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Transcript: Miami Vacations

Mark Ellwood answered your questions February 17, 2004

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Sarasota, FL: Mark, Having traveled a few times through Miami, I'm not so much concerned with Miami once I've arrived, but rather, the problem escaping the airport. Every time I've flown to, from or through Miami's "airport", the experience has been horrific. I've vowed to never again use it unless I'm forced through it on the way to a loved one's funeral. The employee's are the most disengaged I've come across, the layout is laughable, and the queues are pathetic. Do the 'powers that be' in Miami realize this? And, if so, are there plans to raze it and start over? The airport alone has put me off Miami. Thanks.

Mark Ellwood: I hear you. Miami airport is certainly the city's Achilles heel, though I've never had problems with staff (who've always been charming), more its odd layout. No plans from the city as far as I know to change anything; the option most people take if they need to go M.I.A. from MIA is to fly to Fort Lauderdale - it's only 40 minutes' drive & a lot of the cheaper airlines land there anyway.

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New York, NY: Hi Mark! I'll be visiting Miami with my 5-year-old and my 1-year-old. Beside the beach, what sites will they most enjoy visiting? And what are the most "kid-friendly" restaurants (FYI: being from NYC, we don't do McDonalds, my kids eat Thai food, Japanese food, etc. by kid friendly, I mean places where people won't get upset if the baby's a little loud. They'll eat almost anything I put in front of them). THANKS!!

Mark Ellwood: I love Parrot Jungle: it's moved to a new location on Watson Island near the beach, which lacks a little of the rickety old charm of its original site, but is still wonderful - the animals are very friendly and the colors mesmerizing. There's also the new Miami Children's Museum right across the road.

As for beaches, check out the sands on Key Biscayne, by far the most family-friendly beaches in the city; if you want to stay in South Beach, the seafront round 3rd street is best for kids.

As for eating, try the Front Porch Cafe on 14th & Ocean; full of locals, large and bustling, so lively kids won't disrupt the waiters' rhythm. Or Big Pink on 2nd & Collins - it's a funky diner aimed at the 20-something crowd, but the cool menu & fun design should appeal to kids - and it's very laid back.

On another note, there's a charming toy store on Key Biscayne called Toy Town - Nintendo free zone, with lots of old fashioned toys.

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Columbus, OH: My husband and I have been married for four years now and have not been able to afford a honeymoon. Our anniversary is coming up in April and we would like to go on a romantic honeymoon. Could you recommend someplace in the Miami area that is not too expensive?

Mark Ellwood: Aside from the ideas I mentioned above, for a romantic getaway check the city's new boutique hotels web site: it's accessible through miamiandbeaches.com, and has lots of recommendations & deals on the best, hippest places. Another option is the Whitelaw Hotel: it's part of a local mini chain called the South Beach Group (check southbeachgroup.com) which has 6 or so properties all of which are trendy, friendly and cheap.

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New Orleans, LA: Our vacation club has a resort in South Beach and we are considering spending one of our vacations there. Is this a suitable area for a family vacation or does this area appeal more to single younger individuals rather than families?

Mark Ellwood: Certainly, many of South Beach's attractions are geared to adults -- after all, it's nightlife and bars for which it's best known. But away from the beach, there's plenty for kids - other than the beaches on Key Biscayne, the Seaquarium there is filled with animals including manatees. The rangers run very interesting talks, tours and feeding sessions. Or check out the new Zoo, finally rebuilt and restocked with animals after being devastated by the hurricane of 1992.

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Olive Branch, MS: Hi Mark, I'm contemplating going to Miami over the Memorial Day holiday. Are the best deals at a South Beach hotel or would I gain just as much staying on Biscayne Bay?

Mark Ellwood: Memorial Day is close to off-season for Miami - once you hit June, July and August, it's still hot but the humidity means many people don't want to holiday there... so you can get some real bargains.
That said, Memorial Day in recent years has been the time for an impromptu hip hop festival in South Beach, so the hotels have been able to fill rooms at a high rate; I'd suggest you either book now for a bargain, or just stay further up the beach so you can hang out there easily - try the Beach House Bal Harbour at 94th and Collins.

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