Does saving money on a first class vacation sound like an oxymoron? Well, I’ve done it and so can you. Recently, our family decided to take a first class vacation, travel in style, and save money at the same time. Here’s how….choose an exciting family destination, but go off-season when the weather is still good. It’s great time to travel. Airlines and hotels offer specials and there are fewer tourists.
Miami and South Beach are two of the most exciting places in the United States; multi-cultural and family friendly, everything a resort vacation should offer, with the kicker of big city panache. Our family was looking forward to some time on the beach and the adults wanted to be pampered at a first class spa. With that in mind, I went online and did my homework. Flying to the southeast from San Diego, our home base, is a challenge because most connections to Florida go through Atlanta. The Atlanta airport, like SFO, is one I try to avoid, because of crowded conditions and flight delays. Fortunately, I was able to find a direct flight through Houston. I found a consolidator online, who specializes in business and first class tickets. The result was that we were able to fly first class for about the same price as a full fare coach ticket. There are lists of consolidators online.
Just being in the Miami airport was the first taste of our vacation experience. Although Miami is flavored by mostly Caribbean, Central and South American cultures, it is also a major European destination, so the airport is like a mini United Nations. This makes people watching educational and fun. My other favorite things at the Miami airport are overhead signs that say “meet me here,” and kiosks selling good quality watch knock-offs for $10. We selected several watches for ourselves and a couple to bring back home as gifts. Watches make inexpensive, portable, fun gifts and my friends and family thought I was a big spender!
Driving around the Miami area is easy because the airport is freeway accessible and the highways are well marked. Since we only travel with carry-on luggage, we were at our first vacation stop 45 minutes after landing, including picking up our online rental car.
Our online searches had directed us to the award-winning Doral Golf Resort and Spa. Although this is a complete resort, it was clear to me that staying at the Spa (separate accommodations from the Golf Resort) and choosing spa services ala carte was the way to go, price-wise. And what a way to go! The Doral is a 650 acre oasis and pleasure palace. It is the home of the world famous “Blue Monster” golf course. They offer a total of five golf courses. The Spa, with only 48 suites, is self-contained within the resort. Treatment rooms, hydrotherapy, Jacuzzis, hot and cold plunge pools, hydromassage, saunas, state of the art fitness rooms, outdoor whirlpool, sundecks and beauty salon are all in the 145,000 square foot facility. They offer fitness, nutrition, stress relief and beauty programs for men and women. A restaurant, indoor and outdoor pools, and landscaped gardens round out this serene place.
There are four restaurants to choose from at the Mobil four star rated Doral Golf Resort and Spa. The spa food is wonderful. I usually don’t find spa meals very appealing or interesting, but they have broken the mold here; fresh, imaginative, and healthy foods that look and taste good. As you would expect from a four star resort, the service is attentive and friendly. We also ate lunch at the buffet at Windows, another Doral restaurant. Don’t miss it! Sushi, pasta station, cheese tables, dozens of salads, cold meats including lamb, several hot entrees, and desserts. This is an outstanding buffet. Great service, presentation and a marvelous view. What could be better? The Terrazo restaurant offers a breakfast buffet and casual dining for lunch and dinner. There is also a sports bar and grill for sandwiches and appetizers. All in all, a nice selection of surprisingly, reasonably priced restaurants for all of the family members. Check out the modified American plan, it can be a big money saver.
The spa services are outstanding. Ala carte, we were able to choose from a wide range of offerings including massage therapy, facial skin care, body treatments, therapeutic hydro-treatments, fitness services, nutrition and aromatherapy. The staff was knowledgeable and very helpful. After several days of pampering, we were relaxed and well rested.
The Blue Lagoon, a manmade wonder, pumps daily one million gallons of water through a dramatic 35-foot waterfall. Daring kids will love the 125 foot Blue Monster water slide. The Blue Lagoon also includes other pool activities and, yes, Bingo. Other family options at this full service resort include Camp Doral for kids, tennis and golf clinics for all ages, and beautiful walking/jogging trails.
The next destination for our vacation was the Tides, an Island Outpost hotel, in the heart of the action in South Beach. The Tides is small, with only 45 suites. Since some come with two queen sized beds, one “room” was big enough for our family of four. The Tides is the tallest hotel in South Beach and offers unobstructed ocean views, maximized with in-room telescopes. The suites are chock full of amenities,
including a CD player, CDs, VCR, TV, three two-line phones, loads of closet space and robes. The kids were in heaven! The style is simple, cool and elegant, but also comfortable and inviting. One of my favorite little touches is the chalkboard on the wall. We were able to leave messages for the kids, whenever we wanted to sneak away and be on our own.
