Surfside and the North

We are not into the exciting, energetic South Beach – sure it’s nice to visit, but when it comes to finding activities to fill our days, we’d much rather have a bit of peace and quiet.  Surfside and the surrounding area meets that expectation perfectly, so we went back to the same hotel(ish) for the third year in a row (I’ve raved on my blog before).  I love the area and would definitely go back – we had a couple of frustrating experiences at our hotel which has put us off staying there again (I’m now on the look out for somewhere new) but the tiny north Miami Beach town remains as awesome as always.

There is genuinely nothing that Surfside is missing for me – restaurants, a Starbucks, a good Publix (where I finally had a chicken tender sub – I had American cheese, mayo, lettuce, olives and pickles.  Forgot to ask for toasted though) and a CVS for me to stock up on SPF 100.  The beach is right there and it’s only a $20 Uber ride to all the main tourist hotspots.

When we weren’t visiting the stores on Harding Avenue multiple times in one day, we took a couple of trips to Bal Harbour – both the incredibly upscale shopping mall and also to our favourite burger restaurant – BH Burger Bar at the St Regis hotel.  The burgers there are crazy good, and despite only visiting once a year, the staff seem to remember us so we get such a great welcome.

We also splurged on a meal at the Grill at Bal Harbour and immediately wished we’d found this place before.  The restaurant was very calm – that sounds like an odd thing to say about a restaurant, but that’s the best way to describe it.  The food and service were excellent and we had a really relaxed meal.  It’s gone right to the top of our favourites list.

Of course, I had to visit the Aventura Mall which has expanded since our last visit.  It was a ridiculous size before, but now it’s even bigger – according to Wikipedia, it’s the second largest mall in America.  I lost my mind in Sephora again, Mum lost her mind in Henri Bendel and poor Husband lost his mind just waiting for us to finish shopping.  I think we ended up walking almost 15000 steps which is too much for a mall.  We briefly considered slumming it at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch, but the queues put us off so we tried the Grand Lux Cafe instead which I LOVED.  It’s like a slightly fancy Cheesecake Factory!

I did find it odd that the Aventura Mall has America’s first Carsten Holler slides.  I don’t really understand why.  No one was going on them because they were wet, but I guess they’re popular?

We also did a couple of other trips away further afield on this trip, but more on that later.

For us, the most important thing after wandering around Aventura, down at South Beach, or back on the mainland, was that we had some tranquility to come back ‘home’ to, which is something Surfside excels at.  It’s not for everyone, but that just makes it all the better for us.

Surfside, you are my perfect vacation town – never change.

Miami in the Rain

What do you think when you read the words “Miami Beach”?  Turquoise waves, beautiful sandy beaches, blue skies – am I close?

That’s certainly what you get when you Google image search, and is definitely the experience we had both in 2016 and 2017.  2018?  Not so much.  More like grey skies with some ever-so-slightly irritating rain.

It’s always a risk going to Miami in May – the hotels do drop in price, but you’re right up against hurricane season which runs from June to November.  As we got closer to our departure date, I began manically refreshing my Google Weather app, which every day showed me some variation on the following:

I started to research “What to do in Miami in the rain” and to be honest, didn’t come up with much.  Don’t get me wrong – Miami has loads to do inside, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to do.  My list of things I wanted to achieve on this holiday included:

  • Lounge around on the beach

Urm, that was it (we did end up doing a little bit more than this – there’ll be a separate post on that – and we used Time Out and Thrillist for a bit of inspiration).

None of the locals seemed that bothered (checking on Reddit and the Trip Advisor forums) and were reassuring that Miami rain isn’t like “normal” rain.

And they were right.  It isn’t like normal rain at all.  It rained on Saturday a bit, but we were going to spend the whole morning in the Aventura Mall anyway so I’m not counting that as a problem.  Sure, there was spotty rain when we were down on the beach, but we didn’t even bother going inside.  Sat it out like a pro.  It rained loads overnight when we were asleep, and a couple of times in the evening when we were in restaurants.

