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Cinco de Mayo at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
As our tour of Miami’s family-friendly activities continued today, we also experienced a change of scenery. Our new home for the next two days is the prestigious Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, located – as you might expect – just south of Miami on the island of Key Biscayne.
Spanning 12 acres situated along the Atlantic coast just steps away from the beach, the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne might not be the first property that jumps to mind when you hear the worlds “family friendly.” Yet kids, parents and couples mingle seamlessly here at this 450-room resort.
In many ways, a luxury property like this makes sense for a family vacation for those who want to bring the kids, but don’t want to compromise on amenities and features. Yet this resort is completely different from our previous digs in Aventura, despite the fact they both target families seeking a luxury getaway.
There is even a family with kids in the room next to mine!
To start, the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is situated alongside Crandon Beach, consistently ranked as one of the world’s very best oceanfront playgrounds. Adults will love the resort’s colonial styling and opulent surroundings, while kids will be entranced by the same experience, albeit on a different level.
Kids aged five to 12 can take part in the tailor-made Ritz Kids program, where they can learn to play tennis, basketball, go fishing, or participate in treasure hunts, pool and beach games, arts and crafts, and more. That, in turn, allows Mom and dad to relax and be “grown-ups” again. And that’s always a good thing.
My room is, as you might expect, fantastic.
For those who are interested, I am trying not to compare it to the Turnberry Isle Miami where I spent the past two nights. Why, you ask? Other than the fact that they both offer a luxury product, they both target two different kind of travellers seeking two different experiences. Even their geographic location makes them difficult to compare and contrast: one is a secluded resort located north of Miami, while the other is situated within steps of the Atlantic Ocean in prestigious Key Biscayne.
But today wasn’t all about hotels – we also set out on some cool adventures that anyone with kids (or not) will want to know about.
Admission: $34.95 Adults / $26.95 Child ages 3-10.
Our first stop of the day was at Jungle Island, where we were treated to a VIP tour of this fantastic attraction that seeks to educated kids and adults alike about some of the most amazing creatures in the world.
We were allowed to hold, feed and interact with lemurs, which I have to admit made me a little leery. But the lemurs are friendly and the staff at Jungle Island are both knowledgeable and well-trained on the animals guests get to interact with.
As a rule, I dislike zoos – but Jungle Island is far more interactive than a standard zoo. In fact, it’s better thought of as a habitat for various birds and mammals. I also love the fact that kids not only get to interact with the animals, they also get to learn about them and the world they inhabit.
Trainers also don’t shy away from telling visitors that, unlike the kind-hearted kangaroos at Jungle Island, those found in Australia are not to be messed with.
Also in the ‘do not touch’ category: the only living descendant of the feared Velociraptor, the Cassowary has five-inch, dagger-like claws that are perfect for what this bird enjoys most: killing for sport. Native to Northern Australia and New Guinea, these birds can run up to 30 miles per hour, and are considered the deadliest bird in the world. Jungle Island has the only trained Cassowary in the world as part of their stage show, and this unhappy fellow is likely the cause of the verbose legal waiver guests must sign upon entering the park.
I’ve done a safari through South Africa that had lions surrounding our jeep, but the sight of the Cassowary was absolutely chilling. I was pleased to see it exit stage right!
The verdict: highly recommended.
Admission: $16 / Florida Residents: $12. Children under 12 months: Complimentary.
Despite its somewhat generic-sounding moniker, the Miami Children’s Museum is home to one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever seen for kids. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish you were a kid, too.
Here, kids can learn all about the world and take part in “grown-up stuff” in a way that is both engaging and entertaining. They can learn about how a bank operates by designing their own currency and even acting as tellers at the mock Bank of America; or do a little weekly shopping at a mock-up of a Publix supermarket designed just for kids.
The latter was particularly enthralling; watching kids scurry around with carts filled with “food”, or weighing the catch of the day, was endless fun for kids and adults alike.
Kids can also learn about health issues, the power of music, the thrill of film and television (including something dear to my heart: a lesson on film editing); and they can even learn about the Port of Miami’s operations with mock-ups of a container ship and a Carnival Cruise ship.
The Miami Children’s Museum was named as one of the ten-best in the world, and for good reason: there’s a high repeat factor here thanks to a series of ever-changing exhibits. On our visit, kids and adults alike could learn about the different US states through an interactive exhibit. Tomorrow, this is replaced with a new feature that will run from June until January on dinousaurs!
