Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
An Art Deco-inflected version of the Marriott standard. The SoBe elements (casual vibe, fluorescent lights, flip-flops) happily coexist with the Marriott (midsize property, generic furniture, eclectic clientele).
Picture what would happen if you dropped a standard upper-middle-range, midsize Marriott from the sky onto a prime piece of land bordering one of the sexiest beaches in the world, and that's pretty much what you have in the South Beach Marriott. With 236 rooms on 11 floors, the Marriott is far bigger than the dozens of boutiques a few blocks north, and the Starbucks next door to the entrance is a dead giveaway that this isn't your father's South Beach. To the hotel's credit, it does a nice job of incorporating the locale into the experience. SoBe-inspired design touches include an Art Deco peach and yellow pastel facade, fluorescent purple lighting, and orchids in the lobby.
A solid 'B' -- cordial and competent, but rarely warm and never above-and-beyond.
This being a Marriott, I expected speedy check-in and checkout and all-around competence, and I got all of that. What I wanted for a hotel of this price, however, was a little of the "one-step-further" friendliness and helpfulness that I've found at other high-end hotels, and even at other, cheaper Marriotts.
The front-desk clerks treated me more as a client to "process" efficiently than as a guest to welcome and please. At lunch, I had to wait five minutes after sitting down before someone finally brought me a menu. The tired body language and nonchalant attitude of my waiter gave me the impression he wasn't terribly fond of his work. (Indeed, toward the end of my meal, when he engaged me in a conversation about my camera, he revealed that he hated his job.) I got a similar vibe from several other employees as well.
SoFi is short for "South of Fifth," the area at the southern tip of SoBe -- which is itself, of course, short for South Beach. (Someday, you have to think, Miami Beach will just be called MiBe.) A derelict neighborhood until several high-profile restaurants helped gentrify the area in the mid-'90s, SoFi is now the most desirable part of SoBe to live in, with several exclusive high-rise condo complexes lining the coast.
What that means for you as a tourist is that you can expect a very different vibe than you'd get five or 10 blocks north, in South Beach's mosh pit. By day, SoFi is fairly sleepy. The beach is much quieter than it is half a mile up; traffic is minimal. The only site worth checking out is South Pointe Park, at the southern tip of the cape. Flanked by high-end restaurants and luxury condos on one side and a yacht harbor on the other, the park is a great place to picnic, Rollerblade, toss a Frisbee, or just watch other people do all that. I took a lovely jog there on the path lining the harbor.
At night, the miniskirts go on, the Audis come out, and SoFi transforms into a veritable hot spot. Some of the hottest bars, clubs, and eateries are now in SoFi, but they're more spread out than those in the heart of South Beach, so it's tougher to just wander around and pick one. It helps to do some planning ahead of time.
To give you a sense of the kind of company you'll be keeping: One night I was there, the following cars were parked in a row in front of Gaia (next door to the Marriott): a Ferrari, a Bentley, a Rolls Royce, and a Porsche. There's a lot of dough in the area.
Among the bars and clubs to consider: Nikki Beach, a club that also conducts daytime events, and Ted's Hideaway, an unpretentious local favorite. There's also a Starbucks right next door to the hotel for all you venti-nonfat-iced-mochaccino addicts.
Still technically South Beach, but much quieter and less crowded than the stretch that begins five blocks to the north.
The beach in SoFi is just as broad as it is farther north, and the sand is just as soft. The difference is that the thing that makes SoBe one of the most famous beaches in the world -- the horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, topless Europeans, and families with kids, all jumbled together -- is absent down by the Marriott. Then again, all you have to do join that horde is stroll north half a mile or so. Sun and glistening abs, no fuss.
Beach towels are complimentary. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from one of the countless Boucher Brothers 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.)
Because the building wasn't constructed in the '20s and '30s like most of the Art Deco properties in South Beach, the rooms at the Marriott are larger than what you'll find further north. My standard room had a king bed, a small sitting area, and a desk, and there was still plenty of room to maneuver. As with most chains, the Marriott keeps its rooms' layouts and decor quite consistent. For some people, that's boring. For others, it's both comforting and comfortable.
Not counting the eight suites, which are much more expensive, the Marriott's 200+ rooms are either ocean view or city view. Officially I had an ocean view guest room, but the ocean was barely visible, even from the balcony. You had to stand by the rail and look past two more columns of balconies to see the beach, which sort of defeats the purpose of the ocean view balcony in the first place. I was in Room 628, and the numbers get higher as you walk east down the hallways, so I would request a room in the "high 30s" (738, 838, etc.) if you want a direct view of the ocean.
