|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 13, 2013--You know your backyard has really arrived when the new Philippe Starck-designed hotel and the hostel about 10 blocks north get serious national ink.
The past couple months have seen the arrival of a new-to-Miami chain, Starwood's Aloft brand, which opened in Doral, as well as a totally new value-oriented brand, b2 in downtown Miami.
But most of the action has been centered -- where else? -- on South Beach, which continues to be a magnet for investors.
This year's Conde Nast Traveler Hot List, which highlights the best new hotels in the world, features two recent Miami Beach openings: The James Royal Palm and SLS Hotel South Beach, both major renovation projects. The magazine also picked the SLS to host its Hot List party late last month.
"I think it's nice that the beach doesn't get stale," said Lisa Gill, a contributing editor at Conde Nast Traveler who oversees the Hot List. "There's always something new on the beach, which will always be a great lure."
Here's a closer look at this year's newest lures:
Aloft Miami Doral
What's new: Everything about the six-story, 145-room hotel. Open since March, it marks the arrival of Starwood's rapidly expanding Aloft brand in Miami-Dade.
Bragging rights: Like all Aloft locations, this one is a "vision" of Starwood's hip, pricier W Hotels. The lobby is known as the re:mix lounge, with a pool table and music and light that changes throughout the day. The bar, w xyz, offers a daily happy hour; a DJ spins every Thursday. Works by local artists are hung (and for sale) on the walls. WiFi is free and a pup-friendly policy allows pets 40 pounds or less to stay with no extra charge. (Bonus: They get a dog bed, treats, toys and a bowl for the stay).
Caveat emptor: Close to businesses in Doral, but far from typical Miami tourism spots. The surroundings, for now, also include a construction site for a neighboring hotel.
Best for: Business travelers; locals who want to check out a new nightlife spot at the bar.
Details: 3265 NW 107th Ave., Doral; 786-272-7200; www.aloftmiamidoral.com
Rates and deals: Starting at $99 a night for the weekend that starts May 31; summer rates through the end of August start at $99 for Florida residents.
b2 downtown miami
What's new: The old Continental Bayside Hotel got a complete renovation to become the first property in the new b2 hotel brand. All 243 guest rooms and common areas, including the restaurant Biscayne Tavern, have been updated with a clean, modern look.
Bragging rights: Location, location, location. The property sits across from Bayfront Park and blocks away from PortMiami, Bayside Marketplace and the AmericanAirlines Arena. WiFi is free, and so is use of a hotel's iPad, available as a loaner at the front desk.
Caveat emptor: Standard rooms are fairly small with cramped bathrooms. There is no pool.
Best for: Cruise travelers, locals who don't want to drive home after a Heat game or visitors who want a downtown experience without paying Brickell prices.
Details: 146 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-358-4555; b2miamidowntown.com
Rates and deals: Starting at $123 a night for the weekend that starts May 31. Florida residents get 20 percent off if they use the code "resident" when booking.
What's new: While the former Indian Creek Hotel retains much of its shabby chic appeal, the upscale hostel has been reimagined as a haven for budget-conscious globetrotters and locals alike. New York's Sydell Group bought the property in January 2012; it opened in time for Art Basel Miami Beach in December after design firm Roman and Williams transformed the 62 rooms (and 250 or so beds) with a part-nautical, part-camp aesthetic. The $8 million in renovations include ongoing work to include an adjacent restaurant, guest kitchen area and annex with more beds.
Bragging rights: A lovely sprawling outdoor area that includes a pool, patio and game area (think table tennis and lawn bowling). The bar, The Broken Shaker, is a hipster magnet -- crowded, but worth the wait for the daily punch and small bites.
Caveat emptor: Note the s -- this is a hostel, not a hotel, so know what you're getting into.
Best for: Young or young-at-heart travelers who want to mingle with a similar crowd (and don't mind bunking with strangers in the least expensive rooms). Penny-pinching friends looking for a laid-back vibe close to South Beach action.
Details: 2727 Indian Creek Dr., 305-531-2727, thefreehand.com
Rates and deals: Starts at $31 a night per person in an eight-bunk dorm for the weekend that starts May 31. The per-person price for a quad dorm is $37, or a private quad room can be had for $148 a night. A private standard king is $159 and a private bungalow (which includes four bunk beds, a living room and kitchen) is $222 a night.
Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel
What's new: Two historic South Beach lodgings -- the Gale and the Regent -- have been gutted, connected and reborn as a refined, Italian Riviera-inspired hotel. The 87-room hotel opened in December after a $35 million renovation.
Bragging rights: The property has an elegant, classic feel with plenty of South Beach touches, including a rooftop pool, basement nightclub, cocktail bar and restaurant.
Caveat emptor: Although it's in the heart of South Beach action, the hotel is not directly on the beach. Guests have access to beach amenities at Shelborne South Beach, a sister hotel. Some online reviews include complaints about loud music from the club, Rec Room.
Best for: Visitors seeking old-school glamour with nightlife options nearby.