The verdict: the Miami Children’s Museum made me wish I was a kid again.
Admission: Adults: $14.95 / Children 3-12: $10.95 / Children 2 and Under: complimentary
Big things are in store for the Miami Science Museum: in 2015, they will move into their new digs just steps away from the cruise ship terminals that line the Government Cut in Miami. If you’re taking a cruise with the kids, you owe it to yourself to stop in.
Even at their current location, this museum offers and endless array of exhibits that educate kids while remaining fun at the same time. How much fun, you ask? We were enamoured with a video-capture program that purported to guess our moods and weight from a small webcam, with startling accuracy.
Then, we tested the severity of hurricane-force winds through a series of electrical fans and scale models of houses.
Following, we tried our hand at capturing energy; used our weight and motion to power a discothèque; and even learned about motion-capture.
The verdict: so cool, we’re going to have a full feature on the Miami Science Museum here on From the Deck Chair later this month – and we`ll be back for their 2015 Grand Opening!
Admission: Adults $139 / Children 5 to 9: $99. Observer: $45
I have swum with dolphins twice now, both in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I also witnessed my sister swim with them in Honolulu, Hawaii two years ago. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this experience.
Unlike a swim, an encounter doesn`t place you directly in the water with the dolphin; instead, you stand in waist-deep water in a wetsuit at the edge of a raised partition, and are thus able to touch the dolphin or have you pictures taken with him or her at various intervals.
I wanted so badly to like this experience, but I just couldn’t. Upon checking in, we were told no towels were ready for us to dry off with, and to come back later. Change rooms and lockers are placed in an awkward fashion, with the lockers situated outside of the change room in the common viewing area. Direction and instruction were haphazard at best and plagued with broken equipment, and most of the employees encountered seemed completely indifferent to their guests.
Now, having said that: if you have little kids and have never had an up-close experience with these majestic creatures, this will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our trainer was fantastic, and the dolphins seem happy and well-looked after, which is always the most important thing. It’s just a shame that, for the price, the experience misses the mark when compared to some of the other dolphin experiences out there.
If you’re wondering why there aren’t any images of the Miami Seaquarium: we had our cameras confiscated upon entry.
The Verdict: give this one a pass unless you really love dolphins.
After a full day of fun, it was back to the hotel for some much-needed R&R.
This isn’t the first Ritz-Carlton I’ve stayed at, but just the process of checking in this afternoon reminded me why this brand remains a favorite of mine. The company refers to all staff as their ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, and deservedly so: you’d be hard-pressed to find more helpful people. On a personal level, I like this because it shows the company has a deep respect for the front-line employees who interact with guests every day, many who return time and time again to the brand.
Being Cinco de Mayo today, we celebrated by having dinner outdoors and within sight of the always-inspiring Atlantic Ocean by dining at the on-site Cantina Beach.
The only authentic Mexican-themed waterfront restaurant in Miami, Cantina Beach served us up a buffet of Mexican specialties, including the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted. The entire restaurant is open-air concept and just steps away from both the beach and the resort’s pool area.
What really impressed me, though, was that Cantina Beach is home to the only tequila master in the United States. Known as a tequilier, Hariberto’s knowledge spans each of the major tequila-producing areas of Mexico. With that kind of knowledge on-hand, it seemed a shame to not order some.
Hariberto was good to his word, bringing forth a bottle of tequila that he personally brought back from a recent visit to a remote village in the Jalisco region of Mexico. It goes for $20 per glas and it was worth every penny. This isn’t a tequila you can fire back; this is known as a sipping tequila and has a taste and finish similar to that of a fine scotch.
This evening, I figure I’m channeling Ernest Hemmingway by having a glass of rum in the Havana-inspired RUMBAR to finish off my post. I love this room – and apparently, most of the guests do, too. As I write this, it’s closing in on midnight, and yet the place is packed. There’s no live music on Sundays (Groupo Nostalgia plays Thursday through Saturday), but there are plenty of comfortable leather loungers and high-back chairs surrounded by crimson walls, palm-frond-style ceiling fans, and of course, 54 different rums and a humidor with an expansive collection of cigars.
As it turns out, I’m not Hemmingway. But I’m pretty sure he would have approved of the RUMBAR at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne; a hotel that is truly in a league of its own.
Our Live Trip Report from Miami, Florida continues tomorrow, as we tour Florida’s everglades ad pay visits to Monkey Jungle and South Beach! Due to time restrictions and early flights, posting may be delayed until mid-afternoon Tuesday.
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