Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The 243-room Palms is calmer, cleaner, and seemingly newer than almost anyplace you'll find in South Beach. From tropical fans to gazebos, the grounds are filled with colonial-style touches. Yet unlike many properties in Miami Beach, it manages to have a scene of its own -- at least during the day.
After the vibrant and popular happy hour at the tiki bar, however, the already mellow place really calms down. Some guests, mostly families with young kids, stick around and grab dinner at the hotel restaurant, Essensia. (The food is nothing special, but sitting outside on the porch is a lovely experience.) Meanwhile, the hotel's many 20-something guests get gussied up and gather in the lobby before heading to South Beach for more action.
Like the place itself, the helpful staff is friendly, casual, and pleasant.
As I arrived at the Palms, porters rushed out to greet me and immediately relieved me of my bags, just as at a higher end resort. Check-in is efficient and friendly. Questions to the concierge about the hotel's free Saturday morning yoga classes, and about where to grab a bite outside the hotel, were answered with a friendly thoroughness not found at some fancier places.
Service at the tiki bar is just as solid. During happy hour, bartenders handled the crowd with admirable skill, seeing to it that everyone's boozy needs were met. They called me honey and were kind about letting me sneak in an extra Corona just under the happy hour deadline. It took 18 minutes to get extra towels sent to my room -- not great, but not bad.
Though the hotel's website describes the property as a "South Beach hotel," the Palms isn't in South Beach at all. It's in sleepy Miami Beach, over a mile from the SoBe epicenter.
The area surrounding the hotel, meanwhile, is dull and residential. There are no restaurants, bars, or shops in the blocks surrounding the hotel. South Beach is arguably in walking distance, or a 5- to 10-minute, $8 cab ride away.
From March to May, the beach is windy and the waters a bit rough. Lifeguards are often busy telling swimmers not to get too close to the rock jetties that run out into the water at opposite ends of the beach area. The water is better for adult bodysurfers than for children wading. The area is even windy and wavy enough to attract kite surfers.
To get to the beach, guests simply walk out the pool area, cross the boardwalk, and step onto the sand. Attendants give out towels in exchange for a towel card that you get at check-in. You get your card back when you return your towels. And it has to be returned at check-out or you're charged an extra $25. Not surprisingly some guests find the system to be an annoyance unfitting for a hotel that, in most respects, achieves luxury-level ratings.
When I visited in April the hotel was full, mostly with wedding guests, and chaise longues filled up fast. Attendants sometimes offer to find a free chair, but guests are just as likely to stake their own claim.
The sand is decent but a little coarse -- not the super fine stuff that's trucked into South Beach from elsewhere -- and generally quite clean except for the occasional cigar butt or bottle cap.
Redone in 2007, rooms have some nice touches and modern electronics that even more expensive hotels lack. A colorful printout with the weather and a schedule of activities at the hotel was waiting for me on the desk. I immediately felt at home. Bathrooms are stocked with Aveda bath products, and Wi-Fi is provided for free. The beds feature pillow-top mattresses, good sheets, and soft down-alternative comforters. Artwork is minimal but tasteful, placing visual emphasis on the fine but imperfect view of palm trees, ocean, and (in my case, at least) the roof of another building. The alarm clock has an iPod dock. Other nice touches include ceiling fans, large walk-in closets, and conveniently placed outlets. I also loved the kitschy lamps, made of clear plastic and filled with plastic starfish and seashells inside them. They perfectly match the tone of the place.
The bathrooms are disappointingly small. Under 40 square feet, in the case of my room. I also spied some rust and grunge under one of the shelves, though I would probably not have noticed had I not been snooping professionally. The bathrooms feel clean for the most part and have serviceable counter space despite their size. The curved shower rod helps give an illusion of spaciousness, yet another nice touch in a guest-room filled with them.
"Now, youz can feelz this in your gluteus maximus," the heavily accented yoga instructor said to about half a dozen of us one morning. Classes are a nice little bonus, and helps make up for the lackluster fitness center situated in a windowless room below the lobby. The Precor cardio machines are fairly new and have their own cable TVs, but the space is so cramped you literally have to climb over machines to get around. At least it's open 24 hours, as is the serviceable business center.
