No sooner had we settled into our room at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove than we heard a knock at the door. Aren, our 16-month-old son, toddled over to open it, but his tiny hands couldn’t reach the knob. “Room service,” the voice on the other side announced. Did we order room service? Hardly, but that didn’t stop a hotel employee from delivering a silver tray with an enormous, freshly-baked M&M cookie — Aren’s favorite — to our room.
Luxury properties like the Ritz-Carlton make it their business to know what you (and your kids) like when you’re away. In the Miami area, where a string of new luxury hotels have opened recently, properties are going out of their way to distinguish themselves from one another - whether it’s a decadent rooftop pool, a museum-quality collection of classic cars or white-glove personalized service.
And they’ve got something for everyone. Even if you’re still in diapers.
Aren, we should note, is not easily impressed. He’s been to more countries and stayed in more hotels at the tender age of one than we had before we met. But his eyes were locked on that still-soft cookie as it was carried across the room and placed on the table.
“This is for you, Master Aren,” the hotel associate said, completely straight-faced.
The boy climbed onto one of the oversize chairs, sat down, and began eating the cookie as if somehow he had expected it. (In fact, before we arrived, a hotel representative discreetly asked what kind of cookies he liked. Only later did we learn that this attention to detail is routine for frequent guests.)
Michelle Payer, a hotel spokeswoman, said kids are important to the Ritz. “As the growth of family travel to luxury hotels continues to increase, we’ve expanded our signature service to deliver a special experience that even the kids will remember long after the vacation is over,” she told us.
The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove offers the same amenities you’d expect to find at another Ritz-Carlton - lavishly decorated rooms, attentive service, a spa and hallways filled with original art. But then again, so do the other Miami luxury hotels that have sprung up in the recent past.
If this new hotel has a distinguishing feature, it it’s almost certainly the Bizcaya Grill, its restaurant. That is where chef Alfredo Patino introduces guests to his “new taste of the past” concept, which takes classic continental cuisine and updates with modern interpretations. Among his creations: citrus-cured Salmon with egg mimosa, red onion and fried caper, and truffle-scented fried artichoke with duo fondue.
Alas, Aren seemed more interested in playing in the nearby fountain than sampling the entrees that had landed Bizcaya on a list of the top 75 restaurants in the world, according to a recent magazine poll.
A toddler, after all, has a limited appreciation of fine dining.
The classic car exhibit at the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort in nearby Sunny Isles, Fla., proved to be more Aren’s speed. The upscale hotel displays developer Michael Dezer’s prized collection of automobiles, which include a vintage 1928 Duesenberg valued at about $1 million, a 1950 Mercury used in a James Dean movie and the first convertible Mustang.
You don’t have to explain the appeal of wheels to a little boy.
“Car, car, car!” Aren squealed as we walked among the vintage vehicles.
He was especially mesmerized by a 1967 amphibious auto — he knows the word “boat” too, but didn’t seem quite sure of what to call it — and tried to climb under the railing to assume his rightful position in the driver’s seat. We stopped him just in time, trying in vain to explain that these cars were just for looking, not driving.
The Sonesta also offers something not ever luxury property in town can: a great beach. As a matter of fact, of the new luxury hotels that have opened in the recent past, the Sonesta is one of the only ones with a strip of sand in front of it — never mind the stunning ocean views from its high-rise rooms.
“You can’t visit Florida and not go to the beach,” said hotel spokeswoman Deborah Roker. “Especially if you’re a toddler.”
It’s obvious that the planners didn’t take their location for granted, though. Guest rooms are thoughtfully outfitted with mini-kitchens that feature granite counter-tops, plus sitting areas with spacious sofas that make you feel as if you never left home.
Alas, even though the Sonesta welcomes kids, its rooms are not entirely childproof, as we discovered. Actually, we’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the water glass that Aren pulled off the table and broke. He didn’t mean it. Really.
One of the newest Miami luxury hotels, The Four Seasons, sets itself apart in other ways. The property is located in the tallest building in Miami, a 70-floor skyscraper in the middle of the city’s financial district. Strictly speaking, it’s a business hotel - with lots of breakable things for toddlers to get into. But then you discover the rooftop pool. Not just one pool, but several of them. And then you realize that the Four Seasons Hotel Miami has a fun side, too.
After we checked into the hotel, and baby-proofed our room by moving the guest directories, magazines and water bottles to a higher location, we changed Aren into a swimsuit and caught an elevator to the pool level. That’s where we found a lap pool, a children’s pool and a one-of-a-kind wading pool filled with islands that were planted with palm trees.
“It’s the perfect way to while away a balmy Miami day,” Eveliny Bastos-Klein, a spokeswoman for the resort, told us.
She was right. The view of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami from the pool deck is panoramic. As we stood on the edge of the water taking in the skyline, we almost felt as if it didn’t matter that were weren’t at the beach and struggling to find a good spot for our towel and lawn chair. Besides, the service here was second to none.
While Aren thoroughly enjoyed the pools, it was the music that managed to hold his attention. The Four Seasons hid speakers in the foliage (wouldn’t want to have loudspeakers out in the open for everyone to see) and he couldn’t figure out where the tunes were coming from. He ended up spending a lot of time looking for the source of the sound while we relaxed in the cabana, which turned out to be a pretty good thing.
Traditionally, a luxury hotel is no place for kids. But as we visited three of Miami’s newest hotels, we were surprised at how many other children had brought their parents along for a vacation.
If you go…
The 395-room Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort is located in the city of Sunny Isles Beach, just north of Miami Beach. Both of South Florida’s international airports, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami International, are located only 17 miles from the hotel. Neomi’s Grill, its gourmet restaurant, offers a selection of gourmet entrees starting at $30. Rates range from $325 to $365 for a deluxe room. Call (305) 692-5600.
The 221-room Tower of the Four Seasons Miami stretches skyward near the heart of the business district, eight miles southeast of Miami International airport. American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, is only a five-minute ride, while South Beach’s late night hot spots are a 15-minute trip. At Acqua Restaurant, which serves northern Italian cuisine, entrees cost about $50. Rates for a standard room range from $350 to $525. Call (305) 358-3535.
The 117-room Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove is surrounded by the Miami areas’ best shopping. The exclusive Coco Walk is footsteps away, while Nieman Marcus at the Dadeland Mall is a short car ride down US 1. Miami’s business center is about five minutes away by car. The drive to Miami International airport will take about 25 minutes. At Bizcaya, a modern European grill, entrees start at $26. Call (305) 644-4680. Room rates range from $299 for a cityview room to $359 for a bayview room.