The Tides is an upscale, very chic hotel. It is electric with excitement. Film stars, producers, models and all sorts of groupies and wannabees are in and out of the lobby, at the pool, and in the bar and two restaurants. The kids were constantly on the lookout for personalities. The staff is well trained, friendly, and helpful. The hotel rate is $450 in season, but $300 while we were there. So, since we shared a suite with the kids, rather than staying in two rooms, and traveled off-season, we saved a lot of money. Voila! First class on a budget.
In South Beach, one doesn’t need to go far for great food. The first night we ate at the Tides’ Terrace Restaurant. A sudden rainstorm had just blown through and it had cooled down in a sultry sort of way. Sitting outside, we enjoyed dinner starting with an order of crab cakes with a lemon dill dressing. Our knowledgeable server recommended the gazpacho and it was a perfect choice. The grilled sirloin steak salad with Maytag blue cheese dressing was a good light choice for an entree. The waiter insisted that we share the key lime cannoli, a crispy caramelized coconut shell, filled with key lime mousse; a creative take on an Italian dessert, with a uniquely South Beach flair. Need I say more? It was wonderful. The next day we had lunch at the Terrace and had another terrific meal. They offer seven appetizers, five salads, five sandwiches and nine “main plates.” We found good food, wonderful service, reasonable prices and it is open for breakfast as well. For a more elegant setting, the Tides’ 1220 restaurant is one of South Beach’s best and is a consistent award winner. One more recommendation: A block away is the Leslie Hotel, another Island Outpost hotel. Try their Leslie Cafe. It is a casual sidewalk cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is reasonably priced with a Caribbean flair, featuring an imaginative menu and friendly staff. Good value and a great place to watch the human parade passing by, a favorite South Beach activity.
After a satisfying meal, a walk is in order. South Beach is a walking, jogging, or in-line skating paradise. The boardwalk on the beach is 1.8 miles long. Try strolling Ocean Avenue at night to catch the rhythms and flavor of South Beach. It has an international, exciting atmosphere with sidewalk cafes, bars, discos, shops, and restaurants. Of course, for a family, the beach is a full time activity. A few blocks to the south of the Tides is South Pointe Park which is a nice spot for families to picnic or grill. Warm water and a broad stretch of well-patrolled beach makes for a great day. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and bottled water.
The family agreed that it was a great trip. Experiencing exciting South Beach at the Tides and the luxurious Doral Spa. What a combination! Shopping smart and careful planning for air travel, hotel, and spa made this a first class trip with a money saving element. You can do it too. Here is another money saving hint: South Beach has several secured public parking lots. I paid $4 per day versus $18-$20 for valet parking.
Visitor information can be found at www.miamibeachchamber.com and www.miamibeach.com. For more ideas of things to do in the Miami area including South Beach, pick up copies of Where, miamigo, quickguide, and Welcome to Miami and the Beaches. They are free local guidebooks, filled with information and coupons for restaurants, shopping and sightseeing. Free walking tours of the Art Deco District are available on Thursdays and Saturdays. There are museums to visit such as the Wolfsonian and the Bass. The Jackie Gleason Center for the Performing Arts has a great schedule of performances including shows for children. The Miami Beach Marina offers boat and fishing charters. Over the causeway in Miami you will find many other attractions including the Parrot Jungle, Metro Zoo, Seaquarium, and the FairChild Tropical Gardens,
Special note: Both the Tides and Doral Golf Resort and Spa have online specials. They can be found at www.islandoutpost.com and www.doralgolf.com or www.doralresort.com. Island Outpost also operates several other wonderful hotels in South Beach that offer less expensive
accommodations. Of course, both hotels have toll free lines as well. The Doral Golf Resort and Spa is 877-783-6725. The Tides and Island Outpost can be reached at 800-688-7678.
Money Saving Travel Tips: Booking online can also earn valuable additional frequent flyer miles as well as discounts. Before your flight, take a picture of any checked through baggage. If it is lost, the cliché applies: a picture is worth a thousand words. Also, at your destination, determine the location of a nearby supermarket. Stock up on snacks, bottled water, and soda for the family and wine or beer for the adults. Mini bars are off limits! Most supermarkets also offer freshly made deli sandwiches that are less expensive than restaurants and healthier than fast food outlets.
Enjoy your vacation while traveling first class and saving moneyº