The stunning 312-room W South Beach -- located on the beach, on the northern outskirts of South Beach -- blends cute comforts, intricate design (that spares no expense), and flawless service. Large, modern rooms; terraces angled to overlook the ocean; elegant landscaping around the pool; a lush Bliss spa -- the W tops the Miami greats.
Opened in May 2009, this relaxing, 20-floor, 312-room hotel is nearly flawless
Named like a nightclub (though it's actually fairly low-key) the W -- a scene-y branch of the Starwood hotel group, which also includes the Westin and Sheraton hotels, among others -- may be more appropriate in South Beach than anywhere else (save, perhaps, the Westwood W in L.A.). Its pervasive spa-grade electronica, black-suited bouncers (sorry) doormen wearing Secret Service-style earpieces, and elevators that are labeled, as in Britain, "lifts" all seem well-suited to South Beach's already hip, highly European mold. (As a side note, the W has no actual relation to England, meaning that their Anglo-twist on elevator language could suggest that they think the U.K. is somehow hipper than the States. If so, ouch.)
By any account, the look throughout the hotel is gorgeous. Innovative architectural mogul Costas Kondylis developed a building so beautiful and brilliant -- he gave virtually all rooms an ocean view -- that any slight pining for the Art Deco hotels further south goes out the window. Anna Busta of Studio B Design -- a relative no-namer, at least for now -- designed the W's interiors: mood lit; wrapped in leather; inlaid with bronze, wood, and natural fibers; tiled in slate and marble, everywhere. The lobby's "Living Room" and restaurants rival, or even best, the most intricately and immodestly designed hotels in Miami: the Mondrian; the Tides; the Setai -- to name a few. (Really, only the Delano can stand on its own in terms of raw style, if merely because the oddball work of Philippe Starck can't reasonably be compared to anything else.) And all this says nothing for the French Provence-inspired landscaping by Paula Hayes at the Grove bar (where you can sample such intensely fruity concoctions as the mango-ginger mojito or blueberry-acai martini) and the gleaming, funky, Yabu Pushelberg-designed residences and guest rooms.
Undeniably, the W values its image. Like its other American properties (32 in all) it has a bit of a self-obsession with the letter "W" -- key cards read Welcome, Where, What, and When; signs read Whatever/Whenever at the concierge desk; there's a Woof written in the dog bowls; there's the Wow pool cabana with W-shaped towels. But as much as these quirky corporate consistencies might seem to devalue the "proper" smaller-scale unique boutique experience, there is value in Starwood's long-tested hospitality expertise. Beds are superb. There's rarely a service-related slip-up. Details -- like cookies and citrus-infused water at check-in and at the pool, the especially comfy sofas in the Living Room and chairs on the terrace, the heavy and classy (yet plastic) dishware by the pool -- all work to create a seamlessly comfortable stay (forgiving that you have to slide your key card into an unmarked and not obvious black device in the elevator every time you want to move up or down).
It's a hotel equally well-suited to satisfy families (though there's no kids' club), business travelers, and the thong-wearing young clubbers out by the pool.
The well-staffed service is consistently prompt and attentive.
In keeping with Starwood's high service standards, the W South Beach maintains an extraordinary staff -- all trained in the various trademarked "Whatever/Whenever" and "Cool Hunting" services that have made the W brand so successful.
24-hour room service attendants
Scantly clad poolside wait staff
A battalion of porters on hand to help with luggage, open doors, or hail a cab
Free iPod shuffles to take running along the beach
Gourmet lunches to go
DVDs brought to your room at 3 a.m. (free, to borrow)
At SoBe's northern tip, the W has all the essentials close at hand -- chichi dining, a notorious lounge, 24-hour snacks across the street -- but the majority of the action starts about 10 blocks south.
At 23rd Street on Collins Avenue, the W is at the northern tip of South Beach. Since about 2006, Miami's "cool" kids seem to be steadily migrating north of the neon-lit tourist crowds of Ocean Drive, and north still, past the aging antics of the Delano and chuggers at the Shore Club, and out to the South Beach northernmost beyond -- where pastel-colored Art Deco concrete turns to glass-coated condos and where less hopped-up (but no less dolled-up) twentysomethings line up outside the discerning Mokai lounge or the rooftop pool bar and celebrity restaurants at the Gansevoort South or the sophisticated calm of the exclusive (and overpriced) Setai (all within a block of the W). The fresh, yet-finished W South Beach seems to be this area's final triangulation -- mellow, comfortable, yet somehow exclusive-seeming. (Note, however, that all the W's bars all close up by midnight so as to keep the on-site noise to a minimum.)
