- 25-minute, $35 taxi from the beach in South Beach
- In-room Wi-Fi costs $12.95 per day
- No physical spa, only in-room massage treatments
Just steps from the Miracle Mile in affluent but low-key Coral Gables in central Miami, this 157-room Westin is mainly a business hotel located just five minutes away from the University of Miami. The stately neoclassical-style building hasn't always been a Westin. It was built in the early 20th century and served as the offices of George Merrick, the planner and intellectual founder of Coral Cables, until it became the headquarters of Florida National Bank. Now the building is a mix of offices and retail space.
It's mostly briefcases, wedding parties, and the occasional school dance or two at the hotel -- in other words, there's nothing going down worth leaking into the gossip columns like there is at South Beach's Delano or Fontainebleau. The walk-in entrance (no porters) from Ponce de Leon Boulevard is beautiful, a two-story rotunda with Corinthian columns and marble floors. But the building's main entrance on Aragon, where taxis drop you off, is really awkward. You either have to walk up a set of stairs, take the elevator, or schlep up the escalator to the lobby on the second floor, which makes you feel more like you're wading through an office building (which you are) rather than being welcomed to a hotel. But once you finally get up to the lobby, it feels a little less stiff than most briefcase-heavy hotels. In the check-in area, they offer free water infused with strawberries -- a nice touch for those parched and burned by the Florida sun like me.
The Hyatt Regency is just two blocks away, and all things considered, is a slightly better hotel than the Westin, if only because it has a significantly nicer pool and a better gym. However, the Westin's location is two blocks closer to Miracle Mile's shopping and restaurants.
Consistently warm and efficient, like clockwork.
With exception of miscommunication with the porters, the service was consistently warm and prompt.
Check-in went smoothly. But in order to get to the check-in desk, guests have to take an escalator (or an elevator, or the stairs) upstairs with all of their stuff. The porters opened the main entrance to the building for me, but didn't offer to help me with my luggage. Once inside the Westin proper, I was upgraded for free to a deluxe room (and they had no idea I was reviewing the hotel), and the receptionist explained emphatically, "If you needed anything at all, just call the front desk." Still no help with my bags though.
However, later requests were very prompt. When I called for extra towels, they arrived in less than five minutes. Room service was at my door within 20 minutes. Afterward, the desk even followed up with a phone call to make sure my fruit bowl and pastries were satisfactory -- they were marginal, but the gesture was appreciated.
Again, though, no porters to help with my bags at check-out without me having to ask.
Away from South Beach's madness, away from the beach entirely, but steps from shopping, dining, and drinking on Miracle Mile, and only 15 minutes to the airport.
Built in the 1920s, this Mediterranean-style neighborhood confounds Miami stereotypes by being (ahem) genteel. Skirting hippie-chic Coconut Grove in the north and sticking to the coastline in the south, this residential community is known for golfing, pastels, and a shopping scene to rival Bal Harbour.
The Westin is located steps from from Miracle Mile, an upscale shopping street with restaurants like Houston's and Morton's, and stores like Design Within Reach, American Apparel, and an endless number of wedding dress boutiques.
A mostly residential area, with immaculately landscaped and lush gardens, the Gables' claims to fame are the University of Miami, the historic Biltmore Hotel and golf course, and multimillion dollar homes. If you're looking to be close to the beach, this isn't the place -- it's about a 25-minute cab ride (around $35) to South Beach, or a 15-minute ride ($20 or so) to Key Biscayne.
For golfers, the Westin is in a pretty good spot. It's just two miles from the renowned 6,800-yard, par 71 championship golf course at The Biltmore, a course designed by Donald Ross. It's 12 miles to the Marriott Doral golf course, and 15 miles to 18-Hole Links at Key Biscayne.
Valet parking is $22 per night and self-parking is $20.
The 15-minute taxi from Miami International Airport is a flat $16.
