Friday 5 August 2016

Review: Fontainebleau hotel, South Beach, Miami


Copyright Caroline Makes dot Net

I have to admit that the Fontainebleau wasn’t my first choice hotel. When we decided to go on honeymoon to the Galapagos Islands and realised we couldn’t fly direct to Ecuador from the UK and our options were Lima in Peru or Miami, it seemed a no-brainer to spend the first few days of our honeymoon relaxing in a luxury hotel in Florida. My husband loves visiting the States and I knew a few days there would help us wind down after the hectic run-up to the wedding.
He had a voucher from Virgin Holidays that he’d received as a bonus for working on a particularly big project so I went onto the Virgin website and found they offered 11 hotels in Miami. As it was our honeymoon I decided to sort by ranking and price and did some research on the three hotels that came out top, and decided I wanted to stay at the W South Beach.
But repeated problems with Virgin’s booking system meant I couldn’t be sure of getting the type of room I wanted. Nothing on Virgin’s website in terms of the room descriptions tallied with what the W had on its own website, so I couldn’t be sure that by selecting a suite with an ocean view on a high floor I wouldn’t end up with a room with a garden view on the lower floor.
Eventually I gave up – having reported the problem to Virgin three times and told it had been fixed but to no avail – and chose a different hotel. The Fontainebleau had been my second choice and actually the room rates were a lot more reasonable – still expensive, but we could spend a lot less than at the W and still get a suite that sounded amazing.
And it was amazing – one of the biggest hotel rooms I’ve ever been in. We had a large living room, kitchen (literally with oven, hob, fridge and dishwasher – but who cooks in a hotel like this?!), separate bedroom and large bathroom. It was only on the second day there that we opened a door to what we thought was a cupboard, near the entrance to the suite, and found it was a second toilet!
living room and kitchen at the back
living room and door onto one of the balconies (the bedroom also had a balcony)
There was a large balcony and our view was of both the hotel pool below and the beach off to the side – I could happily have lounged there all day. That was the only drawback – when we chose the room (a Sorrento Ocean View One Bedroom Suite) from looking at the hotel’s website, the balcony showed two lounger-style chairs where we could lay back and put our feet up. When we arrived we just found regular chairs, which was disappointing as I’d been looking forward to reclining (my husband isn’t a pool person and I knew he’d prefer to stay in the air-conditioned room so I wanted to lounge on the balcony). I called down to reception and asked about the lounger chairs only to be told they didn’t have any. It was a shame as otherwise our room looked exactly like the one in the picture and I found this a bit misleading.
Discovering there was a computer in the room with internet access for us to use was great – though there is a resort fee you have to pay per day of $28.45 per room, which includes wifi, gym access, chairs on the beach, local calls and a daily newspaper – none of which we used apart from the wifi.
view from Sorrento 5th floor pool
We stayed in the Sorrento tower – the hotel is absolutely massive and they give you a map of where everything is when you arrive. Most of the restaurants (yes, there are several) are in the area off the central lobby so we didn’t have to do too much walking around but it was still quite a trek to get down to the main pool. I kept seeing a small sign in Sorrento saying there was a pool on the 5th floor but didn’t go for the first couple of days, then I decided to check it out. There was a good sized swimming pool, with a pile of towels and a water dispenser, and lounger chairs overlooking the beach. You’re high above the main pool but can’t actually see it from here so it’s a good way to avoid the hustle and bustle if you’re not into that. In fact for the two hours I was there I had the pool entirely to myself, it was bliss!
view from our room
The main pool actually has multiple swimming pools; a large one that was surrounded by lounger chairs, then I remember counting at least four other small pools (one adults-only) and a Jacuzzi – but looking at the hotel’s website they say they have ten pools! Chairs are spread across the gardens so if you don’t want to be poolside there is plenty of space elsewhere – and the hotel is on the beach, just separated by a gate and a path, where you can go and swim in the ocean or sit on a lounger chair on the sand.
the beach
If you’re rich and famous – or just rich – there are cabanas for rent around the pool, which come with ceiling fans, mini fridge, butler service and wide screen TV. There are curtains you can draw for privacy but if you’re in one of these, you probably want to show off! I heard one guy tell his friend by the pool that he had asked how much they cost and that they were $750 – I think that might have been per day!
We spotted one extra large cabana that was in the centre of a small round pool, with four flat screen TVs; according to the website it accomdates up to 12 people and is a cinch at $1,000. It sounds crazy money and it is, but if you split it between 12 people it’s only about $80 per person – but I still don’t think I’d pay $80 to sit on a chair by a pool, even if there is a TV! And I’m not sure what the butler service entails but when I was by the main pool (in one of the free loungers) there were waiters going up and down taking food and drink orders and bringing it to your seat.
extra large cabana
I never saw the ‘supreme cabana’ which accommodates six, and costs anywhere from $550 plus rental fee (whatever that is) and tax mid week, or $1500 plus tax on a Saturday with a food and drink minimum spend on top. Maybe this is where Puff Daddy relaxes when he’s at the Fontainebleau.
The hotel itself is opulent – there are three chandeliers in the main lobby designed by the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei which are apparently worth $1 million – each. The hotel was popular with the ‘Rat Pack’ when it opened in the 1950s and there are photos of Frank Sinatra lining the walls.
$1 million Ai Wei Wei chandlier
The hotel has an amazing nine different places to eat, ranging from takeaway snacks to fine dining:
Hakkasan (modern Cantonese – the original one in London has a Michelin star)
Scarpetta (upmarket Italian)
Stripsteak by Michael Mina (expensive steak and seafood)
La Cote (poolside/beachside dining)
Pizza & Burger summer pop-up which opened the day we left, I think temporarily taking the place of Michael Mina 74 (upmarket American cuisine and shellfish)
Vida (American brasserie)
Blade (sushi)
Chez Bon Bon (café/patisserie)
Fresh (snacks and ice cream)
My husband doesn’t eat Chinese food or sushi but loves steak so we ate at Stripsteak, Vida and Chez Bon Bon, and also ordered room service a couple of times. I’ll review Stripsteak separately as of course it’s open to people who are not staying in the hotel and is a highly rated restaurant in itself, but I’ll briefly talk about the others here.
our first day - it rained all day (still hot!)
We were pretty tired when we arrived after a long flight from London, and ordered room service at 8pm (though to us it was actually about 2am). They add a 20% service charge and $4.50 delivery charge so it's not cheap but the food itself isn't badly priced - I had chicken tenders with fries and barbecue sauce for $15 which was a huge portion, I had to leave half of it. My husband had a burger and fries for $20 which he enjoyed, and we both ordered dessert as it was the first proper meal of our honeymoon and luckily it was quality rather than quantity.
chicken tenders
bow tie brownie
He had a bow tie brownie - we weren't sure why it was called that until we realised one of the hotel pools is shaped like a bow tie. It came with a piece of chocolate printed with bow ties and chocolate sauce and he said it was very good- I didn't actually get to try it! I had the key lime pie which came cut into pieces already, decorated with pieces of orange and some mango gelee - a sort of thick sauce dotted onto the plate. it was absolutely delicious and beautifully presented. We only drank water and yet the bill came to over $80! 
key lime pie
We also decided to treat ourselves to room service breakfast the next morning as we were hungry when we woke up (or rather when we got up, I woke at 4am due to jet lag!) and didn't know how long it would take us to walk around the hotel to find the various places we could have breakfast.

