment was as big as most one-bedrooms. The Web site describes it like this: "Studio Apartment Suites (720+ sq ft) are L-shaped alcove studios with a queen-size bed in the sleeping area, a living area with full-size sofa bed and club chair, a dining area, and a full gourmet kitchen." That's pretty accurate, except for the part about the dining area (there wasn't one) and perhaps the queen-size bed, which looked more like an American full-size. The bed fits into the alcove with just enough room to maneuver alongside (as long as you stick to a South Beach diet).
Spacious and comfortable, the rooms at the Crown are particularly well suited to families and small groups on long stays. Officially, studios allow three people max, but off the record (OK, this is on the record -- just don't blame me if you get in trouble), you can comfortably fit four if you sleep two to a bed. With a full-size fridge/freezer, an oven and stove, a microwave, cooking utensils, dishes, glasses, silverware, and even a dishwasher, you have everything you need to cook your own meals, which can save you a lot of money over the course of a week or more. Add to all that tasteful, conservative décor and a washer and dryer (buy your detergent across the street, at the Primo Cafe & Market), and the place quickly feels like home.
There's no Wi-Fi, but I hooked into the free wired Internet without a problem. For entertainment, there's a 32-inch flat-screen Akai TV, a Sylvania VCR/DVD player, and a JVC CD player for those who still listen to music one album at a time. (No iPod dock here, kids.)
My mattress was firm and springy -- not super-comfortable -- but the sheets and pillows were fine. Overall, a fairly average bed. The best thing about sleeping is that you can drift off to the sounds of the surf. Which brings me to the highlight of the room ...
The balcony. They're narrow, with cheap plastic furniture, but all the suites that the Churchill uses as hotel rooms overlook the "back yard" of the property and, beyond that, the beach and the ocean. Pretty awesome. I kept the door open and fell asleep each night to the lull of the surf and the wind. If you have a choice, definitely request an ocean-view room, as high up as possible.
Few frills at the Crown. Think what you'd need if you lived in a condo complex, and that's what's there. The pool isn't huge, but since it seems like no one really uses it, you could probably use it to swim some laps.
The fitness center isn't great -- no free weights, no water jug, no towels. But at least the equipment is nice and new, and since few seem to use the gym either, you'll have your pick from the three bikes, two treadmills, two ellipticals, and half-dozen Matrix brand weight machines. There are also two drink machines and even a few fitness orbs.
Although I didn't take advantage of it, the most useful feature is the complimentary valet parking, which is unheard of for a Miami Beach hotel (the complimentary aspect, not the valet aspect). Most hotels charge upward of $25 for 24-hour parking.
Despite the lack of activities both on-campus and off, the Crown would be a great place to take a group (or two, or three) and just chill for a week. By day, you can relax by the pool or on the beach. At night, watch a DVD (be sure to bring your own, though) or spread out in the living room and play a board game (again, bring your own). The Crown doesn't offer any rooms with two double beds, but all the suites have pull-out sofa beds, and you can also splurge on a two-bedroom suite.
Note that there's no kid-friendly food (or any food, for that matter) on-site, nor are there organized activities or child care.
Some small flaws in the room, but otherwise everything was clean and new.
A Morton's steakhouse in the building, and in-room kitchens with everything you need to cook up your own multicourse meals.
A Morton's steakhouse opened in the building. And you can save a lot of cash by preparing some meals in your well-equipped kitchen. For breakfast basics (milk, O.J., cereal), snacks, and drinks (both alcoholic and non), head to Primo Cafe & Market across the street.
If you do feel like eating off-campus, there are the posh restaurants at the Fontainebleau resort, four blocks north. Carrabba's Italian Grill, just down the street, is probably the only other classy option in the immediate area. Don't be put off by the cheesy neon "We Deliver!" sign in the window. It's atmospheric inside, with dark-wood furnishings, mood lighting, and show tunes and standards in the backgound. My tuna carpaccio appetizer and snapper entree came to about $45 with taxes and tip.
More condo than hotel -- most rooms host permanent residents -- the Crown features huge suites with fully stocked kitchens, washers and dryers, and pull-out sofas. For families or small groups, it's a great option. But it's a strictly D.I.Y. experience -- don't expect any service or organized fun.