Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Miami hotel review: The Fontainebleau

So, we decided to go all-out with our Miami trip, and we wound up staying at the Fontainebleau, a hotel that appealed to the Rat Pack back in the day and most recently achieved legendary status as probably the most expensive hotel we've stayed at to date.

But it was worth it.

Everyone and their mother on Yelp is going to have something negative to say about virtually everything, so we decided to book this hotel mostly on its reputation and no specific recommendation. Once we found out that the hotel was running an October special for one free night with three paid nights, we made the fastest booking decision we've ever made. It went something like this:

Matt: "There's this special. Should we book it?"
Me: "We can cancel the reservation for free up until the day of check in. Let's book it."

I figured that unless our child got seriously ill or I went into majorly premature labor we would not look back, and we did not.

The hotel is practically impossible for me to criticize, but in the spirit of fairness I'll share the good and the not-as-good. Still, keep in mind that for our five-day, four-night stay, Matt and I kept saying to each other, "I'm so glad we booked this trip," and, "Can you believe how awesome this is?"

The good
The beach is beautiful! This is one of my key desires for an ocean-front hotel.

The grounds are well-maintained. There are basically six pools, two large hot tubs, an outdoor bar, an outdoor restaurant with deck and bar, and plenty of (astroturf-covered) lounge areas with abundant seating (and palm trees to boot).

The rooms are beautifully decorated and immaculately maintained. OK, here I should mention that we scored a free upgrade from a king-size bedroom to a suite. I maintain we got this because we'd paid for a king-size bed with an ocean view, and by the time we arrived there were none left. I guess we are not 100% sure that's the case, though, which is why Matt claims instead that we played the pregnancy card on this one. (Specifically, while checking in, I pointed out an advertisement for an open-bar event at the hotel taking place in a few nights, pointed at my belly, and said, "You know who would go crazy at an open bar? This guy." This did cause the hotel clerk to begin to openly talk about my pregnancy [she was being super polite so as to not insult me, I suppose, before that]. Then she said, "Well, this is your first time in Miami, right?" when she was telling us she'd upgraded us to a suite. So, I claim we played the never-been-to-Miami card, but whatever.)

Our suite had a balcony with plenty of space as well as pool and ocean views; a sitting area with a sofa, wingback chair and coffee table; an office area with a desk and computer; a king-size bed; and a large bathroom with a large vanity, big shower, and separate jetted tub.

The little details add up. I'm not used to a whole lot of pampering, so maybe the average guest would take these items for granted, but I took special pleasure in:
  • All the staff with whom were interacted were incredibly pleasant and sometimes even amusing
  • Plush robes in every room
  • An iMac with free Internet access in every room
  • Molton Brown toiletries (shampoo, conditioner [so happy to find good hotel conditioner], body wash, lotion and soap) in five awesome scents
  • Free fruit-flavored water dispensers throughout the pool area. The flavors changed between lemon, watermelon, and pineapple, the most exciting by far being the pineapple water.
  • Great shower water pressure (seriously, this is something we care about)
  • Full-size gym that offers group exercise classes
The not-so-good
Just be ready to pay for it. Most of the quasi-criticisms I could give of the Fontainebleau come down to price. I feel, though, it's a little unfair for me to criticize costs at a place that is not expected to be budget-friendly. We knew we'd be spending some money, and we were prepared for that. Still, here are a few points to know:
  • Added to your hotel room cost (anywhere in Miami/Florida) will be comparatively exorbitant resort taxes. In our case this added about $50 per night to our room's cost.
  • The Fontainebleau also charges a resort fee of $20 per day.
  • If you rent a car (in our case, a sweet Toyota Yaris, a.k.a. the car with the world's smallest engine) it will cost you $40 per day to valet park it at the hotel. Matt did some pre-trip sleuthing and discovered, though, that there's a public parking lot with metered spaces one hotel down the street from the Fontainebleau. There it costs $10 per day to park. The downside: if you move your car on a weekend night and plan to park it there later that same night, you might be out of luck as those spots fill quickly. We managed to park there three of the four nights and therefore only needed to splurge on valet one day.
  • You can rent beach umbrellas, beach beds, and beach canopies, but again, it will cost you. We opted for an umbrella three of the days we were there. The sun in Miami is so intense, even in October, that I thought it was worth the $25 per day investment. Your beach chair, beach chair cover and towels, though, are included in your daily resort fee.
  • You can also have a waiter bring you a $20 cocktail on the beach, if you like. In an effort to live vicariously through him, I encouraged Matt to treat himself. He did this...once.
Early beach chair set up

Our little piece of the pie

People treating themselves

There isn't much in walking distance from the hotel. If you're not renting a car or you just don't feel like traveling particularly far for food and other attractions, you won't find much right outside the hotel's doors. There are many restaurants and shops inside the hotel, but because we found them especially overpriced and we wanted to sample some other Miami food, we happily made reservations elsewhere and hopped in the Yaris for nearly all our food ventures. We did manage to find, though, a good New York deli with a reasonably priced brunch menu less than a mile from the hotel. It was a nice little walk, and along the way we passed a Walgreens, where we picked up a few snacks.

A few other points
Be prepared for a super clubby environment. I knew this place would be a little clubby, but it was a lot clubby. That was OK with me, though, because I rather enjoyed pretending to be young and carefree once again as I surrounded myself with a bunch of 24-year olds attending bachelorette parties. I could have done, though, without some of the accompanying cigarette smoking on the beach. We got a kick out of people watching one night outside the hotel's famous club, Liv, where I observed lots of scantily clad, attractive women for some reason entering the club with a bunch of 20-something men-children wearing flannel shirts and Vans. Seriously? I've only been to about five clubs in my life, I'm about to have a second baby, and even I scoff at a guy wearing Vans to a club. Who does that?

Miami's hottest club is...

The hotel at least claims to be kid friendly. I really was not expecting to see any kids at our hotel. That was naive, but the place was definitely not overrun with families, and from what I could tell most of the families there with kids were European or South American, which makes sense to me. Americans just seem a lot more likely to stay at a Hampton Inn while visiting Disney World (I imagine this is somewhere in my future), whereas my stereotype of European parents in particular is that they're cooler than me and they'd be more likely to bring their kids to a clubby hotel where a fair number of guests are wearing thong bikinis. It's neither good nor bad; it just is. Tangent aside, there is a dedicated kid pool with a fun looking slide, there are plentiful beach toys provided by the hotel staff, and there are kid activities that seem to be scheduled each day.

Of course, the only kid I brought with me was in utero, but he seemed to have a great time.
Happy travels!

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