Considering they were predicting non-stop rain, we were only really affected one afternoon for about an hour when it did this:

The sea is down there somewhere.  We went up to our balcony to watch it for a bit, had a shower, and in the time it took for us to get ready for dinner, it had passed.  The following day, we’d gone back to this again:

So if it’s predicted to rain on your trip to Miami, don’t fret too much.  Take it a day at a time, have a look at a good weather site every once in a while (we liked the dramatically named Doppler 6000 on the NBC website) and just relax.  You’re still going to have an amazing holiday because you’re in freaking Miami!

Unless there’s an actual hurricane, in which case I have no good advice for you.  Sorry about that.

Returning to Surfside, FL

A few months ago, Mum decided she want to treat me and my brother to a ‘do-nothing’ holiday, and asked my opinion on where we should go.  The first place that came to mind was Surfside, Florida after falling in love with it last year.

I knew my Mum would love it – she’s a sun worshipper, loves the beach and a bit of shopping, but ultimately looks for peace and quiet on her holidays which is what Surfside excels at.  Fortunately, she adored it as much as I do and is even making some plans to return next year.  My brother and sister-in-law equally had a wonderful time, and my little niece took to Florida like a pro, strutting round the place with her sunnies and beachwear.

We stayed at the same(ish) hotel as last year as well – the Grand Beach Hotel – but instead of staying at their beachside property, we chose the sister building across the road.  Because there were six of us, we ideally wanted the three bedroom suite that could only be found at the West building which was a bit of a shame as we would have loved a balcony overlooking the ocean.  There were definitely benefits though – as it was smaller, the second hotel is much quieter and we hardly ever saw anyone else.  It also meant that we had the rooftop pool to ourselves most of the time so it felt much more exclusive.  Never a bad thing.

There aren’t any catering facilities in the West building so you have to plan ahead, but that didn’t cause us any problems at all – it’s slightly closer to the shops in Surfside so we were in the Publix and CVS every day (I think I actually went to Publix three times on one of the days – I bloody love it).  The main hotel is barely a two minute walk, so when we weren’t sunning ourselves on the roof, we were in the palm garden or eating quesadillas in the restaurant.It was pretty damn hot most of the time, but once again we beat the weather with only one tiny storm making us change our plans.  Last year, I read an insane amount of books, but I was so dedicated to relaxing this time round that I couldn’t even manage to hold my kindle.  I am genuinely struggling to remember how i filled 8 hours in the garden – it was next level ‘do-nothing’.

We did all the usual things on this trip again – South Beach, Aventura Mall, dinner in Bal Harbour and on Harding Ave – with the only new location being Dolphin Mall where I bought a bright pink Kate Spade bag from Bloomingdales which was such a ridiculous bargain.  I felt bad about dragging the poor Uber driver out so far as it was a bit trafficy in Hialeah, but he wasn’t bothered at all.  As is now tradition, we went up to the rooftop bar at the Grand Beach on the last night for some cocktails under the pinky glow of a Miami sunset – there was a glorious breeze and I once again wondered if I should start paying the lottery so I can give up work and just be on a permanent vacation.  Curse you Surfside – you make it so easy to dream about running away from my mortgage!

Until next time (which might be next year, the way plans are going at the moment!)

May Things

Wow, it has been a while.

For a bit of a kick in the butt, I’ve decided to follow a lot of other bloggers and post a monthly review, because then I’ll at least have one post a month.  Hopefully, this will get me back in the habit of regularly writing though.

No real format here – I’m just going to pick five things of note each month which I might have already blogged about or not, but definitely memorable for good (or not so good) reasons.  Let’s get started with May 2017.