I was upgraded for free at check-in to a deluxe room, which at 409 square feet is just a few square feet larger than the standard-size room. But the differences can be big. Because of its L-shape, my deluxe room felt more like three smaller individual rooms -- a bedroom area, a sitting room, and a bathroom. Plus there are two flat-screens, rather than one. Its layout, plus the open view from the third floor, made the room feel even more spacious with its king bed, pull-out couch, desk area, and plenty of room to spare for yoga. But the décor is consistent with any other business hotel: white bed and dark furniture upholstered in drab colors like grays and browns.
Like all Westin properties, the beds are super-plush with pillow-top mattresses, down duvets, 225 thread-count sateen sheets, and four firm pillows. They're just as nice at the Hyatt, but thicker and heavier -- I woke up sweating.
The 32-inch LG flat-screen TVs come with about 44 cable channels, plus HBO and a few other movie channels on-demand. Strangely, though, there are no iPod docks in the rooms (and there wasn't an alarm clock in my room, an oversight). Wi-Fi comes for a price -- $12.95 per day pass, but it's free in the lobby.
Minibars come stocked with nips of Absolut, Bombay Sapphire, and Johnnie Walker Black (between $8.50 and $10 each), among other booze, plus an assortment of juices and sodas (between $3 and $6), and a smattering of snacks like cashews and chocolate chip cookies (between $6.75 and $7.50). There's also a coffeemaker with Starbucks drip.
All things considered, though, the rooms at the Hyatt are a touch nicer and newer, and its gym and pool are a notch or two above.
There's an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi on the second floor with a killer view, but it's smaller than the one around the corner at the Hyatt and doesn't have nearly as good an atmosphere. Here, several of the cushions on the lounge chairs are torn, and others look haphazardly thrown on the chairs. On the pool terrace is a large sundeck with a fountain, and wooden tables and chairs. On the plus side, an unpopular pool might mean you'll have the whole thing to yourself.
The gym is cramped, but the equipment is in good condition. Equipment includes three treadmills, two upright bikes, one stair-climber, and one elliptical, all made by LifeFitness and they all feature personal TV screens. Additionally, there's one multipurpose weight machine and a set of medicine balls.
Like most big chain hotels, Wi-Fi comes for a price -- in this case it's $12.95 per day pass, but it's free in the lobby. There's also a business center staffed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with two computers (it's located on the same floor as the lobby but technically unaffiliated with the hotel), but it's extortionately expensive, $15 to use the Internet for 30 minutes or less. They can also handle Xerox ($.15 per page for black-and-white, $1 per page for color), fax ($1 per page) and FedEx requests.
Cribs are free, and roll-away beds cost $10 each, but there are pullout sofa beds in deluxe rooms, which are partially separated from the king beds, thus giving parents a little more privacy. Florida state law states that you can't have three beds in one room -- for some reason -- so a roll-away will only fit into a room with one bed, not two fulls. Connecting rooms join a king with a double bed, but there are only a few of these in the hotel.
The hotel's Web site says there's a kids' club, but it's really just a list at the concierge's desk of kid-friendly activities in the area. Babysitters can be arranged through the concierge, but there's no jogging stroller, as it promises on the site.
Pets under 25 pounds can run buck wild, and there's no extra fee to bring them along.
Pets under 25 pounds are welcome (not 45 pounds, as the Web site says), but there are no extra fees or deposits required, unlike at many other Westin properties. Canines will be pampered with a dog bed, food and water bowls, and a "dog-in-room" sign (should you request it).
Immaculate inside and out.
I saw housekeeping cleaning around the pool and gym area when I took a dip in the early afternoon, and again in the evening during my workout -- and it shows. The entire hotel, including the rooms, is immaculate, almost to the point of feeling sterile.
A casual restaurant serving contemporary cuisine, and a bar
Norman's 180 opened in June 2010. Chef Norman Van Aken focuses on farm-to-table meals, with many locally-grown options, like zucchini and roasted pumpkin fettucine ($19) and Key West yellowtail, with hearts of palm slaw ($28). The bar opens at 4 p.m. and the dining room opens at 6 p.m.; both close at midnight.
I had the continental breakfast delivered to my room. The fruit was nicely displayed in a carved cantaloupe, but none of the melon was ripe, and the pastries tasted like they'd come from Costco and had clearly been nuked in the microwave before arriving in a napkin-lined basket.
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