But the W is a bit cut off from the more iconic Art Deco architecture that South Beach is best known for -- you're about a seven block walk from the famous Delano or Raleigh hotels, and it's a relatively interesting but not particularly short 15- to 20-minute hike from the outdoor cafe and people-watching circuit along Ocean Drive at Lummus Park. Likewise, you've got a long walk (or short cab ride) from the dining or shopping along the Lincoln Road Mall.
Fortunately, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., the hotel offers a free drop-off service anywhere in South Beach (within a five-mile radius of the hotel) so that you can at least save on the initial cab out for an early dinner.
Located on the northern side of South Beach at 23rd Street, the W's stretch of beachfront is considerably removed from the crowds.
Lounge chairs with thick white-and-black-striped cushions are spread out along the 100-yard-deep stretch of sand. The chairs are free -- the umbrellas are not -- but the poolside attendants are quick to bring towels, food, or beverages.
For water sports like kayaking, Jet Skiing, banana boat rides, windsurfing, or parasailing, you can head to the Boucher Brothers concessions hut on the beach at 22nd Street and Collins Avenue, just a few steps south of the W's beachfront. (Boucher Brothers manages all of the activities on Miami Beach, which is open to the public.)
Big and meticulously designed -- white ceramic floors with a wood-grain finish, metal-studded doors, and rock and roll photography -- the W rooms rival the best in South Beach, especially given every room's ocean-angled terrace.
The W South Beach joins the Gansevoort South and Mondrian as among the very few entirely modern buildings in South Beach -- it's not a renovated, neon-lit Art Deco classic. The advantage? Huge bathrooms! Balconies on every room! Floor-to-ceiling windows! Amazing noise insulation and air conditioning! Even the base-level room, called the "Wonderful Studio" (all the rooms have W-brand, self-congratulatory names), is an incredible 564 to 574 square feet -- enough space for an L-shaped sofa in the living area, which is separated from the sleeping area by a funky glass-square half-partition. The room is about twice the size of standard rooms at most South Beach hotels and considerably larger than the rooms at the Delano (though the W's rooms are about on par with the standard rooms at the Tides, Setai, or Mondrian).
But beyond the incredible space, the pillow-topped bed (with 310-count Egyptian cotton linens and a down duvet), the two 37-inch plasma flat-screen TVs in every room (one in the "living area," one in the "sleeping area"), the balcony angled at 45 degrees to offer all rooms at least a glimpse of the ocean, the great terry and waffle bathrobes, the lemon-sage Bliss spa bath products (like all W hotels), the high-powered showerhead with body-focused additional jets, and so on -- it's the small details that make all the difference. Towels are huge and soft. The white ceramic-tiled floors extend beyond the room and out on to the balcony so you'll never have to dirty your socks on bare concrete. Incredibly solid windows are covered in thick, sturdy wood tiles (nothing feels cheap throughout the room). The room includes a microwave (a rarity in South Beach) and a Hamilton Beach coffeemaker with a full pot, rather than the one-cup-at-a-time numbers you find at so many other luxury hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. The desk is big enough to actually work on and it comes with an outlet strip so that you can connect your laptop to the TV and to the Bose 3-2-1 stereo system. The minibar includes a Sub-Zero fridge, large bottles of top-shelf liquor or Champagne, and Dylan's signature candies (from Dylan Lauren, daughter of Ralph Lauren). Best of all: Every chair, cushion, or patch of fabric is actually comfortable (as is also the case anywhere in the hotel).
It's strongly recommended that you request a room on the north side of the building. They are quieter, have a much better view, and don't cost a penny more.
In addition to the standard rooms, you can also upgrade to a room with a fully equipped top-of-the-line kitchenette in the "Spectacular" (same size) and "Fabulous" studios (significantly bigger, with a deep "plunge tub" and an outdoor shower) or any of the one- or two-bedroom suites, some of which also include a private plunge pool, a wrap-around terrace, a washer/dryer, or an outdoor BBQ. Or, for a splurge on the level of Vinny Chase from HBO’s "Entourage" -- literally -- you can book one of the three-floor bungalows that are stacked like pyramids out by the pool.