Miami Trip
This deserves it’s own post, and is definitely my highlight of the month.  After a series of events and conversations, my Mum decided to take me and Husband, and my baby brother and his family to Miami, specifically my beautiful Surfside and I cannot emphasise enough how much relaxing we did.  It was perhaps a smidge too warm for some of us, but I spent most of the time lying in the palm garden not doing anything.  And the rest of the time shopping, which brings me to…

What is a holiday without a trip to Sephora?  This isn’t everything that I bought – I also picked up some essentials like a million sheet masks – but I was really happy to find this Summer Hair Saviours kit – the Sephora at Aventura Mall has actually moved since I went last year, and is now much bigger so has more of these sets in stock.  The photo missing a couple of items that I’ve already used, but I’m excited to try the rest.  I love miniatures!

Once again, I failed to pick the popular songs.  I actually hated the twee-ness from the winning song – Eurovision for me needs high energy, bouncy, Europop and the Portuguese winner was the absolute antithesis of this.  Never mind.  My favourite was I Feel Alive by IMRI, and it has not left my playlist all month.

BFF Dinner
I have been an entirely crap friend of late, but I couldn’t miss celebrating the BFF‘s birthday, so we met for dinner at the National Theatre Terrace – what a great restaurant.  Once we’d actually found each other – for some reason, we both got to the table from entirely different entrances – and once we’d realised it was tapas and not just an odd menu.  I had deep fried veg with aioli which were so moreish, and delicious patatas bravas.  After dinner, we went for coffee and I had some very much needed chatty time.

I didn’t really know how to title this.  Part of the reason for the time away is that May has become a tough month for us.  It was the first anniversary of my Dad’s death which is obviously something none of us will ever get over, so I took the day off work and had some time to myself to reflect.  I feel really close to my Dad when I’m outside as he loved nature, so I went for a long walk around the Pond on my own.  I felt it was the best way to mark the day.

I heard the rainstorms ain’t nothin to mess with

Surfside_2Despite wanting to spend 24 hours a day in our glorious hotel, we did manage to drag ourselves away on a couple of occasions.  We were mostly worried about the rain storms that threatened to spoil our trip, but aside from Saturday afternoon, the promised bad weather didn’t appear (much like our New York stay, the weather forecasts were entirely wrong).

Our most visited location was the heart of Surfside, Harding Avenue.  The shops and restaurants are all situated within two blocks and it was more than enough for us – Starbucks, CVS, and Publix supermarket were there for the necessities (like my 100SPF sun cream), and there were loads of restaurant options to choose from.  We chose Rustiko for the Thursday night where I became obsessed with their tequeños.  It’s a small restaurant but felt very comfortable inside.  On Sunday afternoon, we stopped off at Serendipity Creamery for two cups of delicious ice cream, and ate them outside on the pavement tables just watching the world go by.  We did want to try another couple of places but didn’t get the chance for one reason or another.  Next time.

Surfside_1What we loved most about Surfside was the non-touristy-ness of it.  We joked that it felt just like our little home town, just with palm trees and a nearby beach.  We sat drinking coffee in the morning watching people on their way to work, and the convoys of school buses going passed.  We roamed the aisles of the supermarket for afternoon snacks at the same time as people getting their weekly shop.  Picking up dry cleaning, going to the bank, stopping by the post office – just normal life.  And for a few days, we could pretend that this was our normal life as well.  

Bal HarbourOn the Friday night, we discovered that the restaurants on our Surfside short list were closed for Shabbat, so we took the short walk into Bal Harbour, and to BH Burger Bar.  The burgers were crazy tasty (if not a bit expensive) and I very much enjoyed my salted caramel milkshake.  Situated in the very fancy St Regis resort, the bar was relatively quiet which suited us down to the ground.  We took the beach path as the sun set on the way back (above) and went past a cordoned-off turtle nest.  We were a bit too early to see the babies, but Surfside and Bal Harbour do their best to ensure that they’re protected until they hatch (I used my zoom on the photo above – they encourage people to stay far away from the nests).

