Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Kids gone wild, with parents (usually) in tow. The Newport is a lot like a cruise on land -- activities all day long, entertainment at night, and multiple restaurants.
Years ago the Newport attracted a steady crowd of famous entertainers such as Sammie Davis Jr., Tina Turner, the Platters, and Jimi Hendrix, among others (or so says the resort's website). A lot, however, can change in 40 years. Just ask Tina Turner. (You can't ask the others -- they're dead.) In the decades since the party scene moved down the coast 20 miles to South Beach, the Newport has transformed itself into a middle-scale family-friendly resort. The only nighttime bar/club on-site often shuts down by 11 p.m. One evening of my stay was Live Country Music Night, a dining/dancing/performance extravaganza. The lead singer sported a bolo tie and a mullet; the three-course dinner -- featuring a choice of two pastas, each drenched in a cream sauce -- was $10 per person. Oh, the times they have a-changed.
As long as you don't mind cashing in early, you (or at least your kids) will never lack for things to do at the Newport. Upon checking into my room, the first thing I heard was the microphone blaring "B13" from 11 stories below. Apparently poolside Bingo Fun was underway (12:30-1 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). The next day, it was poolside Horse Racing (same time, Tuesdays and Thursdays).
Winners receive free drink coupons (which can also be redeemed for desserts by the 8-year-olds without fake IDs). Other activities include Open the King's Treasure, arts and crafts, temporary tattoos, and sandcastle-building and water-balloon contests. At night, you can play board games, bid on various activities in "The Price is Right" auction, or catch a movie (WALL-E was playing when I was there). Be sure to ask for an Escape to Fun! activities schedule when you arrive.
Although the Newport does offer special romance packages, if you're looking for fine dining and pampering, or even just peace and quiet by the pool, this isn't your place. Then again, the couple next door to me seemed to be having pleny of adult fun. (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter. I just smelled their pot smoke on my balcony every afternoon.)
So, parakeets have taken the place of Platters in the lobby, and little Sammy and Jimmy have replaced Sammie and Jimi by the pool. But the new look seems to be working for the Newport. I met several families who return there every year. One of them, a family of five from Chicago, stays in a suite and saves money by buying premade meals at the nearby strip malls and microwaving them in the room. "We like the bingo," the father said. His son nodded in agreement.
Smiles all around, from the front desk personnel to the bartender at the poolside café. At times, however, they seem a bit understaffed.
Unlike at other Miami-area hotels, the staffers at the Newport seem to smile because they like their jobs, not because their boss tells them to, or because they're angling for a big tip.
Two slight annoyances:
The Newport is in Sunny Isles, an affluent beachside suburb of Miami that refers to itself as Florida's Riviera. That's going bit overboard, especially if South Beach (a 30-minute drive away) is supposed to be America's Riviera. Though there are certainly some similarities to the original: High-rise hotels abound, some with big names attached (think Trump), and the beach is long, wide, and soft.
The hotel is a 35-minute, $50 taxi ride from Fort Lauderdale International Airport and a 45-minute, $60 taxi ride from Miami International Airport.
Down the street, though, it's mostly fast food and franchises like Walgreen's, CVS, Denny's, McDonald's, and GNC.
Outside of fast food, the dining options aren't plentiful. The strip mall across the street, on the other side of Collins Avenue, does offer some possibilities. I enjoyed the Porterhouse Bar and Grill on 170th Street and Collins Avenue, three blocks north. It has been featured in the Miami SunPost's 2008 "Best of Food" feature for its three-for-one happy hour. The portions are large, but dinner for two, including a few beers and a $38 12-ounce steak, ran me $90.
On the beach, the kids seemed to be having fun, while the adults took full advantage of the nice padded beach chairs, which are complimentary (unlike at the nearby Doubletree). However, anything else costs extra: cushions ($5/day); umbrellas ($10); private South Pacific-style huts ($20).
The pier just off 167th Street, right next to the resort, is also worth a look. You can't go all the way out there, but the part above the beach plays host to the Pelican on the Pier, a fun place to grab a beer or a plate of seafood.
For some solitude, just walk north a bit, away from the pier (though that will eliminate any opportunities for shade).
Perhaps because I was there during a relatively slow time of year -- that lull between college spring break and younger kids' Easter/spring vacations -- I was upgraded to a one-bedroom ocean-view suite. (They didn't know I was reviewing the hotel, by the way -- all our reviews are "stealth operations.") The one- and two-bedroom suites include living rooms and balconies (some, like mine, even have two balconies). This upgrade made it a pleasant stay for me. Unfortunately, though, I wasn't able to see what the standard rooms look like, so take what follows with a rather large grain of sea salt. (And please, if you stayed in a standard room yourself, feel free to comment below!)
In the suites, the living room includes a couch, coffee table, and kitchenette, which has a sink, microwave, fridge, and coffee machine, but no oven or stove. Essentially, there's enough to prepare some basics, but not to cook up a balanced meal for growing kids.
The beds are comfortable -- soft yet sturdy -- but the pillows aren't. Each of mine was "off" in a different way -- one too hard, one too soft, one too lumpy.