In late April of 2009, the hotel opened its long-awaited Aveda spa. Sadly, it opened just after I visited, so I can't talk specifics. Billing itself as "Aveda's one and only beachfront luxury spa," the facility offers a full range of treatments from facials to body wraps, massages, manicures, and haircuts.
The hotel's large pool -- 69 feet by 65 feet -- is far bigger and nicer than anything you'd find at a similarly priced hotel in South Beach. It's flanked on one side by the hotel's lovely gardens and on the other by a large sandy lounge area with hammocks that gives way to the hotel's direct beach access. Guests fetch drinks and towels themselves, and the feeling is fun, relaxed, and wholesome. Twenty-somethings, quite likely staying at the hotel for a wedding, grab drinks at the tiki bar's daily happy hour and sip away under palapas, their parents and young cousins not far away.
As at the beach, attendants give out towels in exchange for a "towel card" that you get at check-in. You get your card back when you return your towels. And it has to be returned at check-out or you're charged an extra $25.
With its beachfront location, beautiful gardens, a colonial-style gazebo for ceremonies, and a large terrace, the hotel is popular for weddings. Two or three were scheduled for the April weekend I was there. Ceremonies often take place on the lawn, but beach weddings can be arranged by applying to the City of Miami. The hotel's largest ballroom can accommodate up to 200 guests. All-inclusive wedding packages are available.
Its fun-but-wholesome pool scene and beachfront location make the Palms popular with families. But it offers few special amenities for kids.
The hotel's large pool and mellow beachfront location are great for families. The beach itself, which has fairly big waves and rocky jetties, is less so. No kids' club or special kid-friendly gear is available. And skip the $40 Happy Kids Package, a pile of underwhelming flimflam -- sunglasses, hat, and a beach play set -- that many other properties throw in for free.
The hotel has no adjoining rooms. Roll-away beds are not available, but cribs are, at no additional cost.
Clean enough but not pristine: I spotted some stains and detected some funky smells.
Aside from a few minor issues, the Palms feels clean and fresh. Most problematically, the elevators, and occasionally the hallways, smelled of an unpleasant mix of cleaning product and smoke. Thankfully the odors subsided once I got inside my room.
The bed skirt in my room had a few innocuous stains, and there was dust and particles trapped beneath the glass top of the desk. Bathrooms were thoroughly clean with one exception: I spied some rust and grunge under one of the shelves, though I would probably not have noticed had I not been snooping professionally.
Common areas, aside from the halls and elevators, are extremely clean and fresh. The recently remodeled hotel bar and restaurant sparkles, as do the large porches and terraces.
The slogan for Essensia, the hotel's main restaurant, is "the pure essence of taste." Unfortunately, some dishes don't have much taste. My dining companion's pasta was downright bland. My salmon, topped with a gorgonzola crust, was only marginally better. And the food isn't cheap: The bill for two, with drinks and a shared salad and dessert, came to $120.
On the other hand, the setting is lovely. Guests can eat outside on the large, colonial-style porch. It feels a bit like eating inside a dollhouse. Essensia also serves a $24 breakfast buffet until noon that's a distinct step up from the usual, with an omelet station and cute cups of fruit-topped yogurt.
For lunch, food around the pool at the tiki bar is moderately priced and pretty tasty. My tilapia wrap ($15 plus service charge) was better than anything I ate at Essensia.
Outside of the hotel, dining options in walking distance are almost nonexistent. When I asked the concierge for a fun, casual place to grab dinner, he immediately suggested I head to South Beach, a five- to 10-minute cab ride away.
A beautiful setting for a simple ceremony -- no bells and whistles here (unless you bring in your own), just accommodating service.
A clean, lively beachside resort in sleepy Miami Beach, the Palms takes style lessons from the hip boutiques -- think poolside house music, a fun tiki bar, updated rooms, and an Aveda spa. But for nightlife, revelers must head to South Beach, a five- to 10-minute taxi ride away.