Details: 1690 Collins Ave., 305-673-0199, galehotel.com
Rates and deals: Starting at $215 a night for the weekend that begins May 31. A summer getaway package includes rates of $250 a night (not including tax or a resort fee), two beach cruisers and a beach bag and towel. Florida residents get another 10 percent off that package through the end of summer.
Pestana South Beach Hotel
What's new: Portuguese hospitality company Pestana Group transformed three separate structures -- the old Miljean hotel and two apartments -- into a four-building, 99-room hotel with a new pool in the middle and a mermaid-themed cafe. After $25 million in renovations over several years, the property had its grand opening in early April. Decor is understated and calm, with rooms featuring black and white photographs and walls of thick stripes in tan, blue or gray depending on the building.
Bragging rights: Close to Lincoln Road, the Miami Beach Convention Center and the beach, but nestled in a quiet residential area.
Caveat emptor: Aside from the pool and guest-only cafe, there's not much happening at the property itself.
Best for: Families; laid-back travelers who want their hotel to be an escape from the South Beach scrum.
Details: 1817 James Ave., Miami Beach; 305-341-2401; www.pestana.com/en/pestana-south-beach
Rates and deals: Starting at $168 for the weekend that begins May 31.
James Royal Palm
What's new: Everything at the giant property has been updated in a $42 million renovation. The hotel, which reopened late last year, is now part of The James brand.
Bragging rights: The beachfront hotel tries to offer enough amenities to keep people busy even if they never leave: 393 rooms, three pools, two restaurants, a coffee bar, lobby bar, rum bar, nightclub, spa and kiddie play area. Designed by Lauren Rottet, the interiors are warm, modern and comfortable, with reclaimed wood and Art Deco inspiration. Through a "cultural collection," the hotel has formed partnerships with local institutions including New World Symphony, Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and YoungArts in Miami.
Caveat emptor: Vacationers looking for the quintessential small-boutique experience might be a bit overwhelmed. With 393 rooms, guests will likely have plenty of company on the property.
Best for: Families; travelers who crave options and activity.
Details: 1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-5700; www.jameshotels.com/miami/
Rates and deals: Starting from $319.20 a night on the weekend that begins May 31. Package for R&R retreat including spa treatments, customized dinner and bottle of wine starts at $329; book through Dec. 31.
Sense Beach House
What's new: Formerly Sense Hotel, the property's new owner brought in a new design and decor to make the "micro-boutique" feel more like a beach cottage. The lobby and first-floor restaurant, The Local House, take more cues from the Hamptons than the Caribbean. The porch is a designated game area, with table tennis, hanging chairs and foosball. Two floors of rooms are differentiated by color theme: sand and blue. A rooftop pool provides a view of the very nearby ocean.
Bragging rights: With just 18 rooms, the hotel focuses on service and fostering relationships with guests -- or, rather, friends, as the owner says. All rooms have balconies, and the decor hints at a sense of humor: art adorning the walls features Barbie dolls.
Caveat emptor: Although it's geographically in South Beach, the neighborhood is quiet, largely residential and a good hike from most nightlife scenes and Lincoln Road.
Best for: Couples seeking a cozy, romantic beach getaway away from the touristy buzz.
Details: 400 Ocean Dr., 305-538-5529, sensebeachhouse.com
Rates and deals: Starting at $209.25 a night for the weekend that begins May 31. Florida residents get a 25 percent discount between June 1 and Sept. 30, based on availability.
SLS Hotel South Beach
What's new: Aside from a few historic details, everything at the old Ritz Plaza hotel is new. Los Angeles-based sbe brought in designer Philippe Starck of Delano fame, who turned the 140-room property into his own personal dreamscape. Rock star Lenny Kravitz also pitched in, designing a bungalow and penthouse suite. Offerings include two well-reviewed restaurants -- one sushi, one tapas; Hyde Beach, a tropical-inspired lounge and two pools. While small, rooms are infused with whimsy, from the pencil-sketch wall tapestries to the mirrors on the ceiling and pink glass in the bathrooms.
Bragging rights: With quirky decor touches -- the masked bull in the lobby, the video installation showing regal men morphing into monkeys and the oversized rubber duck out by the pool -- the hotel is famed for its design. The chefs in both restaurants, Jose Andres and Katsuya Uechi, have high profiles. SLS South Beach made both the Travel + Leisure 2013 It List and Conde Nast Traveler's 2013 Hot List.
Caveat emptor: The historic hotel's renovation didn't allow for expansion of the rooms, which are tiny even by South Beach standards.
Best for: Travelers who want to experience the next big thing in South Beach -- and can handle the accompanying prices.
Details: 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-1701, slshotels.com/southbeach/.
Rates and deal: Starting at $475 for the weekend that begins May 31. Between June 1-Sept. 30, a Florida resident package offers rates starting at $285 with a complimentary upgrade if available, $75 food and beverage credit and free valet included. Booking code is FLRESIDENT; blackout dates apply.
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