Miami sightseeing

We are up before 9 so we can trot across the street to sign up for the tour. We will start with a city bus tour, have a couple hours in the middle of the day along a bay front for lunch and end with a 90 minute boat tour along “Millionaires Row” where we’ll see mansions of the rich and famous.

We grab a couple of things from the breakfast table in the hotel, and bring our luggage down to reception. Checkout isn’t until noon, but we’re getting on the tour at 9:45 and won’t be back until 3pm. The hotel doesn’t have a true ‘held luggage’ room, so we stack our bags along with Eve and Leroy’s in the hallway.

The tour is really fun. We start by driving through the Art Deco district and learn that there are over 900 Art Deco buildings within 1.5 kilometers. This is the largest concentration of this type of architecture in the world!

Our tour continues as we cross one of the seven bridges from Miami Beach to mainland Miami. Most of the jobs in this area are from the Port of Miami and Miami International Airport. Miami has the largest cruise ship terminal in the world, able to handle up to seven ships at one time! Figure roughly 3,000+ travelers per ship times 7 equals 21,000 tourists, so all together, 42,000 people with one half embarking and one half disembarking the ships all on the same day. Whew.

Miami Skyline

Miami, second in size only to Jacksonville, is the only city in the US that is bordered on two sides by national parks: the Everglades and Key Biscayne.

Our driver points out Rio de Miami (Miami River) where the indigenous people originally settled. Then we arrive at Calle Ocho (8th Street) -> home of Little Havana.

Little Havana today; real Havana tomorrow!

First stop is Cuban Tobacco Cigar Store where cigars are handrolled and packaged by just four employees. The owner is 86 years old and usually sits outside his cigar shop daily as his son now runs the business. The owner had a very successful tobacco operation in Cuba, but after the revolution in 1959, lost it all and went to prison. When he was released, he joined his family who had fled to Miami. Here he continues the family tradition and has passed that tradition to his children. It was very interesting and I’m looking forward to see how this small shop compares to what we will see in Cuba.

We walk next door to a souvenir shop for a free “cup” of Cuban coffee. It was only about a thimble sized amount but very tasty. Jeff and I walked around Little Havana briefly and came upon Domino Park where, big surprise, there were several tables of elderly men playing dominos.

Domino Park is aptly named

It was great to see the social interaction of these elderly men.

Back to the bus we head for Coral Gables which is one of the most expensive and exclusive neighborhoods in the state. Coral Gables was designed by George Merrick as a two-part city: one side to be purely financial, the other residential; Merrick even designed in a swath of land to be left undeveloped between the two sections to further define the division giving a separation between work and family
In Coral Gables no two houses are alike and every house is built of coral rock. Amazing and beautiful houses!

The bus tour continued as we stop briefly at the Biltmore Hotel. You know the Biltmores? Loads of money, huge mansions? This was no different,

Biltmore “Hospital”

but during WWII the Biltmore Hotel was repurposed as a hospital for injured soldiers (queue Downton Abbey music here). In 1999 it was designated as a National Historical site.

Around lunchtime we arrive at the beachfront where there are waterside restaurants, including that all American favorite Bubba Gumps, a food court, shops, waterside charters for Millionaire’s Row and other sites and there is a promenade. We have 2-1/2 hours before our boat tour. Eve and Leroy opt for lunch at one of the waterside venues. Neither Jeff nor I are hungry so we decide to take a walk. It was gorgeous!

We walked for 90 minutes before turning back and saw people looking into the water ahead of us. There was a small buoy making its way along – buoys aren’t supposed to move. Then…up surfaced a large manatee!

A very nice walk and manatees

Then a smaller one and another large one! I’ve never see a manatee before!!! And, naturally, there was no time to get my camera fired up. It was really exciting! The buoy, of course, is to warn boaters of the manatee’s presence.

Back in the shopping area, Jeff and I sit down at a table with an older woman from Cincinnati and talked with her for a little bit. Clearly, this trip to Florida to visit her sister for a week is her trip of a lifetime. We convince her to take one of the charter cruises – I hope she did. We leave her and go upstairs in the outdoor mall to find the restrooms and visit the food court. Hmmm…the food court offerings were not very good – I end up with a hot pretzel and Jeff got french fries which we share.

