Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
"Alcatraz for rich people," a friend quipped when I told him I was going to Fisher Island.
It's an island, yes, but hardly a prison. Originally built in 1925 by William Vanderbilt II as a winter estate, today Fisher Island is a private island residential community with a small hotel. It's just 20 minutes from South Beach (10 minutes by ferry, plus five minutes by car), but it feels like taking a trip back in time. Peacocks freely roam the lush grounds. The original Vanderbuilt Mansion is still intact and houses two of the island's restaurants, where genteel waiters in tuxedos see to guests' every wish.
The island's rich history coexists with tons of modern amenties: a top-notch tennis center, one of the best 9-hole golf courses in the country, two marinas, and a 22,000-square-foot spa. It also underwent an extensive, $60 million renovation (which ended in 2010) on everything from the beach club to the guest rooms.
The island is accessible only by ferry, helicopter, seaplane, and boat. Residents, most of whom live there only part-time, are some of the wealthiest people in the world. Oprah Winfrey, Mel Brooks, and financier Martin Zweig have all lived on the island, and the Clintons and Prince Andrew have visited.
Yet despite all the wealth -- according to the 2000 census, the island has the highest per capita income in the United States -- it's an understated place, at least by Miami standards. Residents don't live in huge, gaudy houses or brightly colored high-rises, but rather in some 30 sprawling, Mediterranean-style condomimium buildings around the island. Though Fisher Island is more exclusive than Key Biscayne, it also feels far less stuffy.
The "hotel" itself exists only notionally: There's a check-in office, but its "rooms" are dispersed around the island among the residences. Two guest rooms, four suites, and seven villas are reserved exclusively for guests of the hotel, and another 30 or so larger one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences are privately owned and lent to the hotel.
While there's no firm line between the hotel and the larger Fisher Island Club that owns it, a clear distinction is maintained between guests and residents, who even board the ferry via separate, conspicuously labeled lines. "Residents only" signs are a common sight.
Located on a lush 216-acre private island, the hotel is accesible only by ferry, helicopter, seaplane, and boat. Happily for those looking to take in South Beach nightlife, the free ferry to the mainland runs 24 hours a day.
The hotel is owned by the Fisher Island Club, the entity that presides over the entire island and its facilities. As such, the resort encompasses the whole island, not (like the Ritz Carlton on Key Biscayne, say) just a small portion of it. All guests have use of a golf cart, so getting around is easy and fun.
The free ferry runs 24 hours a day, every 15 minutes during peak hours and every 30 minutes (or as needed) through the night. It's just 20 minutes from South Beach, including 10 on the ferry and five by car. The airport is a 15-minute $32 cab ride from the ferry landing. Guests needing a cab on the mainland simply tell the security office when they're boarding the ferry, and a cab will be ready and waiting.
The ferry does carry cars, but space is limited and residents (and their cars) receive priority.
Beaches galore. The renovated Beach Club (re-opened in early 2010) is a great place to grab a drink or light lunch.
Although most of Fisher Island is surrounded by beaches, the hotel sits on a private half-mile stretch of sand. Chairs, umbrellas, and drink service are all available for guests.
After being renovated as part of the hotel's $60 million renovation, the Beach Club reopened in 2010. The Club includes two large bars with plasma TVs, a lounge area, and a restaurant that serves salads, sandwiches, and seafood entrees. Popular events are held here, like Stone Crab Saturdays and monthly full moon parties.
In any case, guests who don't care about beach services have access to plenty of beautiful beach closer to guest rooms, just behind the Seaside Villas. Though these beaches don't offer food or towel service, they do have chairs and palapas, and can often be virtually private.
The sand, imported from the Bahamas, is very fine and soft. Waters are calm and clear.
The hotel's 45 roomy guest rooms are charming and unique.
The hotel lists itself as having 45 rooms, but most of them are privately owned residences that are lent to the hotel. Those used exclusively by the hotel include two 470-square-foot deluxe gardenview guest rooms; four 720-square-foot junior gardenview suites; and seven 675-square-foot courtyard gardenview villas.
Golf is both literally and figuratively at the center of Fisher Island life, so much so that a button on guestroom phones puts you through to the golf club for arranging tee times. The Pete Dye-designed course is only nine holes, but it's a stunner, with Scottish bunkers and views of the ocean, Biscayne Bay, and the Miami skyline. The island also offers golfers a two-tiered driving range and practice putting green.
With a Kids Connection Club, plenty of one- and two-bedroom units, and a calm vibe, the island easily accommodates children.
The Kids Connection Club, open to youngsters ages 4 to 12, keeps kids entertained throughout their stay. Children are allowed everywhere in the resort except for the spa, the Garwood Lounge, and the Snooker Club (which isn't open to adult hotel guests, either).
The Beach Club restaurant has a children's menu. The simple fare at the City View Cafe and the moderately priced pizza at La Trattoria are also kid-friendly. The small Market is also geared toward children and nannies, with plenty of mac and cheese on the shelves.
Muiltiple restaurants -- but the food tends to be simple, not gourmet.
• The Beach Club serves a casual beachside dining in a bistro setting, and is open for breakfast and lunch • Porto Cervo serves Mediterranean for dinner only • La Trattoria serves pizza and casual Italian lunch and dinner
• Golf Grill is the clubhouse restaurant, open for • Garwood Lounge is a lounge and piano bar serving up steak and seafood. The restaurant is open for dinner only. • Sunset Bar is a beachside restaurant offering casual fare for dinner • Sushi Bar is open for lunch and dinner •Room services is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
This 45-room hotel is located among homes of the super-rich on a lush, private island that's a 10-minute ferry ride from the Miami mainland. It doesn't have the party scene, the high-design rooms, or the gourmet restaurants of the mainland luxury hotels. But its history, charm, and beautiful golf and tennis facilities make it a great choice for couples and families looking for something special.