Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The Sea View seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Built more than 70 years ago, the hotel occupies a white high-rise that, from the road, resembles a Soviet apartment complex. That it's across the street from the chicest outdoor shopping mall in the country doesn't help its cause.
Once inside, however, you discover the Sea View has retained some historical charm, most notably in the palatial lobby, with its gleaming marble floors, opulent vases, and shimmering crystal chandelier. Past the lobby are other stately rooms; several were probably cigar rooms back when smoking was still allowed in the hotel. One of them has plush stuffed chairs and a dark-wood bookshelf. The Terrace Room restaurant, at the back of the building, requires "appropriate attire" and has outlawed cell phones. Altogether, the regal look creates a curious disconnect, given that this is South Florida, not Midtown Manhattan; vis-a-vis the fluorescent lights and bright pastels of nearby South Beach, it's downright strange.
It also made me wonder what type of clientele the Sea View is trying to draw. Relatively speaking, it's the only budget option in Bal Harbour -- rooms at the nearby One Bal Harbour can cost twice as much. But here the stately lobby and extra charges for amenities (e.g., $125 per day for poolside cabanas) won't help attract mid-range travelers.
For what it's worth, business was especially slow when I was there, though that could have been due to the time of year (early May) and/or the economy. Just how much the hotel is really struggling is yet to be revealed. If you visit this fall or winter, please keep us posted on the vibe with a comment, below.
Despite the stately ambience of the lobby, the Sea View experience begins in do-it-yourself fashion. Don't expect anyone to open doors for you or take your bags to your room.
The Sea View's hallmark is its poolside service. Pool attendants -- donning shorts and bucket hats -- are at your beck and call with drinks or snacks, but only if you pony up the $10/day it costs to rent a lounge chair or the $100-plus it costs for a cabana.
The Sea View does have a concierge, but he didn't seem too thrilled to be there. When I asked him for a nearby restaurant recommendation that was quick and easy, but not fast food, he responded, a bit huffily, with, "Quick and easy is fast food." (Then he recommended Flanigan's, in Surfside, which I ultimately passed on. Wandering around that area, though, there seemed to be other, better quick-and-easy options. More in the Food section below.) I went with room service, and it arrived in 15-20 minutes.
My service at breakfast was fine. I say my service because everything went smoothly for me. But throughout breakfast I overheard the hostess, who doubled as a server, chewing out the wait staff. There were only about half a dozen tables to serve, but the waiters seemed harried, shuffling from table to table with stressed-out expressions on their faces.
In Bal Harbour, a posh, beachside suburb of Miami best known for its high-end mall. South Beach action is 20 minutes away.
This is probably the best indication of what you'll find in Bal Harbour: When you Google it, the first thing that comes up isn't the official government site, or the tourism homepage, or the Wikipedia entry. It's Bal Harbour Shops, the shopping center across the street from the Sea View on Collins Avenue. Home to what seems like every high-end retailer in the world, the mall is considered by many to be the most exclusive outdoor shopping destination in the country. (I know, I was surprised when I first heard that, too. Rodeo Drive? Fifth Avenue? Nope. Bal Harbour.) The mall is right across the street, and might just be the reason you're in Bal Harbour in the first place. But a word from the wise: if you want to fit in, you might want to take the Mercedes -- they outnumber the Hondas in the parking lot by about two to one.
South Beach is a 20-minute, $25 cab ride from the Sea View. Not unreasonable for a day trip, or even a night out on the town. But if you plan to hang out there more than once or twice, you're probably better off just staying at one of the comparably priced hotels down there. (The Essex, the Cadet, and the Albion hotels are all excellent options.)
Taxis from Miami International Airport charge a flat rate of $42 (not including tip) to and from the Sea View.
It's a short walk across a sandy path from the pool area to the beach. It's public, of course -- all beaches in South Florida are -- but since the Sea View doesn't have any hotel neighbors, it feels private. Lounge chair rentals run $11 per day. Umbrellas cost extra.
The Sea View's website describes the rooms as "unpretentious ... with understated elegance." They're right about unpretentious. Maybe even understated, too. But elegant? Sorry. Set your eyes upon this pale yellow duvet and floral bed skirt. Dig the corduroy throw pillows and lime-green chairs.
Snark aside, though, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and that's what matters most, right? I had a 10th-floor city/bay-view room with two double beds, but most rooms follow the same standard layout anyway: They either face the ocean or have a partial view of the bay and the city. If you're traveling with the family or want to cook a few meals, the Sea View also has suites with living rooms and kitchens (though it's worth noting that there aren't any supermarkets in the immediate area).