room service breakfast

My husband opted for a breakfast plate with two eggs cooked any way (he had scrambled) with a choice of pork or chicken sausage, bacon or ham, and he had three decent sized pork sausages. It also came with toast and potato hash which turned out to be boiled potatoes mashed up and then fried into a patty, which he didn't particularly like. I had eggs benedict again with bacon - though it wasn't the crispy kind I was expecting and I still think the best poached eggs I've ever had were at the Dana hotel in Chicago, but it was very good - the hollandaise sauce was in a jug for me to add myself, and the whipped cream to go with my husband's hot chocolate was also served in a separate bowl. There's something rather decadent about having room service breakfast so we really enjoyed it, even though that was another $80!
Nutella brioche
I’d rather have a small breakfast then a nice lunch, whereas my husband could happily eat a huge breakfast and skip lunch, so we compromised on our second day when luckily the weather was glorious - about 32C, much more what I'd been expecting! We went to Chez Bon Bon, a small café/patisserie in the main lobby, which only has two tables - I later saw people with Chez Bon Bon boxes eating by the pool so maybe that's the idea! I had a cup of tea (aah, tea) and a Nutella brioche which was amazing though not the healthiest breakfast! My husband had a chocolate croissant which he said was very good.
Chez Bon Bon
We went back to Chez Bon Bon for breakfast the following day and I had a peach Danish, which was good but I should have had the Nutella brioche again!
Later by the pool I had a mint and watermelon lemonade which was delicious (though it cost $10!).
We didn't want much for lunch but were a bit hungry so went back to Chez Bon Bon and got a croquet monsieur (basically a cheese and ham toasted sandwich) which we shared - it was really good. We then had some leftover cake to eat which you will understand when you read my review of Stripsteak!
croque monsieur
We didn't spent much time sightseeing in Miami as we were just there to relax for a few days but did go on a boat trip to see Millionaire's Row, ie where the super rich and famous live. We went with the Island Queen - we got a taxi to the Bayside Marketplace where the boat goes from and found there were lots of shops and places to eat and drink, so we would have come back here to eat if our trip had been longer. The celebrity houses were quite interesting to see - this one belongs to the guy who invented Viagra - but the commentary wasn't great. It was in English then Spanish and was rapid and quite monotonous, like it had been learnt by heart by someone who didn't really care and was just doing the job to pay the bills - which I suppose is fair enough but we went on an architectural boat trip in Chicago narrated by someone who seemed to have a real passion for architecture, and this tour just fell a bit flat, though it was still a nice thing to do.

For lunch on our last full day in the hotel we ate at Vida; my husband had a burger and I was torn between pizza and a pasta dish - shrimp penne with ricotta and summer squash. I wasn't sure what summer squash was so asked the waiter if it was zucchini (courgette) or a yellow squash like pumpkin and he said yellow squash. When it arrived, I had a plateful of what looked like zucchini (it was green, anyway, and I didn't like it) - I should have said something but it hadn't been immediately apparent so I'd already started eating and I'm very English and just left it! So it was basically a very plain overpriced pasta, I should have had the pizza!

pasta dish.... and what I left

Overall I absolutely loved the Fontainebleau. It's a big, anonymous hotel - I do like staying in small B&Bs but for the beginning of our honeymoon we wanted to be alone, in a huge suite with a balcony, eating lovely food and chilling out in style, which is exactly what we had. It was the perfect start to our honeymoon.

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