Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Despite its sexy image and $1 billion facelift, the Fontainebleau feels like a high-end family hotel for conventioneers.
A Miami icon since 1954, the 1,504-room Fontainebleau is a sprawling art deco complex built by legendary architect Morris Lapidus that stretches over several city blocks. In its heyday, it was the hangout of the rat pack, but it had fallen from the headlines until its $1 billion facelift in 2008.
They've put the money to good use. Jeffrey Beers, whose firm has designed the sleek, mood-lit interiors of the Dylan Hotel in New York and the Atlantis Cove in Las Vegas, has given the Fontainebleau a glossy white interior punctuated by bright pieces of art ranging from Yves Klein's "Venus Bleue" to Don Sugg's "Black Cross." Massive, free-form pools lay out by the ocean like mirrors. The new spa looks like a chunk of rough-hewn sapphire. There's a top-of-the-line roster of eight restaurants like Gotham Steak by acclaimed chef Alfred Portale -- a pioneer of "New American cuisine" -- and Scarpetta, by Chef Scott Conant, which has another high-profile outpost in New York's trendy Meatpacking District. Boutiques like Morris & Co., Aquamarine, and Ida and Harry sell everything from designer duds and Versace vases to saucy Kiki de Montparnasse intimacy kits.
But contrary to its sexy ad campaign, the Fontainebleau is a family hotel at heart -- a really, really high-end one. Gotham Steak doesn't come with the "Oh look, there's Jamie Foxx" scene, found at other designer hotel restaurants, like the Blue Door at the Delano hotel. And while Ocean Drive magazine brought plenty of celebrities and socialites over to the LIV nightclub for its anniversary bash, you're far more likely to see a crop of bankers than supermodels on a normal day. It's only on special occasions -- like the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show held at the hotel in 2008 -- that the Fontainebleau lives up to sultry expectations. Most days, the pool is packed with families and the halls are filled with conventioneers.
Staffers are fast and friendly, but sometimes scarce. Often, there are only three front-desk attendants trying to help a line of more than 20 guests.
With 1,504 rooms, the Fontainebleau is so large, you can walk for a good 10 minutes without running into any staff members. But with 24-hour room service, turndown service in the evening, food and drinks by the pool and out on the beach, and personal trainers at the gym, you're bound to be pampered.
During two separate visits in February and March 2009, we found long lines of 20 or more people waiting to check in and only three front-desk clerks to handle to rush. There weren't any porters around to help bring my bags to the room. That's a big deal when you have to drag your luggage up two short flights of stairs, down two long hallways, past conference rooms, and up an elevator to the rooms. Likewise, it took a very long time for the valet to our rental car during our second visit.
Miami Beach is quiet and predominantly residential -- the Fontainebleau itself is the highlight.
The Fontainebleau is a world unto itself, and that world has no cheap places to eat. Quiet and predominantly residential Miami Beach doesn't have a great deal to do or places to eat within walking distance, so guests will have to take a 10- to 15-minute taxi down to South Beach for any affordable meals or nightlife. At the very least, you'd have to head down to the stores and restaurants that have cropped up around the Gansevoort hotel at 24th Street, about a seven-minute drive away.
But with the new Soho House Miami Beach (opened October 2010) being a five-minute walk away, guests are slowly beginning to have more options.
In Miami Beach, the beach is a bit narrower than it is down in SoBe, but there's still plenty of space to sit in the sun. The beach this far up isn't as crowded as it is down south, though the boardwalk is just as active with a steady steam of joggers, dog walkers, tourists, and Rollerbladers flowing around itinerant artists hawking their wares.
Guests can order food or drink out on the beach while reclining in one of the airy -- but significantly less souped-up (no flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, or safes here) -- cabanas. At $40/day, they cost significantly less than their more wired siblings by the pool.
Since it's an Art Deco building, the guest rooms are predictably small and my 300-square-foot Superior room -- the standard room -- was no exception. With plain white walls and a few choice pieces of brightly colored furniture, they make the best of the limited space, especially with nifty swing-out writing desks.
Guest rooms at the Fontainebleau are spread across four separate towers. Superior rooms are in all four towers, but only rooms in the Tresor and Sorrento towers (and some in the Chateau tower) have ocean views. These ocean-view superior and ocean-view balcony rooms are only slightly larger than the superior rooms at 320 square feet. If you need more space, the 500-square-foot junior suite is also available in all four towers. One-bedroom suites in the Chateau are 900 square feet, 1,000 square feet in the Tresor and Versailles, and 1,200 square feet in the Sorrento. Be forewarned, some rooms in the Versailles tower have terraces directly overlooking the neighboring Chateau's noisy and uninspiring HVAC system. I also recommend the Sorrento for the best, full-on ocean views.
Each room comes with a stocked minibar, a large flat-screen TV, a bedside iHome docking stereo for iPods, and an iMac computer. The iMac is a bit gimmicky and is basically just an electronic alternative to the clunker hotel catalogue listing a hotel's features and services. But one neat interactive feature is the "Ask Lapidus" option (Morris Lapidus is the Fontainebleau's original architecht) with which guests can send in suggestions or questions to hotel management. The resort's $17.95 per day hotel fee is a boon in one respect, guests no longer have to pay separate $15 charges for both WiFi and gym access. Bundled into one daily fee, guests receive unlimited wired and wireless internet in rooms and at pools, gym access, beach chairs, local and toll free dialing and a daily newspaper.
