CONSIDERING THAT JUST A LITTLE more than a century ago — 1910, to be exact — Miami’s population was only about 5,400 people, it’s easy to see why this South Florida hot spot has long been considered a boomtown. And the evolution continues to impress as the city gears up to welcome an array of new services, amenities and experiences.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were a cultural wasteland, but now our tagline is ‘more than a beach,’” said William Talbert, president and CEO, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the region’s destination marketing organization. “Lots of people have beaches. But we’re both cosmopolitan and tropical.”
Indeed, Greater Miami and the Beaches — as the GMCVB refers to the metropolitan area — grew rapidly from what was a tiny backwater settlement to an increasingly sophisticated, multifaceted destination that’s become one of the nation’s top international gateways.
Visitor numbers jumped 3.5 percent between 2017 and 2018, reaching a record-breaking 16.5 million. Travelers come for many reasons, not only for business or vacation but also to attend events like Art Basel, the international art festival, and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, as well as a range of live entertainment at venues like the Adrian Arscht Center for the Performing Arts. New art attractions include the George Daniell Museum, opened this year and hosting exhibits of the work of famed photographer George Daniell.
As proof of the area’s surging popularity on the world stage, Talbert points to the number of foreign companies that have chosen Miami and the beaches as their first point of entry to the United States — including Faena, the Argentinean luxury hotel brand that debuted its first U.S. property in Miami Beach, and Hong Kong-based Swire Hotels, which in 2016 made its first foray in the United States with the 352-room EAST, Miami hotel.
Miami’s transportation scene is witnessing some impressive new developments as well. Brightline, the regional rail service rebranded as Virgin Trains USA, links Miami Central Station with Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with plans to extend service to Orlando by 2021. In addition, sister company Virgin Voyages is working on a new cruise terminal in Miami to serve as the home port for the Scarlet Lady, a new cruise ship with 1,430 cabins that will offer Caribbean cruises from its Miami base. The 100,000-square- foot terminal will be complete by late 2021.
Virgin’s plans provide just one example of growth at PortMiami, which welcomed a record number of 5,592,000 cruise passengers October 2017–September 2018 — figures the tourism office said are greater than any port in the world.
In addition, MSC Cruises recently announced a new project at PortMiami to feature two cruise terminals and two berths able to process up to 28,000 passengers daily, with the capability of handling 1 million travelers per year. With construction slated to begin next year, it plans to open the new facilities in late 2022.
“PortMiami has really taken off,” said Talbert. “It’s undergoing $1 billion of private development. The first $250 million private development is already open — Royal Caribbean’s new terminal. It’s currently serving the largest cruise ships in existence. Next to it, Norwegian Cruise Line is building a terminal; it’s nearly three-quarters done.”
Miami International Airport is also in growth mode. This year, the facility announced a new capital improvement program that will pump as much as $5 billion into modernization projects in the coming years, including redevelopment of concourses E and F, an expanded South Terminal, renovated Concourse D gates and two new hotels. Last year the Miami airport for the first time welcomed more than 45 million travelers, an increase of nearly 1 million from the previous year.
Shoppers, meanwhile, will soon be able to satisfy their urge on a grand scale in Miami. American Dream Miami, slated to open in 2023, will be billed as the nation’s largest shopping mall. The $4 billion, 5-million-square-foot project will include an array of unique diversions including an indoor ski slope and a lake for submarine rides.
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, visitors to Miami will find a variety of new and upgraded accommodation options. Among the newest hotels, the city boasts the 119-room Lennox Hotel Miami Beach and 184-room Hilton Miami Dadeland. Existing hotels also upped the ante. The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove this year unveiled redecorated rooms, lobby and pool area as well as a new indoor/outdoor restaurant called Isabelle’s Grill Room & Garden. The JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, meanwhile, opened a new bar called Soff’s, as well as a massive new waterpark featuring a 60-foot tower with seven water slides.
Additional hotels showing off recent renovations include the Biltmore Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables, the Kimpton EPIC, Solé Miami and the W South Beach, which unveiled a new, 2,056-square-foot penthouse suite as well as a new WET pool deck with cabanas and an outdoor bar.
In addition, Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s Cardozo South Beach hotel reopened this year following a $15 million renovation, and The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach will reopen its doors in late 2019 after a multiyear renovation.
Talbert predicts that as Miami continues to finesse its offerings for business and upscale leisure travelers, the destination’s appeal will only grow more. “We’ve got spas, we’ve got luxury hotels, we’ve got luxury cruises,” he said. “It’s all come together nicely. And we’re just getting started.”
Drive west and you’ll soon arrive at Florida’s fabulous Everglades, spanning 1.5 million acres and featuring wetland preserves, mangroves and wildlife. In Coopertown you can join a scenic airboat ride to take in all of the region’s natural beauty and also sample local cuisine like catfish, frog legs and gator tail. Travelers looking for a more in-depth experience can visit the Everglades Alligator Farm, housing some 2,000 resident alligators, or perhaps pitch a tent for an overnight stay at one of the Everglades campgrounds, with plenty of time to explore the region by kayak or canoe.
If you’re looking for culture, cuisine and shop- ping, consider a trip north. Just a few minutes away lies Fort Lauderdale, known as the “Venice of America” thanks to its more than 300 miles of canals; Las Olas Boulevard offers a lovely place to stroll, shop and stop for a drink. Farther north, Palm Beach is home to noteworthy sites like the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, set in a 75-room Gilded Age mansion once home to American industrialist Henry Flagler. Shopaholics, meanwhile, are likely to enjoy the Palm Beach Outlets, with designer brands the big draw.
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