I`ve been vacationing in Miami Beach since the late 70`s when the only restored art deco hotels on Ocean Drive were the Leslie and the Crescent. The News Cafe was a few plastic tables and chairs at a small news kiosk, and the rest of the hotels were used as old folks homes. Miami Beach then was just a curiousity and a remnant of its former 1920`s glory.
Returning to visit every few years, it was quite a thrill when the tv show Miami Vice prompted more renovation of the art deco district and more people started visiting. I brought my new wife to Miami Beach in 1991 and we noticed the proliferation of modeling agencies and photo shootings near the beach. You could still park near the beach all day for a few bucks. We returned with our 5 year old daughter in 1997 to see the boardwalk going up and walked past the building site of the new Lowes Hotel to have breakfast at the renovated Shelbourne with its Las Vegas style ballroom.
Since then, I have been back alone in 2001 and 2004, when I spent a lot of time at Starbucks and walking though the thick crowds in the evening along the Lincoln Road stops, or through the restaurant row on Ocean Drive with the agressive hosts and hostesses shoving menus in your face as you walk by.
In February of 2009, my wife and 17 year old daughter decided on a 3 day stop in Miami Beach on our way to Key Largo. I was very unhappy and sad to see what Miami Beach has become: a group of overpriced restaurants and shops, unbearable traffic congestion, filled parking garages and lots even with the $20 per day price tag, and hotels that are either $400 per night (Lowes) or $180 per night and disgusting (Clay Hotel).
Restaurants that are so bold as to add automatically add a 15-18% tip onto the restaurant charge and then dare you to subtract it if you do not agree (please note the area that suggests the 'additional tip' for people who did not notice that the tip was already added to the bill.
A extremely small bottle of beer and diet coke at the Love Hate Lounge was $7. When I told the barkeeper to keep $8 she smirked and acted insulted not to be offered the entire change from the 10 dollar bill.
At a small store on a side street the man in front of us put a small Hershey bar on the counter and handed the cashier a 5 dollar bill. He got 3 dollars in change. `That candy bar costs 2 dollars?`he asked. He then left the store without buying it.
I had the distinct feeling that the service people, shopkeepers and hotel owners are just grabbing for money, and agressively at that. A bakery on Washington street where prices changed from customer to customer as we sat drinking our coffee in awe.
Please understand, I love Miami Beach. But I was so disappointed and shocked by the behaviour of the people, the lack of parking, the rudeness, filthy side streets, the homeless, the expensive restaurants for only average food and service. Miami Beach, you have lost your charm. Those who visit now are victims of your once glorious past and not so recent past. Now its over. We had a better time in Key West, Key Largo, and Ft. Lauderdale.
My advice, see Miami Beach on a day trip. But stay outside of the city, in Lauderdale or Hollywood. Its the same beach and the same sun, without the hassles and the rip-offs!
See my review for the Clay Hotel.