The bathrooms are cramped but nice, and the second sink in the tiny "hallway" is useful if two people are trying to shave or blow-dry their hair at the same time. The highlight, no doubt, is the Bath & Body Works "Coconut Lime Verbena Moisture-Rich Cleansing bar". I can't speak for the guests I shared the elevators with, but I'm pretty sure I smelled positively sugary -- with a pinch of vanilla -- throughout my stay.
Both the living room and bedroom sport large Philips flat-screens with about 20 channels, including Showtime. The Wi-Fi connection is fast and reliable (and free), but if you leave your computer idling for more than five or 10 minutes, you have to re-sign in each time, which is annoying.
The highlight of the suites -- in this case, highlights -- are the balconies. Both the bedroom and main room feature balconies, one overlooking the pools, and the other with a view of the beach and ocean. Signs on the windows tell you to keep the doors closed ("for your safety" from "moisture and mildew"), but if you prop it open like I did and fall asleep to the sounds of the waves, I promise not to tell anyone. If you have a choice, definitely request an ocean-view room, as high up as possible.
The downsides of the rooms will bother some more than others. The walls are a bit thin -- I could hear our neighbors when they spoke above a normal volume -- and the AC was often too loud. Most conspicuous is the dated, some would say tacky, décor. Just take the magenta floral print comforter (think Sarasota circa 1983). The beach scene motif doesn't help.
It takes little effort, especially for kids, to find something going on at any given hour at the Newport. Whether by the pool (treasure hunts, arts and crafts, darts) or on the beach (sandcastle-building, volleyball, Jet-Skiing), the Newport runs organized activities all day, every day.
There are fewer options for adults who aren't with their kids. Tuesday evenings feature wine-tasting in the main restaurant; on Wednesday nights from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., ladies drink free at the bar in Kitchen 305. There's a spa with limited services, and a well-stocked gym as well. And on Monday evenings there are two "The Price Is Right" auctions, which enable you to save a lot of dough by bidding on many of the above features.
For both kids and adults, the pools form the epicenter of activity at the Newport. The splash pool, larger than most I saw in Miami, is great for children, but so is the main pool, which hosts more pool toys and splashing tykes than piña colada-cradling grown-ups. There's also a hot tub, but it was closed for renovations during my stay.
Kids run rampant here -- and for good reason. Nonstop daytime activities, plus two video-game rooms, a make-your-own-album CD creator, and movie nights.
The Newport is one of Miami's best family resorts. Activities run the gamut, from jumbo cookie decorating and board games to poolside limbo contests and horse racing emceed by a charismatic activities director. Winners of games and contests receive free drink/dessert coupons. Wednesdays are movie nights (WALL-E the week of my visit), complete with free popcorn. For a complete activities schedule, be sure to ask for an Escape to Fun! agenda when you arrive.
The apartment-style suites also make the Newport conducive to groups or families. I talked to one man who brings his family of five to the Newport every year. He said he saves a lot of money by buying breakfast food and microwaveable meals at the nearby strip mall and using his suite's kitchenette. Most one- and two-bedroom suites come with pull-down, full-size wall beds in the living room for the kiddies.
Finally, Sunny Isles, a low-key suburb, is a very safe area.
Not much of an issue. A few blemishes here and there, but it's impressively clean for a place with so many kids.
The only obvious stains in my room were actually outside, on the balconies and their furniture. Also, my coffee machine looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the last guests used it. Otherwise, the room was in excellent condition and the property is well-maintained.
For breakfast, the Ocean Reef Café serves a traditional buffet. The food is mediocre, and the atmosphere, at least when I was there, could best be described as "organized chaos," with screaming children and stressed-out waiters dashing from table to table. One morning, I saw a fist fight nearly break out in the buffet line. All told, you might do best just buying some milk and cereal at the CVS across the street and letting your kids fight it out over the Count Chocula in your room.
Lunch is served by Coconut's, the poolside bar and grill. Burgers, fries, grilled chicken, et cetera. Mediocre but reasonable.
The main restaurant -- and the only on-site option for dinner -- is Kitchen 305, an unsettling amalgam of Chuck E. Cheese's, Saturday Night Fever, and a chic, Soho-style lounge. Only the disco ball and strobe lights keep the room bright enough to read the menu. There's a bar near the entrance, but expect parents bouncing toddlers on their knees, not a wild party scene. For example: Live Country Music Night, featuring Rough Shot and their 11-year-old drummer. The lead singer sported a bolo tie and a mullet; the three-course dinner sported a choice of two pastas, each slathered in a different cream sauce. The biggest disappointment, though, was receiving ice cream instead of the "extravagant Cotton Candy dessert" they promised.
Outside the resort, Denny's, McDonald's, Subway, and other franchise restaurants are all within blocks on Collins Avenue. Aside from fast food, the dining options aren't plentiful, but the strip mall three blocks away does offer some possibilities. We enjoyed the Porterhouse Bar and Grill on 170th Street and Collins, three blocks south. It's been featured in the Miami SunPost's 2008 "Best of Food" feature for its three-for-one happy hour. The portions were large, but dinner for two, including a few beers and a $38 12-ounce steak, ran $90.
Apartment-style suites, a huge assortment of kid-centered activities, and a beachside location in safe, suburban Sunny Isles -- the Newport is an excellent option for a family vacation. It might not be as swanky as the nearby Acqualina or Trump International, or even the Loews in South Beach, but it's often a better value.