Large, scenic pool with full service; free rides into town (until 7 p.m.) in a luxe SUV; a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center; and other goodies like a boarding-pass printing kiosk in the lobby.
Unlike the larger Fontainebleau resort in Mid-Beach, the W South Beach's pool (though fairly large) is more about comfort and atmosphere than record-breaking statistics on acreage. Dense palms, colorful cushions set along the grass, and wood-lattice cabanas (which cost extra) surround the pool. There's no club-minded DJ, but rather ambient spa sounds or mellow, remixed classic rock floating through the speakers. Heavy wooden lounge chairs all come with thick foam padding. The poolside wait staff -- typically young ladies donning a skimpy white tunic -- are quick with a cocktail, a bottle of Fiji, or a tuna tartar served on heavy plastic dishware (not cheesy Styrofoam or take-out plastic, as you'll find at some of the other high-end South Beach hotels like the Delano).
The Bliss Spa, a staple of the W brand, opened in February 2010 and offers a full menu of massages and body treatments, as well as a "nail lounge" for mani/pedis. The 24-hour fitness center doesn't have a fancy design or a dazzling view, but it's clean, functional, and includes all the high-end staples like individual TV monitors on all of the cardio machines and brand new strength-training equipment. Personal training can also be arranged (for an extra fee).
For a free ride anywhere in South Beach in a feature-rich Acura MDX luxury SUV (at least within a five-mile radius of the hotel, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and only one-way from the hotel) you can take advantage of the "Acura Experience."
Other features include a free boarding-pass-printing kiosk in the lobby, an extensive DVD borrowing library (all free), bike, skate, or iPod rentals for the boardwalk, board games, and Wi-Fi in the lobby for $14/day.
The W is hip, but it has the space and mild setting for a fashion-forward family.
Standard rooms are big and all have large couches (plenty big for an 8-year-old), there are multi-room suites available with full kitchens, and the bar and pool scenes are tame (they close by midnight), and perks include rollerblades, bikes, free DVD rentals, or baby-sitting referrals. Of course, the W is a far cry from a more traditional "family hotel" -- for that, consider the Loews or just move far up the beach to the Fontainebleau in Mid-Beach or very far north to the Trump International in the Northern Beaches.
Good, at times, great food at premium prices ($12-$20 entrees; steaks in the $30-$50 range) available poolside, on the beach, al fresco, in an elegant dining area and -- if the mood strikes -- also in your room, 24 hours.
More focused on ambiance than flavor, the restaurateurs at the W -- the Wet Bar and Grille -- are big on price (like $18 for a small, three-piece goat-cheese empanada), but the food is good, not always great. This is to say that you can get lucky sometimes -- like the top-quality tuna tartar or the Caesar salad I ordered up poolside -- but not always -- like the hunk of chicken cartilage in my club sandwich. But for the basics, like an in-room burger at 3 a.m. via 24-hour room service, the W delivers (and quickly). Plus, there are certain high-grade niceties that come with the inflated price tag like steamed milk with your coffee.
Mr. Chow -- a premier pan-Asian restaurant with reputable outposts in New York, London, Beverly Hills, and Vegas -- is just a few steps north of the W hotel proper (the W considers it a part of its hotel). As for whether Mr. Chow will contend with Philippe (about a block away at the Gansevoort South and operated by Mr. Chow's former head chef, Philippe Chow) is open to debate. If you happen to visit the restaurant, write us a review and let us know what you think.
The W opened The Dutch in 2011 from chef Andrew Carmellini, serving up American fare and seafood at the oyster bar. The Dutch is a more casual enviornment, but still fits the trendy vibe of the hotel. The South Beach locale is an outpost from Carmellini's popular New York restaurants Locanda Verde and The Dutch NYC.
Pets less than 40 pounds are welcome, but the hotel charges a steep, $25/day fee on top of a one-time $100 cleaning fee.
Like all other W hotels, the W South Beach participates in the P.A.W. (Pets Are Welcome) program, which offers some great perks, including a pet tag, toy, and special pet snacks. There's even a pets' room service menu. The hotel's Whatever/Whenever requests can apply to pets as well as humans, and Wee-Wee pads, litter boxes, leashes, Bow Ow first-aid boxes and more can be requested day or night.