Aventura Mall is further north still, and we took a $12 Uber ride to get there during the only rain storm we actually encountered.  Unfortunately, everyone else had a similar idea and the mall was insanely busy, but I did manage to get what I needed from Sephora.  It’s a fairly big mall, with stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom and lots of places to eat and people watch.  I’m almost a little ashamed to admit that we dined at the Cheesecake Factory that night – during our Las Vegas years, Husband and I had a tradition of eating at CF and taking dessert back to our room, and I still have a bit of nostalgia for that time.  This visit was lacklustre and whilst you do get a whole mountain of food, it’s decidedly average.  When there are so many other places to eat, it does seem a bit of a shame to spend the evening here.

Aventura cheesecakeI didn’t even manage to finish my cheesecake.

The only other outing we did was down to South Beach, where we walked along Ocean Drive and down Lincoln Road – I took lots of photos which I’ll save for another post.

Grand Beach Hotel Surfside, Miami

GBHS_5After booking flights to Miami, we turned our attention to location specifics.  I knew I didn’t want to be in South Beach, toyed with some Coral Gables hotels, before discovering Surfside, some 7 miles north of the main hubbub.  Initially, we went with our default option which is always a Marriott with Husband’s corporate discount, and I think we would have been moderately happy with the new Residence Inn in Surfside – good brand, not expensive, ok location.  But after a stay in an ‘average’ corporate hotel for work earlier this year, Husband decided he wanted a bit more for our stay.

And that’s when we found the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside which I have already declared one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at.  It was a little bit of a splurge, but we rationalised it by making it into a trip to celebrate our 10 year anniversary (I feel old saying this).  Plus, Husband and I have had a bit of tough 2016 so far, work has been crazy, and we just wanted to treat our old selves. We cancelled the Residence Inn (good job too, as it still hasn’t even opened) and booked an ocean front room through Expedia.

Best decision ever.

When we checked in, the receptionist gave us a sly grin and said she hoped we’d enjoy our room on the 7th floor.  What she neglected to mention was we had been upgraded to one of the amazing 2 bedroom oceanfront suites – 1 king size bed, 2 double beds, 2 sitting areas, four bathrooms, and two balconies including one which wrapped around the side.  We both screeched loudly as we ran around the 1000 square feet of utter luxury, and honestly, that first night we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

GBHS_2There’s our balconies!  We spent most nights on the one to the corner as that had a very comfortable outdoor sofa – a perfect vantage point to watch the electrical storms that lit up the sky over the Atlantic.  It was also a great place to take tilt shift photos – I don’t think I’ve ever taken one with such a cute outcome before:


When we managed to tear ourselves away from the room, we were treated to free welcome drinks (a delicious sangria) and took a wander around the property.  The whole ground floor has the reception desk, a reading nook/library, lobby bar, gelato/espresso bar, and restaurant – and yet still feels ridiculously spacious and light.  There are two pools and hot tubs between the sea and the back of the hotel, plus another adults only pool and hot tub on the roof (with a sky bar where we drank cocktails on Thursday night watching the sun set), a secluded and peaceful palm garden, and then of course the beach.  There’s also a spa but we didn’t have time to use it, what with all the relaxing in our favourite lounge chairs.

GBHS_1The three seats with the umbrella over to the right was where we spent the whole of Thursday and Monday, reading and napping.  Aside from a tiny bit of noise from the building site nearby (a Fendi property, apparently), we were perfectly hidden away from any hustle and bustle.  There was fruity water on tap, plus we got a free pina colada taster (more please!), and we were even able to have our lunch served to us.  We barely moved the whole day.

On the Friday, we grabbed one of the day beds around the rooftop pool – when we got to the pool, there was no one there so we had the whole place to ourselves.  Even when more people ventured upstairs, it still didn’t feel remotely busy.

Every member of staff we spoke to was courteous, friendly, and charming which really added to the luxury feel.  It really was a faultless stay, and I’m struggling to think of what could have made it better.  We said to each other on a number of occasions that it didn’t feel real – the palm trees, the sky, the beach, the sea – everything felt like a film set.  We didn’t ever get bored of any view and on our last night, sat outside the restaurant wishing we didn’t have to leave.