The beds are quite comfortable, with a firm but springy mattress, a feather-top duvet, and high-count sheet sets.
My bathroom was pretty cramped, but with just a shower stall, a sink, and a toilet, it was at least uncluttered. The water pressure was good and the bathroom had a small TV. However, without a tub to recline in the TV felt like an unnecessary add on.
One main lagoon-shaped pool, surrounded by smaller dipping pools and Jacuzzis, beckons from the lobby. Filled with parents in sun beds, teens throwing Frisbees, and the occasional backstroker vigorously swimming laps, the pool is clearly the highlight of the property. There's a bar at the far end of the pool and various booths sporting free fruit and carafes of water at regular intervals. Smaller dipping pools on the south end of the main pool are where younger kids happily splash in the shallow water or play on the giant swing. The dipping pool leads up to a large, round pool with an island cabana in the middle. It's also where there are VIP cabanas with digital safes, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, and Wi-Fi. Unsurprisingly, they're gonna cost you a pretty penny -- they range from $250/day for a basic cabana to $1,000/day!
The only problem with the pool (well, besides the astronomically priced cabanas) is getting there. Guests have to walk through the lobby, past several restaurants, down a ramp, through an elevator, and down another winding corridor. So yeah, those flip-flops had better be broken-in.
The Lapis spa sits between the pool and the beach and looks like a shiny sapphire dropped from the sky. At 40,000 square feet, that's a pretty big rock. A $35 spa pass gets you into the locker rooms, Jacuzzis, cold pool, steam room, and sauna, along with regular access to the gym. Wait till 5 p.m. and the price drops to $20. The spa has a huge, well-designed locker room that's better than any other hotel -- or upscale Equinox gym -- I've seen. The pool, saunas, and steam rooms aren't crammed into a corner, like they are at so many other spas, but are instead gracefully laid out in the large, trendy subterranean lair. Special treatments like massages are extra, of course, but with 30 treatment rooms, there's no waiting in line.
Guests have access to the gym on the top-floor of the spa. The gym has a huge selection of top-of-the-line weight-training and cardio equipment. In fact, few hotels -- or brand-name gyms for that matter -- have as many treadmills as Lapis. Best of all, they're right by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pools and the ocean. The Fontainebleau has personal trainers on staff to assist guests with free weights and machines, but there are no classes offered, unless requested. And while the hotel can arrange for a private yoga class easily, they don't have the equipment available for a Pilates session.
Free cribs and $40/day rollaways are available. There are several shallow pools and a $75/day kids' club.
It's difficult to fit a crib or a rollaway bed in a standard room, though they should fit relatively easier in junior and one-bedroom suites. Cribs are free, but rollaways come at $40/day.
There are several shallow pools for kids to splash around in, as well as a swing for the water-shy. There is also a kids' club for 4- to 12-year-olds where instructors guide the kids through various sports, art, and drama activities. A full day at the club lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes a lunch, and costs $75/per child. Half-day programs -- held twice daily and excluding the meal -- are $50/child. The concierge can also recommend babysitters from an outside agency (not hotel staffers).
Kid-friendly food can be made, on request, at any of the Fontainebleau's restaurants.
The Fontainebleau has some great destination restaurants like Gotham Steak from chef Alfred Portale, Blade, and Scarpetta from chef Scott Conant (whom you might recognize as a recent judge on Bravo's Top Chef).
But there are no cheap dining alternatives, and a cobb salad can cost as much as $18. There's Solo Cafe, with its coffee and cake, but you can't get an actual meal there. Fresh, on the pool level, is a bit more affordable with its selection of gelatos and pizzas. Still, it's more snack-oriented than anything else. The cheapest dinner option is Vida, where a meatloaf can set you back $16 -- on the pricey side, but not ridiculously so.
Though Gotham Steak is best known for its hardwood grilled meats, I recommend the $12 macaroni and cheese. With slivers of bacon and truffle oil, it's a far cry from the Kraft variety. Sushi at Blade is fresh and experimental -- where else could you find a stone crab and avocado roll? -- but it's the dark, Asian-themed ambience that's the real draw. Other guests, however, speak very highly of the Italian cuisine at Scarpetta, where the polenta with mushrooms receives top billing.
Hakkasan and La Cote were not open at the time of my visit, though they both are now. Been there? Liked them? Hated them? Write us a review.
In the evening, head to LIV, which is pretty much the only real club in Miami Beach. True, celebs ranging from Maria Sharapova to Sean Combs have dropped by to party, but the stars usually only come out for closed door events, like Ocean Drive magazine's anniversary party. On regular nights, it's like any other club with neon lights flashing over a crowd of striped shirts cozying up to high-heeled blondes. But no partying on school nights -- the club is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings. Lame.
After its $1 billion facelift in 2008, the Fontainebleau's 1,504 new rooms, nine pools, phenomenal spa and gorgeous design are hard to top. Despite its sexy ads and nightclub, it's a relaxed property that attracts mostly families and convention goers. Its peaceful Miami Beach location - next to the also snazzy Eden Roc hotel - is 30 blocks from the South Beach action.