Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
At night, green lights illuminate the white façade of the Holiday Inn Miami Beach, coloring it in an oddly iconic pastel green. But this is not the roadside Holiday Inn. The well-lit lobby is outfitted with palm tree-themed carpeting and a host of comfortable arm chairs for lounging or laptop use. It shares the lower-level space with the Blue Parrot bar and Paradise Café , home to a $13 hot breakfast buffet. Whatever the spruced-up décor might convey, the scene here is mostly families.
Relaxed, but generally effective -- just keep the requests simple: room service, room cleaning, or a drink at the bar.
Easily identifiable by their Hawaiian shirts at the Paradise Café and green button-downs with loosened ties at the check-in desk, the staffers look like they work at a mid-tier country club. At the Paradise Café, the manager and a host greeted each other with a loud high-five.
I was able to check-in at 2 p.m., well in advance of the standard 4 p.m. check-in time, and it only took about five minutes.
When I called for room service, I was told that it would take 30 minutes. Rafaella, who had greeted me in the elevator when I first arrived, showed up eight minutes early with my steak-and-peppers sandwich. The meat was a little gamey, but the fries were still hot and crispy.
On my second day, housekeeping did not come to clean my room in the morning. When I inquired at the front desk, the staff sent a crew up immediately. I checked on the room 10 minutes later, and sure enough, a staff member was tidying up.
But the information desk wasn't very informative. I asked about free nightclub passes (most South Beach hotels have these), but the Holiday Inn didn't have any. The staff member suggested that I head to Mansion and Finnegan's for a night on the town, which was fine (save Mansion's tricky velvet rope), but the recommendations weren't particularly creative. When I asked about kid-friendly activities in the area, he just referred me to the suggestion book.
After I checked out, I spoke with the front-office manager, Humberto Pellon, who explained that Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inn's parent company, is trying to re-launch the brand by adopting a higher standard of service and dumping properties that fail to score highly on customer-service surveys. On Holiday Inn's 100-point scale, the Miami Beach property scores in the low 80s, which means the franchise is safe, but that there is still room for improvement.
Hotels and parking structures dominate Collins Avenue in the Holiday Inn's neighborhood. An occasional restaurant springs up every block or so. Walking south on Collins, there's the Sunrise Café and Beaches Bar and Grill, which was cited by inspectors for health and safety violations in September 2008. There is also a Subway on 41st Street and Collins Avenue, two blocks away. Not a huge variety.
At 43rd Street and Collins Avenue, the Holiday Inn Miami Beach sits just south of the chichi Fontainebleau mega-resort (famed for its recent $1 billon renovation), north of which Miami Beach becomes a dull stretch of high-rises. The only significant dining or dinking option in walking distance is to walk about 100 yards to the posh Fontainebleau to grab a drink or eat at any of its seven restaurants. Otherwise, there are two liquor stores within four blocks of the Holiday Inn, so getting sauced in your room is an option. But there's no minibar or fridge; get the ice bucket.
On the advice of Natalya, bartender at the Holiday Inn's Blue Parrot, I crossed the bridge at 41st Street to examine the local eating options west of Collins Avenue. Café Avanti is a semi-family, semi-fancy Italian spot with OK food and plates ranging from $13 to $25.
Joggers, cyclists, and couples out on a stroll make use of the boardwalk. I repeatedly encountered a security guard on bike patrol, adding to a sense of daytime and early-evening security in the area.
Generally, the shorefront at Miami Beach, where the Holiday Inn is located, is less densely populated than the coastline farther south. It also lacks the flat, hard-ground component that more than doubles the width of the beach further south. But the area is not crowded. One morning, I counted about 25 beach-goers on the spread of beach immediately behind the Holiday Inn. There's room to stretch out and relax, but far fewer bikini babes and macho bodybuilders than one finds farther south.
On arrival, I was put off by a combination of body odor and sunscreen in the room, but after a day, I hardly noticed it.
In my standard room, No. 921, the queen beds were soft and had high-quality, smooth-feeling linens. The hotel offers a pillow menu to fulfill special requests, like firm synthetic pillows for side-sleepers or U-shaped neck pillows to relax pressure points.
As for the bathroom, the tub in my standard room was among the deepest in Miami -- too bad it sorely needed repainting. What looked like cigarette burns on the floor and rim kept me on my feet and under the shower head. The water pressure was fine, but temperature was inconsistent. The first day, the water was too cold. The next day, the water was hot within minutes. The sink is separate from the toilet and bathroom, standing in the room proper next to the door.
Noise-wise, the walls didn't offer me much protection. I woke up to the sound of drunken "Whoooo!" in the hallway while one guest played techno music at about 2 a.m. During the afternoon, I could also hear someone else's music playing at a more reasonable volume.
The pool -- barely large enough to swim a very short lap -- is well-maintained and spotless, except for the inevitable palm leafs falling from one of the nearby trees. I saw a staff member sweeping the pool with a net early in the morning. Later, he offered guests towels as they walked by. Though less glamorous than the sexy South Beach pool scenes, the crowd here is a bit more grown-up and modest. Still, I spotted a fair share of guests sipping on piña coladas and rum and cokes from the poolside bar, which is open until 6 p.m. daily. Several guests lounged in hammocks on the accompanying grassy area. Apart from one guest's portable radio briefly broadcasting soccer scores, the space was notably quiet, with the exception of some Bob Marley from the hotel's speakers. An occasional child would cry out, but the scene was laid-back for the most part. Call it sunning in silence.
The free Wi-Fi Internet (everywhere on-site) is fast and reliable, allowing me to consistently stream audio and video without hiccups.
The business center is typical of most Miami Beach resorts: just a bank of two computers. The stations are against one wall of the elevator bank, meaning they aren't particularly private or shielded from the lobby noise.
The fitness center is composed of a total-body weight station, one treadmill, and an exercise bike. The room is small, but clean, and rarely busy.
The guest laundry facilities are pretty standard, with two washers, a dryer, and some vending machines.
Noise can be an issue during spring break or the Winter Music Conference -- I awoke to shouts in the middle of the night thanks in part to WMC partiers. But generally the heavy revelry takes place farther south in SoBe, and street noise isn't a factor.
There is no kids' club or hotel-sponsored activity schedule for children.
The hotel offers a kids' menu at its Paradise Café, and there are booster seats available for the tikes.
At $13, plus tax and gratuities, the hot breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn is not a huge bargain (unless you compare it to the Four Points Sheraton next door). The Paradise Café's buffet offers all the slightly undercooked scrambled eggs, generic sausage, and potatoes you can eat, plus a popular omelet station. The pancakes and French toast are less than appetizing. There are also typical continental options such as fresh fruit, yogurt, and toast. The OJ flows freely, as does the coffee. I filled up and then some for around $18, including taxes and gratuity. Note, however, that several hotels in South Beach proper, including the Wave and the Avalon, have very classy continental buffets at no additional charge.
My steak-and-peppers room-service meal was underwhelming as well, so I elected to try some other area restaurants. On the bartender's recommendation, I checked out Café Avanti, a 15-minute walk away. The food was decent and the atmosphere pleasant, but service was slow and plates ranged from $14 to $25. In Avanti's neighborhood, I spotted a kosher pizza place called Shem Tov. Click here for Shem Tov's menu.
Located on a relatively peaceful beach, the Holiday Inn is a quieter, more family-focused option 20 blocks outside the South Beach party scene. It has the basics -- pool, fitness center, and free Wi-Fi -- but the rooms, especially the bathrooms, are a bit worn, and the on-site food isn't great. Not too bad, for the price.