All aboard the boat! It is crowded as there is more than one group and my hopes of sitting topside are fading fast. When we do finally get up up to the top, there are Eve and Leroy with their arms spread saving the four front row chairs. Thank you, Thank you!

Eve enjoying the city boat tour.

Everyone who wasn’t lucky enough to get a chair sat downstairs, which in one way would have been okay because it was a little chilly and more than a little windy where we were.

The boat tour went by too quickly, looking at the houses of the rich and famous: Sylvester Stallone, Will Smith, Brad Pitt with their yacht(s) moored in front was Naturally we took lots of photos and now don’t remember whose was whose, though Brad Pitt’s house had little kid’s toys in the backyard and a little boy was playing with a soccer ball at Jackie Chan’s.

Millionaire’s Row

After the tour, our driver took us back our hotel where we picked up our left luggage, retrieved Pokey and Gumby, and called for a cab.

This is the last known location (and photo) of Pokey and Gumby our our Cuba trip!

It is time to join our SmarTours group at the Marriott by the Miami airport. The cab ride to the Marriott is a flat fare, thank god, because the 40 or so minute drive took just over two hours! Lots of traffic. We arrived shortly before our mandatory orientation meeting.

At the meeting we met our fellow traveling companions for the first time; and we filled out our official Cuban visa information. OMG. I was overtaken by giggles at one point after our instructions were “X” out that box, to which someone asked “Can I just draw a line through it?” The answer was, “No, put an ‘X’ in it!” This could be a long couple of weeks… And, on top of that, if you make a mistake on your visa, you cannot correct it – no crossing out or writing over – if you make a mistake, you have to buy another, new visa for $150 and start over!
Okay, paperwork completed.

Our SmarTours guide is Stevyn Polk who announces that he has arranged for our wake up calls in the morning. Jeff and I head for our room, do a little suitcase/backpack rearranging to make sure we’ll be okay with the 44 pound weight limit and go to bed.

It’s been a long day and tomorrow we go to Cuba!

It is Super Bowl Sunday!

Yes, it is Super Bowl Sunday and the six of us (Trish’s daughter arrived last night, so now we are six) are having our own little fiesta tonight. But first we’ll enjoy the day.

Without plan we all end up at the small continental breakfast area at the same time,  early like 9:15. Toast, yogurt, juice, fruit and coffee are set up on two small tables in a narrow hallway. Lots of “pardon me’s” and “Sorries” as we and the other guests maneuver about. I don’t think we are the demographic for this hotel as all of the folks I see are young Europeans.
We carry our breakfasts outside to the veranda where it is a little chilly but not bad. It is certainly much warmer than at home. As we eat and people watch we see folks walking by bundled up and even wearing gloves – I’m wearing shorts and a short sleeved shirt!

The Odyssey, our hotel, 1 block from beach
Eve and Leroy’s windows on the left; Trish and Angela’s windows on the right

After breakfast Jeff and I walk a block over to the Beach Walk.

Our hotel, the Odyssey


We walk for just over five miles dodging bicyclists, runners, skateboarders and people like us who are simply strolling. Pokey and Gumby enjoyed the outing as well.

The walk is clearly marked.

Beach Walk marker





Pokey and Gumby enjoying Florida






We’ve been to South Beach before and enjoy looking at the classic buildings and refamiliarizing ourselves with the Art Deco style. Art Deco buildings usually have porthole style windows and other features that appear in “3s” such as window panes or decorative designs. They often will resemble ships.

The Beach Patrol Building looks like a ship!
Example of Art Deco architecture. See the port holes and the windows divided by 3?






If you need to be rescued, be sure it from a stylish lifeguard station like this one!







Eventually we make our way back to the Odyssey and I’m writing this as we relax on the comfy wicker sofa. Trish and Angela have gone to find some lunch; Eve and Leroy are heading off to the Museum of Erotic Art. Hope they bring back photos! LOL

Jeff and I retire to our room where he takes a short nap and I review my Spanish. (I am taking a Spanish class this semester and am going to try to keep up with my schoolwork.)
When done relaxing and reviewing we set out to explore the “Art Deco District.” What a nice walk. When we walk back we return down a residential street and wonder what it would be like to snowbird here.

Back at the hotel I jump in the shower for a quick clean-up – we need to get ready for the game! Jeff and I stop at Leroy and Eve’s room (aka ‘party central’) and we all go out to get Subway sandwiches. Trish and Angela are just going to snack.