The rooms are bigger than most hotel rooms in South Beach, but they are comparable to the standard rooms in other mid-range hotels in the northern beaches. The view of Biscayne Bay from my window was nice, but unfortunately my balcony faced the high-rise next door. The splurge for an ocean-view room might be worth it, but these aren't the cleanest or most inviting balconies anyway (see Cleanliness below).
My mattress was comfortable enough, but the pillows were too hard.
The rooms come equipped with desks, stuffed chairs (not ideal for work, but most of the Sea View's guests are leisure travelers anyway), mini-fridges, and coffee machines with generic Cafe Valet coffee. A dresser would have been nice, but at least there were two sizable closets.
The RCA TVs are small -- only 26 inches -- but they're high-def flat-screens, and you get more than 60 channels. The Wi-Fi is fast and reliable.
My bathroom was small, but very clean and well-lit. Bath products: generic. Water pressure: solid.
Without a doubt, the Sea View's most impressive feature is its pool. The design isn't particularly imaginative -- it's a rectangle -- but it's big, and so is the surrounding area. The Key West-style cabanas, which cost $100 to $125 a day (depending on the season), include ceiling fans, mini-fridges, walk-in closets, private bathrooms, and food and drink service. Poolside lounge chairs also cost extra -- $10 per day -- which I find a bit ridiculous. I didn't experience that anywhere else in Miami.
If you're looking for something a little more active, there are two well-maintained shuffleboard courts to the north of the pool. If you're looking for something a lot more active, the fitness center sports seven cardio machines, half a dozen strength-training machines, and several sets of free weights. Unfortunately, though, the gym is independently owned, so it costs extra to use: $12 per day. Personal-training sessions are also extra.
There's no spa. The salon offers the standard services and is by appointment only.
The Wi-Fi is free, reliable, and property-wide. There's also a small gift shop and four meeting rooms, which can be used for both corporate events and parties.
The Sea View's lobby looks a bit stuffy, but the family infrastructure is here: Both standard rooms and suites are large enough to accommodate cribs or rollaways, though you should give them advance notice with your reservation. Cribs are free; rollaways cost $50 extra per night, but if you specify that it's a child who will be using it, management will give it to you on the house.
There are a few shuffleboard courts north of the pool, but there aren't any other child-centered activities, nor is there a kids menu at the restaurant. (Note that the snack bar, which serves milkshakes and other sweets, is closed from May to December.) All told, if you're looking for a proverbial "family place," you're much better off a few miles north in Sunny Isles, at the similarly priced Newport Beachside Resort, or even the Doubletree Ocean Point.
The rooms are showing their age -- carpet stains, nicked-up furniture, dirty windows, uneven carpeting. But cleanliness, strictly speaking, isn't an issue, and the rest of the property is quite clean.
The only time that cleanliness (or rather, the lack thereof) actually bothered me was on my balcony. The ground was stained, and so were the walls, and the windows were dusty. Apparently balconies aren't on the daily housekeeping checklist.
Multiple options on site, including a snack bar, bar (which also serves light fare), room service, and the main dining room. Off-campus, prepare to either spend big at the Bal Harbour Shops or even more at the One Bal Harbour Resort.
The main restaurant, the Terrace Room, serves all three meals. Lunch can be alfresco by the pool, which is nice; breakfast (a la carte or buffet) is served either on the patio or, oddly, on a foldout table in one of the large meeting rooms. Dinner is more formal. (No shorts, and close-toed shoes are required.) According to the Sea View's website, "Chef Bennie delights all with his culinary creations." I can't say I was delighted with all of mine -- my sandwich was mediocre -- but the mango salad I ordered from room service was delicious. (The Terrace Room handles room service.)
Locally, you have two basic options. First, you can head to one of several upmarket restaurants in the Bal Harbour Shops across the street. Or you can walk five or 10 minutes south to Surfside and hit up one of the half-dozen (much more reasonable) restaurants on Collins Avenue between 95th and 96th.
It's on the beach and has an Olympic-size pool. If you're in town to shop at the posh Bal Harbour Shops (right across the street), the Sea View is a solid, more affordable alternative to the One Bal Harbor Resort & Spa. But for similar (often cheaper) rates, newer rooms, and friendlier service, head a few miles north to Sunny Isles.