The beds, which feature 300-thread-count sheets, custom duvets, and down pillows, are excellent, if not quite up there with the beds at the other $300+/night hotels I stayed at in SoBe (like the Bentley Hilton, the Betsy, and the Congress, to name a few).
Amenities include reliable high-speed Wi-Fi (only free for Marriott Platinum and Gold members), an ergonomic desk chair, a mini-fridge, and a coffee machine with complimentary coffee (though mine was up in the closet for some reason). The TV, a 32-inch LG flat-screen, has about 60 channels, including HBO and several high-def channels.
The Marriott boasts a nice selection of amenities. The pool deck is, without a doubt, the center of activity at the hotel. Two rectangular pools flank a small hot tub; lounge chairs surround on all sides. The Marriott's website boasts that the pools are infinity-edged, and technically they are. In reality, though, it's less a traditional infinity-edge than a standard pool with water at the same height as the ground. Nevertheless, they all combine to make for a fun place to hang out, especially with the bar and restaurant just a few steps away.
If you're looking for a quieter setting, the patio is another pleasant place to hang out. In addition to the usual array of cabanas, umbrellas, lounge chairs, and food and drinks service, there's also a cool little fountain (niftily illuminated at night) and ...
... the aviary. Although I can't confirm it, I'll go out on a limb, as it were, and state that the Marriott's aviary is the only one in South Beach. The birds it hosts are small and not particularly diverse -- finches, I want to say -- but your kids might like them.
The gym is small for a hotel with 200+ rooms, but it's well equipped, with eight new LifeFitness cardio machines (each with its own TV screen), a multipurpose strength-training machine, free weights, and a slick set of silver SPRI fitness orbs.
The spa provides the usual -- massages, facials, manis, pedis -- for less than you'd spend at a luxury resort (e.g., $105 for a one-hour Swedish massage).
Wi-Fi is fast, free, and property-wide. Valet parking is $34 per day.
If you insist on bringing the kids to South Beach, home to one of the sexiest beaches in the world, you're probably better off at SoFi. It's quieter, and you won't see as many artificially enhanced bodies parading down the sidewalks in string bikinis.
As for the hotel itself, there are eight suites, and many rooms have two double beds. The menu at the restaurant is kid-friendly, and there's a popular family restaurant, Big Pink, right down the block.
And hey, there's that aviary, too.
With the exception of a few small nicks in the furniture in my room, I didn't notice any problems indoors.
The only time that cleaniness (or rather, the lack thereof) actually bothered me was on my balcony. The ground was stained, the chairs were marred by white paint, and the windows were dusty. Apparently balconies aren't on the daily housekeeping checklist.
The reasonable but unspectacular on-site restaurant serves three meals a day. If you're going off-campus, prepare to either spend big or walk.
The Marriott's restaurant, Deco Blue, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also handles room-service duties (available from 11 a.m. to midnight). You can dine indoors or al fresco; outside, you can even eat while gazing out over the pool and beach. For lunch, my mahimahi sandwich was decent but nothing to write home about. The excellent breakfast buffet includes Krispy Kreme donuts, five types of fresh fruit, and made-to-order eggs, pancakes, and waffles, cooked up by an omelet chef. Unfortunately, it also includes a $26 charge once tax and tip are added in.
Nearby, SoFi boasts some of the finest dining in Miami Beach. Gaia is next door, and Prime 112 is right across the street. Down at South Pointe, Smith & Wollensky and a nearby Brazilian steakhouse were both hopping the Friday night I was there. And of course, there's Joe's Stone Crab, a SoBe institution. But you are herewith forewarned: All of the above will cost you a pretty penny. I dropped 33 bones on crab cakes and a beer at Joe's. And that was for takeout.
Finally, there's a Starbucks right next door to the hotel if you can't go a week without your 'Bucks.
Limited, yet more exciting menu options and a comfortable beachfront setting -- a fine choice, for the price
Renovated in 2004, the South Beach Marriott meets the standards of its parent company (clean, comfortable rooms; competent service) while providing a few pleasant surprises of its own (an aviary; a scenic patio), all in a hip SoBe neighborhood. But for the price, you can usually find a South Beach hotel that also offers doting service and innovative design.