Jeff holding the Bronco’s sign, Eve and Leroy lounging on the bed, and Angela standing behind her mum, TrishGame time!! 2 six packs of beer, wine, champagne, chips, popcorn, vegie sticks…Eve and Leroy have gotten beach chairs from reception; Jeff carries the chair from our room down to theirs. We are set and the BRONCOS WIN THE SUPER BOWL!!!!! So exciting!!!

After the game, we tidy up the room and head our separate ways. Jeff and I are going to try and get on a city tour that Eve and Leroy have signed up for tomorrow. It is an all-day affair and sounds fun. Frankly, pretty much anything with those two is fun. But it is about midnight here and we need to get over to the tour place when they open at 9am to see if they have seats available.
Trish and Angela are going to skip the tour and head over to the Marriott by Miami International Airport where tomorrow night we will meet the rest of our Cuba companeros.

Since we are very limited on space/weight, the prizes for my contests will be quite small – just little tokens. So, will you be the first to respond to this question??
The movie The Birdcage was filmed in South Beach – who starred opposite Robin Williams as his partner? No fair googling the answer!

Good night!

Our bags are packed

My suitcase is zippered shut, my passport is in my back pocket…ready to go!

After spending the night at the Denver Marriott Airport hotel, Jeff and I met our wonderful traveling companions, Eve and Leroy Measner in the hotel lobby at 5:55 a.m. for our shuttle to the airport. We stayed in Denver overnight because we have an early flight and in Colorado you just never know what the weather is going to be. So, rather than risk a snowy or icy drive, we decided to spend the night in Denver. Happily I had enough points for a free hotel room and since our personal chauffeur (hahaha!) Tom Delaney delivered us to our hotel, we don’t even have to pay parking. Thanks, Tom!

Denver International Airport is all decked out in blue and orange in honor of the Denver Broncos being in Super Bowl 50 tomorrow. All the gate staff are clad in Bronco attire and even the departures board is festive.

At our gate we meet up with Eve’s sister, Trish. In all our party will number seven as two more friends are meeting us in Miami.

Our flight today is to Miami, FL. We are going to spend today, tomorrow and part of Monday in South Beach. Tuesday we start our nine day adventure in Cuba.

The flight is completely uneventful, we land, retrieve our luggage and head for our reserved Super Shuttle. Since there are 5 of us I’ve arranged for a non-stop private shuttle.

The drive to the hotel doesn’t take very long and we all enjoy the warm weather and seeing the palm trees. We’ve left about a foot of snow back in Colorado! I can’t wait to put on my shorts and short sleeved blouse.

We’re staying at the Odyssey South Beach Hotel. A small boutique hotel one block from the ocean. Turns out our reservations include free breakfast, a free happy hour drink (red wine, white wine or champagne) and snacks, and beach chairs and umbrellas to carry over to the beach. Very nice.

After checking in, dumping our luggage and changing into tropical attire the five of us convene in the hotel lobby. We had agreed that if any of us were to lay down we’d fall asleep and that would be that – so we go for a walk and to find a bite to eat.

First things first – the beach! Off come our sandals or sneakers and socks and into the cool, wonderful sand go our toes. Aaahhh…
Eve, Leroy and I can’t resist wading into the water a little.

Eve and Leroy wading

Eve gets a wee bit further in and pays for it by getting wet pant’s cuffs. Brrr! Well, as Jeff points out, it IS February here, too!

Our shuttle driver had told us that good food for reasonable prices was on a street a block behind our hotel, and since we’re getting hungry, we dry and desand our feet and head to Washington Street. From Washington we arrive at Espanola Way, a pedestrian friendly historic Spanish village, now home to art galleries, boutique shops and restaurants. We are delighted to learn that lunch menus are good until 5pm, and choose to eat at Hosteria Roma, a local Italian place. YUM! Great food!! A relaxing dinner, wonderful company – vacation!

Back at the hotel we get our complimentary drinks and snacks (as though we need more food) and go outside to sit on the veranda. Jeff and Leroy rearrange the wicker sofas and chairs so they form a semi circle where we sit, people watch and chat. Finally the long day catches up to us and we all head for our rooms. It IS 8pm after all!

What will tomorrow bring?

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