We do have a couple of regrets around not hanging out on the beach more, not having breakfast at the hotel (which looked amazing, but we were always full from dinner so always skipped breakfast), and not visiting the spa, so I do feel like the Grand Beach Hotel and I have unfinished business.

GBHS_10We will be back.  We just need to figure out when.

¡Bienvenidos a Miami!

Surfside Sunset

We have just returned from such a ridiculously blissful holiday in Surfside, Miami.  So blissful, that I almost immediately loaded up Google Flights when we got back home to figure out when we’re able to go back.   We essentially did nothing for 85% of the time, but we did nothing in one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at (more on that in this post).

It was a holiday with a couple of new experiences for me which was very satisfying considering we had no plans whatsoever, which brings me to number one on my First list:

Holiday without a spreadsheet
A bit of hyperbole as we don’t always have our holidays planned down to the minute (although, our New England spreadsheet was magnificent).    This holiday was the first beach/resort/do nothing holiday that Husband and I have been on, and it’s pretty much the only holiday of this type I’ve ever been on.  I was a bit anxious to start with as I thought we’d easily get bored, but I managed to work my way through 8 books and just as many naps.  It was wonderful.

Mini Fab

Mini Fab!

Virgin Atlantic Flight, and on a 787 Dreamliner
Virgin have always been just outside my price range for the times I’ve been across the Atlantic, but I managed to grab a cheap(ish) pair of flights to MIA a few months back and we did actually notice a difference in service.  I think it helped being on the Dreamliner – we were by an exit so had more space than we knew what to do with, the humidity and air in the cabin was so much better than older planes so I didn’t leave feeling disgusting, the engine noise was so quiet, and the mood lighting was very fun.  I’m convinced that my complete lack of jetlag is because of the 787.  The food was edible, and the flight attendant sat opposite really looked after us (oddly, she lives in the next town over from us).  They started boarding the plane an hour before the flight in Heathrow, so we had such a relaxing flight on the way out – none of the cliched scrum as they board row by row.  Plus, I got a mini-Fab!

Uber ride
Living in The Country, where my house is a 10 minute walk from the station and a 20 minute walk into town, I haven’t really had much need for an Uber.  Miami was the perfect place to try it out.  We took five rides in total (and should have tried to get one from MIA to the hotel, as it worked out half the price of the regular cab!) and really enjoyed talking to the different drivers we had, including one who had a very nice BMW 5 Series.  It was quick and easy, no worrying about finding the cash, and no irritating TVs playing ads on loop on the back of the passenger seat.  And for $12 from Surfside to pretty much anywhere in Miami Beach, it seemed crazy to not get an Uber.  I’m a convert.

I am not a hat person.  I hate hats.  But my very first hat probably did save my skin and allowed me to have a much more comfortable trip.  I bought this Uniqlo hat with inbuilt wearable sunscreen and it just meant I didn’t need to worry about my scalp.  It also meant that there are very few photos of me from the holiday because I really hate hats.  I can’t say that I’ll be getting more – how do hat people not have constant anxiety about their hat blowing away in a gust?  My unique paleness was further preserved by the judicious and liberal application of my new favourite SPF, Neutrogena Dry Touch 100 SPF.  Yeah, that’s right, 100 SPF.  I love it.

Surfside beach‘Swim’ in the ocean
Sure, as a child I paddled a lot in the shallows around the UK, but as I have never learnt to swim and am terrified of water, it was usually only up to knee height.  On our last morning in Surfside, we woke up early and went down to the sea for a quick dip.  I hadn’t intended on going in further than my knees again, but Husband held my hand and calmly enticed me further until the water came up to my chin.  I did panic almost the entire way in (my catchphrase was “I’m drowning”, even at the knee-level) but we ended up staying out there for about 45 minutes.  Husband did valiantly try to teach me to swim, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  I did manage a bit of water-treading which was good enough for me.  I only wish we’d done this every morning.